Thursday, 15 December 2011

Christmas Shopping Cycling

Sleigh bells ringare you listening
In the lane, snow is glistening. 
A beautiful sight, 
We're happy tonight.  

Cycling in a winter wonderland.  

My deepest apologies to Bing ...but its almost right and I'm sure he would forgive me the error.

I want today to discuss the madness on our streets at this time of year and the supremacy of the bicycle over the car or public transport. Few who have any familiarity with this blog would ever doubt my love for the bicycle. It is a supreme method of transportation, being at the same time economic, ergonomic and environmentally neutral..... and yet at the same time I often feel it is the philosophy it imposes on its rider that is the bicycles most unique factor.  For with the possible exception of the steam engine, a machine rarely imposes any philosophical influence on those travelling upon it or viewing it. The bicycle teaches the rider that less is very often more, that speed is less important than the manner of travel, and that in the journey joy is to be found, above achievement of a destination.

Having just been out Christmas shopping it was with a glad heart that despite the bitter wind I sped along a long, long line of stationary traffic, the occupants of said vehicles visibly fuming at the delay. Most probably appreciated that this was but a prelude to their desperate and often futile search for a town centre parking place. Bus drivers honked, pedestrians looked fearful of the diesel and petrol driven behemoths, white van man veered and ranted, in short it was far from the Christmas dream. The charioteers in their metal coffins looked positively Scrooge like.

Yours truly on the other hand was full of Christmas cheer, clad in tweed and moleskin and fortified by a very fine lunch of fresh anchovies, black bread and Chase English Vodka (the front wheel wobble giving rise to my suspicion that the much vaunted 48% proof might be a tad understated). Traffic chaos might be the kindest way of describing the devastation wrought on the town centre by a combination of simultaneous multiple gas works, increased christmas traffic volume and a propensity of delivery trucks to stop inappropriately in the most bizarre locations, but the nimble Pashley Sov took all in its stride.

With a joyous shriek I swept up through the cycle lane, and within minutes had the Pash on its stand sequentially at the butchers, grocers and off-licence. It was here I began to realise that Christmas shopping on a bicycle is an object lesson in zen simplicity, and the best way to avoid the post Christmas bloat. Just how much food & drink can one man get into his right hand pannier? So too the situation with shopping for presents. My mother, at just under 5ft, was a firm believer in the fact that "The best things come in little packages" and how right the old girl was! The bicycle teaches you, if you are to load said vehicle in a way that permits it to be ridden home, to buy little and of a lightweight nature. 

Onward I pressed into the heart of Darkness, the main shopping area. 12 Christmas presents later, all were contained within the left hand pannier, the only heavy thing about my purchases was the damage to my bank balance.....never mind...the exquisite little filly that I shall be riding all Christmas will be beside herself with joy and desire once the little charmer spies the Cartier packaging! Money well spent say I! The bicycle imposes its will upon me in a subtle and gentle manner.....I  could pile the old velo high with packages and wheel the thing home like a mechanical mule staggering under the weight of purchase.....but the connoisseur of two wheels feigns to walk when the prospect of being astride the lithe form of his first love offers so much pleasure. It strikes me that small gifts often seem to have a bigger impact, perhaps because they require thought to get right and intelligence choosing. It is the very difference from the norm that will set you apart when Christmas morning arrives and the house is festooned in acres of wrapping Christmas as in life, quality often comes about through small things.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and all the other proverbial seasonal thing is for sure.....Christmas day will see me on two wheels, come sleigh bells, snow, hell or high water!

Thursday, 1 September 2011


"Bugger Bognor!" were reputedly the last words of King George V (1865 – 1936). There is some debate about the actual phrase uttered, some sources claiming that he actually replied "F**k Bognor!" when it was suggested to him that he might soon be well enough to visit his favourite seaside retreat. Sadly today it is probably the best know thing about him. Before such an utterance he was best known for his obsessive stamp-collecting, love of shooting and the industrial scale of his slaughter of pheasants and tigers. However, in earlier, and for him much happier times, he was much beloved of the British public for his dedication and frequency in touring the front lines during WW1 as well as taking a firm stand against his cousin, and doppleganger, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany.

So why am I wittering on about him now? Well in the spirit of getting off my seated backside and making something happen I wondered if anyone thought there might be mileage in a "Proper Cycling" Bognor to Brighton run? The sort of thing I had in mind was something along the lines of my previous posing about a real cycling club (see previous post ). Vintage clothing and real cycling machines preferred...LYCRA STRICTLY FORBIDDEN!

The route would appear to be reasonably practicable, (and at 27 miles not too strenuous!) there are some interesting locations along the way for elevenses, lunch, and tea, lashings of bracing sea air (and the wind should be at our backs HOORAY!) a few historical and cultural sites along the way for a minor educational interlude, not to mention a few hostelries at the climax of the ride. I was thinking of running the event for some time in May, probably a Saturday so people could stay overnight in Brighton should they wish to enjoy the saucy joys of a Sunday by the seaside! Brighton to Bognor has the right era feel to it. I propose to arrange suitable Blitz Spirit/Queens Jubilee bunting etc at the allotted refreshment locations at start and finish, provide all food and drink during the run and have a rescue Charabanc (hopefully in full vintage livery!) to pick up the walking wounded!

Do you think I might get any takers for such and event? If so let me know?

Friday, 5 August 2011

Velorbis v Pashley ...Gentleman's relish?

I have for some months now intended to do an objective comparison of the Velorbis and Pashley marques. In my earnest search for a second bicycle with which to Cycle the entire Rhine Valley this Autumn, I was in the happy position of really being unconcerned as to price...for as a true Gentleman Cyclist I was motivated only by the desire to purchase the very best mount available.

Having scoured the internet for "Classic Bicycles" "Real Bicycles" & "Gentlemans Bicycles" etc. etc. etc. I decided that it pretty much came down to one of the two marques above.

