Spirits rising – the familiar made special

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This gallery contains 3 photos.

I am going to write about a short but wonderful bike ride, a ride that left me buoyed up by the beauty to be found in a familiar landscape. But make me a promise. Before you read this in full … Continue reading

An “I love my job” kind of day – cycling, talking about cycling, looking at bikes – all in a great setting. Eurobike 2015

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hk2xaeXnxlM Photo Kevin Mayne

This is the first of a number of posts from my now annual trip to Eurobike, the massive bike show at Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance (the Bodensee).

I’ll pick out a few individual stories and of course my professional work at Eurobike is covered extensively on the ECF web site and other media like Bike Europe.

However I have to start with Tuesday.

Tuesday was an “I love my job” kind of day, combining as it did amazing settings, some cycling, a hell of a lot of talking about cycling and even a few moments to look at some bikes.

But first a little context. Some of my readers will have seen my write ups from the previous three Eurobikes so I may have given you an impression of the scale of this event. It is the world’s biggest bike show and by far the biggest event in the area each year so it scatters us far and wide across the region to find accommodation. The good news is that this means I have got so see some of the lovely parts of this attractive region as we sought out places to stay. In previous years this has meant a hotel hidden in the city walls or even a celebrated monastery.

This Tuesday I woke up to sunrise on a fruit farm, tucked away in a tiny hamlet near the Bodensee town of Kressbron.Photo Kevin Mayne

Still and quiet apart from birdsong and offering a 5 yard walk up to the trees to pick a just-ripe apple for breakfast.

Photo Kevin Mayne

Promptly at 6.30am we were collected by ECF President Manfred Neun to take us on the next stage of the day. The “Leaders’ Ride” was our event to get the top people in the cycling business to beat the traffic and commute the 5km from the Friedrichshafen station to the showgrounds on the edge of the city.

Pilot? Experiment? On the morning of one of their biggest events of the year would the captains of industry turn out for a simple bike ride? We didn’t really know until 7.30 am when they flooded into the square by the station – probably 200 by the time we counted them all. We gave out almost 60 hire bikes from Nextbike so determined were they to come along.

Photo Kevin Mayne

Remember that John F. Kennedy said “nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride”? These folks don’t just ride the bikes, they own the companies and here we were putting huge smiles on their faces by having a short ride “to the office”.

Photo Kevin Mayne

Three days later they are still talking about the atmosphere and the networking and when Manfred announced we are going to do it again next year they all cheered! (He could have asked the rest of us first, but that’s the joy of Manfred)

Photo Kevin Mayne

The ride, press conference and photo call didn’t finish until 10ish, so second breakfast felt well deserved even if we had actually only ridden 5 kilometres.

First day of the show proper was then talk, talk, talk but of course I did sneak in a sideways glace at some of the exhibits, although the aisles were packed.

Photo Kevin Mayne Photo Kevin Mayne

To round the day off perfectly Manfred promised us that he would use his local knowledge to find us a restaurant by the lake on the way back to Kressbron. We actually overshot a little to get to the lovely island city of Lindau, the historic old town separated from the lake by a bridge. I first came here more than 30 years ago and I thought it was a lovely place then. In the golden hues of a late summer sunset with a tired but happy group of colleagues it was perfect.

Photo Kevin Mayne Photo Kevin Mayne Photo Kevin Mayne Photo Kevin Mayne

This gives me an excuse to end with one of my favourite songs of the last 5 years. Beautiful day

A song to be played while repairing bikes: – “Shipbuilding”.

Wheelbuilding

When I am working in my bike shed there is a song that sometimes comes suddenly when the music payer shuffles the tunes, then becomes an earworm that stays with me for the rest of the day. It is a special song anyway, but I give it a little cycling twist when I am working on my bikes.

It is the beautiful and moving 1983 song “Shipbuilding”, written by Elvis Costello and Clive Langer and first recorded by English singer songwriter Robert Wyatt.

On first impressions this can be taken as a song of optimism. The words talk of possibilities from a new job

A new winter coat,

And shoes for the wife

And a bicycle

On the boy’s birthday

Of course, a bicycle for the boy, who couldn’t love that idea as a symbol of hope?

However the song has a dark side. Because the “Shipbuilding” in the title is the possible return of shipbuilding and repairing to the British shipyards of Scotland, Northern Ireland and the North East of England, places that had been hardest hit by recession in the 1970s and early 1980s. The rumour that there might be shipbuilding again came because Britain was sending a military task force to the Falkland Islands, a war that would be fought mostly at sea.

And it is those self-same suffering industrial areas that supplied the much of the British forces at the time. Woven through the lyrics are the pains of war,

They’ll be reopening the shipyard
And notifying the next of kin once again

So Costello had actually written a protest song that reflected the impact on the people who not valued by the Thatcher Government, but were now needed both to fight and rebuild the ships. A painful reminder of one of the most challenging periods of our not so distant past and one where I cannot help but be in sympathy with Costello’s words.

