Riding to the cyclocross and into the heart of a lost Flemish industry. A day at the Druivencross

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Last weekend I took a short cycling trip over the Flemish border to the nearby town of Overijse to watch the elite cyclocross, referred to by the TV commentators as the “classico” because it has been run on the same … Continue reading

Potential book chapter? “Cycling across Belgium with Andrew Sykes and a bike called Reggie.”

Photo by Kevin Mayne

Regular readers will recall my book review for “Along the Med on a bike called Reggie” by cycling traveller and write Andrew Sykes. I am delighted to say that we have had a chance to meet up because Andrew is passing through Belgium on his latest ride as he heads from the south of Spain to the very North Cape of Norway. That’s about 7,000 km by the way, one hell of a trip.

Planning the meet up has been interesting because it has made me watch Andrew’s Twitter feed and daily postings on www.cyclingeurope.org quite closely and by doing so I feel I am watching his next book write itself in front of my eyes, whether it be the never-ending saga of the lost sunglasses or a detailed commentary on French Atlantic Coast cycle routes.

I feel a bit of responsibility here. I have somehow become “Belgian expert” for this part of the route, a big ask for someone with just three years in the country. And I am guilty of encouraging Andrew to divert off his planned EuroVelo routes through the south of the country and further in to the centre nearer to Brussels and Flanders to be our guest in Lasne. If it doesn’t turn out well my EuroVelo colleagues in the ECF office will kill me for spoiling part of their publicity.

Last but not least he is a “proper” author, print and pages and Amazon listings and all that stuff. On the internet we may be a bit ephemeral and a rude remark on Twitter can be laughed off. However I am a bit old school and I like my books to last. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind I am worried I might feature forever in print as “the man whose instructions sent me cycling into a canal” instead of some nice words about the Belgian countryside.

Anyway, so far so good. A few hours ago I left Andrew in Leuven plotting a route east towards the Netherlands and Germany following roughly the route I did with my Dad last summer. Prior to that we have had three good days cycling and sightseeing together with the Belgian countryside and indeed the weather doing us proud.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

On Friday Andrew’s arrival over the border from France was a good excuse to take an afternoon off work so I could meet him part way guide him though some of the interesting routes through Wallonia using mostly the Ravel cycle network of canal towpaths and converted railway lines.

I took the train to the old Roman city of Nivelles where I took a ceremonial photo of my bike being dwarfed by the imposing west face of the church of Saint Gertrude.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

I then had a lovely ride down the route I planned for Andrew enjoying the wild flowers, birdsong and warm sunshine on the traffic free routes that took me swiftly south, firstly on the old rail line of Ravel 141 and then the old Brussels Charleroi canal, Ravel 3.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

Our meeting point was La Louviere, crossing point of a number of routes due to its extensive canal network. Not a town I knew at all because it doesn’t feature in any guide books, When I approached the town past the steel works I realised why, because these canals were first and foremost industrial corridors and La Louviere was clearly a solid working town, struggling like much of Wallonia with the decline of historic industries.

The town is trying very hard to spark itself up and I thought I could not have picked a better meeting point in the town square which was full of “animations”. Landmark? There can only be one purple and yellow tree in La Louviere surely.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

That didn’t quite work out because La Louviere has a few satellite suburbs that have their own squares and for a while we were missing each other completely. Eventually a rendezvous was made so we could have a very enjoyable summer afternoon ride back to Lasne. Last time I was here was the 5th of January when it was gloomy and so cold the canal surfaces were partly frozen, today was like another world.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

Yesterday is going to lead another blog post or two because we took a sightseeing diversion up to Waterloo, the most famous tourist attraction of the area.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

I am going to write about it separately because the 200th Anniversary is just a few weeks away and work is flat out in preparation for the events to mark the occasion. The existing Waterloo tourist area was frankly a bit of an international disgrace, run down and unappealing so I haven’t written about it much. However the new visitor centre was opened just a few days ago and it is a transformation, worth a write up in its own right.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

It was also an excuse for an hour or so gentle cycling to and from the battlefield through some of my local favourite routes. I am often very, very scathing about Walloon customer service so a special shout out to the landlady of “Le Gros Velo” the wonderfully named bar-restaurant in Plancenoit who knocked us up a couple of bowls of spaghetti bolognese hours after the lunch service was officially over, supped in the tranquil square with a glass of Leffe.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

And today we sent him on his way with the ride up to Leuven, countryside full of sporty Flemish cyclists out on a Sunday spin on a public holiday weekend. None of them knew they were passing a man on a trip with 3,000 km done and still 4,000 to go, perhaps we should have demanded some respectful salutes.

