Friday night mass

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Lichfield Dérive this Friday, the critical mass drift around the city centre streets. No plan, no route, no leaders – just see what happens. I missed last months ride but someone else reported back. Critical Mass takes place on the last Friday of the month worldwide. Except for Birmingham where it’s the first Friday, maybe that explains why they don’t get many people on board? I came across the Northampton CM page on Facebook recently that looks like a lot of fun. Meet at Speakers Corner at 6:30PM.

Room for one more?

I’ve learned a lot since I started this blog. I came across the fixie philosopher early on and eventually got round to getting hold of a second hand bike to give it a go. Moving quickly from the single speed I flip flopped over to fixed and it has been a really rewarding time in the last few months. If you ride fixed regularly you get a different riding experience, a feeling of connection, a sort of oneness without wanting to sound all zen about it. Das Rad Klub in Bristol use the phrase #FOREVERPEDALLING a lot and I think that sums it up perfectly.

As I ride regularly with my children I thought I was switched on and aware of what was going on around me. Riding fixed requires a bit more, judging your speed as you go down hill, turning and looking over your shoulder while still pedalling takes a bit of practice, being even more aware of hazards, listening, judging your cadence as you go uphill as there are no gears to slip down into. The whole experience has been thrilling and very rewarding as you get better at it.

Along with some friends we’ve been helping each other with advice and support. I learned to skid and was working my way towards riding brakeless. I had the front brake available as an emergency but was managing to control my speed by slowing down with my feet, skidding where necessary for quick deceleration. Then when coming down Fecknam Way in Lichfield recently I decided to try going a bit faster than I had done before and when I locked the cranks hard I ended up pedalling backwards and not slowing.

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Still a novice I had to learn a lesson the hard way. The locking nut on the fixed side of the rear wheel wasn’t on tight enough and as it wound off under pressure it stripped the threads meaning the locking nut now won’t go back on. I’ve flipped the wheel round back to the single speed but after riding fixed for so long it feels hollow and lame. That constant pedalling has been replaced by bouts of freewheeling. It feels like floating. Fixed was stealthy, now you can hear the tick-tick-tick of the freewheel and feel the vibration of the brakes.

So, what I decided to do was save up for a new wheel and at the same time try and start a long term project to build up a bike using the skills I have learned. Room for one more bike? A best bike, a favourite bike, a summers day bike, a Jolly bike.

So for inspiration here are some photos of my favourite bikes i’ve seen this year, starting with the wonderful Vickers Sundown Town. I love the gayness of this bike and those fantastic handlebars. The road bike I ride just isn’t really me, what I fancy is something a bit more refined and upright.

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Just the nicest thing i’ve seen locked up in town. A well used bike with a BSA frame.

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Best bike on the Brum vintage ride for me. Huge chainring, a beauty of a town bike.

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This bike got so much attention on the Lichfield Jolly this year. Rescued from a skip and finished with some great imported wheels.

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A Frankensteins monster of a bike, wouldn’t be my choice at all but fair play for thinking outside the box and making it.

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One of the first photos I took at the Major Nichols ride last year.

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First thing I think is a frame. I managed to get a nice large 70’s road bike frame and fork from an auction website over the weekend for not a lot. Now I need to find every other bit to go with it. I recently watched Robert Penn’s Ride of My Life on the iplayer about building his dream bike. Where he travelled the world to source parts I fancy some trips bike jumbles and online research. My budget is about 2% of what he spent but hopefully with good advice from some of the friends I have made along the way we can make it happen. Should be good.

The Alternative Sheriff rides again – 6th September

P1150032 (800x600)Following the revival of The Alternative Sheriff’s (bike) Ride last year it’s just two weeks until this years ride. The historic Sheriff’s horse ride sets out from the Guildhall at 10:30AM and goes straight down Beacon Street. We shall be waiting at the Stafford Road Pinfold for the ride to pass us before setting off. The other ride stops for lunch and tea before finishing up at the Guildhall in the early evening. But we shall not miss out! A ride through the city centre before a stop at a secret location on the other side of town for free cakes, vegan biscuits and cups of tea.

After we take our noses from the trough it’s back across town to finish the ride on Prince Ruperts Mount in the beer garden of The George & Dragon off Beacon Street. There we will finish our wheeled perambulation with a well deserved drink. If you enjoyed The Lichfield Jolly in June this will be a similar family friendly fun ride. No horse needed and no registration or entry fee required. Just turn up with your road worthy steed and a sense of fun.

