Archives for June 2011

The Sum Of Its Parts

Back in Berkshire and the first ride after walking a lot more than I normally do is hard work. It always turns out like this – muscles get used to certain activities.

Doing another round-Reading trip, I can’t help but notice far more fly-tipping than I’ve seen in Cornwall, and the roads around here are by-and-large in a far worse state too. It is easy to get very angry about it but that’s rarely a constructive outcome in and of itself – the anger has to be turned to something positive – an action. Just getting angry and ranting about an issue to some unfortunate friend, or just having a moan about something with your mates, is too easy and completely pointless.

A small step would be to report more problems to the people – local government – who are charged with fixing them. There are free tools to do so online. There’s no excuse not to.

The easy, perhaps cynical, perception to have is that Councils are inherently incompetent and they may well be, but on the other hand they can’t fix a problem if they don’t know it’s there. It’s only reasonable to give them the benefit of the doubt and put them in the picture so they can act. If they do, fine and all credit to them. If time proves they don’t fix problems they’ve been told about then there’s a bigger can of worms that’s going to have to be tipped out and investigated.

For some reason, way the line we seem to have acquired the attitude that society is something ‘out there’ that other people are responsible for. That is manifestly not the case. It is the sum of its parts, and we all constitute a part of it. You could argue that it would suit some for people to not participate, to not get involved. That’s easy enough to imagine. Like all conspiracies, it tends to presume an awful lot of power and intelligence on the part of the conspirators … but of late more evidence seems to come up suggesting active malevolence on the part of ‘big powers’ (governments, churches, corporations etc) than anything to the contrary.

There’s Lumpy And There’s Lumpy

A week in and around the far south west of Cornwall – a lovely area, but seriously lumpy.

Hill climbing is all about power-to-weight ratios. I know that my power-to-weight ratio is somewhere between dismal and appalling. I can do not-too-steep gradients and I can plod along upwards, gently, for a fair old time, but I struggle up steep hills. The far south west of Cornwall is all steep hills – if you’re not going up them you’re going down them. I managed one ride, carefully planned to be as manageable as possible, but even then the haul out of Mousehole was, shall we say, significant. I am pleased that I didn’t get off, but that’s about as much as I can say for myself.

My work means I could in theory live anywhere in the UK. Whenever I do mooch around the nation, I am always assessing how good it would be to ride a bike in the area. Some regions, such as the far end of Cornwall, I would discount living in just because it is too hilly for my comfort – for my ability. That is to put a lot of value on bike riding – it’s precluding swathes of the country that would otherwise be lovely to live in – and I do question that sometimes. Am I putting too much store by riding a bike? Time and time I conclude ‘no’ – I do value it that much, enjoy it that much. And I have to be realistic in that if I’m to enjoy it, the roads around where I live have to match my ability. It’s important to know what makes you happy – and unhappy – and to be willing to live with the consequences.

Rude Women

For the past several rides and the past several car trips, I’ve been keeping track – a rough tally – on common courtesies. Surprisingly, women do not come out of it very well.

This arose because it was my vague impression that women don’t seem to say ‘thanks’ very much and I thought I’d better do some counting to see if my vague impression was true. It seems to be.

Something like seven times out of ten, when I think I can reasonably expect an acknowledgement of thanks – letting people out into a queue, waiting for someone and so on – or a simple ‘hello’ or similar as a passing pleasantry, women don’t live up to expectations. In contrast, it’s about eight out of ten the other way around for men.

I’m talking about both driving and cycling, with the ‘passing pleasantry’ measure only applying to cycling of course – passing other cyclists or walkers.

I have no idea why this should be. I can speculate all I like, but I’ve no idea. There could be more fear of casual acquaintances somehow getting out of hand but surely that won’t apply to most vehicle-to-vehicle instances. There could be something deep down to do with brain function or concentration or spatial awareness or something, and some kind of difference between the sexes that’s deep-seated and hard-wired. That raises that inevitably awkward issue of ‘our over-arching task’ on this planet, and whether it is to overcome the animal in us, the ‘natural’. Surely, if we can be aware of it, we can overcome it. Giving in to ‘nature’ only selectively is a very difficult position to maintain.

It might be that what I’m demonstrating is some kind of stupidity on my own part – for thinking that women would be at least as polite as men. Perhaps I’m daft for making assumptions like that. Perhaps women are just inherently rude. That seems a tad iffy as a conclusion though.

I think it is definitely a gender-based observation; I’m coming across the people I’m counting for this mini-study in similar circumstances. If a male in X context can act in such and such way, you would imagine a female could too.

I just don’t know. At least it seems my vague impressions match-up with reality, which is sort of reassuring.

I’m just off to Cornwall for a week or so, and I suppose it would be valid and interesting to continue this study elsewhere in the country. I’m not sure I’m that interested though, and besides, Cornwall isn’t necessarily going to have many Cornish people in it, especially not at this time of year.

Know Your Limits

For me, anything over about 40 miles is tiring. I can do it – I did it today – and I can do it non-stop and at a reasonable pace, but tomorrow I’ll know I went for a longer ride today whereas for shorter rides there are no such consequences.

What is frustrating is not knowing whether that tiredness is legitimate (if that’s the right word) or not. I’m an over-weight, over 50 ex-smoker. I ride regularly but I’ve never been sporty. I’ve always had sedentary jobs. What should I reasonably expect from myself?

