Bike Hero

Thanks to Novemberfive for the pointer on this one. Words fail me when confronted with the ingenuity of the people who set this up and created it. They’ve recreated the world of guitar hero – the little dots and on screen instructions and the scores and milestones, and applied it to a bike ride. The timing is perfect, but the set up to achieve it must have been incredible to organise. Even if this does turn out to be a viral marketing film (which wouldn’t surprise me) it’s still a fabulous piece of work and obsession. Hats off to the creators, whether they be an ad agency or a genuine group of Guitar Hero fans.


Published in: on December 3, 2008 at 1:38 pm  Comments (1)  
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Of rides to abandoned villages and ruined abbeys

I wish, if I may, to point you in the direction of Jez’s blog, Novemberfive. This time he and his missus, The Pine Martin [sic] have been out on their bikes exploring some Salisbury Plain abandoned buildings. Lovely and haunting photographs on his blog, and probably a few more he’s kept back for himself.

Photograph by Jez Whitworth - Novemberfive

Photograph by Jez Whitworth - Novemberfive

Coincidently, yesterday I briefly caught up with a friend who gave me an amazing book called “Night Vision: The Art of Urban Exploration,”  by Troy Paiva, a superb photographer. He finds abandoned military bases, hotels, towns and takes astonishing night time shots on really long exposures, so atmospheric. The book is an absolute thing of beauty, Chronicle Books clearly knowing how to present these photographs in the best possible manner. Check out Troy Paiva’s Flickr photostream for a taster of the images within.

All this reawakened a memory, jogging it loose from the silt in my mind and sending it bubbling up through my consciousness. Many years ago I used to ride the Wiltshire Historic Churches Trust annual bike ride. The idea was that one would visit as many churches as possible in one day, an attendant at each building would sign your sponsor form (or you would sign the visitors’ book if there was no one there) to prove you had been there. You would be sponsored an amount per church that you visited. In my latter teenage years I took to riding with Dave Mitchinson and George Knighton, who I worked with on Freegrove farm, hauling bales, herding cattle, clearing ditches and, (God preserve me from ever having to do this again) picking potatoes. One summer we set out on the annual church cycle ride along routes often followed by the members of the Highway Cycle Group. Foxham, Spirt Hill, Sutton Benger, seemingly hill after hill after hill, rolling up and down. For long hours the only signs of life were cows lazily chewing up against the hedges and swallows swooping along scant inches above the scorching tarmac. It was a blazing hot day, the distant hills and patchwork fields were laced with haze, micro-mirages of puddles formed in the road ahead of us, rippling in the air before evaporating before our eyes as we laboured up the slopes of the steepest hills North Wiltshire could throw at us. I think it was Dave, who after guiding us into the tiny church at Bradenstoke, took us on a detour down a farm track dusted with powered white clay-soil to the ruins of Bradenstoke Abbey. Approaching the old farm there, we experienced a frisson of excitement. None of us really knew if we were on a public right of way (we weren’t), the tyres seemed unnaturally loud as we freewheeled over the chippings towards a rotted, wooden five bar gate sagging pathetically on its hinges. We hid the bikes in a tangle of weeds behind a low ruined wall before slinking down an avenue of ancient lime trees to where a doorway stood, or at least the stone arch of what was once a doorway. Then we lowered ourselves into what we assumed were the vaults, choked with brickwork and stone piled in the centre of the room. Dust danced in fierce shafts of sunlight that illuminated the ruins, we hardly dared to speak, tense whispers were all we could manage to raise. Then climbing up the rubble and out the other side, nearly falling down a well hidden in the ivy and ground elder on our way to the tower. Dave, being the smallest, but also the most flexible and speedy climbed quite a way into the tower, owl pellets were scattered at the entrance and up above we could hear the beating of wings. Dave came down, pretty quickly. Here and there a collapsed wall revealed a glassless window where we could peer into the stygian darkness below ground, still, quiet, air, reeking of musty stone, disquieting blackness. Out into the long, dry stalks of grass and wild barley. Chirruping grasshoppers leaping out of our path as we struggled back towards the bikes, sunburn prickling on our arms as we wheeled them past the seemingly deserted farmhouse. Then mounting up and riding away down the dusty track in a rattle of mudguards and loose chains, back towards civilization and the prospect of a ice cold bottle of cola from the stores in Lyneham.

