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?

Somer is a’cumen in

The weekend before last was the first of the recent baking hot summer days we experienced here in the UK. The day had been spent at a football tournament in Trowbridge where my eldest son had played his first proper matches as part of the team. I had lathered on the sunblock to the boys, but had forgotten about myself, so as I freewheeled down the hill out of the village, the evening suns rays fell onto the back of my burnt neck, causing a not altogether unpleasant prickling sensation.
The roads around Laverton were hot and dusty, deep tractor tyre ruts in the gateways had baked hard in the heat, and a thin film of clay-dust gathered on the downtube of the bike. Even at the end of the day the air was still warm, it was a relief to hear the sound of cold, water rushing over the weir at Lullington Mill, the very soundwaves seemed to me to have a cooling effect on my roasted neck, and overheating noggin. I rode into Lullington and leant the bike against the village pump while I rehydrated and read a notice compelling the locals to watch the local morris men who were due to dance in the village. Crickets chirped in the long grass and swifts sped over the houses, their shrill calls echoing around the otherwise quiet valley. This was idylic summer riding.

Lullington pump, where notices of impending morris men are posted

Lullington pump, where notices of impending morris men are posted

It was unfortunately just a short ride, a sort of brief goodbye to the Lemond Etape as my sister was to borrow it for her triathlon training on Monday. The back tyre was almost worn through and the brake blocks were non existent after the wet and gravelly rides around the backlanes over the winter and spring. She was going to take it for a tune up at her local bikeshop before putting it through its paces around the old haunts of the original Highway Cycling Group.

Published in: on June 4, 2009 at 12:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , ,

A quick ride around Highway on a borrowed bike

After work today, I took my youngest son over to my sister and brother-in-law’s new house in Hilmarton. During the course of the afternoon, my brother-in-law opened up his shed and pulled out a couple of mountain bikes. One of them, a Trek full suspension, was a bit of a frankenbike, with Alivo shifters and XT rear mech. Manitou front forks and v-brakes where there had once been discs. The cranks were mismatched and the cogs worn down, but the frame looked good. The other bike was a blue Claud Butler. Everything looked pretty new on it, in fact it had only been ridden a few times in the two years since it was bought. This was clearly a crime. I asked if I could take it for a quick spin, and promptly rode the three miles to Highway, the spiritual home of the Highway Cycling Group.

This tiny linear hamlet in North Wiltshire is where the genesis of the group took place. My father lived in a semi-detached 1930s cottage here in the eighties, and as he was the founder member of the Highway Cycling Group (or Cycle Group, it changed almost daily)  it was from here that we struck out on many club outings. Not much had changed in the hamlet, apart from there being more cars parked on verges, I guess nowadays the two or three car family is a normal thing. There were still daffodils lining the road by the farm, the old barn had rusted further and seemed to contain more holes. The farm track next to it that leads up to the ridge looked the same. Taking that track will lead you six miles to Avebury stone circle without touching a road.

After the barn the road turns left and then the rider is on Highway Common. This supremely straight stretch of road was a joy to cycle, it still is. The Highway Cycle Group would ride side by side or strung out chatting. very rarely did any cars appear, but they could be spotted over a mile away and evasive action could be taken with ease. In the summer this road is heavy with chalky dust from the dried up mud on the verges, as teenagers the boys in the Highway Cycle Group would hold sprint races here, and great clouds of dust would follow in our wake. Ideally, a rider would pull such a terrific skid that the dust would obscure him from view for a few seconds, only to reveal the rider posed heroically with one foot down and a defiant look on his face. More often than not the dust would clear to reveal the rider sitting on the road next to his crashed bike, wheels still turning.

This road is the antithesis of the typical winding, steep banked, occluded country lane. On Highway Common one can see uninterrupted for maybe a mile or more.  A real treat, was to ride this stretch by the light of a full moon, when the dust seemed to glow and sparkle. Long shadows would reach across the fields, and perhaps, if a rider was lucky, he or she might see a barn owl or a hare.

I saw a hare today, some twenty feet into the field, it crouched down low to the soil when it saw me, ears flattened against its back. I had my compact camera with me and took some video footage as I rode through the hamlet and along the common. The result is posted below.

Then I was back onto the Bushton road. It was much busier than the golden years of the Highway Cycling Group, and I lost count of the cars that flashed past me in both directions. Where Highway seemed to have been in a state of stasis for the last twenty four years, the Bushton Road had been reworked and promoted. New signposts were dotted everywhere and the fields had been rearranged, hedges grubbed out and replanted, ditches drained and fences reset, only the route itself remained the same, the route and its memories..

