Posts Tagged ‘Cycling’

The Putney Experience

November 23, 2012

Putney. It’s a happening little suburb in south-west London. It’s got a cinema. It’s got a shopping centre. It’s got cafes and bars. It’s even got a Waitrose, where you can buy mince pies that smell like a Christmas tree. And at the top of the high street, on the corner of Putney Bridge and Lower Richmond Road, it has a neglected retail unit which, bafflingly given its prominence, has been unoccupied for at least a decade. But do not shed a tear for this lonely runt, because its façade has been spruced up to promote an amorphous concept which the burghers of SW15 have termed “the Putney experience”.

By studying this repurposed shop window, we can see what The Putney Experience amounts to: groups of rowers and competitive bicyclepeople, the latter apparently racing in flared trousers.

It’s a cause for rejoicing that cyclists now seem to be considered a vital part of Putney life, even though the representation of our clothing isn’t entirely accurate. But I’m not quite sure how Joe Public is meant to react. Maybe a visitor to the area will think to himself, “Well, I was going to watch a film, have a latte in the Caffè Nero down the road and then pick up a box of those Heston Blumenthal mince pies, but screw it – this is Putney, and I shall now experience its Putneyness to the full by becoming a competitive cyclist on this very day, even though I am not appropriately equipped in the trouser area.”

Maybe that will happen. I kind of doubt it, though. But if it does, I’ll be ready to welcome them into The Putney Experience.

Can we sign two petitions? Yes we can

November 9, 2012

“The bucks stop somewhere around here, Hillary!” I imagine this is what Obama might be saying if this was actually Richmond Park.

As a British person, you may have felt left out as you watched our American chums preparing to choose their president. And now they’ve made the right choice, perhaps you’re wondering how, in your own small British way, you too can make a difference. Well, fear not! For I have found a couple of petitions with which you can express your idealism, good nature and sound judgment.

The first petition aims to increase cycling access in Richmond Park by excluding motor vehicles from the seven-mile loop on Sundays. The giddy dream is that the proposal will be debated in parliament if it gets enough signatures.

At first, I thought the concept isn’t a bad idea. Cyclists who don’t yet feel confident riding among cars would get their own mini-Sky Ride every weekend. Then I posted a link to the petition on the London Dynamo forum, and now I think it’s a great idea. Because, perversely, it seems my cycling club – one of the largest in the country – is not keen on this particular plan to promote bike riding. And if there is one defining hallmark of a great idea it is the mood of fearfulness with which it is greeted.

You can’t read the thread I started unless you’re a member, so I will try give a fair précis of the objections and provide my counter-arguments. The main fear is that with lots of beginners and children pootling along at 10mph, more serious cyclists such as myself wouldn’t be able to use the park for training rides on Sundays. Well, I’m fine with that. Dynamo’s group ride in the park is on Saturdays; everyone heads for the hills of Surrey on Sunday. Under this proposal, less experienced riders would get to enjoy the park for one day a week, ’Mos and other club cyclists would get the other six, and maybe at some point a few of those beginners would gain the confidence to ride with us. We all win!

Another objection is that it fixes a non-existent problem: you can still use the park early in the morning when there is almost no traffic. I would suggest the almost total absence of pootlers at that time of the morning shows this is a lousy option that has, in effect, already been rejected. If I had kids, I wouldn’t relish waking the family up at the crack of dawn and getting to the park to ride for a measly hour or less before the cars showed up. The other alternative is sticking to cycling on the straight strip of car-free tarmac bisecting the loop, which is an excellent plan if you want to be bored out of your mind. You’ll never get more people cycling if you make the activity seem unappealing.

Some Dynamo members appear to be thinking of other people’s concerns. What about the residents surrounding the park? Surely they won’t like golfers parking on their doorstep to use the park’s course, and they’ll be miffed at the increase in traffic on the roads in their neighbourhood. Also, if fewer people visit the park, then there will be an economic impact on the cafes within its grounds. But then there is no guarantee any of these eventualities will occur. Sunday golfers may have a round on Saturday instead. Roads surrounding the park do not become insurmountably clogged when it is closed for deer culling. The custom of hungry cyclists in cafes could replace that of motorists.

