Falling off

I take a certain pride in posting this clip from the British Universities Mountain Bike champs last year which has just been sent to me. To get the full effect tilt your head to the right, then you will realise the real angle of the hill by the way the spectators are standing.

About 2min 30sec into the clip the man rolling down the hill is my son, on his way to collecting a broken wrist for his pains. I must say I’m quite impressed by the roll, he must have been going for it at the time. What makes it worse is that he was also the one falling off at 1.14. Doh!

Apparently the organisers were using a regular course for downhillers and set out a cross country course around it, including some sections from the downhill. As the student champs is as much a beer weekend as it is a race a lot of roadies and casual riders entered to support their mates in the main race, but they were totally out of their depth on this section and the chaos ensued. I gather the roadies were really angry.

This set me thinking about the relationship between cyclists and falling off. Look at the crowd in the clip – mostly laughing, and certainly gathered at that spot for the falls. Read the comments below the clip on Vimeo.  Mountain biking web sites and magazines love a good crash. However mag pages featuring horrible injuries have largely been succeeded by on line video, mixed in with the spectacular leaps and descents are always a good selection of big “offs”. Every one watching this hill will know the feeling, falling off is as natural to mountain bikers as getting on the bike, certainly if you are going to stretch your abilities at any point. Of course the top riders have a level of skill which means that they can ride things I can’t even walk down, but they mostly had their share of falls on the way to that level. On the road and track it is almost impossible to have an extensive racing career without hitting the deck a few times, if not you take up pursuit and time trialling to stay away from other riders.

Compared to most downhillers I am a wuss. Like most lads I got my first wrist break in a bike crash when I was 11 years old. Martin Fuller (I can remember you wherever you are) switched me as we were thrashing our bikes down the road outside his house. Broken scaphoid bone (wrist again) on the concrete velodrome in Cardiff 20 years later.

Pretty near miss too at Aston Hill MTB centre when I almost broke my shoulder and got 10 stitches in a knee. Actually the sign at the top should have been a give away “Full body armour and full face helmet recommended”.

Most of the rest of my prangs were losses of skin and dignity, and today I seem to suffer a bit longer from the bruises, so I am a bit more careful. But there is something really special about knowing you were just a bit on the edge of your ability, something that I would only ever try on a bike, not in a car or plane.

People whose route into cycling was largely commuting or touring would regard us as totally mad. How can we get people cycling if they think it is dangerous? Didn’t the films of Jonny Hoogerland being clipped by a TV car in last year’s Tour de France and knocked into a barbed wire fence set cycling back years?

I don’t think so. If we are going to get a whole generation of teenage lads off their backsides and away from the video games for at least a few hours we are not going to do it promising a nice ride to school and eternal salvation. Try asking your teenage lad to go and dig out your potatoes because the organic food and the exercise will do him good. You’ll probably eat the shovel.

Now let him and his mates loose in a bit of old waste land with the same shovels and a few BMX bikes and tell them they can build what they like.

Good parenting says someone’s going to get hurt, bring on the health and safety police. Really good parenting says “don’t come home until dark, and call me from the hospital if you need a lift back”. Bring it on.

P.S. This post is not approved by my wife, who really could not see the funny side of Ben flying. It’s a Mum thing.

Pass or fail the cold weather test?

I was going to put down some of my thoughts about cycling in the cold weather that hit Europe last week, especially after experiencing Germany at -15C and Brussels-9C.

However I have to take my hat off to this great film put together by David Hembrow which steals the show. It passes every test you can set for a cycling clip “Do I want to be there?” “Do I want to try that?” Oh yes, on every count. If you do you can look at his holidays and study trips here

The man I defer to on all things cold weather is Morten Kerr, President of SLF (Syklistenes Landsforening) the cyclists’

Morten Kerr demonstrates winter cycling in Norway

Morten Kerr demonstrates winter cycling in Norway

organisation of Norway. He seems to ride his 15km to work whatever the weather, studded tyres and all. Although having spent time in North America he apparently rates Canadian gear as the best, especially his amazing gloves.