What else can I say? Well for those potential hosts further up Europe in the Warm Showers network I can tell you the Andrew you get in the books is very much the Andrew of real life. He is a very warm and engaging guest, full of chatty anecdotes and commentaries from his travels and teaching career. In particular I can see how the life of the traveling author suits him because he has an open mind and is curious about the countryside and cultures he is traveling though, much like a journalist as well as a writer. I admire that quality, it must sustain him.  While I have secret hankering to set off on ride across a continent one day I find it almost impossible to imagine months on the road, I am very happy to be a reader of these travellers’ books and I am looking forward to Andrew and his bike Reggie reporting back after they get to the North Cape.

Andrew posts his reports daily on cyclingeurope.org so you can see his perspective on the visit as it unfurled too, with much more clever stuff like videos and commentary.

I will be slightly nervous until they do arrive. Andrew told me he blames broken spokes on his very first trip on the cobbles he hit in Lille early on that journey. I must be getting a bit too accustomed to them because I just forget that many of my favourite routes have several sections of the horrible rattly stuff and my British guests are often distinctly discombobulated by bouncing around on the stones. I may just have passed over a few sections in my three days with Andrew and Reggie.

Photo Kevin Mayne Photo Kevin Mayne

They didn’t seem impressed. Having the bike laden with camping gear and everything you need for three months on the road just make it worse, so even if I didn’t end up as the man who sent the author into a canal I will be mightily relieved if I am not blamed for a wheel collapse, somewhere in northern Norway, three day’s ride from a bike shop.

Bon voyage!

Photo by Kevin Mayne

A new cycling bookshelf

My Dad moved house towards the end of last year which caused me a bit of a crisis.

Nope, nothing to do with the man or the move. But as he was “downsizing” he told me was clearing out some bike stuff, his old maps and some of his bike books. I cannot imagine losing one of my books, in any shape or form, I keep them all. If you need a cycling guide to Belarus written in Russian I can oblige, not to mention a volume on cycling in Taiwan in Mandarin.Photo Kevin Mayne

I can’t read them, but they were given to me by fellow cyclists and I convince myself that on some occasion I can look at the pictures and daydream.

Dad has accumulated a lot of stuff over the years and some of it is unique, and probably collectable. At minimum I would want it to go on Ebay so anyone with an interest can pick them off. However that’s not exactly Dad’s area of expertise and definitely not the thing to start when in the throes of a house move. In that situation the book collection was destined for the local charity shop where it probably wouldn’t sell and would end up in a skip. This was indeed a crisis.

I made a dash over to Bungay a couple of weeks before his move was due and “saved” a part of the collection, in particular the books. We sat together and I worked through the pile until I had identified about 20 items that I felt were impossible to miss.

It was a diverse selection. Firstly there were the recent books that I surprisingly had not accumulated myself or had read and passed on. These included Ned Boulting’s entertaining “How I won the yellow jumper”, the bicycle passion of Rob Penn’s “It’s all about the bike”, David Byrne’s pedalling philosophy and wry observation in “Bicycle Diaries” and the book I think is the most best autobiography of a pro bike rider I have ever read, Laurent Fignon’s “We were young and carefree”.

Photo Kevin Mayne

Then there were some absolute classics of their kind that are far too collectable to be dumped. In particular there were several of the wonderful 1940s Harold Briercliffe touring guides to England which inspired a modern BBC TV series “Britain by Bike” by presenter Clare Balding and a reissue of the books, but these are originals.

Photo Kevin Mayne

And who could not love a volume that is priced in proper old money, three shillings and sixpence, and features pictures of people doing “Scientific Cycle Training” with weights in gym clothes. Without their bikes? I bet that didn’t sell too many copies at the time.

Photo Kevin Mayne

Collecting the books was fine until I got home and contemplated my own situation.