There was one alternative suggestion to car-free Sundays: a congestion charge, levied in the park throughout the week. I suppose this ambitious plan could reduce the traffic, although it can’t weed out the worst drivers, which is what really puts people off riding. So it’s only a partial solution.

Basically, it comes down to this: I would like less confident riders to experience of the same simple pleasures I have enjoyed in the park over the years – things like the big, long descent or the nonplussed deer watching you on the small climb to Richmond Gate. So if you think this a reasonable and commendable aim, then please add your name to the list.

The second petition I signed aims to reinstate Danny Baker’s weekday afternoon radio show on BBC London 94.9. You’ve probably heard what happened to the Candyman after coverage of his magnificently funny and defiant two-hour swansong last Thursday made just about every news outlet you care to mention, including the front page of The Times.

And yes, regular dwellers of this blog will have already noticed me gabbing on and on about how much pleasure Danny’s show has provided. Nestled amid the phone-in topics and chats with his co-hosts Baylen, Amy and the inimitable David Kuo was a central idea: that the kinks, quirks and fleeting moments of oddness in popular culture and people’s everyday existence are what gives these things life. So if you value originality and good humour – which, of course, you must surely do – then sign now. If you do, I promise to stop gibbering on about how much I love Danny Baker. You can’t say fairer than that.

What’s the best way to listen to Danny Baker while riding a bicycle?

October 24, 2012

I’ve mentioned before that one of the central pleasures in my life is listening to Danny Baker on BBC London while I ride my bicycle into town. To do this, I used to use the TuneIn app for the iPhone, but it has a rude habit of cutting Danny off mid-anecdote, restarting a moment later at the same point it lost the signal, then skipping a few seconds to catch up. By which point Danny has gone to a Fountains of Wayne record, and I’ve missed the funniest bit of the story. Curse you, capricious app!

For this reason, I now listen to the world’s greatest radio show on an FM radio accessory which plugs into the old version of the iPod. But I’m no analogue snob, and it’s irksome having to carry a phone as well as an iPod, so this week I gave the new BBC iPlayer Radio app a whirl.

Is it any better than TuneIn? Well, after dialing up BBC London 94.9 using the whizzy little semicircular station selector, it soon became clear that it isn’t. On my seven-mile journey, the signal conked out three times – and unlike TuneIn, which attempts to reconnect automatically, I had to stop riding and restart it. Another advantage of TuneIn is that you can listen to practically any station in the world, not just the BBC’s output. So if you can put up with your favourite show going silent mid-broadcast, then choose TuneIn over iPlayer radio.

Yesterday was a decisive moment for a number of familiar technologies: Ceefax displayed its final pixels, and Apple sounded the death knell for CDs and DVDs by announcing that the new super-slim iMac won’t have an optical drive (although you can buy an external device if, in the slightly condescending words of Apple’s marketing chief, you are “stuck in the past”). FM, meanwhile, the old iron horse of audio broadcast media, has kept on going – even if it is, like an OAP, a little fuzzy at times. Perhaps 4G will be so fast and reliable that I’ll be able to chuck out my little iPod radio attachment, but at the moment it seems clear that radio apps don’t work as well as they should on 3G. So I’m puzzled why the BBC released theirs now. In the meantime, it’s FM for the Candyman.

A couple of intriguing magazines

October 19, 2012

Can you recall, as a child, plunging into a picture book and immersing yourself in a strange new land? I got a similar kick this week after issue 20 of VNA magazine popped through our letterbox as part of Jen’s mailout from Stack, the ever-dependable independent magazine subscription service. VNA (which stands for Very Nearly Almost) is about street art, a distant, magical and sometimes nightmarish world of which I know nothing, save for a brief visit to the paint-strewn streets of Brussels a few weeks ago which you may or may not remember me gabbing on about.