I was impressed on my visit to Memmingen in the Lower Allgau region of Germany last week. Memmingen is a few hundred metres above sea level so the combination with the cold weather system across the whole of Europe dropped the temperature at the station to -15C, as far as I know the lowest temperature I have ever experienced. And just like the cycle lanes in the Netherlands shown in

Memmingen Cycle Route, still clear at -15C

Memmingen Cycle Route, still clear at -15C

David’s film the cycle routes here were completely clear. I don’t think it was particularly about the cycling, the pavements, roads and station platforms were all immaculately clear. I’m not sure what they use, it doesn’t seem to have the properties of the salt and grit we have on our streets in the UK, but that may be because the temperatures were too low for the wet salty coating that we always get which covers your bike in a corrosive film. What it did mean was that all the cyclists were flying around full tilt without any apparent concern for a hidden ice patch.

I failed the cold weather test miserably. I don’t really cycle on icy roads in

Bike covered in snow in Memmingen

Not everyone in Memmingen got away from the snow!

the UK if I can help it, I love cycling in snow on a mountain bike if I can. My stepfather had a badly broken hip after he went out once too often in February, I really could do without it.

I had planned to spend an evening cycling around Brussels to check out a couple of communes as possible places to live. I’d prepared double gloves, socks, hat etc but I failed miserably after 40 minutes when it was my hands that couldn’t take any more and I shot back to the hotel for dinner.

However after the clothing failure I was put firmly in my place when I dared roll out the Danish expression “No such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing” which has become such a feature of every presentation on cycling in Denmark. “I hate that expression” said my Danish colleague to the amazement of our lunch group. “I’m Danish, and I like to be warm”.

The following day I was keeping a careful eye out the window around lunchtime when the snow started to fall. By the time I set off for the Eurostar there was a slushy mess on the streets of Brussels. I’d like to say I shot off confidently taking cobbles, traffic and pavement cyclepaths in my stride. What I actually did was fold the bike and walk to the Metro. I am sure I have let the side down somehow, but something tells me that I was not going to enjoy the small wheel experience in those conditions.

So hats off to the cold weather cyclists, a pair of proper Nordic gloves needed for me to join you next year.

Getting H. G. Wells right – part 2

I explained the origins of the blog name in the post “H.G. Wells was right”.

However needless to say I have hit the sort of conundrum that throws a novice blogger off course. The quote “When I see an adult on a bicycle I do not despair for the future of the human race” is the phrase I have always seen attributed to Wells.

However when reading more about the man I came across this version “Every time I see an adult on a bicycle I no longer despair for the future of the human race”

Two thoughts emerge.

Firstly – does this feel more like Wells – is this the correct quote and should I be renaming the blog? Cycling isn’t short of the kind of people who believe in accuracy and it will certainly be pointed out. Perhaps he said both, it’s not exactly unusual for a public figure to have a stock phrase or two that gets recycled, I’m certainly guilty of that when I am speaking and writing about cycling.

Secondly – does it matter? Actually there is a subtle difference in feel between the two quotes which causes me to wonder about Wells state of mind when he made the statement. “I no longer despair” suggests that Wells was in a state of despond about our future but the bicycle uplifted him. “I do not despair” doesn’t start from quite that same point of negativity. I like the latter, this is supposed to be fun after all.

More research needed I think, but acknowledging the possible need for correction is a start.

In praise of cycling in Suffolk

This post celebrates my cycling roots. It was triggered by a request by Dennis Kell, editor of Winged Wheel, the magazine of CTC Suffolk, for 200-300 words to mark the 250th edition of the magazine.

CTC Suffolk- Winged Wheel magazine is 250!

Hi Kevin,

Congratulations on your new position. All in CTC Suffolk wish you well.

Our local group magazine has just reached its 250th  edition (First Published in 1947 and still going strong.) I’m sure you must have seen it in the past and I can send you an anniversary edition if you let me know an address.

As a Suffolk boy, we wondered if you might be able to give a couple of lines to this special edition before you set off for pastures new. Any personal memories of the magazine, the Birthday Rides or cycling in Suffolk generally would be fantastic. I’ve managed to get hold of several former editors going back to 1959 who have added a few comments and we shall have a couple of articles from edition 1.

Sorry for the late notice, but we are hoping to go off to the printers in the middle of February to ensure it gets out on time. 

If you are able to send us something, it will be really appreciated.

Once again, good luck with the new position.