I cannot deny that my leaning in the early stages went towards the Velorbis. It felt a little like I imagine it feels for a man intent upon selecting a new whore....the old one has proved serviceable, it has taken good care of you, you are comfortable with what is being offered but their is a yen for something new...the grass is seen as greener on the other side of the hill.....the lure of a sophisticated well put together European model having slightly more kudos than the old familiar British version. Once more, a bit like choosing a lady of the bed-chamber, the front of house element is important however much you try to tell yourself it is not, so I was a little put off by a certain dismissive arrogance displayed by those offering the Velorbis for sale. On entering a certain London cycle boudoir I was met with a deep sense of sympathetic, haughty, distain by a salesman who had watched me secure my ageing Pashly to railings. I grant you that it's probably not the best move to take leave of your old mount at the entrance to a place where you hope to find a new one,...... but needs must!

So, to the Velorbis; the model I selected was the rather impressively named Churchill Classic......forgive me but the name of "Churchill" seems an out and out marketing ploy intent on pulling on the heartstrings of forty-somethings English speakers and readers of Military History. I'm not certain if the bike is marketed under this name across all European countries....if it is, I imagine that sales might not be going too well in Dresden?

The Velorbis website ( I viewed I can only describe as "Nazi Bike Porn".....  with strapping Aryan chaps resplendent in their blondness with leggy short skirted females looking ripe for the bedding.....the website is certainly slick and stylish and works very well....sucking you in. The bike itself on first viewing is I have to admit a tad disappointing. The luscious pictures of well oiled tools, smooth paint, glossy leather and rugged chiseled components on the website is, in my humble opinion, not supported by the reality. Pushing the whore analogy further, a bit like entering a room to find that the advertised 21 year old leggy goddess is a 39 year old stunted hag!

Well...not like that really.....I exaggerate for comic effect, but it was just a little disappointing. The badge struck me as a rather curious amalgam of pseudo-euro-royalty-coat-of-arms and an alpenstock badge. Unperturbed I decided to get up close and personal and examine the merchandise from the bottom to speak. The first thing that struck me was the chain guard. Velorbis have made much on their website of the fact that theirs is metal, powder coated rather than plastic. The point I thought of a chain guard is that it protects not only the rider from muck but the chain too....but the Velorbis chain guard is not a complete cover...only covering the off side of the chain and not the rear most section. While fine for keeping muck of the's not going to help much with keeping detritus off the chain. I am sure that the company has an explanation for that but if you are going to have one it might as well go the entire distance?

Other components appeared to be well chosen.....the bike had a sturdy tight feel to it, the frame a taughter prospect than the Pashley, and all had been well assembled. However, it somehow lacked the heft and quality I expected to find given the description on the Velorbis website. Paintwork was good without being great, a couple of blemishes from spraying here and there, the rims looked solid & the wheel rims and tyres well chosen ....but nothing was really out of the ordinary, and while the leather handlebar grips were hailed by the manufacturer as a luxury feature I wondered at their longevity and durability after a few seasons sweat and grime had penetrated their initial lustre?

So what of the test ride? Well gentle reader I cannot lie. I failed to make one. The sniffy attitude of the sales person, the rather lacklustre overall impression of the bicycle upon me, the uninspiring ambience of the machine, all conspired to put me off it.......but there was more to it,....something else.....something about the "look" tried hard...but somehow it just did not add up to the mount of an English gentleman. Perhaps it really is a well put together sophisticated European model that would have provided me with the ride of a lifetime, but in it's soul it did not have the character I craved.....and in the end, for my money the Pashley delivers a better total package.

So like the conservative (small "c") I am, I return to the familiar.....the Pashley may have a plastic chain guard (but it works superbly I have come to discover), it may not have leather hand grips, the frame might be considered rather soft and lazy, and in the quality of its seperate parts it might very well not be up to the Velorbis...but we do not choose our mounts for such reasons alone. Taken as a whole in it's quintessentially English character the Pashley was and still is the ride I desire. It may not have the gimmicky sophistication of a European Boutique Hotel, but it has the class, comfort and refinement of a fine British Club.....and at almost two hundred quid cheaper, I still have change to get my leg over with a rather glamorous Latvian blonde who is advertising her services in the neighbourhood!

Bon chance mes amis!

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Return from a spot of "Donkey Walloping"

As some of you will no doubt remember, besides appreciation of the fairer sex, my other passion is riding horses. You find me now at home after a rather wonderful period of several months helping out on a Wyoming Ranch, a new experience for me but one which I have very much enjoyed. That gentle readers is the reason for the lack of recent additions to this veritable velopeida!

While I appreciate that this blog should have nothing whatsoever to do with horses, I do think that there are some similarities between riding a nag over open country and pedalling oneself across the land. The speed of passing countryside, the ability to go off piste, and the fact that you are not nearly so channeled in the route to be taken on bicycle or horseback than you are when driving a motor car. HOWEVER, having tried a bit of cycling in Wyoming I have to say that I am beginning to doubt my own first principles on this subject!

For I venture to suggest that there is something about cycling in the countryside that is particularly suited to a European environment and certainly not to a North American one!....I cannot accurately put my finger on it other than to say there is something to do with the distances and vistas of the American West that is absolutely not conducive to the Bicycle. Having set off on one particular jaunt (utilising a 1950's clunker I found in an old sheep wagon and then repaired) I spied a rather wonderful distant rocky was 6 hours before I managed to even get within what I thought to be spitting distance of it...another three and I was still not actually at the bottom of the climb! Giving up and getting a lift back to the ranch in a passing pickup I began to muse upon why in Europe cycling seemed so much fun and in the USA, outside of a narrow number of bespoke locations, a mere drag. In the end it comes down to size (and who said size does not matter ladies?...for we all know it damn well does!).