What I like about VNA is that it is packed with lots of interesting, amazing stuff I had never seen before – which is what we all want from a magazine, right? – and the writing is engaging and focused, placing a varied collection of artists in their own particular artistic context. My favourites were Guy McKinley’s ornate, fantasy-inspired portraits and the imposing symbols of cover star Retna, who Jen informs me is apparently quite famous. There is also a painting of a child’s face seemingly embedded in a wall in Granada that caught my eye.

VNA is in a nice compact format and it only costs six quid, which isn’t bad for an indie mag. So why not give it a go? I’m sure you’ll find something you’ll like in it, and I can’t say that about many magazines.

Another new visitor to our magazine rack is a new publication simply entitled Cyclist.

Essentially, it’s adapted the Cycling Plus format of clear, informed product reviews, added a dash of pro peloton features and delivered it in a stylish, upmarket package with a not unreasonable £5 cover price. Some of the photography and their feature on the Colnago factory are reminiscent of Rouleur (interestingly, Rouleur’s publisher used to be a suit at Dennis, which publishes Cyclist, and both magazines are advertising in each other’s pages).

I think what may set Cyclist apart from other cycling mags is that it feels more current – issue one included a neat spread on the trend for all things fluoro, a feature on electronic shifting and a look at disc brakes as part of the Colnago piece. More importantly, it is packed with facts, which makes it sound a bit dull, but I think clearly presented information is what cyclists value above all else in a magazine.

The writing may need to be warmer, and it will be interesting to see how it develops its own voice. The only thing I really didn’t like was a column by Velominati rule bore Frank Strack, but that’s a long post for another day. Overall, I think Cyclist has made a solid start, and you shouldn’t ask for anything more from a new magazine. Issue two is out this week. I bought my copy at Pearson Performance, so maybe you’ll find it at your local bike shop too.

A very dusty bike

May 4, 2012

If there had been a bicycle in Pompeii when Vesuvius popped its cork, I like to think it would look a bit like the dusty Decathlon that you now see before you.

dusty bike handlebars

This shopping bike is interred in the subterranean company car park that I use. Building work recently began near one of the bike racks, sending all the bicycles on it fleeing – except this one, which is why it is now covered in a thick layer of dust.

It used to be a bike; now it’s a shadow of one. Maybe, if another cloud of dust emerges, it will become invisible. I hope it stays a while.

Kirby goes bananas

April 29, 2012

“Hey – did you see that flat finish at the Tour of Turkey?” This, I am fairly confident, is a question that had never before passed the lips of even the most obsessive cycling fan. But that was before this year’s penultimate stage, which yesterday provided the most dramatic and chortlesome final kilometres of the season so far, thanks in no small part to the somewhat enthusiastic approach of Eurosport’s Carlton Kirby.

With the peloton destined to catch the six-man leading group, Omega Pharma’s Iljo Keisse escaped and hammered out a lead of 31 seconds on the bunch going into the final kilometre. Then, with the stage his for the taking, the Belgian fell off on a tight right-hander – and lost even more time by remounting without realising that his ruddy chain had come off. Gah!

Kirby’s reaction to Keisse’s misfortune is a glorious, unrestrained minute-and-a-half OMG-gasm which no sports fan with an ounce of passion in their hearts can fail to warm to. Who cares if all attempts at impartiality are thrown out of the commentator’s box with the throaty yelp: “C’MON, KEISSE, FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE!” And who cares if he misreads the race twice (once on the aerial shot as the bunch take the right-hander, the second time a few metres from the line)? Kirby channeled the viewer’s amazement and excitement, which in that sort of situation is what great sports commentary is all about.

And this was only the Tour of flippin’ Turkey! Imagine what this guy could do over three weeks in July. C’MON, EUROSPORT BOSSES, FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE!