Published in: on March 21, 2009 at 12:55 am  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , ,

Big hand please for the new cyclist






Learned to ride without stabilisers 25th August 2008

Learned to ride without stabilisers 25th August 2008

Published in: on August 25, 2008 at 9:16 pm  Comments (6)  
Tags: , , , ,

Go Slow – with the Slow Bicycle Movement

Splendid work from those Slow Bicycle Danes, fresh out of Copenhagen and rolling laconically in your direction.

More slowness at The Slow Bicycle Movement.

Published in: on July 26, 2008 at 11:06 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , , ,

Will sprint for tea

Signs

Crossing the A36 was a matter of cycling twenty yards and signaling right in front of a near blind corner, John almost came a cropper when a barely in control Range Rover hurtled round the bend while he was side on to the traffic. It was close, too close, and cycling up the tiny lane towards Laverton we hastily made small talk about mountain biking on order to quickly forget the near miss. Ten minutes beforehand, John, fresh back from mountain biking in North Wales, had turned up at the gate early that Tuesday evening, I was eager to show him the roads out towards Lullington so we ambled out of the village towards Woolverton and took that nasty right turn. We needn’t have bothered with the blase chit-chat, the leafy lanes themselves soothed us and drew us gently into the comfort of the Somerset countryside. The roads were so quiet that when we were set upon by a couple of over excited farm dogs, their noisome barking and yelping seemed explosively loud in the calm of the evening. We were in no danger, but we hastened away, standing up to put in some acceleration up the hill until the dogs receded into the distance, last seen standing in the middle of the road yapping madly. We dropped down into Lullington, cycling at a gentle enough pace to talk Tour de France, North Wales and a blow by blow account of John’s holiday. A gentle pace became a snails pace, then we stopped for a spot of photography:

Trundling slowly past the dairy, John took over the navigation as we crossed into what looked like someone’s drive, but turned out to be a tiny lane pointing towards Standerwick. We eased ourselves up the hill as the road became thinner and thinner. We were in lanes even John had not visited in his extensive bicycle travels. Over a small bridge and… we were suddenly confronted by what was without doubt one of the most appalling cases of fly-tipping I had ever seen:

This had clearly been hastily thrown off the back of a van. Big plastic crates with ‘corrosive!’ written all over them, stacked full of junk, old trackies, soggy books, plastic toys. It looked like the aftermath of a terrorist attack on a village jumble sale.

Over the A36 again, with a considerably better line of vision to get across safely. Then we trickled amicably towards Rudge, having only gone about seven miles and wondering if perhaps we ought to think about doing some proper cycling. In an attempt to scupper that particular train of thought, I suggested ringing our friends Lou and Rob and seeing if they might put the kettle on. John did the honours and, yes, the kettle would be switched on for when we arrived. Unfortunately this had the opposite effect from what I expected. John suddenly turned into Eddy Merckx and started sprinting. Right, if he’s Eddy Merckx, then Je Suis Bernard Hinault et tant que je respire j’attaque! (as it says on my t-shirt).

So we dueled through the lanes until we reached Westbury, opting to take the old road. We arrived dripping with sweat, which was altogether pretty unpleasant for Lou who greeted us at the door and guided us round the back of the house, and through to Rob who handed us a steaming beverage each. Later on, having had a tour of the the work going on in the house and garden, we set off for home. Having had a nice combination of gentle bicycling and hell for leather cycling. Here is a short poor quality film from the pootling bit – sorry for the abrupt cut off, still getting used to the iMovie/youtube crossover. The music is Wind Forest from one of my favourite films, My Neighbor Totoro – but played by Grooploop – who I know nothing about.

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  
Tags: , , , ,

In Rome you long for the countryside; in the country you sing to the stars of the distant city.

Recently I have been reading so much about urban riding, mainly on Copenhagen Cycle Chic, that I have been feeling that I’m missing out by cycling in the countryside. I have been longing to put on a suit and ride a classic roadster, or swing down to the coffee shop and pick up a latte, perhaps meeting a friend, also on a bike. Walking a bike over a zebra crossing, signaling to rejoin the traffic, waving at a van who’d let me in. Maybe I would have a newspaper rolled up under my arm, or I would be balancing the coffee or doing something equally urbane and sophisticated.

But today all that went away in one ride through some arcadian country lanes. I had worked hard all day and was feeling drained and lethargic by the time the evening came, so much so that I couldn’t be bothered to change into my cyclewear, and just clipped up my jeans – slapped on a hi-viz vest (the sky was bruised and dark) – and put on a cycle cap. The helmet sat on the rack of the bike while I decided which way to go, in fact I forgot about it and it sat there for the whole ride. Leaving the village I headed over the mill bridge towards Bath, but turned left when I hit the A36. Almost immediately I turned right where a small sign indicated ‘Laverton’. and I was off the main road and into narrow country lanes. As I rode down the rough tarmac the sound of the A36 diminished then disappeared completely, to be replaced by the sound of the wind in the oak trees and the sweet singing of blackbirds, sparrows and finches. The hedges closed in and the banks rose up, more old roads, older than maps and carved deeply into the hills over generations. Massive oaks, stag-headed, leaned over me as I wended my way along what seemed more track than road. At every crossroad and junction I guessed my way as there were few signposts to guide me. It felt wonderful, the few signs pointed towards villages that I had not heard of, and I was only four miles from home. The hum of machinery from the open door of a farm building, the smell of a dairy, something I remember from my youth, cows, straw and sweet milk – mingled into a cascade of scent and memory. The road continued through farmyards, disappearing under mud and gravel, stones washed away from the banks in a flood and left high and dry in the centre of the track, here and there water seamed to be bursting from holes in the road where springs had worked their way up through the tarmac, memories of rivers, streams born again after the rains.