The existing collection of about 40 books that has occupied its own dedicated space for the past few years and adorns the top of my rarely updated “Library” of book reviews page on the blog. (That ignores the shelves of travel and tourism books and the cupboards full of maps, which is quite another story!)

Cycling Books

However doing a lot of cycling visits means that volumes like the guides to Belarus and Taiwan are not the only books I have picked up.  I have accumulated a shelf overflow in the last couple of years that were piled all over the place. Together with the collection from Dad’s place it was time for an accompanying new bike book shelf.

I was a bit surprised to discover that a quick tour round the house found another 20 volumes and the new shelf is itself almost full. Which leaves me the prospect that I either start accumulating e-books, or I have to find another 40 books to justify the next shelf. What would you do?

Short reviews:

Since I collected the books I have read and browsed a few of them. Here are two in particular that I have thoroughly enjoyed and are already inspiring thoughts for the blog.

“It’s all about the bike” Rob Penn

I mentioned this a couple of times in my recent blog posts about my own bike restoration project, so I won’t repeat the way the book helped me frame those posts.

What I really liked about this book is the feeling of travelling with a kindred spirit, someone who cares quite a lot about bicycles, but cares far more about the spirit, passion and craftsmanship of the people who make the machines we might take for granted.  This is writing about manufacturing as others write about art, his description of legendary builder Gravy lacing a wheel in California evokes the sense of a musician tuning the finest of violins. If you think this is about bike parts you have missed the point.

Photo Kevin Mayne

“Bicycle Diaries” by David Byrne

If your affinity to cycling is a sort of urban cool then David Byrne could be your adopted high priest, as he is for many cycling advocates in the US. His band “Talking Heads” combined a really eclectic mix of musical influences from the mid 70s to the 1990s as well as making a concert film “Stop making sense” that highlighted their experimental styles.

Byrne himself was the band’s lyricist and front man together with working in film, on the stage, producing World Music artists, painting, drawing and creating installation art. In the New York arts and music scene he can only be called a powerhouse.

And all that time he was riding his bike, during a period when he was probably one of the very few cyclists in New York. Now he is feted for his commitment to the cause and was invited by the city to design some cycle parking stands that reflected places in the city including his dollar sign for Wall Street.  Last year I discovered his lovely “Poem for Cyclists” which is a lovely short film connecting lots of cycling clips, I cannot watch it without smiling.

That is the background to “Bicycle Diaries” from 2009 which is a collection of writings inspired by his bike rides around the world. To me it reads just like my favourite cycling diaries and blogs. It isn’t really about the cycling. It is full of the thoughts that actually go through his head while riding. Musings on society, urban development, architecture, transport, philosophy and culture flow from rides around various places in the US, London, Istanbul, Berlin and many other cities. Occasionally he comments on how bad a city like Istanbul can be for cycling, but clearly after New York he isn’t fazed by much so he is willing to ride everywhere.

It is particularly fun to get his take on cities I have visited and see how he picks up feelings about the city from his bike too, so this book must rate as a particularly good addition to my new bookshelf, a and one I can see myself dipping in to for city writing ideas again and again.

Those two make such a good start to the new collection. Many more reading days to come.

“Roads were not built for cars” – Book review. Essential reading for cycle campaigners and a chance to unravel some myths and legends

I have written this review in two parts. The first is what you might call the “official review” which I have given to the ECF web site for our cycle campaigning community. It should appear on ECF.com shortly. But reading it I discovered some interesting content relating to my past role at CTC, the UK cyclists’ charity which prompted me to add some additional reflections which I have added here in my personal blog.

The “official review”

Anyone wanting a comprehensive review of how our roads entered what we might call the “modern era” should look no further than this highly enjoyable read from British cycling journalist Carlton Reid. He has taken an investigation of the role cycling played in road modernisation in the late 19th and early 20th century and extended it to cover the origins of road construction, the engineering of cars and how this period of change was influenced by politics, business and social class.

This is also very much a book for campaigners. It is the most thorough examination I have read of how the battles for influence were fought by cyclists and motorists across the Victorian and Edwardian period, particularly in the UK and the USA. From a modern perspective we might assume that these were battles between driving and cycling lobbies but the book is fastidious in showing that for much of this period these were often the same people fighting to improve the roads for both modes of travel.

