Posts Tagged ‘Coffee’

40 things I’ve learned about cycling and myself now that I’ve turned 40

July 12, 2013
The best-kept secret in club cycling (see no.26)

The best-kept secret in club cycling (see no.26)

1. The most recent thing I’ve learned is this: having taken an extended break to mark your 40th birthday, it is a challenge to get back into the swing of updating your moderately amusing cycling-related weblog. My brain is like a rusty chain; thankfully, I also have lubrication in the form of a warming pot of tea. Let’s see if that’s enough to oil my way through another 39 of these buggers. Off we go!

2. (Before we properly begin, another challenging aspect to banging out a few thoughts on the old MacBook is that I’ve chosen to do it while cycling’s greatest distraction is on the telly. I refer, of course, to the world-famous Tour of France, which I am pleased to note is now being subjected to the high-octane vocal stylings of Carlton Kirby. Did Eurosport bosses promote him to Grand Boucle commentator – Chief Grand Boucleator, if you will – after reading my enthusiastic recommendation in April last year? Why yes, they did. Of course they did.)

3. Taking a sip of my Thé des Moines – a delicate blend of black tea, green tea, vanilla and calendula petals – I am reminded of cycling’s secret truth: no cyclist really drinks coffee because they love the taste. If you actually enjoyed the flavour of refined hot beverages, then you might also seek out the odd cup of well-blended tea. But you don’t, partly because tea only contains a sixth of the caffeine content found in coffee. It’s only a mild addiction, but addictions rarely turn out well. As the old saying goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you feel incredibly tired once the effect wears off.

4. Well, we’re a tenth of the way through, and I’ve already alienated the caffeinista community. More to the point, I still haven’t properly started this thing yet. So I’ll begin at the beginning. Here we go. For real this time.

5. About 10 years ago, when I started riding seriously, I thought I’d never fit in because I wasn’t serious enough. I don’t mean the long miles or the hard work – I’ve never had a problem with either – but the attention to detail, the planning, the analysing. Then I realised quite a few amateur riders were no good at these things either. It turns out serious cyclists can be as disorganised and shambolic as anyone else. The difference is they feel the absence of discipline more keenly. This is what attracts them to cycling.

6. Pain is temporary; quitting lasts forever. Go hard or go home. Ride like you stole something. No chain, no chain! Etcetera, et bleedin’ cetera. Whenever you’re inclined to think that one of cycling’s many pithy sayings is a great insight into the bigger picture, remember that the cyclist who coined with the greatest number of them was the sport’s biggest fraud. It’s not about the aphorisms.

7. Having said that, I am fully aware the above edict is an aphorism in itself, and this list might become a veritable storehouse of sayings. This is simply my way of participating in one of the longest traditions in cycling: rank, stinking hypocrisy.

8. We need a moratorium on the word ‘velo’. What was once a signal to the more serious end of the cycling spectrum has congealed into an undifferentiated veloslop. Everything, regardless of quality or its target market, is called ‘velo’ these days. Veloriders, Velorution, Urban Velo, Neon Velo… oy, oy, oy. Enough with the velo. We’re veloed out. It’s velover.

9. Two more words that need curbing are ‘pain’ and ‘hurt’. You’re writing about a race or a sportive you have participated in and apparently it was painful. Tell me: if you were writing about swimming, would you tell me that the water was wet? It’s cycling, mate. It’s meant to hurt.

10. Actually, I’d like to make one exception to that last idea, because for some years I’ve harboured a secret desire for the Surrey League to host a race in a village called Hurtmore. In my fantasy promotional campaign, Surrey League bigwig Glyn Durrant peppers the internet-based cycling media with banner ads which are entirely blank, except for one word: “HURTMORE”. The “HURT” is in red, the “MORE” is white. Then a second wave of anticipation hits Surrey League competitors everywhere with these words: “IN 2014 THE SURREY LEAGUE IS GOING TO HURTMORE”. No spaces – “IN2014THESURREYLEAGUEISGOINGTOHURTMORE” – just the words alternating between red and white. Man, imagine the excitement. Imagine the fear.

11. I’ll be honest with you, though: I haven’t done my research on this one. If Hurtmore doesn’t have a leg-shredding climb, they’ll just have to make the race 260km long and hold it on the hottest day of the year.