The vastness of the USA, the huge distances between cities and geographical features militates against those great joys of European Cycling..."variation & proximity".....while the USA probably has the most varied terrain of any country on is the lack of proximity and variation within a geographical space that tends to drive the "homus-pedallous" to distraction.

Oddly enough such lack of variation on horseback plays better with the soul, I have yet to fathom why? 

Friday, 27 May 2011

Hubs versus Derailleurs, an unsound judgement.

I have been pondering the views of an individual who I might dare to call an acquaintance (for he is certainly not a friend) and who is considered by some females of my acquaintance as being a rather fine example of the modern man.

I think that in some circles his type are referred to as "metro-sexual" whatever the devil that means. Amusingly when I first heard the term I was rather under the impression that a Metro Sexual was a man who exposed himself to women on the tube... you know the type... raincoat?.... fiddling with his bits?... leering?

Anyhow this acquaintance seems to see no harm in talking about his feelings endlessly...dons "cleanser" every night and talks endless rot about "relationships". I shouldn't wonder if he could barely bring himself to kiss a woman, let alone perform any other exchange of bodily fluids as he seems an inveterate hypochondriac. However, he considers himself to be a REAL cyclist, is certainly a fit bugger, and cycles wearing normal clothing even if he does ride a dutch gals bike.

However..... I digress,.....said chap was discussing the benefits of derailleur gearing over hub gears and encouraging me to ditch the old hub and go for a derailleur. Our discussions went something like this..... 

GC.....Hub plus points; less wear, less maintenance, easier to keep clean, gear changing when stationary (a very BIG plus in my book), chain runs in line so wears less, thicker stronger chain is......well.... stronger, chain-guard keeps clothing clean.

M-S....Hub negatives; heavier, slower gear changing, power stops while changing gear, gear ratios cannot be changed, limit to number of gears, lower efficiency in power train energy transfer, repairs can be expensive. 

M-S....Derailleur plus points; lighter, faster changes with less loss of pedal power, gear ratios can be changed, more gears, higher efficiency of power transfer, repairs are cheap. 

GC.....Derailleur negatives; needs regular adjustment, needs more lubrication/attention, gets dirty, difficult to clean, chain weaker and often runs out of line so wears more, exposure to physical damage, chain-guard not really viable.

I also rather unwisely pontificated that Hub gears were rather more "old worldly" and traditional than the derailleur ....he demurred.....and I have to grant him the fact that as far as biking gears are concerned he was right.....there really is not a lot in it. 

Fixed wheels were the norm until experiments with hubs started in the 1880's, but it was not until the turn of the century that things really got off the ground. In 1903 Frank Bowden, head of the Raleigh cycle company, formed "The Three-Speed Gear Syndicate", having obtained the rights from two separate inventors of hub gears. That same year the first Sturmey Archer 3-speed was born, by 1909 there were 14 different 3-speed hub gears on the British market, and by the 1930's hub gears were used on bicycles all over the world.

However, at almost exactly the same time others were looking to a different method of gear change, and the derailleur became a practical option around 1905, although it was not until 1928, when the "Super Champion Gear" began to be sold, that the derailleur really started to capture the imagination of the public and become a truly viable option.

So...there you have snobbish preference for the presumed "old world" hub gear over the new fangled derailleur gear was stuff of nonsense. Not the only shock administered to yours truly recently....for returning home the other night I happened, somewhat ironically, on said "Metro-Sexual" acquaintance going hammer and tongues at the rear of a young female who had assumed an inviting position bent over the cycle rack of a derailleur equipped bicycle! Obviously there is more to this Metro-Sexual lark than I imagined!

Sunday, 22 May 2011

My Sin of Pride

Despite my recent lack of training and all too full-some acceptance of the American way of life in recent weeks which has put untold additional pounds upon my frame I have to make a confession. Well no...truth to tell I don't have to at all...I want to.

"I take a guilty pride in thrashing the living daylights out of plastic dog-bowl wearing, lycra clad, super-light-weight pro cycling wannabes!"

There it is said.......on at least three separate occasions this week I have thrashed the daylights out of such examples of the supposed cycling cognoscenti....speeding up behind them and passing nonchalantly (despite near bursting lungs!) in an overtake and leaving them in my dust desperate to make up the ground.

Now I know in my heart that I am a shallow moral incontinent because of this failing....but oh it does feel so good to be riding in Panama hat on what they consider to be an "old Clunker" dressed in normal clothes and to speed past the lycra clad on their carbon fibre nano-weight speed-machines. I even managed to overtake a small peleton of them yesterday!

Yes!...Yes!.....I am sure they had travelled miles....perhaps they were saving themselves for the 120mile ride home....but God does it feel good!

Once again I know it is I who have failed in living up to my own principles....competition be damned....the spirit of real cycling is that the journey is more pleasurable than the speed of progress....but miserable failure that I am...I LOVE IT!


Is it just me or is there a dearth of proper cycling clubs or cycling organisations to join in the UK?

Who caters for the REAL Cyclist?.....With the exception of the odd tweed run here and there it all seems to be carbon fibre, lycra and male bonding.

I am certain some well meaning soul will now bombard me with the hieroglyphics of internet addresses to "log on to", telling me of the joys of cycling clubs foolishly un-beknown to yours truly........ but I am not really talking about the sort of groupings of ageing Jacques Anquetil dopple-gangers or juvenile spotty faced wannabe tour de france riders....I am talking about REAL cycling.

The sort of cycling I am talking about is where a group of well dressed elegant individuals of both the male and female of the species all of whom are capable of reasonable conversation meet up on a Saturday morning.....ride out somewhere a tour of some stately home or historical sight or visit an otherwise interesting location and then pop a few bollie corks, scoff a few cucumber and fish paste sandwiches before wobbling back from whence they came.