But Carlton is happy to call himself a revisionist. He does have a clear mission in this story. This book wants to reclaim a piece of history on behalf of cycling, correcting the way that the motoring lobby subsequently grabbed the road space and made it a “space for cars”, especially Henry Ford’s later claim that it was the motorists that created modern roads. This makes the book essential reading for modern campaigners who are challenging some of the attitudes and values from that period almost 100 years later. For many ECF members and supporters we can trace our roots back to those early campaigners in the Cyclists’ Touring Club (today’s CTC) and the League of American Wheelmen.

The great pleasure of the book is that the reader can almost sense Carlton digging away in libraries and on line and uncovering gems that he just had to share. The role of cycling in the design and manufacture of early cars. The business tactics of the early cycling and motoring companies. He is particularly good at discussing the personalities of the period and their influences from pioneer roads campaigners like Rees Jeffreys to businessman Henry Lawson. There is a whole chapter on ten of the key names where one can sense the journalist in Carlton almost interviewing them to find out their cycling origins and how it influenced their careers.

This book must be regarded as essential reading for anyone with an interest in cycling advocacy even if it is mainly focussed on the UK and the USA.  Perhaps it leaves the door open for new chapters from contributors in other countries to add their story in later editions.

To buy an electronic copy of “Roads Were Not Built for Cars” go to the book’s website.

Some extra personal thoughts

A few weeks ago I reflected on this people who came before me in my role as Chief Executive of CTC, the UK’s cyclists’ charity. On that occasion I was considering how I would have reacted if I was at the Club during the First World War when cyclists were being encouraged to join the Cyclists’ Regiments.

A few days later I read Carlton’s book which triggered other thoughts about how CTC’s leaders reacted at various times in the history of cycling, and how we see them with the benefit of hindsight. The Club was a key player for most of the period of the book and its Council members and staff populated many of the campaigns and activities, something that still makes me enormously proud.

This meant I paid special attention to the CTC figures in the book, especially two who filled the same post as me, Secretary, the position which became Director and then Chief Executive. When people want to critique anything CTC is doing their names are dragged out as examples of what the current generation might be doing wrong. What was really interesting to me was how Carlton’s neutral eye balanced some of the myths we have built up around these two inside and outside CTC.

Ernest Shipton was Secretary from 1883 to 1907. As “Roads Were Not Built for Cars” points out it was very common for our leaders of that period to be as passionate about cycling as motoring and Shipton was no exception. He was a founder of the Automobile Club, later to become the Royal Automobile Club.

He is largely remembered by cyclists as the man who engineered a vote at the 1906 CTC AGM to allow the Club to admit motorists. This decision was overturned at the high court despite Shipton’s evidence that cars had made cycling no longer attractive and the Club needed to change. Within months of the court decision he had left his post and his 24 year career is only remembered in one line – the man who tried to turn CTC into a motoring organisation.

In the other camp during that debate was George Herbert Stancer.  He was already an influential figure as editor of Cycling, one of the biggest magazines of the time (and still around today as Cycling Weekly). Several years later he became Secretary of CTC, taking on a position he would hold for over 30 years, then continuing as President until 1964. To many in the Club (including me) GHS is the man who probably did more than anyone else to reform cycle campaigning as a defence against the encroachment and danger of cars. His predecessors fought for road improvement as equals, but by Stancer’s time as Secretary motorists dominated the politics of transport.

George Herbert Stancer GHSThe classic Stancer photo is an elderly GHS on his beloved tricycle, but the younger Stancer was altogether something more formidable. He is almost our Churchill, fighting back with his speeches, thunderous editorials and fierce letter writing. And like Churchill such strong opinions made him a divisive figure.

I have been told numerous times by people outside CTC that the Club in the 1930s sold UK cycling down the proverbial river, in particular by its opposition to cycle paths. Within days of becoming CTC CEO in 1998 I was told by one of the most influential figures in UK cycling that if it wasn’t for Stancer and his colleagues the UK today would have a network of cycle lanes as good as any in the Netherlands. “CTC has a lot to answer for” I was told.

“Roads Were Not Meant for Cars” does a lot to balance those myths and legends about Shipton and Stancer.