Every now and again, the road opened up at a corner and the verge disappeared into a morass of cow hoofprints where the animals had stopped to drink at a roadside spring on their way between field and dairy. These were drovers roads once, before the days of the cattle trucks animals were funneled down these steep banks and high hedges to market, even today the air was thick with their bovine-stink, surprisingly a not altogether unpleasant smell.

Cornfields near Lullington

Cornfields near Lullington

I worked out that I must be headed toward Frome, and the roads opened out a little, now meandering past golden fields of standing corn, or the green fuzz of maize. I saw a hare with black-tipped ears nibbling at the base of the plants, unconcerned as I watched from a gateway. Then down a hill, the road crumbling and eroded by water until suddenly I was in Lullington and passing what looked like a castle. The old village pump still stands, protected by a wooden shelter. This village seemed ancient, as old as the roads that lead the rider into its boundaries. The foundations of its buildings were laid long before even the mightiest of the mighty oaks that stood amongst the houses was a sapling or even an acorn. The clouds swept overhead in the strong winds, dappling the streets with occasional flashes of sun, giving the impression of time moving fast, speeding up while the village remained constant and unchanging. The bike carried me through it all, my own time machine descending toward the river. Then suddenly a huge modern dairy, all sheet metal, pipes and carpark, loomed up from around a corner. Cars flashed past at the end of the junction, the main road to Frome.

I knew where I was now, back in the 21st Century. On the way home I reflected back on the ride and realised that I am lucky to live out in the countryside.

“Romae rus optas; absentem rusticus urbem tollis ad astra levis.”

In Rome you long for the countryside; in the country you sing to the stars of the distant city.*

*Translation taken from the site Sweet Juniper

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  
Tags: , , ,

Tuesday Ride XII – The fine art of getting lost

Last Tuesday, John turned up for the evening ride on his own. The distinct lack of Brad to relentlessly drive us on meant that it was a mere fifteen minutes before we were ringing around people we knew en-route who might put the kettle on for us or even offer us some cake. However everyone was rather thoughtlessly not at home, so by the time we go to Westbury, distinctly lacking in the tea and cake department, and no safe port available, we decided that perhaps we ought to do some cycling. John led me out along the road beneath the giant chalk horse carved into the hillside, but we quickly became fed up with motorists attempting risky overtakes or squeezing past us and forcing us into the verge. We turned left, racing downhill and I was quickly off my mental map and into uncharted territory. John’s curse is that he knows the backroads and lanes so well, even by name, that it’s very difficult for him to enjoy the simple pleasure of getting lost a mere few miles from home. However, once we had turned across ourselves a few times, double backed and taken some decidedly narrow lanes (at one point meeting a denim clad grey-haired hippy in a volvo head-on, he had a beard like an old testament prophet and some big aviators on. Without hesitation he put his car onto the verge to let us past on the road), even John wasn’t sure where we were. We found a hill that just took us down, down, down, and John started snapping pics on his phone as we drifted round the forgotten roads. This was blissful, our internal compasses were spinning wildly in the no-man’s land of the wiltshire backroads. Strewn with gravel and flood tidemarks, verges overgrown with grass overhanging the road, bending inwards to the grey, chalk-mud and dust smothered tarmac, these lanes sucked us deep into the landscape. These were old, old routes, cut deep into the Wiltshire soil by generations of feet, hooves, cartwheels and finally capped with tarmac. The road wound its way up again, passing skewed telephone poles and a distant church tower hoved into view. Sadly John now knew where we were.

Me on the lanes

Your author, lost in the lanes - one hand on his hip, freewheeling, bliss.

We crossed a busy road, the traffic seemed shockingly loud and abrasive after the calm of the lanes, then headed for Trowbridge. John and I parted at the pub near his house and I made my way home. As I wheeled the bike down the path at the side of the house, scimitar shapes raced between the gaps in the houses. Swifts diving and screeching at gutter height – beaks open as they hurtled through clouds of near invisible insects before wheeling away and climbing up and up, higher than any of their avian brethren dare climb.

Published in: on July 7, 2008 at 10:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , ,