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Lots of other people are doing it, so I have been tempted by the Christmas holidays to to try and find at least one photo per year from the last decade that made me smile, or brought back a memory. … Continue reading
Today I leave for what is now the fourth of my annual trips to Taiwan for the Taipei Cycle Show. Added attractions this year are the Asian Cycling Forum, a big step on the road to our Velo-city 2016 Conference in Taipei and a very special weekend cycling with the wonderful Formosa Lohas Cycling Association team who are going to take me out for a couple of long days in the centre of the island.
It may be the rainy (drizzly?) season but it will be warm and muggy compared to Belgium.
However before I leave I had some personal errands to do so I decided to do them by bike early this morning and then cycle hard for an hour so my body is nicely jaded and I might just sleep on the plane tonight, a process that never comes easily to me.
This was a sharp but wonderful contrast to what I am expecting in Taipei. As I left the house there was a very sharp frost and the first 70 metre drop to the valley below left me gasping in shock. But the place was bathed in sharp morning light which began to warm everything with a golden glow. An hour later as I rode through the woods I felt this was going to be the perfect day to spend the whole day riding,
I just wanted to set off on a huge adventure on my two wheeled companion and “not come back till tea-time” as we might have said in a children’s book. What a waste to be stuck in a metal tube for hours.
Taipei will be wonderful again, stand by for lots of blogging. But I have unfinished business with these spring mornings in Belgium.
On January 1st a British cyclist called Steve Abraham sets off to attempt one of cycling’s most challenging records.
He aims to ride more than 75,000 miles in a year, breaking a record that has stood since 1939. He needs an average mileage of 205 miles a day, every day. If he misses even one day he then has to get that mileage back in future days.
The record has for many years been regarded as almost unachievable. If nothing else the sheer mental task has scared potential candidates, but there is the need to stay fit and healthy every day for the whole year while putting that stress on the body. It is four times further than the cycling round the world record. There is even a suggestion that the Guinness Book of Records regards the record as too dangerous and discourages other attempts. Since 1939 many have considered it, a few have tried and only one man got there but his record was annulled because of concerns over validity.
Tommy Godwin set the current record in 1939. He rode a heavy steel steed with just four gears and towards the end of his ride he had to carry on at night during the blackout of the early months of the Second World War. He also carried on to be the fastest man to reach 100,000 miles.
So a modern rider with a lightweight bike and modern smooth roads should have huge advantage, even if our roads are more clogged by traffic lights and other bothersome features.
But anyone taking on his record is not just racing the milometer, they are chasing the mythology of a man regarded as one of the hardest men ever to ride a bike, supposedly winning his first race at the age of 14 on a butcher’s bike.
However in the community of long distance cyclists there is just a small sense that “If anyone can, Steve can.”
He is one of the most prolific mile-eaters in the community of long distance riders represented by the form of riding called Audax or randonneuring. He already has a year where 25,000 miles were chalked up in recognised Audax UK events, the record number ever recorded, while holding down a full time job. This means he has regularly completed rides of over 1000km, riding through the night. So when it comes to the long summer days when he will need to build up a lot of distance Steve is one of the most experienced riders around.
My mind just boggles at the prospect. And I say very quietly to my friends and family “Its Ok”. You know whenever I see a great cycling challenge I say “Wow, I’d love to ride that”? No. No, no, no, no. Not this one. Not ever. I have every respect for the incredible distances Steve has already chalked up, they are unimaginable to the average person in the street. But this could just be the maddest, most crazy, daft challenge possible. Or the greatest.
Like most others I will be watching from a distance, quietly crossing my fingers and wishing him the most extraordinary luck, because in terms of health, safety, weather and fair winds he is going to need it, even if he has the personal fortitude to do the record. In these days of social media and on line coverage every mile of success and failure will be laid out for all to see, a huge burden. And yet because of that it can be also one of the greatest achievements in cycling.
Happy New Year Steve Abraham.
My colleagues came up absolutely trumps for the ECF Christmas party this year.
We set off in convoy under the Christmas lights of Brussels for a group bike ride to a mystery destination, known only to a select few.