Shipton may be damaged goods inside CTC but the book makes it clear that his views were mainstream at the time, nearly all the leading motoring figures had cycling roots and this golden period of “Road Improvement” they represented both modes on committees and campaigning bodies. CTC members voting 5:1 in favour of admitting motorists suggests he was in touch with the feelings of his constituency inside CTC too. In that context his actions look a lot more rational.

Stancer too benefits from a detailed look at the situation faced by CTC in the 1930s. In particular the book has a detailed account of the now notorious Alness Report, published in 1939. This committee of Lords was stuffed with pro-motoring figures which made it impossible for the cycling witnesses to make any progress. However for many a belief that Stancer’s statements to the committee that cyclists didn’t want cycle lanes is a damning critique that undermines his place in history.

The story looks very different in this book. Seeing the wider content of that report I realise now just how much the concern of the day for the cyclists was whether they should be removed from the roads entirely to allow speedier passage of cars.

“In evidence given to the Alness committee, CTC officials had stressed that the main objection was to the quality of cycle paths and not just the principle of being able to continue riding on the carriageway, the hard-won right of cyclists since 1888. The CTC feared that legislation would be brought in that would make it compulsory to use cycle paths even before a useable network had been built, and that, going by the poor provision of paths in the previous five years, there was little likelihood that the paths of the future would be of decent quality.”

“witness after witness – from surveyors to arch motorists – attested to the dire nature of England’s experimental cycle paths but, apart from cyclist witnesses, most wanted cyclists to be forced to use the paths.”

At the end of this section of the book is an exchange from the report which should probably be printed out and stuck to the wall over the desk of every construction engineer, cycling official and cycle advocate in the world.

Earl of Iddesleigh:

“If we could enable you to avoid the great motor roads and provide for you really satisfactory roads on which you would not have to compete with a great deal of fast moving traffic, there would be a gain in enjoyment?”

Stancer:

If it were possible to provide facilities that are equal to those that we enjoy now, with the additional advantage that they would not be shared by motorists, I think that cyclists would have no objection …

Earl of Iddesleigh:

Are the two grounds upon which you are against cycle tracks these? First, because the cyclist insists on his abstract right to the use of the highway, and secondly, because it is less pleasant to use a cycle track than a highway?

Stancer:

The second one you have mentioned is far more important. Cyclists would never insist upon their abstract rights if it were not that they are losing the chief pleasure of cycling by being forced on to the paths. If the paths are by any miracle to be made of such width and quality as to be equal to our present road system, it would not be necessary to pass any laws to compel cyclists to use them; the cyclists would use them.

I have to say that even today it is very hard to disagree with GHS. Nearly 80 years later I am living in a country that has cycle lanes such “width and quality” in parts of Flanders that it is indeed unimaginable that we wouldn’t use them. Sadly we also have some parts of the country where the lanes are so bad they are almost unrideable for most of the year. The use of both is compulsory.

But most of all I thank “Roads Were Not Meant for Cars” for bringing a thoroughly researched narrative and a clear context to those debates. Shipton and Stancer may have been made decisions that are not judged well by some in cycling today. But this well balanced narrative suggests that they were doing what they thought was right in the norms, the knowledge and the resources of the time.

I am sure things we campaigned for and against in my time at CTC will look very different in the year 2114. I can only hope that we have a narrator like Carlton Reid to disentangle myth from legend when the time comes.

Book Review: Along the Med on a bike called Reggie

Along the Med on a Bike called ReggieI don’t get round to doing many book reviews from my cycling library but I feel Andy Sykes latest offering is well worth a few words, probably because I just like Andy’s attitude to cycle touring which is a triumph of curiosity and enthusiasm overcoming his self-declared naivety about the more mundane processes of cycling such as how to pump up a tyre!

As the blurb says this is his self-published account of his summer 9 week trip from the southern tip of Greece right across Europe to the Atlantic coast of Portugal, nearly 6000km and 10 countries. He loosely follows the route of Eurovelo 8, the Mediterranean Route but very much creates his own itinerary and diversions, not least to the legendary Mont Ventoux, cycling’s “Giant of Provence”.

