To the Railway Bridges

Do you know that feeling, when you just ‘have to ride’ ? Perhaps it begins with a restlessness, maybe repeated glances at the window, agitation, sighing, even a little heart-ache. This is the urge to ride, a demanding physical need to spin the cranks, to be moving through the air, to feel the road thrumming beneath the tyres, to bring endless horizons towards you, rolling on, and on, and on.

On Friday I couldn’t get out to join John and Andy on their afternoon ride, but when the chance came to take just half an hour, I had to ride, my bike of choice was the Brompton. The destination was the two railway bridges between Brokerswood and Dilton Marsh. One of riveted iron, straight and wide, the other of brick, arching gently out of the ground. Only a hundred yards or so apart, they span different stretches of track and the junction where the lines part can be seen in the distance from the brick bridge. Maybe a mile or two further in that direction sits another, larger bridge, off the beaten track. No road seems to lead to its grand arch, it will be the subject of another cycle quest another time.

I made another cycle film of the journey- this one is epic by my standards – nearly six and a half minutes long. It’s filmed entirely on my little compact digital camera so the quality leaves a lot to be desired, I would like to think that it has a charming sort of super8 feel to it, but that is very much wishful thinking. The film contains variously, a farm cat, lots of shots of power and telephone lines and pylons, the long hill at Rudge (road technically closed, you can see it’s all dug up) the tin tabernacle at Brokerswood, wheat fields, hedges, verges, the two railway bridges (the iron one only briefly because I could hear a train heading for the other bridge so I turned back and headed for the brick bridge to film it), a train and a feather. The music is by John Cage.

Power and phone lines fascinate me, I think partially because we do such a good job of editing them from our vision and memory. They are so ubiquitous yet it seems to be possible to view a landscape without seeing them at all. A photograph can be startling when it restores these invisible towers and poles that we have edited out of our memories of the landscape.

Pylons viewed from the road between Frome and Standerwick

Pylons viewed from the back road that runs between Frome and Standerwick

For some reason that I cannot articulate, or even fully understand, I find pylons and telephone lines beautiful. I particularly like to see pylons striding out across fields, or better still, a skewed line of telephone poles lining a country road.

Telephone poles on the road to Dilton

Telephone poles on the road to Dilton

This fascination of mine extends only to wires and lines, it does not include phone masts, I’m not sure if it includes radio masts. I would very much like to see a map with all the above ground powerlines added.

Apparently one of my first words was “Pylon”.

Blue skies and Brompton

Lucy was eager to get out on the bike today, so we dropped the kids off at their grandparents before slipping back to the house to get the bikes. We trickled out of the village to Rudge, taking it easy on the hills, just sitting back and letting the bikes do the work. Lucy was on her Diamondback and I took the Brompton. On the way back, I tried to shoot a bit of video on my phone. Getting it onto You Tube has meant the quality has been sucked out at every one of the three stages it went through to get there. The resulting very washed out, tinny vid looks more like a series of stills than a film. Anyway, I present it below. Music by the marvellous My Two Toms from Bristol.

***updated information, I’ve reloaded the vid at slightly better quality, the improvement is marginal at best***

Published in: on July 12, 2008 at 10:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Picking up the car from the Garage, going via road resurfacing works, and all on a Brompton.

Drrring Drrring!

Drrring Drrring!

“Hello VW Audi Garage”

“Can I book my SEAT in for a service and MOT?”

“Yep, do you need a courtesy car?”

“No thanks mate, I’ve got it covered”.

The End

The End

Published in: on July 8, 2008 at 4:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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On the trains again

On Wednesday, I cycled to Trowbridge, caught the train to Salisbury then rode to the office.

The Brompton on the platform

The journey there was pretty uneventful, except for the sheer pleasure of riding my bike. I didn’t even have to rush as I had plenty time to spare. On the return trip a chap at the station, a fellow Brompton rider, asked me about my Brompton bag, he’d been trying to track one down for a while.