After about twenty minutes we ended up at the brilliant Mmmmh! in Chaussée de Charleroi where we were ushered in to a large professional kitchen and handed aprons.
Oh yes, it is an episode of Masterchef and in our teams we have an hour to invent and cook three dishes.
What a laugh. Even the self-confessed non-cooks chopped and stirred with vigour, perhaps encouraged by the free flowing wine.
And due respect, we found out that we have some superb cooks on the team, there wasn’t a failed dish on the table.
Given that a group of cyclists can often resemble a plague of locusts, devouring its own body-weight in food in a day this could be the perfect cycling outing.
In the British version of the TV show Masterchef there are two lead presenters who regularly shout lines at each other like “Cooking doesn’t get tougher than this!” I can only say “Christmas, cooking and cycling – combined. It doesn’t get any better than that!”
It is one of the greatest failings of cycling as a social activity that jumping this barrier is a nerve-wracking experience even for someone like me who has been riding in clubs all my life. I have had some of the best cycling experiences ever and great friendship from my long term clubs Godric Cycling Club, Durham University CC, Cardiff Ajax and Reading Cycling Club but each time the first ride was a big step.
If I feel like this today then I know why people can own a sports road or mountain bike for their whole lives and never hook up with a club. Both they and the clubs miss out so often.
A quick examination of my symptoms please doctor:
Will I be able to keep up?
Will my bike fall apart?
If they leave me will I have a clue where I am?
I don’t climb too badly for a bigger lad, but my descending is pretty rusty at the moment – that could be embarrassing.
I’ve never really had a bad first ride on any of these counts, but I have a deeply repressed memory of something odd happening on one of my first club rides in Cardiff. Can’t even remember the details but one of my creative repairs revealed itself during a ride and as I did a patch up by the roadside I could see the eye rolling going on in the background. “We’ve got a right one here” they hinted to each other. I could easily have become one of so many one-timers who never returned instead of enjoying many more years of riding and club life because many do have a really unwelcoming first experience.
Rugby was my other sport for years and despite being a complicated, physical sport it handles this sort of thing so much better. It has the advantage of taking place at a fixed location but the most important welcome to new starters used to be “the fourth team”. (Replace with 5th, 6th, 7th team as appropriate). Can’t run, can’t catch, don’t know the rules and have a long distance relationship with anything called fitness? We’ll give you a run out in the 4ths and see how you get on under the avuncular support of an almost retired older player with a gammy leg and a deaf ear. Everyone plays because a proper 4th team has any number of players between 9 and 17, except the required 15. A proper 4th team is like the boxes of reject broken biscuits we used to love as kids. All shapes and sizes and only occasionally you turn up a complete custard crème, but its the mix that counts. And when you return to the clubhouse the 4th team creates its own legends of the bar. In short, a place for everyone.
Back to the matter in hand.
Tomorrow I am going out with the local Belgian cycling club.
This throws up a whole new set of challenges. At least in the UK I know the stock formula for most clubs is a Sunday ride – 60 miles with a coffee stop for most road clubs and maybe shorter distances with elevenses and lunch for the CTC groups.
Here club cycling seems to follows the French model. A racing club is just that, a club focussed on competition with a supporting network of ex-riders and officials. A cycle touring club looks to all intents and purposes exactly the same – club colours, quality road bikes, helmets and a calendar of events but the purpose is to ride together as groups and not to compete. So I reckon they fill the gap that I am looking for – strong-ish riders but not going to rip my legs off, like a club run or a faster CTC group in the UK.
Connection to my most local club has already failed because they are mainly interested in touring events – this weekend they are driving out to events both days. Sounds great, 100km including the legendary Mur de Gammont today but I actually want to learn about this area first and I certainly don’t want to give up 2 hours cycling time to sit in a car. So I’ll save that for another day, tomorrow I’ll try plan B with another club.
- I have found where they start
- My bike is scruffy but unlikely to be a laughing stock
- I can do the distance
- I have a domestic pass out
So it is time to get a grip Mayne ……. But they are Belgian, born to be hard cyclists. But my conversational French is awful. And what if I fall off on the cobbles, and what if they ……..
