The Bicycle Academy – help to get this off the ground

I want to bring to your attention a fantastic project that has started up in Frome. It’s been set up by Andrew Denham, the man who brought us the Cobble Wobble uphill bicycle race.

It’s called The Bicycle Academy – at its heart it’s a framebuilding course, but it’s really much more than that. It’s a way of standardising bikes and parts for Africa where a bicycle is a lifeline for many people. It’s a bicycle workshop, it’s a supplier of bike building parts and a source of excellent bike-building advice.

Or at least it will be if Andrew and Brian can raise the funds to get it off the ground. This is where they need your help with crowdsourced funding.

“A place to learn how to make bikes. You keep the skills, your first bike goes to someone who really needs it.

The Bicycle Academy is a new enterprise providing people with the skills and facilities to design and make their own bikes. Frame building will be taught by the legendary Brian Curtis as evening classes or short weekday courses. As part of the learning process each student will make a frame designed specifically for use in Africa. Once graduated students will be able to use The Bicycle Academy workshop to hone their skills and build their own frames.

Now, to get the project up and running we’re crowd funding The Bicycle Academy and that’s why we need your help. Our crowd funding campaign started on the 1st of November and will finish on the 13th of December. We’ve got the workshop, but haven’t got anything to fill it with – We need to buy brazing stations, a lathe, a pillar drill, jigs and a full complement of bike tools, so please support us by making a pledge”

Visit the site http://www.thebicycleacademy.org/ and if you like what you see, make a pledge. There are lots of different scales of pledge and every little bit helps, you only pay the money if the target amount is reached. Help get this amazing project off the ground.

Published in: on November 3, 2011 at 11:41 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

The rest of 2010

Sorry for the lack of updates – rest assured I have been cycling since the Cobble Wobble. It’s been tricky finding time to blog about the rides.

My car exploded in summer 2010 (you know it’s bad when the AA man says “Wow, do you mind if I take a photo of the engine to show my colleagues?”) so I have been using public transport, bicycles and shank’s pony to get around. My experiences of public transport are a subject for another post – suffice to say that we have a hell of a long way to go in this country before we can start calling public transport a remotely viable alternative to car ownership – at least in this area.

Mostly I’ve been riding the Brompton – though a shredded tube has recently put it out of action (and there appears to be a shortage of Brompton size tubes – though I’ve got one now), with a little bit of the old MTB for rides to Trowbridge station.

Here are some of the Highway Cycling Group’s doings in the latter part of last year.

Fog bound ride home - Frome

A foggy ride home in the early hours of the morning, deserted roads, piercing cold...

Riding a bike in Frome

Following Matt on his Charge Plug around the industrial estates of Frome - lunchtime blast!

Nice bike

Not sure where I saw this - but I found it pleasing to look at.

Brompton and Phone box

Another early morning ride home

Riding the fire escape on a bike

Ndrw Dnhm contemplates a descent of the fire escape on his bike!

Crazy trike

Crazy trike with stilts and dog!

Matt lines up a shot

Matt lines up a shot of a still life for his Illustration for The Ride Journal, which illustrates a piece by Andrew Denham

Frome 10:10 mass bike ride

The Frome 10:10 mass bike ride

Mixed Grill

The machines ridden in this blog were powered mainly by mixed grill

Published in: on January 17, 2011 at 8:41 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , ,

The Legend of El Cobblo, Frome Cobble Wobble

I am sitting in the Fancy studio in Frome, on my own, I’ve just taken some Panadol Extra + Caffeine washed down with a free can of Red Bull. My legs are twitching and I’m feeling fantastic. Why? I’ve just ridden the 2nd Frome Cobble Wobble, and played host to a star of Mexican Wrestling. Here’s how it unfolded:

It was months since Andrew Denham of the Black Cannon Collective wandered into the Fancy Studio and commissioned the design and website for the 2nd Annual Cobble Wobble, all the preparation, the sketches, the artwork, the printing, the coding and the testing, all came into fruition for a few amazing hours today.

The Cobble Wobble is a hill sprint up a steep cobbled slope in Frome called St Catherine’s Hill. Not to put too fine a point on it, it is a bastard of a hill. Even walking up it leaves me out of breath. So to ride a bike up it, whilst egged on by crowds who stand mere inches from the taped off edge of the course, would seem to be madness. When Nic, of Espace Solutions heard we were riding it, she simply said “The hill we walked up that nearly killed us? S**t!”