I’ve said before about knowing yourself being a vital element in a happy life, and surely knowing your limits is part of knowing yourself. What I don’t know is whether limits are best set on a personal basis or whether there are any kind of benchmarks that should be kept in mind.

Shortly after I’d rolled out today, near Sonning, a delivery driver for a firm called Addison Lee made a point of making room for me. As always, I thanked him. It just made my day a little better. A while later, on Drift Road nearing Windsor Great Park, there was a vehicle parked on the side of the road and the driver asked me the way to Windsor. It was an Addison Lee minibus. Obviously, this was pure coincidence and I would have helped anyway, but there was something particularly pleasing about being able to offer directions to the latter chap, his colleague having helped me.

I have no idea who or what Addison Lee is or what they do. I could look it up but I quite like not knowing. My albeit limited experience suggests that their drivers seem like decent people.

Thanks are due, too, to the driver of a Chrysler estate near Burchett’s Green for making room for me. And in Wargrave a driver of a blue Ford noticed my attempt to make his day a little better by over-signalling my movements and waved his thanks. Yes, this is all small stuff – tiny little interactions – but in comparison to when I’m driving, they are more frequent and more human somehow, more personal. Cycling makes you realise how impersonal driving is, no matter how well you drive.

Talking of driving, the traffic around Ascot way today was heavy because of the races. What made me smile was how little variety there was amongst the ‘toff’s cars’ : it was all Mercs, the better BMWs, Range Rovers and the occasional Bentley or Roller. Of course they could buy lots of other cars but presumably they don’t feel they can and they wouldn’t be in the ‘right’ price bracket. Isn’t there something rather … stupid? … about the less well off ultimately having more choice of motor vehicle.

For Initiates Only?

Today was one of those very enjoyable Monday morning rides – once rush hour and school-run traffic is over, Monday mornings are often very quiet.

I fully appreciate that I’m very lucky to not do any pure utility riding – rides made because they have to be – whether on a Monday morning or at any other time. Yesterday was a case in point where the rain really was genuinely torrential. I was travelling – by car – back and forth to the Handmade Bike Show in Bristol. It was OK on the way down but on the way back it was so bad I opted for the A4 rather than the M4, simply because the conditions were verging on scary. I saw just one poor beggar on a bike – he looking like a cycle tourist caught out in it because he had no choice. I was very happy to not be him.

The bike show was enjoyable – if small. The craftsmanship aspect of the humble – or not so humble – pedal cycle is still alive and is something to be enjoyed, appreciated and celebrated. In some cases the costs are high but on balance I rather think you are getting what you pay for. I’m not aware of any ‘artisan framebuilders’ driving around in Bentleys. A handmade product takes time.

Walking around the stands, one thought that did strike me was that it wasn’t an inclusive show. That needs explaining. Of course the organisers and exhibitors weren’t out to actively exclude anyone, and I imagine most or all of the people involved professionally would like to think anyone visiting would have been made welcome. And, yes, everyone was friendly. The trouble is, it was a show for converts. It presumed a pre-existing interest in bikes and in most or all cases, a pre-existing and quite in-depth knowledge about bikes.

Perhaps that’s fair enough; perhaps that was a decision consciously made. I do appreciate that not everything can be accessible to everyone, and maybe it is more of a comment on me that I found myself feeling a little uneasy at how the event was pitched. On the other hand, if I had been a newcomer to cycling and I had gone along to the show, I rather think I’d have come away feeling that there was nothing there for me – and that perhaps ‘cycling’ either wasn’t for me or didn’t want me.

I don’t know. Perhaps it’s just all too easy for initiates to forget how arcane they can appear to the uninitiated, and that’s just one of those things about humans and how they organise themselves.

Flesh

Just a short spin on a fixed wheel today, pretty well for the sake of it and I needn’t have bothered because it rained, and in that unpleasantly cold and heavy way typical of an April shower. It’s a shame it’s June.

It transpired that that was the only shower we had locally, and I just had to pick that time to be out. That is galling. Making wrong choices of your own free will always is. I suspect it’s always the case that your own mistakes are more annoying than those of others that you might be victim of.

If I heard the news correctly, there’s one of those not-that-uncommon naked cycle ride protests in Portsmouth today, in itself part of the World Naked Bike Ride movement. I have no idea whether they’re a successful form of protest or not, and no, I’m not joining in. I don’t even constitute a pleasant spectacle with my clothes on.

I hope and suspect they’re pushing on a bit of an open door at the moment, in that I’m told sales of car accessories are being outstripped by sales of cycle accessories in the UK at the moment – a retailing development that was being touted as a significant indicator of times changing; a reflection of the costs of motoring, the realities of congestion and so on.

But anyway. The thing about the naked cycle ride was that the news report was pegged not on the protest but on some local church group, trying to get the police to ban it. Their problem wasn’t the protest as such, but that it was to be a naked protest. Just what their mind-set must be, to have that much trouble with nudity, strikes me as perverse. They must have quite a curious outlook on the world and, indeed, themselves. I rather strongly suspect that anyone riding a bike naked is going to look anything other than erotic, sexual or sensual, let alone pornographic, whoever they may be. So, quite what the church-goers’ discomfort is engendered by I just don’t know. I think in circumstances like this, it’s appropriate to be grateful if you can’t imagine how someone might be thinking, how warped someone is.

Of course, as is so often the way, if the church goers hadn’t been objecting then the media wouldn’t have covered it at all, so the naked bike riders must be grateful – here’s hoping the ride achieves something, if only in a small way. It all counts.