12. On the subject of races, I thought, upon entering my forties, I would be happy to relinquish my BC licence and limit myself to the sportive playground. Instead, I now realise I am not a sportive rider. I ride them like I would a club ride. I miss the brutality of racing, and I realise I’ve only been competing fitfully since I came back from having major surgery a few years ago. I think this will have to change.

13. I have tried and tried, but I simply cannot forget the name Chester Hill. I saw it on a Surrey League results sheet years ago, and it remains the most old-school cycling name I know of. Despite not having a clue what he looks like, I have a fantasy that one day I might pass him on a particularly testing climb and exclaim: “It’s Chester Hill!” And he, gasping for air, would reply: “It’s not just a hill – it’s friggin’ Ranmore!” I fully realise this may never happen.

14. Cyclists are told too often that cycling is beautiful. Beautiful bikes, beautiful frames, beautiful photography… but they can’t all be beautiful, can they? Because beauty, by definition, is rare. And if you have to tell your customer that the object you’re trying to sell them is beautiful, the chances are it probably isn’t. It’s just… pleasing.

15. The tight-fitting clothing. The pipe-cleaner limbs. The shaved legs. Don’t obviate cycling’s inherent daftness by wallowing in the hollow, monochrome ‘epic’ aesthetic of ‘serious’ cycling culture. Embrace the ridiculous.

16. In the future, not every bike will have electronic gears. But every type of bike will. Think of the growth in usage in the context of the humble kettle: electric kettles are comparatively more complicated than their stove-top equivalents, but everyone uses them now because they do the job with less fuss. And, crucially, they’re not that much more expensive.

17. Miles, not kilometres. Kilometres will always be with us; kilometres are the building blocks of a race, the countdown to the finish line. But say both words out loud: ‘kilometre’ is sharp and factual-sounding; the long ‘i’ of ‘miles’ is expressive. Miles are what you have in your legs, or what you have yet to get in. Miles are units of yearning, not matters of fact. ‘Miles’ conveys incompleteness – and all of us, as cyclists, are incomplete.

18. I have been part of a very big club ever since it was no bigger than a few dozen members. For the first five years, I put together a weekly newsletter about the club called DYNAMITE!, which I set up this blog to archive. Writing DYNAMITE! was one of the more worthwhile things I’ve done. It brought hundreds of strangers together. It kept them entertained. It recorded, in the course of more than 200 issues, just how much we love the sport.

19. Strava and route-sharing websites should’ve killed off cycling clubs, or at least diminished the importance of club runs. Instead, cycling clubs are getting bigger. Nothing surprising about that: cycling can be a miserable sport, and it helps if you’re surrounded by people who will help you cope with terrible form or terrible weather. What is surprising is how little of the culture of cycling clubs is reflected in cycling media, given that club cyclists are the basis of their readership.

20. I like being a loner. But what I like even more than solitude is being out on my bike and stumbling across an old clubmate I haven’t seen for years. Being part of a large club, I often get these little surprises.

21. I miss seeing heart rate monitors on the wrists of strangers. Before Garmin GPS units became ubiquitous, I would sometimes spy a chunky Polar beneath a shirt cuff and realise that, yes, this person is indeed one of us. Now I have to look for daft, mitt-shaped tan lines, like the ones I currently have demarcating my pale hands from my brown arms.

22. If you really want to know what cyclists talk about, don’t look on the internet. This is because the internet has become The Fact Olympics – “Look at my big, juicy facts! My facts are far more powerful than your puny facts! Just face facts – preferably my bulging, pulsating facts!” Relatively few of the face-to-face conversations I have with my cycling chums are about doping, and none of them have deteriorated into an argument. I suspect this is because competitive cyclists prefer to use their bikes and legs rather than words to best each other.

23. I used to believe in strength in numbers, that bad drivers would be shamed into curbing their worst behaviours if we simply had more cyclists join us on London’s streets. Well, we have, and they haven’t. I don’t think there are more bad motorists, but I do think the worst ones are behaving even more badly. We need stronger laws, and better road infrastructure.

24. Having said that, I don’t believe that an adversarial, them-and-us culture is the motorist’s default mindset. You can pass dozens of cars on a single ride without incident. Drivers generally don’t have an issue with us.