Of course who could deny that the addition of females into the mix would make the whole thing so much more fun....I always think that any segregation of the sexes seems a rather bizarre way of going about ones fun, truth to tell any visit to a UK cycling club currently is similar, in terms of gender mix, as going hawking with a group of Bedouins in Saudi Arabia!

Following the bollie and sandwiches who knows, with a few females in tow, you might even get to visit a local haystack for a spot of horizontal petting....a damned site more inspiring than checking ones times after a windswept death ride up the local A42!

So why is this? Would there be any interest in setting up a REAL CYCLING CLUB?....are there any such about......would you join one? Is there something in the female psyche that would make them run a mile from any such enterprise..... I'd be interested to know as I sort of have a dormant idea lurking in the back of my head to set something know a sort of weekly Tweed Run in our local area.....(obviously not only tweed...but in reasonable attire).....



Friday, 20 May 2011

Unseasonably warm what?

Dear All,

Having just returned from yet another chance to sample the delights of corporate USA I realise that I am turning into something of a wage slave.....and that all the quaffing of British Airways champers, dire though it may be, driving and sitting about to endless "business lunches" is not doing my midriff any good at venturing onto the old velo over the past weeks has been something of a relief....not to mention sartorial necessity.

Having been "sans velo" and rather too "surplus vino" (although anyone visiting Seattle simply must visit Zig Zag Cafe....the skilled Murray managed a "blood and sand" of simply epic hole indeed!) I felt the necessity to make up for lost time....never a good policy on the bike or in the bedroom.

Whether down to additional pounds, inappropriate attire (those new breeks were rather too clinging in the crotch and buttock areas) or the warmth of the days I know not but I began to suffer rather more than I care to acknowledge and it got me to thinking about the unsuitability of testicles for cycling......

Yes Ladies you did read that right......I said testicles.....but based upon the opinion that a gentleman should do nothing he could not talk about at dinner.....I think the subject still worthy of discussion.

I know not whether the female genitalia is better suited to the bicycle saddle or not...perhaps we could do a poll?....but the male scrotum and testis certainly are not. Now however fond of the reproductive value of keeping the sperm producing organ outside of the body, one might have thought that in our infinite scientific wisdom man might have found a better way of cycling than allowing his gonads to swing about like a veritable pendulum overheating and soiling a perfectly good pair of strides.

What might be the answer?.....perhaps one could have a procedure performed whereby they might be made detachable in warm weather......unscrewed and popped into a neat little saddle bag awaiting their masters dismounting.....featuring a quick release mechanism that might be handy for speedy replacement when necessity for fertilisation of comely maids becomes apparent......for surely they are no good to man nor beast on board of a bicycle? Alternatively why have not Brooks invented the "Scrotum Double 2 ball bath refrigerated saddle"....a neat and convenient way to keep yourself comfortable during the months of June to September?

For those of you who fear that I have fallen into the realm of fantasy just spend an afternoon in a close fitting pair of breeks, trundling along at an above average speed on an old clanker and then tell me I am mistaken in my viewpoint? I think not!

So come along all you inventor chappies out there..... put you mind to it ......see how to air-condition my unmentionables while maintaining a sartorial style befitting a gentleman.....anybody mentioning "wicking" or "lycra" at this juncture really HAS missed the point!

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Hats - Prevention rather than cure?

I took my yearly trip along to Jermyn Street the other day, something I do at this of year in order to refresh the old wardrobe, loaded down with a considerable quantity of spondoolas crammed in the old back pocket. While the area is not what it used to be, it is still pretty much a one stop shop for the gentleman intent on a reasonable degree of sartorial style.

Spinning along Piccadilly, and dismounting opposite Fortnum's I spied another cycling chap rather strangely attired in a large while polo helmet and three-quarter-length pedal pusher type know the sort of thing?.....white trouser type things worn by girlies?

I have a faint horror of the three-quarter-length trouser worn by men over 12 years of age. What on earth possesses them? Horrid little spindly hairy legs protruding from the bottom of the said garment looking like a chicken ready for plucking. I rather think that the Metropolitan Police should be given powers to arrest on sight any male over 14 years in possession of the said sartorial monstrosities. Any how....I digress......

The Polo hat in question, white and large, was at least slightly more appealing to the eye than the re-cycled plastic creation beloved by so many London cyclists. His lid arrangement not withstanding, as he stood astride his mountain bike I began to muse on headwear, safety and its effect upon the motorist.

I continued my search of the various boutiques along the famous old street popping in to buy the most wonderful addition to my cycling shoe wardrobe in the shape of Church's “Shanghai” model from 1929, a copy of the designs popular at the time in the British colonies and characterised by the balancing of different leathers, canvas and wonderful contrasting subtle colours.

Now during these rather wonderful few days we have been having recently I decided to start wearing a white straw Panama, which apart from the brim blowing over my eyes on fast downhill sections, has been doing sterling service for yours truly. It is quite a white Panama and I have been told stands out sufficiently for me to have been spotted almost a mile away across Hyde Park by a young Norwegian gal of my acquaintance I hope to be performing some horizontal flirting with at some stage later this week.

To cut a long story shorter I am beginning to develop a theory that it is not so much the protective qualities of the construction of the headwear, as much as the protective quality provided by wearing a piece of headwear upon a bicycle per se.

Let me illuminate further......cyclist without headwear merges into the street scene.....cabbie just sees yet another head......the unadorned head being a rather common site on the streets of our cities....all hatless individuals tend to merge into one....avec velo or sans velo.

Now change that equation with the addition of a brilliant white Panama....dark band cutting a stark contrast against the white of the straw.....head appearing unusually large and somewhat prominent clad in the product of various Ecuadorian straw weavers.

Do you get my drift? Hat wearing gives one an advantage of making you conspicuous, providing a greater degree of visibility over the none hat wearing.....I might have scoffed at "Mr White Polo hat".....but I damned well noticed him.