I don’t often reblog, but just occasionally I see a post that is so in the spirit of I do not despair that it has to be shared. Many thanks to Carlton Reid and Tim Gill who brought it to my attention through Twitter. More musings on this to come perhaps.
I wish I had had my camera with me, because just the other day I saw something extraordinary. Something so rare that I thought it was almost extinct. I was, frankly, both shocked and excited!
What was this rarity, this amazing vision? Picture this: I’m walking back from my local cafe/shopping strip on Main St in Osborne Park. An inner-city suburb in Perth, Western Australia. I’m walking down Hutton St, a very busy main suburban feeder road that leads directly to the Mitchell Freeway entries a kilometre away. It’s around 4.30pm, so the rush hour has started and Hutton St is packed with cars, heading for the Freeway and home.
And then I saw it! Or should I say saw him. A young boy on a dazzling chrome and electric blue BMX bike came whizzing down Hutton St. He’s keeping up with the packed traffic, but he’s pumping hard…
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Last week I paid my first visit to Berlin. Fortunately around my schedule of meetings I had a few free hours to myself for an afternoon and the freezing rain relented just enough to make sightseeing a realistic opportunity.
I was horribly unprepared to be a tourist having done almost no prior reading. When I checked my usual source on such matters Tripadvisor’s main recommendations were all places that needed at least an hour each to do them justice. Given that my knowledge of Berlin is entirely made of fragments from spy movies and occasional news footage, not the soundest of starts.
So it should come as no surprise to any reader of this blog that I hired a bike and pottered about with my camera just trying to get some impressions of the city.
I was able to top up my knowledge by chatting to colleagues the following day so I was at least able to answer some of my immediate questions, but here is a brief snapshot of thoughts and feelings from a first afternoon cycling and sightseeing in central Berlin.
First orientation issue – am I in East or West Berlin? I am starting from the middle (Mitte), but checking the map tells me I am in the former East because the Berlin Wall actually encircled the old centre like a bump in its alignment. Not obvious to my eye which was which or that the East had been the poor half because my walk down Friedrichstrasse to hire a bike passed parades of shops and offices indistinguishable from any modern city.
Once a bike was obtained from one of Deutsche Bahn’s many bike hire stations I realised that the layout was very compact and it was a matter of minutes to turn down the main street of East Berlin Unter den Linden and head for the must see monument, the Brandenburg Gate. (above)
Not only an impressive monument but important for my orientation because this was one of the symbols of divided Berlin and I could follow the former line of the Berlin Wall from here, especially as so many tourism landmarks appeared to be along its route.
It turned out to be quite an odd ride, as if the city doesn’t quite know what to do with its legacy, or indeed it’s cycling. Heading south from the Brandenburg Gate towards Potsdamer Platz the road was obvious but almost all suggestions of the wall’s existence were gone. Instead the first landmark was the Holocaust Memorial, a sombre grey feature of large blocks laid out in a grid, completed in 2004. A moody place in the overcast sky and slushy snow.
At PotsdamerPlatz I encountered my first evidence of the wall with some retained segments placed on the square covered with interpretation materials about the wall and its legacy. This explained more about what I was, or indeed was not seeing. In the transition after the wall came down many sections were demolished leaving the wide open spaces that used to be the former killing zone, the space left for the guards to see anybody trying to cross. Some are still undeveloped over 20 years later and appear as waste land, some quickly got developed or incorporated into road schemes and a few make the site of memorials and museums.
As I left Potsdamer Platz the cycle lane on the pavement disappeared, the road narrowed and I appeared to be on a very ordinary city street with no indication of history. My map said I was following the wall and should take the first left into another very nondescript small side street heading for the famous Checkpoint Charlie and a site called “Topography of Terror”. It was all very quiet, few cars, few tourist trappings and not unpleasant cycling at all.