Myself and Matt Wellsted of Fancy, for some reason, told Andrew we would ride it. As the day loomed closer, we felt that perhaps it was a bit of a stupid thing to volunteer to do.

So we had a chat, and decided that we didn’t stand any chance competitively, but stood a good chance of entertaining the crowds if we did something a bit daft. To this end, Matt decided to dress up like the chap in the poster he created, and I decided to do it on my Brompton, dressed in a suit, and smoking a pipe.

Meanwhile, as builders of the website, we were contacted by the Mexican Wrestler El Cobblo, who travels the world entering cobbled hill sprints in memory of his brother Carlos, who tragically died of sheer knackeredness on a cobbled hill race in Mexico. He was looking for a base in Frome, and also it turns out, a bike, as his had a puncture and the seatpost was a bit squiffy. We extended the hand of hospitality to this great man and bid him join us on Sunday morning in our preparations.

Sunday morning dawned a bit grey, with the promise of rain. No matter, we assembled at the studio at 1pm to prepare. El Cobblo turned up, fully masked as usual and on checking out my Lemond Etape, deemed it worthy. He was amazed at the lightness, as his own bike is steel.

El Cobblo in the studio

El Cobblo, prior to the race in our studio

I suited up and prepared my tobacco, packing my pipe with some smooth shag. Matt slipped off to Live2Ride to get his fixed cog changed and El Cobblo and I rode to register.

El Cobblo and I ride to the registration point. El Cobblo delighted by the beeping of horns and waves he received.

El Cobblo and I ride to the registration point. El Cobblo delighted by the beeping of horns and waves he received.

Having given our names and collected our numbers, I took El Cobblo down to Live2Ride to meet up with Matt. El Cobblo chatted with his fans, telling children to eat more vegetables and meeting some of the opposition. Then we headed up the hill and waited in line for our turn on the Cobbles:

El Cobblo meets the Angel

Andrew Denham meets El Cobblo

At the Start of the Cobble Wobble

Gradually, we inched towards the Start. All to soon I was at the start line, I lit up the pipe, got it going and launched myself sedately up the hill. In my lowest gear, I spun the cranks wildly, tinging my bell. On approaching the corner where Stoney Street splits off I decided it might be quite funny to signal right. This was a bit of a mistake, the bike veered madly to the right and I thought I was going to spill all over the cobbles. Somehow I managed to stay upright and got the bike pointing in the right direction (up) again without putting a foot down. The crowd pressed in and clapped and cheered.

Your author on the Cobble Wobble

Your author on the Cobble Wobble, picture by Jez Cope

The smoke filled my lungs as the hill became steeper and steeper. Soon I had no oxygen left, just smoke, the pipe was running hot and my head felt lighter and lighter. As I approached the finish line I could hear the tannoy blaring that I was a proper ‘chap’, by then I was almost blacking out from oxygen starvation, but approaching a state of shamanic bliss. I aimed hard for the finish line and got over, only to find I still had to ride the exit shoot. I took the pipe out to do that and my head was swimming. There were pats on my back and even a hug from some fellow.

I looked behind me to see El Cobblo finishing, still on the bike and screaming to the sky that this was for his brother Carlos!

The press crowded round the mighty Mexican, he was interviewed for Red Bull TV, The local rag, bloggers. Parents pressed their kids forward for him to shake their hands. He beat his chest mightily, and spoke of his love for his late brother, the crowds wanted more, but I could see he was eager to leave.

We rode in silence away from the hordes, his cloak flowing behind him as the children who ran behind us dropped away, holding their knees and panting. El Cobblo did not look back, he raised one fist in salute, and I turned to see a small boy with his own fist raised in imitation, receding round the corner.

Back at the Old Church School, I asked El Cobblo if he was staying for the party. He shook his head, and said no, there is a race tomorrow in Spain that he must attend. He looked out over the rooftops of Frome, but I could see that his stare was thousands of miles and twenty six years away. We said our farewells, he shook my hand, thanked me for the use of my bike. And was away.

I raced back to see Matt start his run, as the first of the Fixie riders. The rain had started to come down, thinning the crowds and making the Cobbles slick and treacherous. He put in a hell of an effort and finished with a respectable time:

Matts race face

Matt's Race Face

Matt goes up

Matt goes up - encouraged by a man running alongside and shouting

Then, the elation. I got a t-shirt, some badges. The post-mortem of the rides, the times.

The whole day was superb, but it’s not over yet. As designers of the Cobble Wobble and website builders, we got free passes to the Red Bull party.