It might just be that a hat's protective qualities need not concern the rider if it's real effect is prevention rather than cure?

So I'm off to John Lobb to find myself a fedora for the autumn season.....toodle pip!

Monday, 11 April 2011

Cycling and Alcohol...a cautionary tale

With all this wonderful weather about at the present, I thought that a trip out to a public house might be a good idea, although it required a dreary combining of business and pleasure. Of course as a Gentleman I hesitate to admit this fact, trade indeed.... but a chap has to put food on the old table from time to time and the barmaid there is utterly divine and seems a little vulnerable to my charms, so hey ho I thought!

The said hostelrie is out in the sticks and can be reached by one of two routes, one a cycle path alongside a dual carriage way (whoever built it has no soul, and has certainly never cycled), the other is via a rather challenging set of hills but along a wonderfully picturesque set of lanes.

As I have previously mentioned I enjoy a good challenging pedal up and down, and so despite the old Pashley's heft I decided upon the latter route.

One of the huge advantages of using the Bicycle for Business (ah...I feel another post coming on!) especially for the business lunch, is that you cannot get endorsements on your UK driving licence for an offence of being "Drunk in charge of a Bicycle". The peelers may nab you.....they might even incarcerate you for a few hours .....but pretty much the magistrate is only empowered to give what amounts to you a jolly pathetic financial slap upon the wrist.

In any case I duly arrived at said hostelerie, and during the course of a meal consisting largely of steak and asparagus as far as I can remember, I downed with my compatriot a rather good bottle of Domaine Romanée-Conti. Well I am a gentleman, and this was a very, very fine gastro pub.....well what on earth did you expect? Wetherspoons? The business was done, coffee was served, another contract was signed, & forthwith off I did trot!

In the car park, as my colleague walked over to an unspeakably large 4x4 I realised I had probably downed more of the wine that was my fair share. I was vaguely aware of the waitress I had mentioned earlier walking over to examine my bicycle making cooing noises about how fit I must be if I really cycled all the way from home. I rather blundered my way through an attempt at conversation, offered her my card, and said that as she claimed to be a cyclist herself we should ride out to a wonderful spot I know for a picnic and perhaps other things on her day off, to which she demurely agreed. As she wandered back to her clients even a cursory glance at her shapely calf and rounded pert buttocks in the pencil skirt revealed that she may very well be cyclist.

However this was no time for flirtation, I had a fairly serious 17 mile pedal to complete, the sun was up and I felt like a 3 year old at the Oakes waiting for the off. Studies have shown that small amounts of alcohol increase muscular endurance and strength output, but that these benefits are very short lived. After around twenty minutes, the problems start. In short all the negative side affects of alcohol fully outweigh any possible benefits, something I was rather quickly about to experience. For despite our love affair with the stuff, alcohol is poison and a whole medical dictionary of physical problems arise out of downing too much of it (even the velvety Domaine Romanée-Conti) before getting astride ones wheeled steed.

As I began I felt marvellous. Full of the joys of spring and rearing to go. But the sad fact was that after a relatively brief interlude I felt my strength, endurance, aerobic capacity, and ability to metabolize the food I had just consumed begin to leave me. Alcohol I understand affects the nervous system and brain and my nerve-muscle interaction appeared to be reduced immeasurably resulting in a considerable loss of strength and rather a lack of communal understanding on my part for people on the road in automotive forms of transportation.....Oh, and those ruddy hills started taking on the look of the north face of the bloody Eiger!

As I was about to learn, Alcohol is also a diuretic, so besides being almost unable to perform any degree of hill climbing, I'm now busting for a pee!

I have to admit that at an absolutely vicious part of one particular climb I stepped off from my machine and pushed. Oh my goodnes...the indignity of I crested the rise I felt like my bladder would rupture at even the thought of one more step.

At this juncture with my fine corduroy jacket soaked in sweat, my cap stuck to my head, my tie burning into my neck like a noose, despite my gentlemanly pretensions I stood the bike up, wandered to the side of the road and turning my back pulled down the fly of my trousers and withdrew my male member......

The sense of release was truly wonderful, a veritable torrent cascaded down into the ditch showering golden flecks of iridescent light upon the tall wafting grass. I stood .......and allowed the torrent to become a flood.....oh bliss!.....utter bliss!....and as I stood there,...... my member in hand....peeing to my little hearts delight..... a car whizzed past me and the face of an angel looked out upon the unholy scene.....the face of an angel I doubt I will be riding to picnic with anytime soon!

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

S......... L.......... O.......... W........ Cycling

The modern world seems to identify slowness with inefficiency, poor service or downright ineptitude, but there is a movement that is keen to slow everything down and encourage all of us to savour the moment.......the International Slow Movement.

Begun in 1986 by Carlo Petrini and a few friends who were more than a little upset about another McDonald’s opening up in their town they decided to start Arcigola, which is known as the Slow Food Movement. The main idea behind Slow Food was to begin a new philosophy around food – to enjoy the taste of food by knowledge and pleasure. A few key principles were developed: 1) disseminate and stimulate knowledge of the origins and preparation of great food, 2) preserve the biodiversity of crops, and traditions of food growing, and 3) protect the historical and environmental heritage of traditional places of gastronomic pleasure. (No more plastic chairs and brightly lit industrial chomping stations!)

Since those small beginnings the slow movement has developed into something more than being just about food. Yet while there have been many attempts at generating a slow bicycle movement I have to admit to being somewhat unimpressed with the results. For while your chosen search engine will throw up numerous entries they all seem rather underwhelming.