I quickly knew I was on the right road because a much longer section of original wall came up beside me. Behind it was a flat plain containing a low grey modern building and some open building foundations. No signs, no obvious clues as to what was going on until I found that “Topography of Terror” was the site of the core of former Nazi control in Berlin, the seat of the Gestapo and the Propaganda Ministry and the building footings I could see were Hitler’s Bunker and Gestapo rooms. I found out later that the surface buildings had been demolished by Allied bombing during the war and its proximity to the wall meant it was just left as open space for over 40 years. Another uncomfortable memory to be incorporated into the city and the museum was perhaps suitably understated.
I spoke to a colleague later about these many memorials to difficult subjects. He said that because Berlin had stagnated for so long after the war there had been no systematic attempt to “move on” and certainly no civic regeneration programme to remove evidence of difficult subjects. And then after reunification it became recognised that Berlin should not be allowed this past so the city had begun to establish them as part of education and reconciliation. I had the feeling it was a sort of pact – you can become the capital city again but you cannot be allowed to forget.
There is certainly no avoiding the subject of the wall. I had assumed that when I left the central area some of the references would go diminish but later that evening on the S-bahn railway I learned about the ghost stations where North-South trains ran under East Berlin from two sectors of the West but didn’t stop at the pre-war stations. And the sections of that line that ran almost along the wall with platforms only open on the West side.
Back to my ride. Having passed Checkpoint Charlie I had my fill of wall sites so I swung North East to see more of the older city. First I followed a relatively large road across to Alexanderplatz which was a pretty nondescript public space in the growing gloom but I was then able to pick up the banks of the River Spree and circle around the hugely impressive Museum Island. What actually caught the eye here too was the amount of building going on, this looks like a city going though a construction boom.
I then used the river bank to retrace my steps back to a building I wanted to see, the Reichstag. The historic parliament building became the seat of German government again when its modern dome designed by British architect Norman Foster was finally built into the older frame.
Around it I discovered a huge modern civil service quarter built on the river bank and a series of waterways and parkland which looked really nice environment. If I had been organised I would like to have booked a visit to see the inside of the Reichstag because everything I have heard about it looks amazing. But for now the space in front of the Reichstag was vast, open and increasingly cold so I didn’t linger, I needed to keep moving.
From the Reichstag it was a quick trip through the Tiergarten park back to the Brandenburg Gate and the return of the bike to its hire station as the gloom came in.
Fascinating place – so many questions about the attitude to history, to culture, to monuments and a potentially days to spend. That is without touching the arts, culture, nightlife and even some of the suburbs – so many other things form which the city is known.
And what about the cycling?
Well I found as many oddities about cycling in Berlin as I did about the city itself.
I had been told that about 13% of trips in Berlin are made by bike. That’s in line with the German average which means well above the rest of Europe and especially the places I usually ride. But I have convinced myself I am getting the hang of this mode share business, I am beginning to be able to see what the differing levels look like.
But in Berlin I couldn’t. Whether on my ride or looking at the rush hours I couldn’t see the significant flows I was expecting. Cyclists visible on most streets, yes, but not huge numbers. There were lots of bikes parked round the city but in fact much of the cycle parking was empty. So maybe the weather meant that cycling was quite seasonal I asked? Apparently not, but perhaps I was in the wrong place because the levels of cycling are highly dependent on the routes in from certain suburbs.
Just like everywhere else in Europe it is the middle classes and intellectuals who cycle the most and in Berlin it is the areas where the alternative cultural movement established itself in the sixties that cycling levels are highest. If this is the case then it might explain why cyclists in the city centre really did feel quite isolated.
However in the city centre what I could see was that other indicator of cycling health. Women on bikes are universally recognised as a sign that the population thinks cycling is safe. However maybe they think they are not quite safe enough because I did notice that nearly all the women wore the dreaded cycle helmets – but none of the men!
The other thing that will be a bit confusing for many cycling advocates was the lack of segregated cycle routes. The vast majority of cycling I did was on the carriageway – I could have been in Brussels or London. That certainly contradicts the message that you need a big segregated network to get cycling levels above 10%. However I rarely felt worried, the drivers were largely respectful of the cyclist and the cycle lane – now that is a big difference. Possibly my view was distorted by the time of day, I was just before the afternoon rush hour, but even the following morning I felt general traffic volumes in the city were really low compared to most large cities in Europe. Maybe Berlin drivers are less stressed than their equivalents stuck in traffic across the world? I still instinctively believe that cycle lanes are just one way of changing the relationship between rider and driver and Berlin seemed to support the notion that respectful driving is a valuable way to create a cycling environment too.