25. The best time to ride in London is after 1am. There are fewer cars and, perhaps because there is less traffic, the standard of driving is less aggressive.

26. The best-kept secret in Surrey-based club cycling is Fairoaks Airport. You may not know it, but there really is an airport nestled amidst the roads you train on. It has a nice cafe. You can watch light aircraft and helicopters landing and taking off. It’s like a little day out in the middle of a ride. You will feel like a kid again.

27. Speaking of being a child, the funniest phrase in the cycling lexicon is ‘anodised nipple’.

28. The second-funniest phrase in cycling is ‘Edvald Boobsandhardon’. (If you think it’s disrespectful, please blame my romantical partner Littlejen who made it up.)

29. The third-funniest phrase in cycling is ‘Fartlek’.

30. I rarely drink. I ride quite a bit. I don’t put on much weight. These three things immediately pop into my head when I come across a cyclist who has signed up to a complicated and restrictive diet plan.

31. More than speed, more than distance, cycling is about time. Time is the agent of anticipation, and we’re all anticipating something: the next ride, the next bike, the moment when everything – the right level of fitness, the mental focus – finally comes together.

32. You will know if your bike is the one for you if you keep it by your bed. Wake up. Look at it. Does it make you want to ride even when though you are exhausted? Then congratulations – you have made the right choice.

33. Nobody needs to spend more than £2,500 on a bicycle. I’ve experienced the full panoply of frame materials – aluminium, steel, titanium and carbon – and I’ve loved them all. You can experience the same joy as I have done without spending the equivalent of the price of a new hatchback.

34. I have never envied another person’s bicycle. I don’t go looking for another bike to own. All my bikes found me.

35. I can recall miserable wet rides from years ago – the people I was with, where we went, where we stopped when we punctured – but I can remember barely anything from some of the warm, sunny rides that should have been more memorable. Hot days wipe my memory.

36. Women are the best people to ride with. Men specialise in talking about facts and objects; women tend to talk about people and experiences. They are more observant of character and more aware of absurdity. If I’m going to chat with someone for three hours or more, I know which gender I’d prefer them to be.

37. Book and magazine publishers, please note the following: no one has ever said, “Brilliant! Another lengthy retread of obscure cycling history, told with a personal twist! I’ve just got to read this!”

38. Bicycle races are even more fun when you watch them with Littlejen. My romantical partner is quite a reserved person, but my goodness – you should hear the gob on her during the Tour.

39. Jen is that rarest of people: a cycling fan who loves cycling yet hardly ever rides. She enjoys the spectacle and occasional absurdity of professional cycling; the nerdery and punditry are anathema to her. We need more Littlejens in cycling.

40. Sometimes, when you’re out on your bike, you’ll want to go as hard as you can. On other occasions you might be out for a pootle. Similarly, when I’m being serious, I try to be as engaging and argumentative as I can be; if I’m being daft or whimsical, I put in as many funny bits as I can think of. I wish more people did the same. Write like you ride.

Look! I’m in a book! (sort of)

April 26, 2013

During the past few weeks, I have set aside my disinterest in all things coffee-related so that I can, in my own small way, aid the delivery of something useful to the caffeinista community. That thing is a book which encourages you – yes, YOU (or maybe not you. We barely know each other. And what do I know anyway?) – to quit your nine-to-five and turn your dream project into a reality, using a table in any Wi-Fi-enabled coffee shop as your new workspace.

out of office cover

Out of Office is written by my friend and yours (if you happen to be an original member of London Dynamo), mister Chris Ward.

out of office chris ward in london dynamo jersey

Chris asked me to help him knock his words into shape, and he has kindly thanked me on page 188 of his compact, 198-page tome…

out of office special thanks

…which, as book publishing high points go, is almost as exciting as the time my patience was graciously acknowledged in the credits of the 2007 Rouleur annual.

rouleur annual 2007 credits

This isn’t all about me, though. Well, it is, because this is my blog. But let’s focus on the other Chris for a second. I’m not terrifically keen on the possibility that cafés could be overrun with wannabe entrepreneurs, or the clunky portmanteau ‘coffice’, but Chris has some insightful things to say about social media, the use of technology and implementing ideas. He’s the fella who brought Friends Reunited to the masses and he’s worked on Red Nose Day, which means he knows what he’s talking about. So even if you don’t walk out of your job and straight into whatever trendy coffee shop everyone is banging on about these days, armed with only a laptop and a dream, you’ll still find something of interest in Chris’s book as long as you have an inquisitive mind.