It is a sequel to his 2010 trip “Riding across Europe on a Bike called Reggie” where we first met an even less prepared Andy and Reggie cycling from the UK to Brindisi in southern Italy along Eurovelo 5.* I enjoyed the first book a lot, there were some highly amusing moments all along the way so I was looking forward to book 2 when I heard Andy was off for more in the summer of 2013.

The cycle touring book has a long tradition going back almost to the invention of the bicycle. Some of them are voyages of discovery, some epic endurance adventures. The ones I enjoy most are the ones where the personality of the writer comes through and Andy certainly wins on that front. His writing is strongest where he addresses his own feelings – sometimes curious, sometimes anxious, even at times a bit nervous about hills, main roads, the state of the local campsites and arriving in Portugal in his allotted nine weeks. And then the other Andy takes over and just does it, delighted by the small pleasure of cycling travel like wonderful views, chance meetings, yet another coffee in a town square, a day completed. Occasionally he even lets an inner epic cyclist come out and like his day cycling over 200km to Valencia and he is drawn to master the incredible Ventoux, a legendary mountain of the Tour de France. I think the book is best in the first half when he has the time and relaxation to potter about and take side diversions in countries like Greece, Albania and the states of former Yugoslavia including Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia and Slovenia.

Both books make an excellent introduction to these long distance routes and the concept of using a bike to have an epic adventure.  Andy is also the first cycling writer I have discovered from what I can only call the “on line” generation. He may hardly have a functional map of most of his route but he has got an I-Phone strapped to his handlebars, a solar charger on the back to keep it powered, an I-Pad in the pannier, hotels booked during the day by the internet, guest homes from the cyclists hospitality web site Warm Showers and he has kept his on line community in contact with his travels by Facebook, blog and Twitter. I think many tentative cycle tourists could be encouraged and inspired to take even a short adventure by Andy’s travels across Europe with limited preparation but confidence in his resources. If you know someone who needs a push to try a bit of a cycling adventure but loves their electronic toys this could be the perfect Christmas gift, but of course they would download it as an e-book! I am trying to be this relaxed about my touring, I think a bit of the Andy Sykes approach is starting to rub off.

You can find links to the books and the various points of sale on Andy’s lively web site cyclingeurope.org which also has his blog and lots of other content.

If you like this you’ll probably also like “One Man and his Bike” by Mike Carter and “French Revolutions” by Tim Moore, both mentioned in my library page

Eurovelo.com

(*Declaration of interest here, the wonderful 70,000km Eurovelo network with its amazing long distance cycle routes is a product of the European Cyclists’ Federation who I work for in Brussels. Thanks to Andy for some enthusiastic promotion of the network, even if he does frustrate some of our colleagues by “not sticking to the proper route”. Personally, that’s what I would do, use the routes for inspiration and then make my own way, so no problem here!)

“Rage, rage against the dying of the light”

Belgium Wallonia

Lasne Chapelle St lambert

“Rage, rage against the dying of the light” is a line from the poem “Do not go gentle into that good night” by the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. It was written as a poem for his dying father but both lines are among the most used Thomas quotes.

Thomas is an extraordinary lyrical poet, if you don’t know his work I encourage you to pick up an anthology or try reading or listening to “Under Milk Wood”, his play for voices. At Christmas every child should be read “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”. If you haven’t got a child of the right age borrow a suitable relative as an excuse to read it out loud, great for grandparents!

The line “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” has come to me many times in the past weeks because to me it sums up an urgency to take in the best of the sunlight and autumn colour before winter’s icy grip takes hold.

I think this year that feeling has been amplified several times over and I have been trying to digest why. Foremost I suspect is a legacy of our first Belgian winter which coincided with one of this part of Europe’s worst winter spells in living memory. There is no reason why it should repeat this year but I do find each bright sunny walk and bike ride precious as if I am banking them for the hibernation to come.

lone cyclist Lasne Chapelle St Lambert

On a more positive note we are definitely inspired by our new home of the past year. Living at the top of a hill and being surrounded by tracks and trails that open up wide vistas means that we can see the interplay of the light and the landscape much more than if we lived in town or even in a village. Sunrise and sunset are more part of the day, the sun rises and sets over the land and trees rather than being eclipsed by buildings.