 Best wishes,

Dennis Kell Editor

Suffolk is the eastern most county of England. It’s the low lying bulge in the coastline that sticks out into the North Sea, facing the Netherlands. It shares something of a heritage with our neighbours, our mediaeval economy was built on shipping wool to Flemish weavers and it was Dutch engineers that introduced many of the water management systems that helped control the ingress of the sea and drain the fields around the Norfolk boards to our north. Nothing like the extent of the drainage in the Netherlands itself or the Fen Country in Cambridgeshire, but the influences were enough for some of our architecture to feature Dutch gable ends.

The other thing we share with the neighbours is that Suffolk and Norfolk kept a higher residual level of cycling than most other parts of the UK. Still nothing like real European levels, but still one of the few rural parts of the country where it is not unusual to see an elderly lady on a bicycle cycling in to the town to collect her shopping. My late grandmother used to cycle 15 miles each way to her nursing shift so the culture was well established.

Lots of factors come together to make it possible, not least the relatively flat terrain and low rainfall. But the main factor must surely be the amazing collection of minor roads and the relatively low volumes of traffic in the towns which mean fewer people driven off the roads as cars and speeds got faster. It also seems to tap a residual demand, Kesgrave School in Ipswich, our country town was one of Sustrans early successes with their Safe Routes to Schools programme.

I grew up a Suffolk cyclist because my father was (and is) a keen club cyclist and racer who brought the whole family up inside his club, the Godric Cycling Club. We rode everywhere of course – to school, out with our mates, doing the paper round, but it was the Godric that provided my cycling culture.

When I became CTC Director in 1998 one of my very first speaking invitations was to speak at the CTC Suffolk and Wolsey Road Club Annual Dinner. They treated me a real surprise, digging out a cyclo-cross race programme from Holywells Park in Ipswich with my name on it, probably aged about 13.

In summer 2011 I returned to ride with Suffolk CTC again because they organized the CTC’s annual festival of cycle touring “The Birthday Rides”. (So named because they celebrate the anniversary of CTC’s founding at a similar rally in 1878). We had a brilliant week.

Kevin and dog Murphy on an adapted tricycle

The Dogmobile - Kevin Mayne and Murphy on adapted tricycle

I camped on the main site with Murphy because the others were away and I constructed the dogmobile out of a disability trike from the CTC fleet at Reading. The Suffolk posse were amazing, they compiled hundreds of miles of routes, refreshments, social events and of course amazing weather.

So it was my pleasure to give Dennis some words that sum up how I feel about cycling and Suffolk:

At the end of the CTC Birthday Rides last year I was fortunate enough to be able to say a few words to everyone about how I felt about the event. It was relatively easy to sum it up. “Never have I felt prouder of being from Suffolk”.

Of course I was thanking CTC Suffolk for the event you had put on, but it was far more than that. The beauty of our countryside, the warmth of the welcome, even the relatively considerate behaviour of the drivers made a lasting impression on everyone who came and I have little doubt that it will boost the numbers of returning cyclists for years to come.

The other really important thing about cycling in Suffolk for me is that it where I discovered the sense of community which provides my real motivation. In Ipswich and Bungay my childhood was surrounded by cyclists, my extended family. And we learned to ride together in these lanes, not jammed to the side of the road escaping busy traffic. I was recently at a presentation where a mental health professional was asked why CTC’s programme of rides for those recovering from mental illness was so successful at boosting patients’ wellbeing and stopping them from being readmitted to hospital. He replied “Professionally I can’t define it. But they just ride, then they ride together and they talk, and then they feel better”

 I think he was speaking for all of us.

I am now going to be based in Brussels working for the European Cyclists Federation. The most important part of my new job is to support new and emerging cyclists’ groups and help them get established at the national and regional level. Most of them will be transport campaigning groups who can get awfully serious about the intricate details of cycling infrastructure.  But I know what I will also be telling what I learned in Suffolk. We do this because we want to share the special quality that cycling brings to lives. I will be trying to capture that feeling on my blog www.idonotdespair.com Magazines like Winged Wheel are essential to that sharing too, I wish you every success for the next 250 editions.

Kevin Mayne, CTC Chief Executive 1998-2012.

New page – the library

Just started fleshing out the blog with some new material.

If the theme of this blog is uplifting cycling then I need all my uplifting moments here. In the library I’ll be adding my favourite cycling clips, books, links and articles.

Just added – Latin Lovers, Inspired Cycling (of course) and some raindrops. tell me you didn’t sing along.

Go to the library for the latest update