At Warminster, a girl, probably in her mid-teens, got on the train with a bright red bmx. It was a nice bike, with a 360 gyro, and she backed it into the corridor and sat on the saddle for the whole journey. Earphones in, she lent forward over the handlebars and adjusted the front brake a little. On arrival at Trowbridge, I was impressed to see that she didn’t dismount at any point, she freewheeled the bmx off the train and pushed herself along the platform with her feet, in clear defiance of the no cycling on the platform rule. I thought she might be headed for the new bmx and skate park right next to the station, it was packed out with kids having a great time, pushing hard to create new stunts and tricks, grinding wheels and pegs off bars, attempting ludicrous jumps and flips, failing, sliding down quarterpipes on their knees before trying again and again. It was a joyous sight and one in the eye for the nay-sayers who claim kids don’t want to exercise or play outside anymore. The girl was in front of me as I headed past the hurtling bikes and boards, but she turned into town, accelerating over the bridge as I rode the other way and headed down the A361 for home.

Published in: on June 28, 2008 at 10:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Simple Pleasures of a bike-train-bike commute

I woke too late to bike commute the whole way into Salisbury, so I hauled myself into the shower, got into some trousers so enormous it was like wearing a tent, and prepared the Brompton for a sprint down the A361 to Trowbridge station. Still yawning, I wove up the hill, crested, and put the bikes hubs to the test on a fast descent down the other side. The Brompton is a skittish ride at the best of times, at 30+ mph downhill it’s a study in terror, yet somehow I made it to the junction in one piece. Then it was simply a case of pointing the front of the bike down the road and turning the pedals. On arrival at the station (terrific skid up the ramp and onto the platform – no mean feat with brompton brakes), I discovered I’d missed one train and had forty minutes to wait for the next one. The bike took me into the town centre and located a coffee shop for me. Soon I was ensconced at an outside table drinking a latte and reading a book. This seemed mighty civilized, and it was a great shame to have to knock back the coffee and zip back to the station.

I thought that with the current high fuel prices it would be more economical to go the 31 miles by train, but no, I discovered that the price of the journey had gone up 33% in the last seven months, incredible!

The beauty of the journey soon erased the price from my memory, this is the same route I cycled when I rode to Salisbury a couple of weeks ago. The road crosses and dives under the track all the way to Wilton, sometimes mere feet from the track, other times it moves away, dipping behind an embankment or veering off to visit a lonely farm before rejoining its symbiotic partner, the railway track. I sat back and imagined my doppelganger riding at a speeded up pace level with the train. All those little milestones on the journey compressed into a blur of memories, the train moving too quickly to allow the mind to dwell on things like the toad crossing sign, the concrete bridge, the post office, the ox-eye daisies in the hedges, the constant pedal freewheel pedal freewheel rhythm of the rolling lanes. Train journeys seem to be a kind of time travel, you sit down, there is constant noise, but the feeling of motion is barely perceived. Very quickly (hopefully) you arrive at your destination. Strange, yet completely normal.

Cycling through Salisbury was a joy, apart from the fool who stopped on the bikes only bit at the traffic lights on Fisherton Street.

The Bicycles of London

Tight fit, even for a Brompton

I had a meeting in London today, afterwards I chose to walk to the station. On the way I started snapping bikes and cyclists on my phone, with an idea that I would surreptitiously try to photograph every bike I saw. It didn’t quite work out that way as cyclists were coming left right and center, but I got 114 pictures. Here is the edited down selection.

Published in: on June 12, 2008 at 11:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Oranges and Lemons

Though the shop and post office in our village makes a manful effort to supply the needs of the village and surrounding environs, (homemade plum jam filled victoria sponge anyone?) there was a distinct lack of oranges and lemons to be had there today. I came away with a cucumber, some local lettuce and a very small lemon – but that wasn’t going to help me make elderflower cordial. So, having finished work, I took to the saddle of the Brompton and headed for The supermarket. I decided that I couldn’t face the Wingfield straight so I went via Tellisford and Farleigh Hungerford. It was very hilly indeed, but on a Brompton it doesn’t matter, a leisurely pace is all that can be managed so there is no need to sweat, strive and strain up hills. I crested the tallest hill at the point where I used a photograph I took to make the Highway Cycling Group poster:

Many people have asked how I did the painting of the landscape in the background, but I assure everyone that it is real. The only things that weren’t there in the original photo are the words and the clouds which I added from another photo.

