Cyclists And Their Bikes (Part 1)

What cyclists say, when asked about their bikes:

An old bike rotting in woodland

A good bike will last a long time if you look after it

“I think I love my bike. Whatever love is.”

“I keep mine in the house, in the hall if there are people coming over but quite often it’s in the dining room. I just like looking at it.”

“My bike? It’s over there if you want to take a look. You’ll have to move all the kids’ bikes off it. Sorry. The tyres are probably flat.”

“I had silver tassels on the ends of my handlebars but they’ve come off.”

“I’ve gone retro; I don’t like these modern ones. Give me steel any day.”

“Don’t look too closely – it’s in bad need of some loving care.”

“Do you like it? I’ve just painted it that colour. Very pink, very bubblegum, very me, don’t you think?”

“I’ve got a folding bike, just for the commuting. That’s my only one.”

“I like bikes and all that but I don’t go mad about them. My boyfriend’s made, like, a fetish out of his. He’s always fiddling with it, has to have the latest bits for it. I don’t get it. He spends a fortune but he never goes any faster.”

“That thing?! That was left behind in the shed of a place I rented when I was a student and it’s sort of stayed with me ever since. Lord, that was a few years ago now.”

“I just ignore it until it goes wrong and then the old boy in the bike shop sorts it out for me. I can’t even fix a puncture. I suppose I ought to learn really. Mind you, it’s people like me that keep him in a job.”

“Can’t say I’ve ever given it much thought. It gets me about. It’s a three speed.”

“It’s the old ones I really like; finding an old gem in a bike sale or something is just brilliant.”

(More next week)

Part of theUnstated.Net   Part of theUnstated.net

Liberation

Walking the other day, I was passed by a cyclist. He wasn’t hurrying or working hard, but very soon he was in the far distance and then gone. It brought home to me, not for the first time, how efficient riding a bike is, even if you’re not “a cyclist” (whatever that might mean). It’s just a very good mode of transport.

It also made me think about how liberating it must have been back in the day – before cars – and how liberating it should still be. It’s a great shame that cycling now comes with a huge amount of baggage for the unwary.

A bike doesn’t have to be expensive to be enjoyable to ride. You don’t have to dress up to ride it if you don’t want to. You don’t need accessories galore. All of that stuff is the stuff of marketing – fluff, bullshit, hype. You just need a reliable machine, your ordinary clothes and yourself.*

I’m old enough to regret the passing of the days when even ‘high end’ bike bits would stay more or less the same for years on end; there wasn’t this ludicrous routine of ‘this year’s model’. (And it is dull and boring, as ‘routine’ implies.) I do think the introduction of mandatory helmets would be a mistake because of the amount of people it would drive away from cycling; I do think the same is already true for a lot of the cycling industry. No-one needs disc brakes on a road bike, nor electronic gears, nor ‘hydration systems’, nor … nor … There are any number of other examples … Most of it is about manufactured need (and profits). And it’s all combining to create barriers to riding a bike.

A new sticker

The tedium of the routinely new

Bikes can be simple and reliable. They can be user-serviceable or cheaply fixed by someone else. They should be understood to be approachable and accessible – cycling should be uncomplicated and inexpensive.

Explore your local world – there’s a huge amount of pleasure to be had in getting out and about, not using a car but out of range of where you can easily walk to, without any fuss or faffing about. Cycling gives you a freedom that walking can’t – and that driving a car can’t either. Take advantage of it, without feeling like you have to have ‘the right kit’ – whatever that may be.

If cycling is to remain a liberating experience (or, perhaps, if it is to regain its potential to be a liberating experience) then we’d all do well to remember that the cycling industry, by and large, isn’t on the cyclists’ side. It’s just about making money. In short: “Dear Mr Marketing Person, please f**k off.”

* And before any long standing readers accuse me of hypocrisy: I think there’s a lot of pleasure to be had from a higher-end bike if that’s your thing, and I think if you’re riding a lot then some well designed clothes and shoes can make the experience more comfortable. I just don’t think any of that stuff is essential, and the hype surrounding it all can put off the non-enthusiast who might just want to ride a bike. (For that matter, even enthusiasts need to be careful they’re not sucked-in to wanting the latest when it’s merely that – the latest. ‘New’ is not synonymous with ‘best’.)

For The Sake Of It?

The roads are foul – debris strewn, wet, and filthy with both human and nature’s rubbish. If it’s not raining it will be shortly. If it’s not blowing a gale it will be shortly. True, around here – Berkshire and South Oxfordshire – we’re getting away with it relatively lightly (so far at least); there are plenty of places struggling far more with the consequences of all this bad weather. Nevertheless, it’s not as much fun as it could be if you’re out riding a bike this winter.

That all raises a question: what is it a measure of that I still went out today? What does it indicate that I’ve two friends (who are like me, cyclists for pleasure rather than necessity) who’ve been telling me that they’re either going out in the lousy conditions anyway, or are genuinely feeling the worse for not getting out?