Now I'm not certain if I should rejoice or weep at this fundamental failure of the Slow Cyclists to get the movement much beyond a twinkle in the eye of the velocipedial savy sauveur? Might I suggest that if they do not have time for setting up a website, perhaps it is because they are too intent on gently twirling their pedals, smelling the wild flowers and enjoying multiple cups of tea at out of the way tea shops strung out along their meandering route? So engaged are they in the simple joys of cycling, that they care not a hoot for the mundanities of the inter-web?

However I fear that my dreamy musings may be too much born of hope rather than genuine expectation, and that the advantages of slow cycling really have not yet been developed to a degree befitting the wonders of the machine. The world of cycling is too much dominated, I am afraid, by the lycra clad speed obsessed cognoscenti to allow much advancement of slow cycling in the murky never-world of cyber-land.

Now there are those who might contest that such a "Machine" as the bicycle is not fitted for a place in the slow movement......slow horse riding you may have...but slow cycling...NEVER! But it is my contention that the real purpose of the bicycle is amply suited to the slowness of the slow movement; a sort of mechanized antidote to the motor-car or other forms of mechanised transport. The bicycle is a special vehicle, propelled only by the rider, without resort to noisy combustion (given that the rider has spared themselves a plate of beans on toast that a.m.!) and ideally suited to the aims of the slow movement. A machine upon which when ridden slowly you may converse, flirt, and generally engage in social communion, whilst travelling at a speed which allows you to take in your surroundings and commune with the natural world about you.

So accepting of the fact that despite fitful attempts by some at getting the slow bicycle movement off to a wobbling start we have singularly failed, how might the aims of slowness be applied to cycling?

Perhaps if we look at following the Arcigola movement in the establishment of three fundamental principles we might begin to develop a slow cycling credo which in time will benefit from sufficient momentum as to become a slow force to be reckoned with?

So what should these fundamentals be? I offer the following as a starter for ten but I am absolutely certain that others would be far more effective in developing a code worthy of the ultimate aim:

1)      Disseminate the purpose of cycling as a means of elegant transportation, useful both for idle pleasure, and as a means of supporting the communal movement of people in everyday life?
2)      Maintenance of the traditional design and proper attire of cyclists so that the pursuit brings elegance and refinement to the world, rather than wheezing sweat be-spotted skin tight coarseness.
3)      Protect the historical and environmental heritage of traditional places of velocepidial pleasure (our country lanes, tea shops, tow paths and other cycle friendly car free areas).

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Cycling in the Former Soviet Union

Привет товарищи как вы все?....... or rather "Hello Comrades how are you all?" I am sure some of my more regular readers might have noticed my absence.......or perhaps not.

Well the past six weeks has seen me spending time pedaling like fury across various southern parts of the former Soviet Union. Yes I know....what did possess me? Well to tell the truth the dreaded "W" word. While a Gentleman hates to admit it, there are sad occasions when it is necesary to put ones shoulder to the wheel as it were and earn a crust. This being just such one of those times, I thought it might be rather interesting to look at velocipedial issues Soviet style.

Yes I realise that the Bolsheviks have long since disappeared from view, but the Former Soviet Union is still an entity of the mind, if not in reality. I have to say the experience has been rather a pleasant one and not at all what one might have expected from my narrow minded initial expecations.

The first thing to say is that the distances are huge, so for pity's sake don't go trundling off from Krasnodar thinking its just a gentle run down to Sochi. It is most certainly not. I have restricted myself to mostly urban cycling in the immediate environs of towns and cities transporting my bike by various means between hotels. Sartorially I have probably let the side down being reduced to moleskin trousers, jhodpur boots and my Swiss army Pea Coat, but I did manage to buy the most wonderful old style Politburo worthy mink hat (an "Ushanka" for those in the know) for an absolute steal which has proved a godsend. Quite what the locals have made of an idiot Englishman cycling around their neighbourhoods in a 1960's fur hat God only knows, but everyone has been most kind, if at times a little alarmed.

Soviet Russia claimed that the nation invented the bicycle in 1801 when a peasant named Efim Artamonov is supposed to have presented the world’s first bicycle, to Russia’s Tsar Alexander the First. “Artamonov’s bicycle” convieniently reappeared at the Nizhnetagilsk Museum in 1923 as an example of worker ingenuity, but after analysis of the metal components it has been proved that it could not have been constructed any earlier than 1876. A statue of Artamonov now stands on the Vaynera Street in Yekaterinburg.

Anyhow, enough of history what of my travels? Well the great advantage of travelling in the region is that tea and alcohol are both available in great fact I've even had tea WITH alcohol in it!  Sustainance for the cyclist can also be had all over the place for an absolute pittance. I particularly like the flat squashed roll thing full of mashed potatoes...a sort of Russian pasty which always went down well for breakfast and I have probably consumed a veritable herd of pigs in the form of pork shaslik. 

The other most significant thing is that bicycles are notable by their utter, or almost utter, absence. People looked askance at me whenever I took to two wheels. Why would I not travel by car? The indignity of riding that machine when you appear to be well heeled? Have you taken leave of your senses? "Он является английский" (He is English) seemed sufficent to excuse my rather bizarre behaviour amoungst the indigenous population.

Apart from the rather unrestrained driving methods employed by locals and a few near misses at junctions, brought about no doubt by the sheer absence of such two wheeled hazzard on the roads in ordinary circumstances, the experience has been wonderful. In one location I encountered a former soviet scientist reduced to selling vintage pocket watches, who spoke the most extrodinarily good English yet who had never left the former Soviet bloc in his life. At another I met a woman selling enameled jewellry who once again spoke the most wonderful English yet told me she had learnt it over forty years ago at school and had never travelled further than Moscow (....come to think of it that was a dashed long journey from where she was!).

Whatever else the Soviet Union might have stood for, the quality of its education system cannot aparently be denied. Which leads me to a not unrelated point of running repairs .....not thankfully to the bike.....but to my spectacles, as one of the arms gave up the ghost in the vicinity of a little known southern outpost of the former Communist domain.