Easing over this hill saw me take a fast descent via some sharp corners and a final climb to Farleigh Hungerford. I took a right onto the main road and passed the castle. Then on into Trowbridge – only to discover that the Tesco Express had neither oranges nor lemons. So it was down the cycle path to Bradford-on-Avon and the Sainsbury’s there. Soon I was departing the supermarket with a riding bag full to the brim with fruit and goodies, but that also meant an enormous amount of extra weight. Never mind, it sped me up on the downhills and gave me a work out on the uphills. I took the same route back again – stopping now and again to pick more elderflowers for the cordial. At the bend by the bridges at Farleigh Hungerford I stopped to read the rules of the Farleigh Swimming Club. This group own a field next to the river in a spot ideal for a bit of wild swimming – but it’s strictly members only.
Farleigh Swimming Club

I liked the texture underneath their information sign where the new poster had been stuck over the old, which was probably stuck over an even older poster.

Swimming club sign

The number to call for membership having been noted, I started the ascent of the hill by the castle. Oh this was a bad one, I could have done with the drop nose Wilderness Trail Bike saddle on my Mountain bike, the Brooks on the Brompton, although being a fine and beautiful saddle, does not give you much scope for sliding forward. I have also found that standing up a Brompton only really works if you’re going downhill. I struggled up and turned left into the village itself, another hill but out of the traffic and the heat it was fine. I carried on along the road, up and down up and down, broken up with sporadic forays into the hedge to pick elderflowers. My arms, slick with sweat, were now dusted with yellow pollen. The air itself was thick with it. As I sped down the final descent I passed a tandem going up the hill, a man and woman gave hearty if breathless hellos as we passed each other.

Back at the house – all goods were unloaded and once the kids were in bed, stage one of the cordial making commenced. Now the flowers are soaking overnight in the zesty water – the smell is delicious.

Today’s ride was gloriously warm and bathed in sunshine. The sights and smells were that of an English summer, lazy looking horses in fields, heavy pollen, fresh-mown grass and wildflowers gracing the verge. The sounds were the ticking of a sturmey archer hub, the distant drone of lawnmowers, the rich and lyrical singing of blackbirds in the hedge and the joyous shouts of children splashing in the river.

It was a perfect ride, and I dedicate it to the memory of Noah.

Ride Like The Wind

bike wind turbineanimated gif of turbineHere’s an interesting little device. I first noticed this in last month’s Wired magazine and thought it looked like an amusing bit of hokum. Now I see that Firebox are selling it. It’s a mini wind turbine that can power mobile devices like iPods. You need to have winds of 9-40mph to power it though, optimum charging seems to occur at around 19mph where 20 mins of charging will give you 30 mins of play time on an iPod or 4 mins talk time on a mobile phone. It tops out at 40mph. All well and good if you want to stick it out the window on a windy day, or if you’re camping, but crucially, you can also buy a bike mounting kit. Now 40 mins of riding at 19 mph should in theory give you one hour of iPod time, or 8 mins of talk time on a phone. I don’t know how an iPhone compares with that, but in theory one could be completely mobile powerwise, using an iPhone or similar to snap pics, upload to flickr and also blog all on the move without recharge. Ideal for touring.

charging times

What I want to know is would it be possible to use it to trickle charge a bike light? There must be a hack that would allow that. Now that would be really useful.