So Berlin by bike?
Flat, compact, interesting, well behaved drivers, loads of bikes on hire. Something I definitely want to do again. But better prepared and able to use the Call Bike system properly, jumping on and off to visit the main attractions properly!
My old camera died last week, probably battered to death by the constant bashing in and out of pockets when cycling. A sad end to a regular companion of nearly eight years, but I can never say that I didn’t get value from it. Birthday coming up, so the present is decided.
It seems amazing to me that I have only been blogging for less than a year and already I can see a change in my photography, thinking of more interesting approaches and images than I did before so I can describe my travels. I feel quite embarrassed when someone asks about how I took a shot or what camera I use because I really cannot compare to the work that I see on the web and I am using a small eight year old camera. But there are shots from earlier years that I am quite pleased with and I thought I might put together a self-indulgent set that deserve to join more recent ones in the blog to close the door on that camera.
However when I was looking I came across just one set of shots that stood out above the rest and deserved a post of their own. So indulge me – RIP Fujifilm Finepix E550.
Spring three years ago I went to Venice for the first time.
We arrived on a horrible wet day and stayed in a hotel on the mainland. In the evening we took the train over to the island city. I must admit I was completely underwhelmed as our hosts dragged us through a maze of dark, rainy and graffiti strewn alleys to a restaurant and then back in the evening. Clearly a place that was over-rated and ruined by its own reputation.
However I went back on the Saturday morning with a free day and the most extraordinary light burst from a cloudless sky, especially out on the ferries from the Grand Canal into the surrounding lagoon. From a photographic point of view the best opportunities I have ever seen, and a small chance to capture why Venice is “Serenissima, Queen of the Adriatic”. Possibly my best day with a camera. So far?
I haven’t tweeted or blogged since last Wednesday despite having a whole stack of photos and reflections from the Olympic road cycling races and the amazing performance of the British. I have felt dragged down and fed up by what I regard as the most depressing subject in cycling. For me it’s the subject that almost puts “despair” into “I do not despair”.
As a cyclist interested in sport I have lived through endless drug scandals that dragged the sport into the gutter – and the idiots that still think this is the way forward despite all the evidence that the net is closing. And I can sadly live with the need of some of our advocates to rubbish anyone who doesn’t agree with their approach.
But the discussion of cycle helmets is the cycling subject that drags me down like no other.
I feel the need to put some of this down somewhere – and perhaps to share one small ray of light I discovered in British Columbia – a place with a compulsory helmet law. So back to the blog – and of course the views here are entirely my own.
I was all fired up to blog on Thursday morning but on Wednesday evening the news broke that a cyclist had been killed by an Olympic bus, then in an interview Brad Wiggins was asked about the incident and said that cyclists should look after themselves, including wearing helmets.
It’s the evening after he has achieved something remarkable. It’s not his subject road safety. But of course the BBC has to go major on “Bradley Wiggins calls for compulsory helmets” because they have umpteen hours of news channels to fill.
By Thursday morning London Cycling Campaign and CTC are in full defence mode and even the President of British Cycling has to tackle it when he is speaking about the fantastic system for developing talent that BC has put in place. To be fair, they all did a great job. (More here)
The twittersphere, bloggers, discussion boards were full of fire and fury swamping any pleasure that could be taken from Wiggins and Froomes’s feats and the later victories of the track team. Wiggins was slagged off by the community that just hours before worshipped him.
Somehow I lost interest in the on line cycling world for a few days, I have just treated myself to enjoyment of the sport on TV and the pure pleasure of riding.
It’s not just the UK. Campaigning groups in Spain have been stunned by an out of the blue announcement by a minister to say he wanted to introduce a compulsory helmet bill causing them to have to mobilise both national and international support against the proposal.