Out of Office fits in the pocket of your cycling jersey and costs a tenner. It will be on sale in coffee shops and some other outlets, which are listed here. I’m going to read it again. With a tea.

Cycling confessions

November 2, 2012

What every cyclist needs: a confession booth

Currently, the mood in cycling is one of revelation: I took drugs, I was on the books of a notorious Spanish doctor, I couldn’t help noticing Lance thought Bobby Julich was a bit dull. That sort of thing. But it’s not just the pros who have had something to hide. I, too, have harboured dreadful secrets. And now, pausing only to offer sincere apologies to those I may have hurt by not speaking out sooner, I shall now unburden myself of the guilt that has wracked my conscience. In return, I ask you to find the compassion in your hearts to forgive me for breaking some of cycling’s strictest edicts…

I do not drink coffee. There – I’ve said it. Drinking coffee makes me more tired by the end of the day, and I don’t miss the hit or the taste. More importantly, I came to realise why coffee lovers talk about which brands they prefer without usually discussing the differences: it’s because all types of bean juice taste roughly the same. Seriously, they do. Starbucks and your favourite independent coffee house both leave, quite literally, a bitter taste in your mouth. It’s just a slightly different bitterness. So have a tea instead, guys! Any tea! Black tea, green tea, fruit teas – there’s a lot more variety. And greater variety means more opportunities to indulge in cyclists’ favourite pastime: arbitrary snobbery. You can’t lose!

I have never looked at a carbon Colnago with envy. They look fine. Perfectly fine. Not beautiful, stunning, amazing, awesome, just… OK. Like a nice fitted kitchen or a sensible hat. To me, they appear to be just another assemblage of carbon tubes, but without the futuristic wowness of, say, a Felt, or the old-school romanticism of a hand-built steel frame. They’re sit somewhere in between. With an Italian name. Total whatevvs.

I don’t want to ride the Etape. One of my favourite pieces of cycling-related prose is Bill Strickland’s pithy, insightful and funny article on the Etape du Tour, which appeared in Rouleur’s 2008 photo annual. Bill evokes the event as a kind of living trance, where the landscape and your fellow riders recede from your immediate perception, thereby provoking a reckoning with yourself. And I can relate to that; I’m just pretty sure I don’t want or need that experience from a sportive. I think sportives should be pleasant jaunts around unfamiliar locales, and the Etape always looks far too over-populated and bloody serious to provide that sort of ride. Also, for me, riding a stage from the actual Tour de France without the speed or ability of a pro would be like running around Wembley Stadium while pretending to kick an invisible football. For these reasons, I am never going to ride the Etape.

I’m not that bothered either way about disc brakes or electronic shifting. I think I’m supposed to feel strongly one way or the other, aren’t I? I just can’t muster the effort, fellas. I’m sorry. Look, if the industry wants it to happen, it will happen. One set of aesthetic values will shift to accommodate another. And if you’re a diehard fan of rim braking or analogue gears, then you’ll probably be able to stick with them. Bicycles will still be able to start and stop. Them wheels will keep on turning. Let’s all have a group hug and try not to fight about it, OK?

A mysterious club

May 18, 2012

It seems incredible, but there really was a brief period in my life when I didn’t know what a flat white was. For two giddy months, I would make vague expressions of interest when cyclepeople of my acquaintance expressed their delight at this caffeine-based innovation, until one day my chum Phipsy mistook my proud boast of ignorance as a plea for help and tweeted a succinct description of how a flat white is constructed. So that was the end of that.

More recently, I stubbornly resisted learning the definition of the jazzy new word “soundslide”, but in that instance curiosity got the better of me after just a couple of weeks, because the soundslide in question featured none other than former Dynamo clubmate and all-round nice person Sam Humpheson of Look Mum No Hands! fame. When he was building my Merlin some years ago, Sam overruled a misguided decision I had made and, quite rightly, wrapped my handlebars in white bar tape. Not black, as I had foolishly requested, but white, the hue of speed and elegance. So when wise Sam speaks, I must listen – even if he happens to be speaking via the medium of (and I do so dislike the word) a soundslide. Ugh.

