Old School Shorts – Cycling Short Film Special – Riding home on moonbeams

On the last Friday of every month, the studio where I work most of the week puts on a short film night. As we’re based at the Old Church School in Frome, we call it Old School Shorts. With the Cobble Wobble looming close we though we’d ask the race organiser, Andrew Denham, to curate the event.

Andrew Denham is part of the Black Canon Collective – a group of mountain bikers who are often to be seen bombing around the forest at Longleat – sometimes dressed as superheroes – always with big grins on their faces.

Andrew chose the films for the middle section of the night. There were some crackers, from Minibike battles in Portland, to mad tricks on Scottish Streets. We managed to watch the brilliant RSA/Rapha film Two Broad Arrows by Adrian Moat (it’s no longer up on the Rapha site). As ever, we peppered the evening with music videos, vintage adverts, and amusing cat films. All projected up big on the wall of studio while we lounged around on sofas and swivel chairs, munching on pizza and nibbles and drinking beer.

Old School Shorts bicycle film night

All in all we had about an hour and half of films with two intervals. It was great to finally meet @westfieldwanderer from Radstock who I’ve been conversing with on Twitter for ages. We had a good chat about bicycle commuting, local hills and AtoB magazine.

Afterwards, Ed took some photos of the old bikes and parts that Andrew had collected to be donated for The Bristol Bike Project and we returned to the studio for music videos, Guess who games, more food and drink and good chat. People took turns on the VJ ing and we watched a myriad of films, from helmetcam madness, to Bats for Lashes videos via Vanilla Ice and Guns & Pork, my favourite part of the VJ section was a film of Andrew putting his shed up on his allotment.

Things wound up just after midnight, and I loaded up the Brompton for the ride home.The streets of Frome were doubly quiet, because I was suffering from a bit of a head cold, my hearing in my left ear had disappeared. As I’m half deaf in my right ear anyway, this meant that I could barely hear a thing. Not that there was much to hear, I didn’t see a single car moving until I left the town. I took it slowly through the streets, freewheeling wherever I could, and gently riding up the hills in the lowest gear.

On leaving the town I suddenly noticed the moon, not yet full, but incredibly bright. The wooded hill down to Oldford, normally a pitch-black potluck ride of guessing where the kerb might be, was transformed into a gently lit flight through a luminous forest. As I turned up the hill towards Beckington I pulled over to look out over the valley – gloriously rolled out before me in and picked out in sharp electric detail by the witchlight. The stark black of the distant hills, the sulphurous streetlamps of Frome itself, the deteriorating skeleton elms that lined the slope, all seemed so vibrant and hyper-real, and I was struck with an unsettling feeling that the same scene by daylight was not the true view, but merely a reflection of what I was seeing now.

I continued up the hill, my blocked up ears meant all I could hear was my own breath and the creaking of my jaw. I felt, rather than heard the steady trundling squeak of my faithful Brompton’s cranks as I spun the pedals. In the hedge to left there was a brilliant white blaze of light, as I inched closer it resolved into the shape of an old milestone. I had never noticed it before, despite passing it many, many times, yet here it was glowing fiercely under the lunar influence.

The air on the slope down into Beckington sucked the warmth from the bare skin of my arms, I had enough momentum to get halfway up the hill on the other side. Past the 24hr garage – devoid of customers, over the roundabout, devoid of traffic, past the place where the gypsies camp and hard left before the boundary stone. Ursa Major was a few degrees off horizontal, far to the West a few low and long clouds stretched themselves out above the land, the lights of a distant plane flickered on and off in the space between cloud and earth as it tracked towards the orange glow of Bristol. The lane was narrow, and the moon flung her beams directly over it from left to right, pools of moonlight settled on the tarmac, punctuating the ink-black shadows that leapt from the trees and hedges and hid the stones and cracks in the road. My Wheels seemed to find them without any trouble.

I felt I could ride on into the dawn, but the glamour of the moonlight would have worn off quickly, leaving me cold and tired to endure the long hour before daylight alone.