Thank you, Addison Lee

April 27, 2012

It’s been a week since John Griffin, the outspoken boss of Addison Lee, bravely issued his now-infamous call-to-arms against cyclists who have had the temerity to be knocked down by his own drivers and other assorted London motorfolk. So let’s take stock and ask ourselves: what, if anything, have we learned?

Well, for a start, I think we can all agree that those who sell bicycles must share the blame following the “tremendous upsurge in cycling and cycling shops”. Admittedly, I initially wondered why Griffin mentioned bicycle retailers. But then I realised that if there weren’t any shops selling bikes, there wouldn’t be any bikes either. And with no bikes, there wouldn’t be any cyclists legitimately using bus lanes (the same lanes which, incidentally, Griffin has encouraged his drivers to use illegally). As those of the car-for-hire fraternity might say: Q. E. bladdy D., sunshine. You can’t argue with that logic.

Another salient point – and again, I’m trying to follow the relentless course of Griffin’s argument as it powers away like a rude berk in a people carrier – is that it’s OK for drivers to hit a few OAPs now and again because, well, they just don’t see them. Cyclists, Griffin reckons, would be safer if they were trained, although if motorists are unable to spot a slow-moving adult human (not necessarily the case, but let’s follow Griffin’s logic here), then a trained cyclist probably stands as much chance as an untrained one.

Above all, I think we should conclude that John Griffin engaged in nothing less than a one-man festival of nonsensical, unfunny twuntfoolery that triggered a wave of anger that went far beyond our relatively small community of cyclepeople – and it was only when everyone judged him to be a magnificent, towering cockwit that he finally backtracked. He’s also been rewarded with a petition calling for the Department of Transport to revoke Addison Lee’s license. But I would like to thank him for speaking his mind because – and please don’t think I’m now suddenly morphing into a Rod Liddle-esque contrarian twerp – I honestly think his viewpoint needed to be expressed.

For as long as I can remember, most of the moans about the worst behaviour of cyclists (they ignore red lights, they weave in and out of lanes without looking, they ride on the pavement, et bleedin’ cetera) have been polished off with the same banal clincher: “And they don’t even pay road tax!” Setting aside the obvious counter-argument – “road tax” is actually a tax on cars linked to emissions, and we all pay for roads through general taxation – the notion seems to be that cyclists are mere guests, so it’s incumbent on them to behave better. But my instinct has always been that is not remotely what the angriest motorists believe, even though that’s what this small but vocal clan of drivers appears to be saying. What they really think is that cyclists shouldn’t be on the roads at all.

Now look at the resonant final sentence of Griffin’s clumsy tract: “It is time for us to say to cyclists, ‘You want to join our gang, get trained and pay up.’” The “gang” isn’t minicab drivers; it’s road users. The suggestion is clear: in Griffin’s bad new world, any cyclist who can’t or won’t pay for the associated costs their motorised counterparts already incur won’t be able to use London’s roads.

There’s a good reason why nobody with any clout had ever seriously argued for getting cyclists off the streets – as Griffin has now found out. But now, finally, this deeply restrictive view is in plain sight, and cycling advocacy can only profit from the authoritarian nastiness it has revealed itself to be.

Blackfriars Galactica: the hole saga

April 15, 2012

You know how it is with punctures: you go for ages without getting any articles on the blighters, then three come along at once. During the past seven days, the Inner Ring has considered a giddy, technology-led future of sealants and tubeless tyres, while London Cyclist kept it old school by revealing that he prefers the age-old method of patching his inner tube at the roadside. And now I, too, have had a visit from the Puncture Fairy – an occurrence which, like the activities of her kinder, more popular cousin the Tooth Fairy, took place in the middle of the night – so it is now my turn to muse on the activities of that mischievous little sprite.