Strangely enough, the abbey was not ruined that long ago. American newspaper baron Randolph Hearst had a thing for British historical buildings. He bought the Abbey and had it taken down brick by brick, either to be shipped to America or his castle in Wales depending on which version you hear. Legend has it that a warehouse somewhere still contains unopened crates of the bricks and stone. I’ve found it quite difficult to track down some images. Since I rode to the abbey that summer, it has changed hands and the present owners are doing a lot of work to restore it. It is not on public view though apparently one can walk past on some public rights of way. I visited a few years back and the owners gave permission for me to have a look round. sadly, but also sensibly, the vaults were boarded up with keep out signs everywhere.

A postcard of the Abbey before it was dismantled by Randolph Hearst

A postcard of the Abbey before it was dismantled by Randolph Hearst

The ruins - showing the rubble

The ruins - showing the rubble

The Tower in 2006

The Tower in 2006 after some extensive refurbishment and cutting back since the time we visited.

The tower can be seen on the ridge at the back of Lyneham and Bradenstoke that faces the M4, the trainline from Bristol to Swindon runs even closer.

“All things human hang by a slender thread; and that which seemed to stand strong suddenly falls and sinks in ruins.” – Ovid

Apocalyptic Bike Cam

Novemberfive is up to his old tricks again, tinkering with electronics and creating new and amazing uses for things beyond the vision of the manufacturers. This week he put a tiny TV camera on the back of his folding bike and rode it round the garden. The resulting video is to my mind slightly apocalyptic and disturbing, it has shades of The Ring about it, all that distortion, white noise and flickering. Or on a more uplifting note, it also looks like early spaceflight footage from an apollo mission.

Read all about it here on Novemberfive’s fine blog.

Published in: on June 25, 2008 at 10:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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No riding in a place with chaos

Courtesy of Novemberfive, who has a new smart looking folding bike. Check it out here.

Published in: on May 31, 2008 at 8:26 am  Leave a Comment  
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Novemberfive Bike Indicators

Legendary Engineer Jez of Novemberfive has pulled off a neat new project. It’s an indicator light system for his bike! Awesome work, I can’t wait to see it in action.

jez's bike indicators

Check it out here.

Operation Kestrel

Today saw Jez and Fiona of Novemberfive arrive in the village with a tremendous range of equipment. The idea was to launch an aerial photogrpahy unit, or ‘sky cam’ Jez had built, using his kite as a delivery vehicle. This was dubbed ‘Operation Kestrel’ due to the hovering nature of the camera. We spent some time tinkering with the unit in the workshop (headquarters of The Guild of Legendary Engineers) before taking two of my bikes to catch up with the others who had gone on ahead to the playing fields. The whole of the Mk 1. Kestrel Unit and transport device fitted into the front bag of the Brompton, along with a small box of tools and an extra kite to keep the kids amused.

Unfortunately, although it was sunny when we arrived at the playing fields, the weather quickly collapsed into heavy icy rain and biting winds. This meant we had to cut short the initial flights of Operation Kestrel, never-the-less, we gleaned a great deal of information from the couple of flights we got in. Although we didn’t get any aerial photographs we do have a really good idea of what we have to do next in order to ensure a successful flight. Operation Kestrel will recommence in a month or so’s time.

We had a great day with Jez and Fiona, who are always fantastic company, and I particularly enjoyed a bit of bicycling with Mr. Whitworth, a taste of more to come I hope, for we have plans, oh yes, we have plans.

Published in: on March 9, 2008 at 8:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Salisbury Branch – Cycling in The New Forest

This just in from our Salisbury branch courtesy of Novemberfive blogger Jez. A brief write up of an excursion to The New Forest upon Mountainbike steeds. Read about it here.