In principle, though, I stand by both of my short-lived campaigns of willful ignorance. New words should be an aid to your self-expression or help you engage more fully with the world; if they do neither, they’re simply clutter. And now, trying its best to clutter up my consciousness, comes another curious phrase: the “Car Club”.

I think this mysterious club must be the council’s doing, as its sole manifestation has appeared on an area of tarmac opposite the entrance to our building. So far, it has been quite easy to avoid discovering anything about the Secret Order Of The West London Car Club because no one has bothered to offer an explanation. I would like to think it involves men in thick, ornate moustaches and goggles sharing their love of vehicles that require a hand-crank to start them up, but at the moment there’s just a metal pole with a notice and the warning “CAR CLUB ONLY” painted imposingly in front of two parking spaces.

Very strange, I’m sure you’ll agree.

The specially designated car club area looked like this two days ago:

This is what it looked like yesterday:

And that, basically, is what it has looked like since it appeared.

I realise, of course, that any sort of club has to create an air of exclusivity to stand a chance of becoming a success. But the mysterious Car Club, judging by its perpetually empty area, doesn’t seem to have any members at all. And it has nabbed two of the best spots on a road that rarely has any free parking spaces. The ruddy cheek!

In other transport-related news, the management company that runs our flats has overturned a preservation order so they can hack down a tree that is impinging on a garage which a few residents are lucky enough to use. Well, I say they’re lucky, but I’ve never really envied them: the garage is only accessible from two adjacent roads and there are always parking spaces outside the main entrance anyway (see below) – which, to me, rather seems to defeat the point of the whole deal.

The garage only has a limited number of spaces for bicycles, so the management company installed bike parking stands along the pavement a few years ago to cope with the increase in cycle usage.

Sadly, a lot of the bikes are regularly vandalised or stolen – although the local ruffians seem to have overlooked one bike which is sporting an exclusive Harrods saddle cover, fashioned from the finest type of plastic bag the Knightsbridge emporium has to offer.

A classy piece of kit – but I digress. I was, you may remember, pondering the nature of the car club, and while I have no intention of uncovering its purpose, I strongly suspect it is some sort of vehicle-sharing scheme. It’s probably a well-meaning initiative, but like a flat white (translation: yet another combination of milk and bean juice) or a soundslide (an audio recording with photo slideshow), it’s just a phrase for a concept that has more or less existed in another form: everyone, after all, will either give someone a lift in their car or briefly lend it out at some point in their lives. New phrases and words emerge because we have a basic human desire for change; effecting actual change is much harder.
And what’s really needed in this case is some co-ordination between the council and the estate management company so that everyone benefits: turn the residents’ garage into a cycle park, thereby saving a tree, let motorists take up the spare parking capacity on the road and get rid of the unused Car Club. Oh, if only outcomes were as easy to create as phrases and slogans…

Not talking of Michelangelo

February 19, 2012

Last summer, I was sitting by the pool of a modest three-star hotel in northern Italy when a clubmate mentioned riding to Florence. A few dozen of us were going to participate in the Nove Colli, a 124-mile bicycle ride through the late Marco Pantani’s hilly backyard in Cesenatico, and Florence was another 90 miles away. Would I really want to sacrifice vital pool-lounging time to ride an extra 180 miles? A silly question: of course I would. We’re talking about Florence, the city of angels and gods, a place where centuries-old representations of divinity are scattered around cathedrals, churches, public squares, everywhere. It is a place of gawping and wonderment, even if you never get to see the poised, uber-human form of Michelangelo’s David in the Accademia – and clomping around a gallery in cleats is an impractical idea anyway, even if we did find somewhere safe to leave our bikes. But we’d be tired after such a long ride, and we wouldn’t have much time to spare, so I asked what in particular my cyclechums planned to see.

The answer? Nothing. The idea was just to ride there, have a coffee, and ride back again. Experiencing Florence for what it is – the world’s most abundant repository of beauty – was simply not on the agenda. But coffee was.