The village was still and silent, not even the blue flicker of a television set could be seen. The restored clock on top of the Cross Keys softly chimed one o’clock as I folded the Brompton, bid the moon a goodnight and closed the door.

I been riding – just not blogging

Hello to all. I am somewhat behind in the blogging side of things though I have been getting in a few rides, despite the weather.

First I took my car for its MOT and service – electing to use the Brompton to get back to the studio rather than a borrowed car.It was a good opportunity to use the little stretch of cycle path between Bradford-on-Avon and Trowbridge. In common with many cycle paths this is a really nice smooth path that unfortunately dumps you back into traffic at the exact point where a cycle path would be most useful. Still it made for a pleasant ride up the hill.

SDC16705

The Brompton is getting on a bit now. The folding pedal is starting to get a bit of rust on it, and there are some squeaks as I’m riding along.

Interestingly, if my Lemond Etape squeaks I’ll be trying to get it fixed within minutes of a rogue noise being detected. the slightest knock, grind, or high pitched emission from that bike is enough to have me out of the saddle and on the verge anxiously examining the cranks. With the Brompton I don’t mind at all, indeed it’s quite pleasant to have a squeak coming out as the Brompton trundles along the back lanes. The Brompton is a beautiful bike for Slow Cycling, although it can race along at 17-18mph with a bit of effort,  but then, why would you want to?

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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Quick Night Ride

Beneath the lamp

Took the Lemond out to the garage, I used my wife’s art bag, an over the shoulder canvas bag for carrying paints and brushes when out landscape painting, and rode off into the gathering darkness. The lane out of the village was haunted by moths, they whirred and fluttered through the inky twilight, heading for the roadworks checkpoint. A huge floodlight acted as a surrogate moon and the moths danced in it’s fierce radience, keeping time to the chug of a diesel generator. I paused beneath the lamp for a photo, the workmen in the background never turned round, their conversation fell about me, broken up into random words by the thump of the generator and the buzzing of the lamp. On to the garage, bread, drinks, crisps, stuffed into the bag and then I was away. Down the ghost road, a galloping shape in the middle of the lane bouncing over the blinded sockets of the catseyes. A young badger, as I approached it made itself larger and huffed loudly, but lost its nerve and dived for the hedge as I whispered past.

There’s something special about riding at night, other worlds seem close, memories push through the membrane of forgetfulness making their way to the front of the brain and standing revealed like a long lost relative. The air is sharper and the roads faster. I love riding the magic hour, just beyond dusk but not quite into night. One day I would love to just ride through the night, arriving home in time for the first rays of dawn.

Friday Ride – bike troubles

Folly LaneI don’t know what it is about John, every time he says “Do you mind if I bring a mate along?” it turns out to be a super-fit individual who leaves us puffing and panting in his wake. Friday 6th was no exception, John’s friend Andy joined the illustrious list of riders who have helped up our average speed. We met at the pub on the A361 then headed out towards Rudge and Dilton. Almost immediately Andy was complaining of a knocking from the pedal area which seemed to be going through his foot, but it was John who forced the first stop of the day in a routine that is becoming a regular on our rides, his spokes pinged out. Actually, Andy didn’t really drive us too hard, it had been a while since he and John had met up so we ambled along the lanes at a reasonable, though not stupid pace. As we headed past the trout farm by Dilton Marsh, we saw a weasel dart out in front of us, I say we, John missed it, he was looking at a dead squirrel.