I’m off there now.

But, I will be thinking of El Cobblo, and his lonely quest.

Adios Amigo.

El Cobblo

PS: If anyone has any pictures – please let me know!

Published in: on September 19, 2010 at 6:57 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , ,

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.

Three Worlds, Frome: homage to Escher

bike in water

Published in: on November 11, 2009 at 5:43 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , , ,

Ride, ride against the dying of the light

One thing the Rode and District Nocturnal Velo Club cannot be accused of is “going gentle into that good night”. The Wednesday after the wildly succesful Rode Village Festival – the committee met in The Cross Keys pub to have a post-fest meeting. This being done, and the libations and rituals of preparation being completed (i.e. no small amount of ale, lager and spirits consumed), the ride could take place. This time we had the Rev Philip Hawthorn, curate of Hardington Vale with us. It always pays to have a man of the cloth around when riding the darkened lanes of Somerset and Wiltshire in the gloaming. For these are old roads, and it is an old darkness we ride through. No matter what armour to superstition and fear your sensibilities and beliefs have provided in the warm glow of the day, it all turns to rust when riding beneath the pale ghostlight of a waxing moon.

Anyway, Phil rides a rather splendid Specialized, a large frame as he is long of leg, and a keen cyclist to boot.

At 23:30 the last embers of the sun had long burnt out beyond the horizon. Only the dull orange glows of nearby towns tinted the furthest reaches of the sky. We headed out of the village via crooked lane, drifting briefly from the old sideroad across the A36 and onto the road to Rudge, as a lost spirit might materialise from a wall covering a long forgotten passageway and glide across a landing before vanishing into the opposite wall.

With four lights blazing we shot down the hill at Rudge, hung a left at the bottom and continued toward Brokerswood, turning right at the tin tabernacle and headed for the railway bridges. We took turns at the front, and as we approached Old Dilton, Mike made clear his intent to go up… The Hollow. In truth, there was nothing we could do, Mike had spoken what we all surely felt, this malevolent slope was sucking us in like a black hole, its gravity was too strong to ignore this far past dusk. We crossed the double roundabouts by the church. The only mercy was that night had mercifully becloaked the upward gradient in its mantle – that we would not be overawed at the hills severity. The pools of light cast forth from our bikes darted about the tarmac and the banks as the slope took hold. Spotlit glimpses of branches, thorns, earth and asphalt flashed about us as we wobbled our way up. Every now and again we caught sight of one of our companions in the bikelights, an afterimage of a rictus grin of grim determination burnt onto the retina when the light fell away to crazily dart around the banks as we struggled to maintain our upward course.

Then, against all odds, the ground leveled out – not only had we taken The Hollow at speed, it seemed incredibly short compared to the other times we have ridden it. Too numbed to change up gear, we spun the cranks crazily fast on the flat and hungrily gulped down great lungfuls of air as if we had emerged, crazed with the bends, from exploring the crushing darkness of an oceanic abyss.

Turning right at the top proved to be an alarming choice as more than one car shot past us with seeming scant regard for our safety. The noise of their passing all the more alarming given the quiet country lanes we had emerged from.

Rode and District Nocturnal Velo Club

We crossed the A36 and disappeared into the cthonic darkness of the lanes around Frome. Mike led out on the descent towards the town, Marcus pumping his legs like mad at the back to keep up on his mountain bike with its smaller wheels and heavier tread. The streets of Frome were near deserted and we had the sulphur glow of the streetlamps to ourselves, our shadows flickering about us as we passed from one pool of light to the next. Taking up the whole road we freewheeled together, the nocturnal peleton (or nocaton as Phil called it) shot through the narrow streets and into the town centre with incredible speed. Another hill up out of the town, past Iron Mill Lane and then left towards Lullington. The Creamery was lit up as milk was churned into the small hours. Up the hill we rode, a skeleton oak stood stark on the horizon, a warning of the hill we were approaching. Marcus and I rode far off the front racing each other down the final dip, a foolish act of faith as we rode faster than the eye could take in the tiny spotlit area ahead of us. We waited at a crossroad to take the picture below:

Rode and District Nocturnal Velo Club

Rode and District Nocturnal Velo Club

Finally we wheeled our way back into the village via The Mill, Mike peeling off down his farm track before Marcus and I said goodbye to Phil who powered off up Nutts Lane.

Around 20 miles accomplished, a good workout and a magical ride.

If you are local and you wish to join us on a Nocturnal ride – leave a comment below and we’ll try and arrange something.

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