30 Days of Biking #29 – Stick

What a frustrating penultimate Pledge day.

I leave home in the morning  feeling lopsided after my left pannier has finally given up the ghost and my lunch and waterproofs are crammed into the Permanent one on the right along with its usual contents.

At the first mini-hill, my chain falls off for the umpteenth time in the last few days.

Then I find myself at the receiving end of another cyclist’s sarcasm for doing something that baffles me when others do it. Coming out of the underpass at Junction 3, I’m taking that potentially treacherous bend downhill towards the waterside path (where I and many others slipped on invisible ice that day in January) as wide as possible, on the path that is marked for cyclists, which is the one on my right. Very slowly. I see the other cyclist coming, from an area with no separate cycle path and therefore, quite rightly, to the left of it from his perspective. I see that he sees me, and in that split second to decide what to do, my early morning brain goes for staying my course rather than engaging in the typical “ooh, ooh, which way should we go” dance, thinking the other person would just go where they felt like as such creatures usually seem to. I think I felt like I was an almost stationary object for him to go around – not an unusual thing to encounter in this shared usage area. Unfortunately, this was not one of those fanciful/pragmatic types, oh no; this was someone who, unlike me at that particular moment, had not given up on applying Highway Code pedantry to the cycle path.

But he doesn’t just stake his legitimate claim to that side of the path – he also deems the appropriate response to my attempt at an awkwardly apologetic face to be the question “Are you foreign?“. I don’t think it was a genuine enquiry – he didn’t seem like a UKIP type, or like he was trying to make excuses for me.

As it happens, I am “foreign”, and grew up in a country where people drive on the “wrong” side of the road. But as I’ve lived in this country for over twenty years and learned to drive here, that’s hardly the point.

Things like this make compulsory cycling tests sound good to me – then we’d all be singing from the same hymn sheet. I’m aware that there are plenty of arguments against (aside from the practical issues listed in the link, there is the fact that as it stands, cycling is a more accessible form of transportation than driving in that it is much less dependent on income, literacy etc, which a more regimented system would compromise). Countries with higher levels of cycling/better infrastructure may have fewer such issues as the cycling culture is perhaps more homogeneous there – though it’s not all rosy for Dutch cyclists. One way or another though, clear rules understood by all whether or not they also happen to be a car driver would be nice.

It’s certainly taught me that next time another cyclist makes a mistake “at me”, I should try to state some facts in a friendly manner rather than mock them as I did that lady (my own jibe was “You didn’t see me, no?“, knowing full well she had). Generally speaking, it’s better to be nice to people when you know nothing about them or what kind of day they’re having, which unfortunately is easy to forget when we are inconvenienced.

30 Days of Biking #28

Yesterday was another day of not feeling like getting on the bike – more rain, still feeling rough, my brain started screaming this was just too dangerous. My Other Brain, however, reminded Ms Panic that a. I don’t need to feel like doing something in order to do it and b. I might actually feel better for doing it, thanks to the exercise in the fresh air as well as not breaking my Pledge c. all I had to do to make it safe was go as slow as I needed to. So what if I got a bit wetter a bit longer? Just a bit of water.

I actually felt better by the time I had to leave, largely thanks to a punch-packing first-smoothie-in-ages, having finally received my replacement blender jug in the morning.

And I was really glad I did get on my bike, as I enjoyed the delicious blossom smells exacerbated by the rain on the cycle path (perhaps I can recapture the love I used to have for rain, even now that in my old/cycling age I’ve learned to appreciate sunshine). And I was glad again as I enjoyed the evening’s edutainment (European election debate at the University’s Wills Memorial Building) and felt closest to the Green of all the candidates – glad of my suitably tribal gear and to not be getting into a car after the “show”.

30 Days of Biking #27

Really didn’t feel like cycling yesterday. The rain, a few days’ worth of vague sore throat, a week’s manic flurry of activity and stiff long-underused muscles from Friday night’s kickboxing class all conspired to make this a perfect day for groggy wounds-licking reclusiveness in the warm and dry. But a pledge is a pledge, so I grumpily interrupted my “convalescence” to take a short trip to the Better Food Company for some treats (to add insult to injury, the item I really wanted was out of stock). In spite of the weather, almost all of the Sheffield hoops outside the shop were in full use. Go hardcore Bristolian cycling hippies.