Perhaps there’s something about the science of it – the pleasure-related chemicals released into the brain through exercise; perhaps you can get addicted to them. Perhaps that’s tied-in with our ancient ancestors and the fact that at root we aren’t made to live and work indoors. What I do know is that the desire to get out and ride is real – and it’s recommended. Leaving the obviously dangerous times aside, and as I’ve said before, it’s very rare indeed for a ride to be a mistake.

So the next time you see a cyclist out in bad weather, don’t think they’re out riding for the sake of it. Don’t think they’re daft. Think, instead, about joining in.

Winter tree line

And the light at this time of year has a unique quality too

Cyclists: Saving A Loved One’s Life

Yesterday, I watched an ambulance, blues lights flashing, struggle to get through heavy traffic in central Reading. I don’t know what emergency they were hurrying to: a heart attack perhaps. Quite possibly, seconds and minutes lost on the over-crowded roads will have made a difference to whoever they were trying to get to.

If more people were cycling, there would be less traffic. Ambulances would be able to get to emergencies a lot more quickly.

If you’re not the person in need of the ambulance, it might be someone you know – relative, friend, loved-one.

And if you cycle yourself, you will be healthier than if you don’t. You’ll probably be less likely to have a heart attack.

So, why not cycle whenever you can? And whether you’re cycling or not, why not always look upon every cyclist you come across as a good thing, making the roads that little bit less congested, and ambulances that little bit more able to come quickly to the help of someone you care about? You’d have to be daft not to.

Some things are just so starkly simple … it seems faintly ludicrous that you have to say them.

Bridges Aren’t Just For Cars (With Route)

A reasonable if windy ride – hard going in places but I guess that’s what autumn’s all about.

The route took me through Sonning, out to Marlow and then back to Caversham via Henley. Sonning bridge is “closed” during the daytime at the moment. You don’t have to be local to realize that a bridge across the Thames is important in the overall scheme of things – there aren’t that many of them. Finding an alternative route is a big deal on a bike – it means quite a few extra miles.

That’s how the local newspaper reported the closure:

Reading Chronicle on Sonning bridge closure

I thought it sounded like it wasn’t major work, emailed the council, and was told cyclists could get across throughout the day.

The Reading Chronicle is avowedly pro-cycling and as a cyclist I’m pleased about that. For example:

Reading Chronicle on 20mph speed limits

… but they didn’t find out if cyclists could still get across the “closed” bridge. The paper is by no means alone. On the ground, the Council (presumably responsible for the signs on the roads) totally ignores cyclists and pedestrians (who can also walk across all day) alike.

Bridge closed sign in Sonning

Spot the missing information

None of this is a big deal – worse things happen at sea. What it does show, though, is how far commonplace thinking has to change if we’re really going to move towards being a pro-cycling nation.

Marlow Bridge in autumn sun

Marlow Bridge – looking good in the autumn sun

The Route:

In essence – Reading – Sonning – Wargrave – Marlow – Henley – Reading. It’s what I’d describe as a good one for a reasonably confident solo cyclist – there’s a fair bit of main road work that’s fine if you’re relaxed about it, but not necessarily for the nervous and they’re roads that rather limit conversation if you’re riding with someone! Inevitably, some of the lanes are pretty rough – stones, pot-holes etc.

View Route Map
About The Route Mapping

Cycling’s Challenges

You can get closer to a lot of things cycling – to the weather, the lie of the land, the area’s natural history, your fellow road users (for better or for worse) and so on. You also get a bit closer to death than you otherwise might.

Today, on a short-ish ride taking in Caversham, Sonning Common, Checkendon and Woodcote, I rode by this sculpture, as I have many times before. This time though, I’d not long ridden by a dead badger on the road side. That put death in mind, and so this time I stopped to photograph it.

A sculpture of skeletons embracing

Death’s embrace, presumably

Today was cold and the badger’s corpse didn’t smell, but on hotter days you can often smell something rotting long before you see it. That experience always emphasises that ‘the stench of war’ must be stomach-churningly grim – likewise any other site of mass death if it’s not cleared quickly.

What I’ve never decided is whether I would – should – stop if I’m cycling along and can smell something rotting but can’t see it. What if it’s a person? Stranger things have happened. I don’t know how brave I am – if I’ve the stomach for it. So far, I’ve never actually had to make that decision; the source of the smell has been visible. But one day …

Is it a case of would, should or could stop?

The challenges that cycling can create aren’t always the obvious ones. Climbing hills is one thing; investigating the smell of death another.

(Of course, in truth, I’ve no idea what was in the mind of the artist who created this sculpture – to be found near Woodcote / Exlade Street / Checkendon – but let’s assume we’re looking at death’s embrace. The crumbling building makes a perfect accompaniment.)