The visitation took place late on Wednesday night when I flatted in the Blackfriars Underpass. This is notable for the simple reason that, thanks to my hardy Continentals, I hardly ever puncture going in to or coming back from town. But when I do, it’s invariably in the frigging Blackfriars Underpass. This has happened three times. Three! Why should this be? Well, the westbound section is sometimes closed at night for maintenance work, so I suspect a small amount of workmen’s detritus is responsible for turning it into my personal puncture blackspot – particularly as the previous flat I had was caused by a nail the size of my index finger which made a terrible CLANKCLANK-CLANKCLANK-CLANKCLANK sound as it spun against the stays.

Which is a shame, because the westbound tunnel is one of my favourite places to ride at night.

It reminds me of the landing bay in the old version of Battlestar Galactica – a coldly welcoming maw of white light waiting in the darkness – and once inside, you’re magically freed from the tyranny of air resistance. It’s an anti-wind tunnel, and no matter how knackered I am, I’m often unable to resist walloping the bike through the flat section with enough gusto to cruise up the short uphill exit.

But the unexpected outcome of the underpass periodically becoming a partial building site and puncture-attracting annoyance is that I’ve discovered an amazing little substitute which reroutes my journey by guiding me north to Queen Victoria Street. It’s called Skinners Lane, and you can find it by going up the wide, shared-use pavement opposite the approach to Southwark Bridge and turning left.

I’m sure there are plenty of narrow streets in London that look like they haven’t been resurfaced since the days when Penny Farthings roamed the land. But a cobbled road that is less likely to cause a puncture than the nearest stretch of tarmac? I think I’ve stumbled upon the Bizarro Paris-Roubaix…

The strength of Titanium

April 5, 2012

Carbon or titanium – which is better? For years cyclepeople have been debating which is the more amazing material – and now, thanks to top international DJ David Guetta, we finally have an answer. It’s titanium. Because, let’s face it, no one is ever going to sing, “I am carbon fiiiiii-buuuuh”, are they? That would be utter madness. Non-stop partying, energetic sex and a shiny, seemingly invincible metal – these are pop’s Tropes Of Amazingness and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

I very much like the song Titanium, particularly the panicked, angry raveathon that hijacks the end of each chorus and stops abruptly, plonking you slightly disoriented into the next verse. I also like the video, which happens to feature a child riding a road bike.

If you haven’t seen the video, the plot goes something like this: a child causes an explosion at his school using the awesome power of his mind, then races home, packs his bags, and escapes before the cops arrive.

But he ends up in a forest surrounded by a SWAT team pointing their guns at him. So the kid triggers another explosion which displaces some leaves, but no one dies because that would never happen on MTV. The End.

The child is an enigma. It’s unclear to what extent he can control his powers, or what made him blow up his school, so you can’t judge his culpability. You don’t even know for sure if he’s a boy: you could be looking at a goofy, tomboyish girl.

And everything he (or she) touches – the teddy bears suspended and rotating in mid-air, the keys that fly across the room into his hand – makes this androgynous creature seem more alien.

But despite his otherness, you’re rooting for him because of the few expressive seconds in which he rides his bicycle.

When he’s trying to escape on his bike, our proto-superhero looks completely, wholly human – confused, vulnerable, terrified and yet somehow resolute. The strength of the video for Titanium, I think, is the bike.

Bye bye, Bike Tart

March 27, 2012

In a world where appraising bicycle-related exotica often means yakking on about history and tradition in an overtly Eurocentric manner, one man has dared to be slightly underwhelmed by a Pegoretti and enamoured by an Australian frame builder. Now Rich Gearing has hopped it to a new life Down Under with his fiancée Wendy (there they are, pictured on the right at their farewell do in a Whitehall pub) and a substratum of London’s cycling scene will be a poorer place for his absence. Rich is a fellow member of London Dynamo, a unique club whose past and present members have given us For Goodness Shakes, Rouleur and Look Mum No Hands. And I like to think Brain Farts Of A Bike Tart follows that Dynamo ethos of taking an original idea – in this case an inquisitive and highly personalised take on bike bling – and making it part of cycling’s cultural landscape. So I’d like to take this opportunity to wish him and Wendy all the best. Here’s to many more farts, pal!

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