I took a brief ride today to the local garage to pick up some snacks. I was hungry so didn’t really feel like riding hard, the Brompton sufficed. Really summery weather, heat haze, chitinous wings bouncing off my face as I cycled along (mouth firmly closed to avoid ingesting ‘winged protein’). Lovely. On the way back I freewheeled into the village, seeing how far I could get without pedalling. Downhill, up again, sl o w i n g r i g h t d o w n – freewheel clicking slower and slower like a clock winding down – then speeding upagaininthedipbefores l o w i n g down again on the next rise. The answer was, right up to the front of the Cross Keys pub.

For details of the mini wind turbine and how to purchase it, click here to go to the product page on Firebox.

Published in: on May 7, 2008 at 10:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Blog Silence

Hello. I haven’t crashed, nor have I stopped riding. I’ve just had so much to do that every time I’ve switched on my computer I’ve felt that I should be working rather than blogging. Hopefully this state of affairs will not carry on for much longer (although it is nice to have lots of work to do) and I’ll have lots of evenings free for verbose essays about cycling a few miles.

I’ve been out on the Brompton and the Lemond – racking up around fifty combined miles since last I blogged. Typically I’ve forgotten most things about the rides, apart from the woman at the garage asking if I was paying for fuel as I stood at the counter with my cycling gear and helmet on.

Forlorn bike remains - Oxford

There’s not much else to add at the moment, I must get back in touch with John and see if wee can restart the Tuesday rides. I expect he’s been cycling loads and is whippet fit.

Published in: on May 4, 2008 at 10:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

Bristol to Rode by Brompton part II; The Ecstasy

A mural by Bristol Temple Meads

I was hugely relieved to arrive at Bradford-on-Avon train station, I bought my ticket, folded the Brompton and hauled it over the footbridge to the opposite platform. The ride to the station had left me feeling very down, it was the first ride for ages where I had just not enjoyed myself at all, not even the sight of some pretty nice looking cruisers in the bike racks on the other platform could cheer me up. There was plenty of room on the train so I kept the Brompton next to my seat, it sat there folded up like a sleeping pet dog, resting against the bag. On arrival at Bristol Temple Meads I carried the bike down into the underpass and through the ticket barrier to the front of the station. There in the shadow of this epic temple to Brunel’s mighty railway, I woke the Brompton, unfolding it and launching myself onto the cobbled road.

Turning right, I headed towards Old Market via the gargantuan new developments towering over the road and dwarfing the remains of the old Victorian buildings. It started off well, nice clear mixed use pathways with bike symbols, bike lights added to the crossings, but then suddenly I wasn’t sure if I was on a pavement or a bike lane, it just ran out or something. At Old Market I got off and pushed the bike up the pavement past drifts of paper and litter until I found the studio. Once inside I was able to use the bike racks. As the studio director is a cyclist (Rapha kit and a Condor bike) cyclists are very well catered for.

I worked until gone three, then the director drew me a map of how to reach the station via the back route. I set off again through a maze of building works and half completed flats, dodging cranes, front loaders and works vans until I reached the station, only to find I had just missed a train and there wasn’t another for an hour.

strange drifts of litter how to get to the station by bike racing past the building sites on my brompton

I had seen signs to The Bristol to Bath Railway Path on the way to the station and noted that it was fifteen miles to Bath. No, that it was only fifteen miles to Bath.

Now obviously if I waited for the next train it would be an hour, then half an hour on the train, then twenty minutes on the road, a grand total of one hour fifty of traveling time. If I rode the thirty miles back to the village it was going to be two and a bit hours if I was lucky. Plus there was a distinct headwind and it was a bit squally, with showers racing in. Putting logic aside, as I often do, it was obvious that I was going to ride home by Brompton. If nothing else, I needed a cathartic ride to remove the memory of the mornings slog to Bradford on Avon (see previous post). So I set off for Bath, it took a little bit of time to find the entrance to the railway path, I ran out of signs quite quickly, but realised that the number 4 I was seeing on lamposts denoted cycle route 4, the Bristol to Bath Railway Path. For those not in the know, this is considered to be the flagship cycle path created by Sustrans, and, another reason why I wanted to ride it as soon as possible, it’s under threat. The West of England Partnership plan to install a Bus Rapid Transit along this green corridor, to send hybrid diesel buses down the path next to walkers and cyclists. This smacks of what I like to call SAHOGI (Someone At Head Office’s Good Idea) – it will be a colossal waste of money and time and severely degrade the experiences of walkers and cyclists. It will carve up some fantastic wildlife areas not to mention push pollution and noise down this path. What’s interesting is that Bristol is a hotbed of radical activity, so the communities had claimed the cycle path as their own. The protests and petitions were immediate and pretty effective.