He says in interviews that he wasn’t being alarmist or morbid, but he also says they were possibly the best lyrics he ever wrote, reflecting the complexity and depth that he put into a short “pop” song. “Diving for dear life, when we could be diving for pearls….”

I have added below Youtube links to both versions, you can enjoy the sparseness of the Robert Wyatt version or the virtuoso jazz trumpet on Costello’s own recording that for me just adds to the poignancy. (Email readers may have to visit the original blog post on http://www.idonotdespair.com for these links to work)

I sing these words out loud when I am working, if nothing else because I can. But I do have my own special version that has emerged from the bike workshop. Last year when I was making my first attempt at removing and replacing a wheel rim when the song came on and almost without thinking I replaced the words “shipbuilding” with “wheelbuilding”.

Dropouts 3And I have carried the idea ever since that this song can become a true song of hope when old areas of industrial decline get a glimmer of optimism because they are re-opening old bicycle factories to satisfy the demands of a new society.

Listen, enjoy, reflect and maybe in your bike shed you will sing of wheelbuilding too. I hope so.

 

The perfect song for cycling and singing out loud – thanks to the BBC and the Beach Boys

I do not despair is currently distracted from blogging.

It is bid-writing season again – the process of developing a sales pitch to funders that part exam revision, part interview, part dissertation, part speech writing and a lot of hours locked away with the laptop. There is sadly little capacity left for the blog for another few days yet.

My saving grace is the bike ride to work, an hour or more of tranquility to reorganise my thoughts.

And there is music. This isn’t just while writing. As my regular readers know “Music to Ride bikes by” celebrates the songs that come into my head while riding and just won’t go away.

Today I just have to celebrate the work of the BBC Music department that has just produced a brilliant version of “God only Knows” to celebrate the joy of music. In time to a pedalling rhythm it is even better.

The original was already 3 minutes of pop perfection, but listening to this video has joyously uplifted my morning ride for three days now. My apologies to anybody in the woods near Brussels who has been terrified by a tuneless English cyclist singing out loud to the trees.

“It’s the end of the world as we know it. (And I feel fine.)” A special last ride in New Zealand. Thanks to everyone that made the cycling on this trip possible.

Bluff Point sign

So this was the final day of my six weeks in Australia and New Zealand. It has taken me almost that long again to write it all up, but the last day’s ride was so good it feels vivid and fresh right now.

It was not only a symbolic end, I physically reached the end of New Zealand’s South Island, spending my last morning riding on Bluff Hill, a rocky dome of a hill that rises 265 m (870ft) straight from sea level at the very southern tip of New Zealand’s South Island. It has 360 degree panoramic views along the coast, inland towards Invercargill and even to the mountains far beyond. The Maori name for the hill is Motupõhue which means “island of põhue flowers”, because from the sea it appeared to be an island rising before the rest of the land could be seen. Despite its remote location Bluff has a claim to be the longest permanently settled European town in New Zealand, the first trader and farmer bought land off the Maori here in 1824. Today it is still an active port although many Kiwis will be much more interested in the seasonal Bluff Oysters, considered the finest of delicacies and craved by exiles.

I knew about Bluff Hill from my previous trips to Invercargill. Everywhere has a hill like this. The one you have to go and try when you think you have become a cyclist. The local cyclists talk about it in that tone that tells you it is a place of legend. When you are even part way up your legs are burning and you are frantically looking for a lower gear that you don’t have any more. Bluff Hill’s reputation is enhanced because the Tour of Southland, New Zealand’s toughest bike stage race regularly finishes at the top.

Flagstaff Road Bluff New Zealand

However I had never actually cycled there on my previous trips, mainly because it is 25 km south of Invercargill and the access is an open stretch of main road that I had never fancied riding. However this time I was updating my knowledge about what was going on locally when I saw a link to Bluff Hill trails on the Southland MTB Club web site.

Within moments I knew that this was a “must do”. A bucket list item almost. To know I had ridden on what is possibly the most southerly set of planned and maintained mountain bike trails in the world? To ride up above the countryside and sea and take in the landscape at this unique place. To know I could spend an hour or more playing on good mountain bike trails rather than just head-banging down a main road. You bet I was going to try and go there.

I hadn’t really planned on it being the last day but that is the way that time escapes on a short visit. So to maximise family time and get in my special ride I compromised and got up at 6am to drive my in-laws’ car out to the foot of the hill, ready to ride at first light.

Bluff Hill Flagstaff Road in the dark New ZealandThat part of the plan went perfectly. Too perfectly. I arrived just as there was a glimmer of dawn on the far horizon, but I couldn’t actually see a yard in front of my face at the trailhead so any prospect of riding up the hill off-road had to wait.