So if, by some miracle, this colourful fragment of the blogosphere’s fresco is being scrutinised after the apocalypse, I would like to suggest to the scholarly descendants of the few who survived that the collapse of civilization did not begin with the groan and judder of the global economy, but with the notion that we didn’t need to bother with the heart-stopping awesomeness of art; we could make do with crushed beans, boiling water and hot, frothy cow juice instead.

I realise that some of the flat white fraternity may lob the ugly accusation of anti-coffeeism at me, so let me just say for the record that some of my best friends are black-liquidistas. And, as a modern cycleperson, I have been known to happily participate in the simple post-ride pleasure of a coffee and a chinwag. But I find it baffling how drinking coffee has been stealthily elevated from banal ritual to cultural display. Plugging his new e-book in The Times last week, Will Self noted that art, film, literature and theatre once constituted culture, but thanks to an emergent interest in dining out, “all you needed to be cultured in the late 1990s was a small bowl of extra-virgin olive oil and some warm Italian bread to dab in it”. Now, it seems, the notion of culture has devolved even further: I have friends and acquaintances who talk and tweet about bean water with the same passion and enthusiasm that was once reserved for books, movies and music. In fact, I can’t recall any of them being as excited about, say, a new album or novel as they have been about a newly-discovered coffee outlet or a half-decent barista. The brewed awakening of the early ’90s, which began when American coffee shops appeared on British streets, gave us beverages that tasted better; perhaps it also inadvertently eroded some people’s willingness, in the cultural sense, to cultivate taste.

But hey, you don’t need art when just sitting in a coffee shop can make you feel all arty and creative. Chris Ward, a man who I have spent many a mile pedalling alongside on London Dynamo rides, has written a book about working from coffee shops, in which he notes that “writers, actors, artists etc don’t work in an office – so why are you?” Perhaps one response to this conundrum is that many Starbucks-bound writers would love an empty office to work in, and you can’t rehearse a soliloquy or create a sculpture in the middle of Caffè Nero. But if you want to feel really clever, why not visit Prufrock? The name comes from a T. S. Eliot poem – you know, the one that goes: “In the room the women come and go, Talking of Michelangelo.” I just hope that the eponymous narrator – a sexually frustrated social inadequate who measures out his life “with coffee spoons” – doesn’t reflect how the company views its target customer. Or maybe they’re banking on their punters not knowing too much about poetry.

As for that bike ride to Florence… well, we never went in the end. I guess the appeal of coffee, even to its most ardent fans, has its limits after all.

Dynamightgiveitamiss No.1: A new ‘c’ word

January 4, 2011

“So where do you want to meet?”
“Well, you could come round to the Coffice.”
“The what?”
“The Coffice. It’s a coffee shop.”
“Never heard of it.”
“Well, it’s actually a branch of a coffee shop chain, but I take my laptop to do some work there, so I call it the Coffice.”
“Er, right. So Starbucks at 12, yes?”
“Sounds good. Twelve pm. In my Coffice.”
“In Starbucks, you mean.”
“I prefer to call it the Coffice. Because it’s like an office, but in a coffee shop. You mix the words together and make a new one. It’s creative. You see?”
“Well, yes, I understand the general concept of how portmanteau words come into being, and the English language is endlessly malleable, but there’s really no point in inventing a new term if the end result makes your meaning less precise. If you mean Starbucks, just say ‘Starbucks’. Or if you want to meet in Costa, just say ‘Costa’. ‘Coffice’ could mean anywhere. And it sounds ugly and joyless. Like ‘coffin’.”
“Hmph. That’s just the typical narrow-minded thinking of your average office drone. I’m a Coffice worker, pal. I can work anywhere – well, I say anywhere, but obviously it has to be somewhere with decent wifi access – and I make my own rules. There are millions of us. Just you wait until Chris Ward publishes his book about Coffice working. The guy’s made millions, and he’s mates with Fiona Phillips and Jamie Theakston, and he helped get Tony Blair elected or something.”
“Ah, I see. So you don’t think this guy is overstating the extent of this supposedly huge change in working practices chiefly as a means to sell books? And how would ordinary customers feel if – or when – the place they go to for a quiet coffee becomes a squat for pushy entrepreneurs?”
“Every revolution has its casualties, my friend.”
“About that meeting. On second thought, come round to mine for coffee. I’ve just bought a Nespresso, so we can probably get some work done in the kiffice.”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 27 other followers