Not that the day was entirely without self-improvement – I used my urge for stillness to read, sort and tidy away the ridiculous amount of Chrome tabs that open on my laptop every time I start the browser and had been slowing my digital life considerably.

30 Days of Biking #26 – Leisure ride

I thought it would be nice to include a longer, non-commute-y or errand-y ride among my April cycling endeavours.

Luckily not one but two opportunities were available yesterday:

I could have done both but after a rather manic week (including plenty of physical activity and a free fitness kickboxing class the previous night), I needed to schedule some rest and time to potter about the house, so I picked one – for various reasons, the Good Gym one.

The ride started with a short brief from leader Lisa (who was also one of the volunteers at the Pedal Revolution exhibition I’d been to on Friday, small Bristol biking fanatics world), then off we went on a route that turned out to be familiar in parts as it went through Eastville Park, but past my usual running route and along the Frome – lovely.

My bike and I were unsurprisingly the problem children at the back – my D-Lock fell off, forcing me (and everyone else) to stop while I retrieved it and tucked it away in a pannier; my chain also fell off at one point but I put it back on in a second and was off again, which I felt pretty good about. I was also secretly pleased when the rider in front of me struggled with tight corners I took with relative ease – perhaps I should have recommended Life Cycle coaching 😉

The ride was overall fairly fast paced (Lisa had told me when I called for information the day before that it had to be “a bit gym-y” to fit in with the group’s remit), which on the one hand I liked (I have found short guided rides I’ve done during cycling events a little slow), but on the other hand on an achy Saturday morning I could have done with being more leisurely. Especially up that final hill, which all these super-fit people went up like so many mountain goats, leaving me (and as a result the rear marshall) behind as if all these mornings pedalling up to Clifton had been in vain.

Still, I had plenty of energy left for the hour’s weeding that awaited us at Feed Bristol after a whistlestop tour of this great place, whose “aim is to support a range of people with different needs and abilities to access food growing while promoting health, well-being, out-door education and access to nature“. I love a bit of weeding – I wish I liked more such mindless manual tasks (I understand some people find housework therapeutic). I didn’t even mind the three brief showers much (largely I’m sure thanks to the waterproof jacket that’s been my only expensive individual bike-related purchase so far).

I ended up quite knackered, hungry and covered in mud from head to toe but happy and thinking of going back there to volunteer in exchange for free veg. Talking of volunteering, it was quite thought-provoking to hear about the way corporate away days are an essential earner for the project and regulars have had, more or less reluctantly, to work with bankers and the like, with both groups getting something new out of the experience.

We were told that the land we were on included a piece of the “Blue Finger“, some of the top 3% high quality agricultural soil in the country, with immense potential for food sustainability/self-sufficiency in Bristol, but that this was under threat from a proposed Park and Ride scheme (Metrobus) of contested worth. You can read more about this (and how to object should you want to) on the “Rethink M32 Park and Ride” blog and the Blue Finger Alliance‘s website.

The ride back was conveniently a lot easier, being mostly downhill and flat, and shorter as I peeled off at Eastville Park for a much needed lunch, hot cocoa and somewhat blissed-out lounge at home.

Great work by the Good Gym volunteers organising and running this ride like clockwork, allowing the likes of me to do something mildly adventurous with minimum risk. I’m still not sufficiently confident in my cheap bike or my cycling troubleshooting skills to risk a longer ride for now, especially given that any necessary rescue operation could be costly (until I’m working full-time again, leisure activities must be free or as near as dammit), but this is added motivation to keep going to Women’s Night and improving both.

Photo of Good Gym-ers scraping mud off their footwear

Good Gym-ers scraping sticky, clay-y mud off their footwear

Photo of hut in Feed Bristol Big Field

A charming hut in the Big Field, which you can hire for workshops etc

Photo of my reflection in Feed Bristol hut window

Slightly serial-killerish selfie (reflection in hut window)

30 Days of Biking #25 – Busy busy

No time for a proper write-up today, so just a few phone snaps of the day’s bike-related activities.

photo of a bike locked to a Sheffield loop with various bits missing

Not what you want to see where you’re about to lock your precious ride

photo of bile trailers

Some of the Bristol Pedal Revolution trailers on show at the Create Centre starting yesterday. Other exhibits include a looooong bike with a bench in the middle for passengers, a sound system, washing and sewing machines (which will be used throughout the exhibition to make hi-vis flags), a paint-splattering contraption, and of course a smoothie-maker, all pedal-powered. Trailers should be available for a run round the block and/or “free hire” for the day from next week. Exhibition on until 23 May.