And I am sure my final influence is my blogging. I have gradually found my relationship with the light changing as I have tried to describe my travelling and my cycling life here in Belgium. I am gradually learning the way light changes scenery and enjoying trying to translate that into photography for an audience.

This sequence of photographs was taken on one short November walk that summed up the whole feeling. I was too busy to post them when I took them but they capture the urgency of the battle between winter’s dark and autumn’s light perfectly. I knew the storm was coming and I knew I didn’t have much time to take the dog out for his walk.

The sun was low and bright and lit up the fields and trees almost like a spotlight but it was made all the more striking by the glowering dark clouds that foretold the rain, making a dark contrast behind the foreground features.

Chemin Chapelle St Robert Lasne Autumn 2013

And as if to emphasise the difference the crop of green manure planted by the farmer was flowering bright yellow. This is a quite unusual crop, it is planted in September after the harvest of the main crop corn and sugar beet.  It then grows rapidly to a metre tall yellow flower in just six to ten weeks before it is ploughed back into the ground before the next main crop. It creates an unexpected splash of colour all over the area just as the rest of the plant life is taking on a dowdy winter hue.

Autumn trees Chapelle St lambert

Chapelle St Lambert autumn landscape 2013

In the end I didn’t escape the rain, but I did feel I had captured a precious feeling that I wanted to share.

Full version and audioclip of “Do not go gentle into that good night” here 

Cycle touring revolutions – Cycling in Lower Franconia

Franconia Germany

River Main cycle route Germany

I was in Schweinfurt visiting the German training and development centre for SRAM recently.

My main reason for being there was to talk about cycling advocacy to SRAM’s urban cycling event. However at the end of the two day event we had a few hours before I had to get my train back to Belgium so we were offered a social test ride for a couple of hours. As the weather was delightful and spring-like it would be rude not to, wouldn’t it? So this was an opportunity to take in another region I knew nothing about – Lower Franconia, almost in the centre of Germany.Franconia Germany

My recent cycle touring in Germany has been limited to a few sessions around the Bodensee (Lake Constance) where I had seen the evidence of the boom in leisure cycling in Germany. But here I saw other dimensions of that boom that had been less apparent in the summer holiday throngs in the south.

We were taken a short distance out of Schweinfurt into the countryside to a delightful area around Gerolzhofen and the popular rural area of the Steigerwald which has attractive villages and delightful countryside.

Germany cycling

Gerolzhofen Germany

Cycle touring Germany

Lower Franconia Germany

Cycling Franconia GermanyFrom there we were able to sample the impressive network of  segregated cycle tracks and minor roads for a couple of hours until we ended up crossing the River Main by ferry and enjoying a snack in a terrace café overlooking the river and its busy cycle route in Obereisenheim.

I was hugely impressed by the number of cycle tourists I saw and the facilities we used but on a working day the people who were out were almost universally older (let’s say seniors to be polite). I had heard about Germany’s grey cycling revolution but I had never seen it personified, it was extraordinary that a busy cycle route could be 90% one demographic.Germany cyclingGerman cyclists in Volkach 2Cycle touring Germany

And the next revolution was what they were riding. I have blogged before about the way E-bikes have taken over at the German trade shows and I know that in the last couple of years they have taken a huge slice of the market, but I hadn’t seen where they were being used. Now I could see it writ large – nearly 50% of the bikes we saw were E-bikes, often in pairs. And the lovely little town of Volkach had adopted it so much they had put an ugly E-bike charging station in the middle of their attractive town square.Cycling bikes Franconia Germany

Franconia Germany

It seemed a bit incongruous, a glorified luggage locker in a medieval square, but it further reinforced the point that if you want elderly German cycle tourists that means catering for the new E-bike phenomenon.

Cycling Franconia Germany

Volkach Franconia Cycling

In fact the café we ended up at down on the River Main only had one customer type the whole time we were there. Cyclists. I know numerous studies have been done showing the economic value of cycle tourists in rural areas but if we could count the percentage of turnover for the Gasthof zum Schiff in Obereisenheim it would indeed be impressive.Cycling Franconia

All in all an excellent afternoon out, great scenery, nice company and the chance to see a number of cycling trends all brought to life in one place. There is little wonder that cycling is growing solidly in Germany, they really have so many positive things happening they all seem to complement each other.SRAM Urban days cycling group