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Nearly halfway – C2C for Parkinsons UK

IMG_6893 (1024x844)Outside Greggs on the precinct at lunchtime were a group of lads stuffing their faces. Turns out they are nearly halfway through a coast to coast ride raising money for Parkinsons UK. Setting off from Aberystwyth three days ago they are 158m miles closer to their finish at Lowestoft. No major problems so far, just one puncture and enjoying the flatter terrain. They were blown slightly off course, detouring to Cannock last night and were trying to get to a campsite near Peterborough by the end of the day. Well done Joe, Hugh, Rich and Oran, enjoy the rest of your adventure.

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Cycle Rides For All this Sunday to Fisherwick Lakes

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This Sunday is the latest absolutely free Cycle Rides For All ride to Fisherwick Lakes, a trip of around 9 miles there and back. These family friendly rides are now in their fifth year and a great opportunity for riders to build confidence riding on the road as part of a group. Meet at Freedom Cycles at the bus station in Lichfield at 10AM. Your bike will receive a free check over and then you can ride with a bunch of trained volunteers to enable a safe and smooth ride through the city and out by Huddlesford for an early lunch stop at Fisherwick Lakes. Under 16s must be accompanied by an adult. For more details call Freedom Cycles on 01543 411633 or Karl Sproston at Lichfield District Council on 01543 308846.

Hammerwich via Hamburg – miles apart

I received this account of cycling in Europe from a local cyclist who is a familiar face around Lichfield. I wrote something about cycle infrastructure in Lichfield last year that I was intending to revisit again some time. Thanks very much to Marion for sending this article in, it certainly helps put our cycling conditions into perspective.

 

I must first say that all views and opinions expressed in this article are derived from my own experience and no doubt many who read it will disagree at some point. I will talk about cycling in the Netherlands and, more briefly, Germany. Nevertheless I hope you enjoy it.

I was fortunate to be able to retire fit and well with very few ties and outside responsibilities so, just before retirement, I sold my car and bought a Brompton folding bike and a mule trailer to add to my trusty Dawes Karakum. I was not daunted by the horror expressed by many people I knew. “How will you get about, how will you do your shopping, what if it rains?” I have never regretted it. With the cash I save by not running a car I travel, trying to include a trip of up to 6 weeks each summer in Europe. I always travel solo and am already planning next year’s tour in my head. While cycling in northern Europe is wonderful there are, for me, unpleasant aspects; particularly, both the Dutch and the Germans smoke a lot. You can still buy cigarettes from machines on the street and, at railways stations, there are smoking areas on the platforms, marked out with yellow lines painted on the ground. Arriving from our more smoke-free environment is always a shock. Bicycle theft is common in the major cities. Also it can be a shock to find a moped heading for you or behind you on the cycle path – it is allowed and, on some stretches, mandatory for mopeds to use the cycle path and not the road.

When I was working I cycled from Hammerwich to Lichfield most days, sometimes leaving at 8 in the morning and returning at 10 in the evening. Even though I owned a car, the bike was and still is my main mode of transport. I am sure I was regarded, by colleagues, as somewhat eccentric because many people cannot envisage life without a car. I have lost count of how many times it has been suggested that I need a lift in a car to carry my shopping or reach somewhere a very short distance away. This is rarely necessary and I am fortunate enough to have good friends for the rare occasions when it is essential. Having said that there are taxis, buses, trains and home deliveries. I still find it curious that people will drive to and from work then later to an expensive gym to sit on a static bike in a closed air-conditioned room. Why not ride to work?

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I can’t speak for France, Spain or the southern European countries but a very different attitude to the bicycle and its purpose is immediately obvious if you travel to Germany, Denmark or, of course, the Netherlands. While the perception here seems to be that cycling is for children on stunt bikes, a sport or exercise; in these countries it is an everyday mode of transport. There are those who enjoy riding road bikes and racers with dropped handlebars but they generally have another bike of the ‘sit up and beg’ type for daily use. For men and women this is normally a step through frame fully equipped with mudguards, pannier rack and possibly baker’s basket or frame at the front, coat guard, chain guard, hub gears and dynamo lights. Every morning in the Netherlands the excellent cycle paths are packed with children going to school (38% of secondary school children are said to ride between 6 and 15km each way and some even further), businessmen and women, teachers and all other kinds of workers cycling into work. In the evening it is reversed and during the day they are not so packed but used by women doing their shopping, taking their children out or visiting friends and even classes of children going on school trips. All these people are wearing ‘normal’ clothes and shoes, not a centimetre of lycra in sight but, there are sights which I am sure, here, would attract the attention of someone interested in health and safety.