Damn I thought!......sellotape might be the only solution.... but I'm hardly going to cut a dash with any of the local fillies with plastic wrapped around my goggles. Pedalling on a little further, mercifully blind to the dangers of a Lada heavy rush hour braking out around me I came upon a suprisingly up-market opticians. Thinking it might be a couple of days before something could be done about repairing them if at all I resigned myself to a blurry visioned 48 hours at the very least. Not a bit of it! A rather glamourous assistant, again with impressive command of my mother tongue, took the glasses from me negotiated her price and summonded a bespectacled gentleman from the rear of the premises. The glasses were made of tungsten and had snapped clean off .....surely this would be beyond repair save for replacement? Rather alarmingly Uri pointed to an overlarge piece of opticians equipment which bore striking resemblance to an oxyacetylene welding torch. Ten minutes later, miraculously the thing was as good as new!....

Travelling through these regions is rather like travelling back in time to my childhood in the 1970's. People sit, they talk, they meet friends on the street, they are interested in each other, they don't facebook or text, they interact face to face. The country may be poor, people may be struggling, but what my brief experience of the area has also taught me is that the people here are tough, resilient, and yet open in a way that we English now are not. The make do and mend culture may not be something to hark back to, but if the friendliness and openess of the people and my welcome has been anything to go by, it can have its advantages.

До свидания товарищи!

Monday, 24 January 2011

Rare Steed of the Urban Proletariat...... or social leveller?

I wondered if I had taken leave of my senses today? For I rode a bicycle up to a car showroom in order to buy a car.

Having parked the velo outside, and after absent-mindedly chaining it to the stanchion of an awning I ventured into the petrol-heads holy of holy's.

Riding up on a bicycle to a car showroom is a rather foolish thing to be doing I have decided, especially  if you want to be taken seriously by anyone inside.

I had decided that after nine years of not owning a car there were journeys that I really needed to undertake, and having a car was pretty much the only way I was going to be able to take them. So having sorted out sufficent cash to go and buy myself one, I strode into the showroom full of glistening metal and decided to do the dirty deed.

I stood........I looked about me......bored sales people with not much to do avoided my gaze.....I saw a sign. "Reception" it said.......I walked over and said......"I'd like to talk to someone about buying a car." We went through a farce of me being asked to sit ......the receptionist made a fuss of standing and then looking about her for less than 15 seconds she announced....... "Ah this young lady might be the one for you"....and pointed over to a woman at a desk (rather odd verbage for a car showroom I thought more like a bordello? .......although judging from the ill fitting grey sweater dress that a rather plump "thirtyish" woman sales person was wearing, barely concealing rolls of her fat and rounded out.....and I do mean cheap faux leather shoes, I assurred myself that car buying was all I was likely to be doing here).

Miss Clingy Plump Sweater Dress 2010 sassied over....I averted my eyes from the blancmange like wobble of the advancing hips... "Which model sir?" I was asked . "New or uuuuuuuuuuused" The distain at the word was palpable. I did not know.....what "uuuuuuuuuuused" cars of the model of my choice did they have available? "When would you like to buy this caaaaaaar?"....... "Well I rather thought I'd buy it today?"

I could tell that the woman could not concieve of anyone riding a bicycle having the wherewithall to buy a car. I'm not sure what sort of customer I came across as but even a cursory glance at my attire, bicycle, watch, shoes, bespoke waistcoat or the 28,000 quid in my back pocket might have told her differently? Whatever sort of customer I was .....she was a pretty useless seller, and did not possess the wit to make any sort of assessment of me.

She dealt with me with utter distain. I clearly appeared to be wasting her time.  "Leather or Cloth?" "Diesel or Petrol?" ......She ploughed through the hundereds of variations as if they were the labours of Hercules......and I wilted........what on earth was I doing here?

I made my excuses and left, vowing never to give that premises the benefit of any of my cash. Was I doing something wrong? I was courteous, direct, interested.....why did she not respond to the opprotunity of fleecing me for my 28K?

Is the bicycle a "social leveller" I mused on my way home....or is it seen as the "Rare Steed of the Urban Proletariate"? My attire might have been expensive, my shoes exquisite, my watch a rare master-time-piece....but in the eyes of the automotive masses.... am I a poverty stricken prole?

What a soulless thing it was to buy a car from one such as her. I dare say there are excellent salespersons in the employ of VW.......but not apparently at this branch. So if anyone knows where I might buy myself a manual silver VW Golf with SatNav from a sales person who might offer even the humble owner of a bicycle a modicum of courtesy I'd be rather thrilled to here from you.....or am I likely to reamin another 9 years without a car?

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Of Bicycles and Personalities

The other day I was waiting at a set of traffic lights, (yes..... I realise that this is an increasingly unusual activity for cyclists in English towns and cities, but I really was) when I began to pay particular attention to the reaction of passers by, motorists and fellow cyclists to both my bicycle and I.

I was wearing what I believed to be a natty corduroy jacket, moleskin trousers with matching moleskin cap, a scarf together with brown brogues and a pair of finest Italian leather brown lambskin gloves. Simple enough attire you might think but the reaction I got standing there with my vintage style cycling machine was entirely different to the reaction I would have achieved without its presence.

Let me elaborate. Man in corduroy jacket, moleskins and cap on foot would merge in with the average crowd quite without reaction from his fellow pedestrians. I mean to say, look at some of the outfits you quite often see people wearing in an English town on a Saturday afternoon - the urgency of their scream for recognition of their individuality - is often much more overpowering than can be achieved by corduroy and moleskin, yet put that same classically clad chappie on a vintage style bicycle and hey presto you have more attention than is often comfortable. Why is this?