Mrs Whitworth tackles some gnarly singletrack

I rode it up to the top of the hill and I rode it down again x10

As I type this, the air outside is nearly still, but at 2000 hrs today the wind was blowing hard enough to send small twigs and branches skittering down onto the road. Inspired by Jez who wrote about going for a run on his blog I decided to get in a few Hill-Circuits. In his blog post, he quite rightly (in my opinion) rants about spinning, the intensive exercise bike training. I went on a sponsored ride once with some team members who thought they could build up cycle strength by ‘spinning’, they had done weeks of intensive sessions at the gym, but when it came to the crunch they fell apart. You get no wind resistance in the gym, how can you prepare for a big bike ride without confronting the biggest enemy of the cyclist who wants to go at speed? Above 14mph you are losing power as you expend energy trying to overcome the barrier, you yourself create, to pushing the bike forward; namely your own wind resistance as the shape of your body smacks into the air you are attempting to move through. You will get fit travelling over 14mph on your bike on a regular basis, I guarantee it! I get a lot of hits to this site from people who have been searching for the average speed you should be going on a bike. I’m going to build a separate page soon to cover that question as there are so many variables. What I will say now is that if you can keep your average speed above 14-15mph over around ten miles of variable terrain (and I’m talking road riding here really, but if you can find a nice track like the Ridgeway in Wiltshire then you could do that on a Mountainbike offroad for ten miles too) then you are not only ‘spinning’ the cranks, driving you forward and giving you some nice exercise, but at that speed and above you are fighting enough wind resistance to give you a really good workout. It will also be better, more fun and a damn site cheaper than hitting the gym on a regular basis.

Anyhoo, the wind was blowing UP the hill so that was a good enough incentive to actually get out and ride. I managed ten circuits and was a bit amazed to discover that was about 4 miles or so. Varying the pace going up the hill seemed to work well, I could ascend out of the saddle easily at 10mph. 14mph meant I was gasping by the time I reached the top and the final ascent at 16mph nearly did me in. I took two circuits at 9mph sitting down in lower gears, and after a fast ascent I freewheeled on the descent to get some rest or take on water. Here’s a satellite picture of the circuit for your viewing pleasure:

My route on the hill circuit.

The hill runs upwards left to right, I ascended on the bottom road and went down on the top road. After circuit ten I raced off down past The Mill onto the freshly relaid link road. What a contrast from my ride down the same route of a few days ago. For much of the way I was stood on the pedals battling against a brutal headwind and a light spattering of rain. Then left at Woolverton onto the main road and round the outside of the village again. By the time I hit the Beckington roundabout I was blown and not just by the wind. Funny things happen to your mind as you start to experience the bonk like “which button changes my gears again?”, luckily I recognised the signs of fast plummeting blood-sugar and was able to slip down a few gears and just trundle back slowly, conserving as much energy as possible. I made it back just as the cars were putting on their headlights.

Finally here is my regime for getting fit on the bike: Eat less; Ride more. That’s it.

Published in: on June 28, 2007 at 11:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

Novemberfive Bikecam

My chum Jez (author of the blog Novemberfive), built a mount for his camera to go on his bike. Here is the latest of his bikecam films, join him as he rides to his allotment and back. Nice views of Salisbury’s leafy streets, green areas and underpass system.

I found Salisbury to be a really nice city to ride round, there are a few hills but nothing unmanageable. There is fairly reasonable provision for cyclists although the boxes at nearly all the traffic lights could do with a fresh lick of paint; Often I would arrive at the lights on my brompton to find 4x4s occupying the space, crawling forwards with drivers on the phone. Also a monster pothole outside Waterstone’s once ate the back wheel of my Brompton, necessitating a complete rebuild and a fresh tube. Apart from that, Salisbury is a bikey city.

Published in: on June 8, 2007 at 12:49 pm  Leave a Comment