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People will say, “But the Netherlands is flat.” That is true in many but not all areas; try cycling the undulating paths through the North Sea dunes or the woodland trails around Arnhem. Also where it is flat there can be fierce winds; try 3 days with a 15 – 20 mph headwind possibly accompanied by rain! In the Netherlands there is a nationwide network of cycle routes and paths of all descriptions.   Cycling is quick and convenient for two main reasons: paths form a continuous network unlike the disjointed infrastructure we have here and at most junctions there are either cyclist traffic lights or cyclists have the right of way. For example where a cycle path crosses a minor road joining a major road you are safe to keep cycling; vehicles turning in and out must wait.   At first it is a shock to find a massive HGV waiting for you to cycle across. One notices the mutual respect between motorists and cyclists. Perhaps this is because most drivers are also cyclists. However it also depends on cyclists strictly obeying signals and stop lines where they exist; there is no ‘jumping the lights’ or ‘nipping’ across if nothing is coming. In town in the Netherlands there are so many paths and so many cyclists that I, as a foreigner, often feel I am a danger because I don’t know the rules. For example where crowded cycle lanes cross who goes who waits or do you, like the Dutch just weave your way through.

Protected left (right) turnTypical Dutch junction

All routes are well signed with the very useful feature, especially useful for long distance travel, of the knoopunt system, which originated in Belgium. Selected junctions are given a number, which is indicated on cycle maps and at that point on a finger post, column or mushroom. At each knoopunt there is also a map of the local area, marked with the other junction numbers. It is simple to plan a route from number to number. Many Dutch bikes carry a handlebar pad on which you write the numbers for your planned journey.

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Much of what I have written about the Netherlands also applies to Germany where the network of paths is neither so well signed nor developed outside the main towns and cities but there are wonderful routes along all the major rivers. Finding a route through towns and cities can be quite tricky. If you have the time, it is interesting to ride the Mosel from Thionville at the France, Luxemburg and German border, as far as the Deutsches Eck in Koblenz, then north along the Rhein into the Netherlands at Millingen aan de Rhijn. You could stop there or continue on across the Netherlands to Rotterdam or Hoek van Holland. Or you could ride the Elbe from the North Sea to the Czech border. The benefit of making such a long trips is that you can experience the changing landscape, food, architecture, people and culture. This is not so noticeable if the route is split into a number of short trips. Verlag Esterbauer produce excellent guides. Where Germany does beat the Netherlands is with its cycle friendly trains, sometimes buses and integrated transport infrastructure. In both countries there are vast cycle parks at all stations. At Utrecht Centraal there is a new state of the art underground park for over 5,000 bicycles but most German stations also provide large areas for bicycles. I don’t know how you find your bike again!

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Cycle parking Münster Hauptbahnhof

In both the Netherlands and Germany it is possible to take your bike on the train for a small charge, about 4 Euros for a day ticket but the provision on the trains is far superior on Deutsche Bahn and quite unbelievable for those accustomed to the 2 places per train on most UK Intercity trains. On German Intercity trains you must reserve a space, you are given a numbered stand or hanger and you will also get a reserved seat in the same or adjoining carriage. Similar facilities are found on regional and local trains and although these are filled on a first come first served basis the guard or ticket collector will often squeeze in extra bikes.

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In some areas it is even possible to take your bike on the bus or tram outside rush hours as shown here in Bremen.

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In Greifswald in Germany I saw children arriving at Kindergarten and chaining their bikes up to the special sized racks. Why not here?

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A start is being made in Glasgow where nursery school children are being taught to ride, through the Play on Pedals scheme, a legacy of the Commonwealth Games.

Last year a British journalist wrote, “It is fashionable at the moment to be noticed by cycling through the London parks in a floaty dress on a Dutch bike.” He went on to say that he longs for the day when you are not noticed riding a bike because it is normal. That is what I have experienced in Europe, where cycling is part of the fabric of life rather than an eccentric activity warranting mockery if not abuse. I look forward to living to see the same here although it has taken something like 40 years to reach that point in Europe.

Finally I invite you to view this Vimeo clip about “How the Dutch got their Cycle Paths” and perhaps dream or be spurred on to press for a better infrastructure here.