Photo of cyclists gathering in Bristol Centre

Not that Critical a Mass – Bristol’s “Critical Mass” gathering for this month. Apparently the London edition has been known to attract 1,000 cyclists. Perhaps this needs better marketing to attract more of Bristol’s sizeable biking community? Or to not be on a Friday night?

30 Days of Biking #24 – The Bold and the Brave

Yesterday’s biking-related activities included an evening of edutainment at Roll for the Soul. What I learned:

  • Amsterdam wasn’t always a cycling-friendly city but became that way following the apparently famous “stop the child murder” campaign 40 years ago (400 children died cycling there in 1971), combined with the oil crisis making motoring less affordable/sustainable. There was a hubbub of recognition in the room when the old-style Amsterdam was described as having cycle lanes that were “absent at junction and not connected”. Not just me noticing Bristol’s no-bike lands then. The first cycle routes there were constructed in 1975, among other policies to encourage cycling.
  • The difference in cycling culture and infrastructure there makes cycling less of an effort – no special gear such as helmets or hi-vis, the mantra is “the smaller you are, the more protected you are” (haven’t really worked out how that works yet but for now I’ll take their word for it).
  • Things that make cycling easy in the Netherlands include parking facilities in central locations for up to 10,000 bikes and cargo bikes for hire at €2.50 an hour.
  • Bristol’s “Make Sunday Special” events have a way to go before they match “Ciclovias” in Bogotá, Colombia (or many of their world-wide emulations).
  • The term “vehicular cycling” (which is essentially what Life Cycle instructors teach).
  • For all its flaws, the J3 underpass is a heck of a lot better now than it used to be – I’ve picked a comparatively good time in its life to start routinely cycling through it.

We were also treated to that guy who films himself bumping into things in cycle lanes and a manic cyclist sketch from the TV show Portlandia (watch out of the celeb-on-a-bike cameo), and ended on a positive note about cycling in Bristol with that video of the Bristol Cycle Festival, featuring a  few of my favourite biking helpers such as Women’s Night and Bike Back.

It was a informative and thought provoking selection. As always, being bombarded with pro-cycling propaganda made me want to defend the rights of drivers and pedestrians, especially those who can’t physically cycle. Cycling proselytisers never seem to be aware such people exist; someone in one of the videos described the situation in the Netherlands as “you don’t think about cycling any more than you think about your feet for walking“. I know people who have to think about their feet for walking, and people who can’t walk, much less cycle, so boasts of urban design that makes it difficult for people to get a taxi at a train station sounds a tad callous in that light – of course there may well be some fantastic provisions for disabled access there that just weren’t mentioned in the film. There’s also a whole n’other blog post about my internalised victim-blaming thinking patterns and finding one’s own balance of assertiveness and courtesy towards those who can and want to go faster, which sadly I have no time to write today – it’s been a busy day in a busy week and tomorrow will be the same with an earlyish start, so I need some rest!

I’ve forgotten which film the man was in saying that with the right infrastructure, urban cycling can be the norm, whereas right now in the UK it is only “the bold and the brave” who do it. I quite like being one of those, though I was hardly an early adopter. One of my motivations to start was fitting in with the eco-friendly crowd I associate with, which for a time actually made me feel one of a shameful minority for not cycling. But I doubt I’d mind trading in that status for a cycling culture that involved less faff and fewer dodgy bumps on my routes.

30 Days of Biking #23 – Doctored

Better luck with Dr Bike this time – cold and potentially wet weather meant less competition. Done in 5-10 minutes too – rickety reflector on rear mudguard secured, D lock bracket tightened (with no guarantee it would stay tight, mind), front rattle source confirmed as probably end bit of brake cable hitting front mudguard (swiftly twisted out of the way).