Do people think they can tell more about you from what you ride than from what you wear? Do they imagine that the choice of bicycle tells them something about the rider? Do they think that with your choice of bicycle they have a unique insight into your soul? Does a well clad cyclist on a venerable machine give the hint to proof positive of a decent character?

Women seem to universally approve. The sight of a man so clad and mounted seems to break down the usual "bitch shield" adopted by many pretty women in an effort to stave off the most obvious attentions of passing male admirers. A number of attractive women have struck up brief conversations with me at traffic lights and road crossings, touching their hair and adjusting clothing. Matrons smile and sigh. Women ferrying children in rather horrible box like "people carriers" or "mini-vans" smile, nod and let me have right of way, often pointing me out to their juvenile charges too busy with their gaming consoles to pay much attention to anything less than imminent nuclear devestation.  Veteran females look up and smile perhaps remembering past fondlings and fornications al fresco with uniformed beaux amidst bicycles as horizontal and abandoned as they were once themselves.

Men take a more cautious and less open and obvious line. Many in mid-life cast a furtive yet slightly admiring glance, taking in the detail of garments and mechanicals to make an objective assessment of the suitability of the approach to cycling for themselves. The elderly ignore, thinking "What other attire would someone wear on a bicycle?" and reserve their distain for the lycra clad traffic light ignoring cohorts soon to pass them. The youthful and boreish look vaguely daggers or feign distain, one or too have scorned, but suprisingly few do it that openly. Homosexuals ravish. "White van man" is strangely cowed.

So does the bicycle you ride tell others something about you? I decided to play the game myself and spying a rather classically beautiful bicycle propped up in the antechamber to a tea room I tend to frequent on the way back from a certain lunch spot (yes dear reader, tea after a two hour lunch is rather piggy...but I still think form should be maintained) I began to muse upon its owner.

Classic bicycle, two whicker baskets, small ladies frame, some replacement non-standard parts, half chain guard. What did this tell me? Well the owner was female of course, of adventurous and open personality, partaking of tea alone. She would be of slight build, with short bobbed hair wearing a chic coat and had good dress sense. I further felt she wore leather gloves of a coat matching hue and had a pair of rather fine legs which she was not adverse to displaying.

What struck me was the accuracy of my predictions.  There on a corner table, wonderfully long crossed stockinged legs beneath an above knee length skirt sat a woman with a classically cut military style coat slung over an adjoining chair and with matching green leather gloves on the table in front of her. Her hair was shortish and her look in my direction open and unphased. I looked about the room and saw one or two free tables but decided to try my luck.

"I like your bicycle" I said "Do you mind if I join you for tea? .....I have this theory that a tea tastes better shared and I feel a bit self concious sometimes on my own."

"By all means" she said "But how did you know I had a bicycle?"

"Ah......I am begining to develop a theory on that too........."

Monday, 3 January 2011

New Year's Resolutions....

It is that time of year again. The time when cycling along the waterfront one sees a few more joggers, a few more people out for a stroll, dare I say it ......a few more people out on their bikes (albeit new, rather garishly coloured ones and often of the most bizarre modernist design...but I will not have them gainsayed...they are after all on two wheels...BRAVO!).

Realising the foolishness of their over-indulgence during the festivities of the past few days, they make an effort and decide to try to reduce their bulk acquired over the past 8 years in a single month of exercise madness. It is a familiar scene.....come Feburary 28th, with the wind lashing at their clothing and the freezing rain cutting horizontally into their faces it is only a truely loyal band that remain at their toil.

I remember very well how whilst out in the tropics in Service to Her Majesty I became struck by the innate foolishness of our western style of exercise for exercises sake, rather than as exercise as part of living. Stay with me for a while gentle readers for I shall get to my point.

Every day I would get up early and with little more than a mug of chai inside me run around our particular section of the boondocks thinking myself the most wonderful of chaps for making such an effort to stay trim. Everyday at the same time I would see this old man ride past me as I ran. He was on the most antiquated of bicycles loaded with cut fodder for his livestock. When I say loaded I mean absolute ton of the stuff piled high on the back and front. He would wind his way back and forth for four or five trips during the day...bags of grain, bales of hay, everysort of animal feedstuff. I could see him clearly from my desk and at other times when my driver took me hither and thither. Each day I passed this man, (and yes I grant you that from a security point of view setting such a pattern is asking for trouble), he would look at me and shake his head in wonder. I could see him thinking...."that idiot, allah be praised, making work for himself when there is more than enough work to be done in the world!"

Suffice to say when returning to Blighty and freedom from indentured slavery to the government I represented overseas, I made my mind up to learn the lesson of the old man and his bicycle logistics. One New Years Day I binned the shorts and running kit and steadfastly refused to take another step in the pursuit of exercise for exercise sake. Surely to God I thought there must be a way of exercising without exercising and so my quest began to try to exercise without doing so.

As I mentioned, I binned my running shoes and set aside my speedos. Having been a lycra clad cycling Johnnie myself once, I put away the fair Colnago, put away thoughts of Campagnolo derailleurs and of Shimano brake levers and took up the Pashley as the very ideal of the "lifecycle".  I rode to work, to the shops, to cafes, for a beer, to my accountant, to my solicitor, to meet friends, on dates, over to my fathers house, up to my tailor, to the airport, on the ferry,....but no longer did I ride to exercise...I rode to live!

The funny thing about this change was that actually I seemed to get fitter without even weight reduced (I have developed this rather odd theory that gyms actually make you fat.....just look at all the fat women on step machines...I tell you its true!) my girth shrank, my muscles developed (try getting a fully ladened Pashley with a weeks worth of steak and potatoes up a 1 in 4 gradient; something I did for the past two years...legs like steel steel hawses!).

My point?

Well it would be churlish and more than a little hectoring to make one really...but you probably get the idea.

Oh and my New Years Resolution? find a butchers somewhere without a 1:4 hill to climb after making the purchase!

Bonne chance mes amis!