So what’s it like to ride? Very nice, no slope too steep, the tarmac is in pretty good condition and public artworks pop up all down the path. The area is rich with wildlife and greenery, and there’s not much litter, not compared to the road anyway. The path was pretty busy with walkers and cyclists despite the cold wind and sudden showers, I lost count of the number of times I exchanged nods with cyclists going the other way.

The tunnel - great fun

One of my favourite stretches was the tunnel, this is lit for most of the day and it’s great fun to ride through. I could also mention the station halt that has been converted to a cafe so you can sit with your feet over the edge of the platform while you chew a bacon roll – I see I have just mentioned it, great. For steam railway fans there is a stretch of track with steam trains and rolling stock in various states of repair (and disrepair). Rust, charred wood, steam, the smell of bacon from the ‘buffet car’, a carriage with an internal light on and what looks like a home made office in it. A splendidly chaotic place that I feel much be explored fully in the future.

Then through some bluebell woods as I neared Bath, all too soon I was spat out into a residential area and industrial estate at the back end of the city. I followed the cycle network signs through the city centre then puffed up the hill to the beginning of the tow path for the next stage of the journey, the Bath to Bradford-on-Avon canal path. The Brompton is not really designed for this kind of rough cycling and to begin with it was like riding the cobbles of the Paris-Roubaix – my arms were jarred so much that I had visions of them suddenly popping out of the sockets. Luckily the path became smoother.

Ah the canal path – often when you see imagery of canal life you’ll see pictures of retired couples or families laughing gaily as they ease their pristine narrowboat through the lock, or wandering lightheartedly down the towpath, net in hand, big healthy grins. Thus:

The reality is often more radical – this stretch of the Kennet and Avon Canal is a hotbed of alternative lifestyles, from the the filthy-faced smiling old man in a santa had pulling a squeaking trolley of wood, to this boat here:

narrow boat on the Kennet and Avon canal

Look at that figurehead! Check out the doors, the tarp, the trike parked next to the craft! You don’t see that in the Canal Holiday’s brochures do you?

I continued onwards, fewer people on the towpath than on the Bristol to Bath stretch, but a few brave souls were out on bikes. There was also a lot of wood chopping going on next to the boats. On and on I went, by now my shoulderblades were aching a bit from the pummeling. The magnificent Aquaduct at Dundas was a pleasure to ride over, breathtaking views. Round the corner, a heron had had just been disturbed by a passing boat and was flying down the river at eye level. I matched it’s speed and for a good fifty or so meters we kept pace with each other before the heron headed for the left bank and stood looking for fish. Now the Aquaduct at Avoncliff, this one is quite exciting as there is a steep hill to go down and another to go up, right by the Cross Guns pub. Now on the final stretch of the towpath, and soon I could see the twinkling lights of the Lock Inn. Unfortunately there was no time for an epic Boatman’s Breakfast or the Captain Pugwash (smoked mackerel and eggs) as I had to hit the open road.

So there I was, on the final five to six mile stretch, possibly the most dangerous section of the ride in traffic. But now, strangely, going home, drivers seemed less willing to try dangerous overtaking, seemingly content to wait until the road was clear. I guess it must have just been bad luck on my ride in earlier that morning.

And so, purged of the memory and bad feeling from the morning’s ride I arrived home, tired but happy having ridden around twenty eight to thirty miles on the Brompton.