The glorious sound of three chainsets working in unison was rather ruined by some creaking from the front end of my bike. Having just come up the Hollow (me at the back) the bike was protesting alarmingly. John suggested tightening the handlebars – which seemed to do the trick. We took the ghost road from Upton Scudamore to the outskirts of Warminster, effectively shaving off a corner of B-road and also saving us some pretty nasty traffic interaction. Zipping round the outskirts of Warminster, I had to stop when a client phoned, the others waited up ahead. Business taken care of we set off again, this time for the Wylye Valley. As Andy and John used to work in the same bike shop, they regaled and entertained me with various stories and bits of bike wisdom during the ride. It wasn’t long before we swung a ride into Five Ash Lane. Ah, now this was bicycling! This quiet wooded road was alive with bird song and festooned with gorgeous wildflowers. The forest perhaps once was a solid commercial venture, a plantation, but careful forestry work and management have broken the monotony of lines of timber trees. This woodland was alive in every sense, plenty of undergrowth, a variety of trees, airy space. Huge, lush green ferns and flowering rhododendrons lined the verge and the sun sparkled off the myriad leaves and dappled the tarmac with shade as we rode down the lane. Then suddenly the road dropped away and we were hurtling downwards, just missing some seriously bad potholes, we were disgorged onto a main road. A plan to head back via Chapmanslade was ruined by John puncturing. As we stopped at Folly Lane, I took the now standard picture of John repairing his wheel. Note also Andy examining his pedals.

Andy adjusts his pedals, John repairs his wheel and tyre - as usual

With time now very much of the essence (I needed to get back to the village to pick up the children) we abandoned the Chapmanslade plan and headed for the A36. The stretch towards the beginning of the Warminster bypass was dealt with quickly and at speed, we caned up to 28mph and that was going slightly uphill! Next, Black Dog and some pretty serious downward hurtling. Finally, the long, slow drag up to Beckington, and this was were I very much came off the back. Staying up all night on Wednesday to launch The Prince’s Rainforests Project website suddenly caught up with me, as did the lack of quality nutrition and energy in my garage bought lunch. I just slipped into a lower gear and pedaled through it. Andy had gone on way ahead and I didn’t see him until I finally caught up with John and we arrived back at the pub carpark we had set out from. For me it was 24 miles and a good ending to what had been a massively mixed week. We pledged to make this a regular thing of a Friday and parted ways, the others heading back to Trowbridge and me to pick up the kids, crucially, on time.

I should be cycling

A looming deadline has meant that I have had to work flat out this weekend, pretty much non-stop bar some eating, and now I’m so tired that I’m having to type slowly to avoid mistyping various words, it’s quite interesting because I’m typing how I sound when I speak right now, whichis mspomething like thius. So that’s me apologising in advance for the inevitable typos.

During one short break I helped my wife take the children down the road to their grandparents, and on the way back up a veritable peloton of cyclists hurtled along the high street, all dressed in race gear and riding well maintained, clean looking road bikes. It was a stirring sight and I had to refrain from clapping and cheering them on, as I was on my own and had none of the trappings of a cyclist on, they probably would have thought me to be being sarcastic. I cheered inside anyway, but their passing left me feeling low. There was no way I could get out for a ride, today I took an early morning cycle on the Brompton to the garage to get some milk, it was the last ride I can have for the next few days, at least until Thursday. It’s wonderful cycling weather too, not too hot, a very slight breeze… damn it! I’m almost considering taking a little ride now in the dusk!

I’ve booked a ride with John for Thursday evening, I reckon it’s the only thing that will get me through the next few days of work.

Published in: on June 1, 2008 at 7:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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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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Duskriding: Of turnpikes, the Gnashermakers, dead badgers and being out of bounds

Daguerreotype of Lemond Etape Racing Bike

Monday evening stayed dry and bright, there had been a fair few smatterings of rain around, and as I pointed the Lemond towards Warminster I could see the dark sheets of a downpour hanging below distant black clouds on Salisbury Plain. A side wind was blowing them towards Shrewton, I felt little concern at the prospect of being rained on as I gently eased the bike up Black Dog Hill. At the top I took the time to examine two posts next to the flyover bridge at Dead Maids Junction. The smallest post was a milestone, similar to others in the area, carefully crafted, smooth and carved with great skill. The larger post turned out to have three small holes, perhaps for bars, and the words ‘Warminster’ and ‘Bath’ in a beautiful 18th century script. I think this must have been the post for the tollgate on the turnpike.

I traveled on towards Warminster, pausing at the garage on the outskirts to replace the batteries in my front light, although the sun was still up, it was slowly heading for the horizon, dipping into low lying clouds and setting them on fire. I went through the centre of Warminster itself, noting some thick redwood trees around the area of the church. These will have to be investigated at a later date. Two shops stood out in the town, both on the Salisbury side of the town centre, the first was the superbly named ‘Gnashermakers’ home of the Warminster Dental Laboratory. What kind of crazy dental maverick runs this place?

the sign of the gnashermakers

For a photo of the lab front click here.