Instead I took the route of most pain and climbed the almost straight road to the top of the hill. It is 22% at the steepest point and an average of 11% so I certainly needed the mountain bike gears, doing that without any sort of warm up at 7.30 am in the morning would have had me walking for sure on a road bike.

But then my timing turned out to be absolutely perfect. As the light crept in under the clouds the landscape changed magically, second by second. Each time I lifted my head deep blues turned to pinkish hues behind me and the road surface became more visible.

Bluff Hill view New Zealand

Buff Hill sunrise New Zealand

Dawn from Bluff Hill mountain bike tracks New Zealand

As I got to the top a soft yellow glow was driving away the shadows right across the landscape.

Bluff Hill Sunrise over south coast of New Zealand

Way in the north Invercargill was visible a series of light spots on the flat plain.

Lights at dawn Invercargill from Bluff Hill New Zealand

I was also blessed by the weather. The start of winter and I was wearing a light cycling top and shorts in almost windless conditions, an incredible stroke of luck for the views and the riding. Despite it being winter clumps of hardy gorse were in bloom, the yellow flowers seemingly sucking up the rays and glowing against the grey-green backdrop.

Gorse flowers on Bluff Hill New Zealand

I don’t know how long I hung around at the top taking in the rising sun and the changing views but I had to pinch myself to remember I was there to ride as well.

Bluff Hill viewing point at dawn

I looked momentarily at the entrance point to the “Downhill route” which descends a terrifying straight line and is graded “Black” or “expert”, but knowing that it was not for me I dropped down the shallower side of the hill and played for an hour on the intermediate trail network. It weaved its way up, down and around the hillside, offering me a good variety of riding. But what made this set of trails special today was that every corner offered a different sea view, and when I was sure I had gone round a section more than once it didn’t really matter because the effect of the sunrise was to make it feel subtly different each time.

Bluff Hill Mountain Bike Trails New Zealand Bluff Hill Mountain bike tracks New Zealand Bluff Hill Mountain bike track with sea view New Zealand

All the time in my head I was revelling in where I actually was, at the far end of the world and at the end of my holiday. Throughout the ride a song played in on permanent repeat in my head. REM’s “It’s the end of the world as we know it” was the song of the day. Inevitably? Maybe, in the odd way my mind works.

Then time was up and I let the bike flow its way down the lumps and bumps in the track to the parking where mine was still the only car, another joy of riding on a winter dawn. It was indeed the end of the trip, and fate intervened to tell me so in no uncertain terms. As I freewheeled into the car park there was a horrible rending noise, all pedalling ceased and I looked down to discover a very distressed gear mechanism in quite the wrong position. My last seconds, my last ride and my only mechanical failure of the whole trip.

Time to go home, but what a way to finish.

My huge thanks to everyone who made the cycling on this trip possible. The mountain bike trail builders of New Zealand and the local authorities building bike paths all over Australia and New Zealand. The friends, family and commercial companies that made it possible to beg, borrow and hire eight different bikes in six weeks. Jason I am really sorry about the last day mishap on your nice mountain bike – I hope you have it fixed now.

Last and by no means least the family, friends and hosts who indulged me once again while I went off at all times of the day to get my cycling fix. I had come to see you all, of course, but a bit of pedalling made me a nicer human being – trust me. As my favourite travelling companion knows best of all.

If you cannot see a link to the REM song here in the email version of the post click “View in Browser” for a working link.

Music for cycling – Queen providing the sound track to a stormy Belgian commute

I haven’t had a “Music to Ride Bikes By” post for ages, I don’t seem to have had the muse.

However this morning was my first ride to work for the year, an hour and a half through the dark and the wind to get me into the pattern for the year. As I have written before the ride to work is my meditation so I was actually quite looking forward to having the time to sort my thoughts and prepare for the week ahead.

However in that completely weird way that “Music to Ride Bikes to” always happens a piece of music came from nowhere, took over my brain and excluded all other thoughts.

But why? Why do Freddie Mercury and Queen sing “I want to break free” for a whole 90 minutes. And the video was there too, the completely barking mad video that was Freddie at his most over the top, so out there that a lot of US TV channels banned it at the time. There is no thought in the world that stands a chance of competing with that.

I am a big Queen fan but I haven’t heard that song for ages so no idea why. It is however a good thumping riff for pedaling so it did help me keep the wheels going round so it can take its place in the record list. However I do hope it is gone tomorrow.

For previous music and the background to “Music to Ride Bikes By” click here.

NB – I now understand that a lot of my email readers don’t get any embedded video links because they are removed by virus checkers or email software, if I put them in posts I’ll try to make it clear so you can link back to the Blog to see the originals. Like now!

Over to you Freddie.