And at Velo-city Global 2012 in Vancouver the existence of a compulsory helmet law in British Columbia and the presence of so many advocates from helmet free Europe was just the combination needed to stir the debate endlessly.
Cards on the table. I am 100% against compulsory helmets. I despise the victim blaming that characterises so much reporting about cyclists’ deaths. I have despaired with families because a defence lawyer tries to suggest that not wearing a helmet was a form of negligence by the victim.
But I also wear a helmet – for mountain biking and when I used to race.
When I came to work in cycling back in 1998 I had no idea that this would be one of the discussions that would claim far too big a chunk of my life for the next 15 years – and no doubt will be around for the next 15. And that’s the problem – it just isn’t a subject that anybody outside a very narrow community can understand or engage with, least of all the cycle racing and MTB communities because the helmets are actually made for them – so why would people in lycra understand the issues of helmets for daily cycling?
And as a result it pits cyclist against cyclist, cycling advocate against road safety advocate, it gives free reign to the online trolls who attack cyclists and it heaps guilt on to people who have the most to give to cycling. The UK’s BBC are absolutely awful – they put all of their presenters at every level into helmets for any cycling story because they are so keen to “do the right thing” and they are part of the mindset that bullies politicians into helmets for the same reason.
Even Boris Johnson was dragged into it for a brief time when he became Mayor of London, but Boris is self-confident enough to say “no” – unlike most others. I remember doing an interview on BBC Radio London at the London Cycle Show with the otherwise estimable Sandy Toksvig. Being the BBC they had to have “balance” so they got a senior industry manager from a major multi-national bike company whose company sell a lot of helmets to make the case for lids. When he totally agreed with me that compulsory helmets was a bad thing for cycling the presenters decided that this wasn’t on and started to argue with us themselves.
And perhaps worse of all is the pressure on parents and cycling supporters who feel they cannot let children cycle without the dreaded plastic lid unless they become labelled “bad parents” or “negligent”.
But I am just deeply saddened by the debate itself, the resources it consumes and the time and energy we have lost as a community on a debate we just are not winning and can hardly win without risking damage to ourselves during the fight. Because if society was based on intellect and analysis nobody would speed, everyone would ride bikes, climate change would be resolved and nobody would smoke. And despite the efforts of some researchers who are bashing away some poor studies from years ago offers the pro campaigners their academic fig leaf, along with the comparisons they make with other undoubted road safety successes like seat belts.
www.Cyclehelmets.org is an amazing resource and I am in deep admiration for the team of volunteers and professionals that contribute to it, it would be foolish of me to try and replicate any of those resources here.
But I did amazingly discover one small antidote in Canada, despite the compulsory helmets. Whistler is an interesting case study for all sorts of cycling issues and I will be blogging about it more.
But this community of hardened mountain bikers showed how life really could and should be in relation to helmets. Riders who actually understand cycling risk better than anyone behave in ways that just make sense.
High speeds, high risk of falling? Big impact if you get it wrong? Then it is full face helmets and even body armour. Even the designs take their lead from skiing and snowboarding as can occasionally be seen when the two take place together.
Without the high speeds and the jumps of the downhill tracks the risk is lower and the impact speed is within the spec of the usual cycle helmet. The modern cycle helmet evolved from this world and it is entirely reasonable that it was designed for exactly this use.
Despite the compulsory helmet law this community knows that the good network of cycling facilities, traffic free town centre and the general understanding that motorists know cyclists are around means that the helmets are irrelevant to their safety.
And no sign that the local police feel any need to do anything about to enforce a law that was dreamed up by remote politicos in Vancouver, they recognise that cycling visitors are an engine of the local economy – so why should they hassle them?
Whistler – common sense helmet use. If only the rest of the debate was this easy.
Great response to “On Sunday I shall Wear Yellow” by Onyerbicycle
Read this great blog On Sunday I shall wear yellow. and thought I’d have a go. Dusted off my poetry skills, realised my kit was of pretty poor quality but thought I’d give it a go anyway.
Please comment on ideas for any alterations and amendments that might improve my rhetorical performance.
Here’s my Thursday tea-time effort.