The other shop was called simply ‘Ripoff’ and seemingly deals with bankrupt stock, catalogue clearance and Lord only know what else. The windows were blocked out, perhaps the shop has closed down but I rather suspect that the occluded views hint at nefarious goings on out of the public gaze. The layby in front of the shop was packed with motorbikes, mopeds and trailers. See picture here.

Much cheered by these unexpected shops, I pedaled out of Warminster towards the A36. Still no sign of that rain and the light was still good. As usual for evening rides I had my reflective vest on and my customised helmet stickers which make me look like I am from TRON. There’s a nice bit of open field on the lead out from Warminster, I was drawn off the road onto a chalky track up to an old red-brick railway bridge. The way across the bridge was barred by steel poles, the ground around the structure was crumbling and the whole thing looked very precarious. Now the sun was going right down, the fire on the horizon was spreading, already in the East I could see darkness and stars, the moon was almost half full and high in the sky. Back on the road, I elected to go a little further, here the tarmac was wet and slick from a recent shower, the tyres hissed over the surface, the road-smell after the rain. Left at the roundabout onto the A36, now I was entering the deathzone. Crashes abound on this road, crystals of shattered windscreen piled up in small drifts, tinkling beneath the wheels, here and there a wing mirror, a hubcap, a section of bumper, testament to speed beyond the capability of the driver. Hard against the verge, inside the white line almost 3ft across I hammered the road while the cars screamed past at excessive speed. Black skid marks, the scent of burnt rubber still lingering in the air though the incident had happened earlier in the day, etched into the road , a memory of sudden panic. All too happy to take the left at Knook camp where the road goes off over the plain. Here I decided was the turn back point of the ride, the corpse of a badger served as a warning, its mouth bore the remains of a snarl though I could see no other damage on its body. Fur slicked with rain, eyes almost completely closed, a melancholy sight. Behind me on the side road I had freewheeled down, there was a simple circular sign ‘out of bounds’. I took a photo of the long shadows drawn out over the landscape, mindful of the last half hour of the day’s light. There was no activity in view at the camp, only the hum of the main road behind the trees broke the stillness of the evening. I turned back, crossing the A36 as the dusk overtook me. Now I was cycling through the magic hour, everything seems faster in the gathering darkness. With the sun just out of reach, the air cooled rapidly making me glad I had long sleeves on. With the traffic thinned out, it was easier to ride home, even the artic lorries were a help, pulling me along with their slipstreams, the welcome warmth of a passing diesel engine running hot as it guns the gears to take the roundabout, the glowing-coal red of the tail lights I am chasing. Back on the country lanes, blackbird alarm calls, a single staccato note repeated over and over as I pass Yew Tree Farm. Then into Warminster itself, queues in the chip shop and the chinese, smokers standing outside the doors of the pubs, sharing their exile, Marlboro Country. Out the other side of the town, labouring up the hill under the sulphur yellow light of the street lamps. Now the slow gentle gradient up to the top of Black Dog, then down, down, down. Hands on drops, tucked in, mouth practically on the bars to achieve 41mph. I sat up at the end, opening my arms to slow myself down, for some reason I felt the need to shout “AIRBRAKE!” as I did it, there was no one around to hear me.

Lorries pulling over into laybys, bedding in for the evening, some with curtains already drawn. Then into the village, cycling alongside Cousin Philippa on her way back from her mum’s (age 93), she doesn’t recognise me at first, taking me for a friendly chatty cyclist. Then she laughs as she realises who I am. We amble into the village talking about bikes. She rides her hybrid in wellies, it’s served her well for years and she racks up the miles going to her mum’s every day. We bid each other a cheery goodnight at the top of Lower Street and soon I am back at the house. 26.5 miles.

Pootle to the Garage

Just a very quick ride today. The sun was trying to get through the clouds as I freewheeled out of the village on my Brompton. In no particular hurry I made my way over the A36 and up the old Bath Road hill into Beckington. About four fifths of the way up the hill I suddenly noticed an old Milestone. I’d seen this one before, but then it had been obscured by brambles all summer and I couldn’t remember whereabouts it was on the hill. Strangely, someone had actually recently cut the brambles right back. This hill is almost un-used, it was once part of the main road before the A36 was sent past Beckington, so there is no real practical call to see this very old milestone, however, I think it’s lovely that someone trimmed the brambles out the way, it gives the hill back a little of its dignity.

close up of the milestone
The lichen has all but covered up the lettering, which looks like it was once painted on. I suspect this was once a whiteish stone, as there is a similar stone on Rode Hill, although in much better condition.
I wonder who cut that bramble back, and why.
Published in: on March 19, 2008 at 12:16 am  Leave a Comment  
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Failed milk run turns into hour long country ride and semi-delirious yearning for tea and scones

Reading Rodinsky’s Room and drinking a cup of tea today, I suddenly had the urge to make some scones. This was perhaps because I had been baking bread (in a breadmaker so I hadn’t actually been baking bread, I’d been measuring ingredients into a container then pressing some buttons) but I really fancied mixing and baking some scones to go with my cuppa. Unfortunately the kids had slupped up all the milk. So I gave a cheery wave and saddled up the Brompton to head to the garage. I was slapdash with the gearing but not really caring as I wove out of the village and crossed the A36 to take the old Beckington Road up to the garage. However there was no milk to be had at my local dealer in petroleum spirit. Feeling a bit flabbergasted I remounted the Brompton and turned towards the local farm shop, visions of scones fading rapidly. Pulling into the carpark I thought “Excellent, not too many people here”, however this turned out to be because the place was closed, and only six minutes ago! Seven Damns and a great big side order of BLAST! I headed into Beckington, hoping against all reason that there was a secret village shop that I knew nothing about and not only is it well-stocked and welcoming, but also open at 14:15 on the Sabbath. Pootling through the village quickly disabused me of my fanciful notions and soon I was heading out of Beckington on a road I had not travelled down before. It took me under the A36 and along some very pleasant lanes past old farms and cottages. Now I really was off the beaten track, but there had to be a way back to my village along here somewhere. I phoned in to say everywhere was out of milk and I was out of luck so I was heading back to the house. However I missed my turning somewhere and went through to Rudge. I didn’t much fancy going back up the hill I had just come down so I continued along the road towards Brokerswood. It was very breezy but actually quite sunny. Dust blew across the road in billowing clouds from the dry ground at the field edges. With my upright position on the Brompton I could see over the hedges to the round bales gracing the stubbled fields. Swallows swooped close to the ground, hungrily feasting on tiny insects and preparing for their migration, it seems to me that the end of summer is a pleasingly melancholic time. I am by nature an autumnal person, though I shall miss the light Summer evenings and the opportunities for riding they afford.

I really wasn’t handling the gearing well at all, the bike drifted side to side on the road, moving under me as I made no effort to pedal smoothly, hills were laboured or taken in too low a gear, so much energy wasted. Into Southwick, only to discover that Southwick News closed at the ridiculous hour of one pm! I pictured the news-vendor at home with tea and scones, milk probably lifted from his own store at the end of its sell-by date. I wondered what jam he was dolloping onto the fresh sconnage, what brand of tea was infusing in his teapot. I imagined some Tescos value strawberry jam, all pips and oversugared gloop. PG tips in a cracked mug, stewing nastily, scum on the surface. Has this philistine no sense of service to the community? Can he not see that I’m hurting for tea and scones? I had the feeling that I was tipping over into a type of afternoon tea deprived insanity so I ceased hammering on the glass door and groggily rode the Brompton into a brutal headwind all the way back to the village.

I was saved later by a BBQ provided by my father-in-law and, now sit sated on sausages, steak and blackberry crumble.

I could still do with a scone though.

Published in: on September 2, 2007 at 8:03 pm  Comments (2)