Fixie My Life

Over a hundred posts into this here blog that I hoped would feature the voices of the many people who cycled in Lichfield. But really they have no need to speak about what they do, they simply get on and do it. So I guess the posts are more and more about my point of view. I got a bike a few years ago because I wanted to ride with my kids, because I thought it was something they needed to do. A cheap second hand mountain bike did me fine for a couple of years and earlier this year I started to want to do more cycling as I saw the benefits it brought to me and my family. I’ve retired my mountain bike for the time being (maybe to re-emerge as a bike polo steed) and got myself a modern town bike with plenty of gears, bigger wheels and capacity to carry more stuff. I have never owned a car and next year all the kids should be capable of riding together around town and our horizons should expand further and further.

I’ve never pretended to be a bike nerd or particularly knowledgeable about the mechanics of a bike. But over the last few months I’ve picked up so many things from observing and watching other people and just having a go. I’ve done many hundreds of miles this summer with friends, family and by myself. I picked up a ‘vintage’ eighties racer to go on the Major Nichols memorial ride so I wouldn’t look too much out of place, though I’ve not felt the need to ride it since. While on that ride I had a long chat over lunch with Amarjit who was there on his fixie. I admit at first I didn’t know just what fixie meant but he explained to me his passionate belief in the power of the fixed wheel. He told me how he gets up early in the morning to cycle on the roads while they are quiet. How he has developed a technique where he pedals forward with his legs, takes his hands off the handle bars and cycles them in a backwards motion above his head. He says riding a fixie is the ultimate exercise for the body, how energy isn’t wasted with the squeeze of a brake. To me he became the Fixie Philisopher. He offered me a go on his bike around the car park, only to be told afterwards that he normally never lets anybody ride his bikes. From that day on I have kept an eye out for a fixed wheel bike of my own.

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A couple of weeks ago I saw a fixie on ebay that was badly listed and I thought I would put in a lowish bid that I could afford, and it went green with every penny of that last second bid. I had a long chat with Kevin the seller who told me how reluctant he was to part with it, having commuted daily from Rugeley to Burton on it. He told me how he struggled with it on fixed at first but persevered and was rewarded with some of the most fun cycling he has ever known. This from a man who had done Lejog (Lands End to John O’Groats) three times and was putting the money towards a tricycle tandem to do it one more time with his 77 year old father. His advice was to start on the freewheel to get used to the bike before flip flopping to the fixed wheel. The first time I took it for a spin was across town to show a friend and by the time I got there I was puffing a bit.

When I started doing more miles by bike earlier in the year I thought that it would help me get fitter and stronger. What happened is that I used that as an excuse for an extra portion or two and consequently my weight and fitness are probably the same now as when I started. I’ve not been able to cycle as much the last couple of months for various reasons so I have tried to go out on little journeys on it this week to start building up again. Next challenge is a little spin down the lane to Fradley this weekend, to see if I can manage the series of little hills in single speed. All the time I have been riding free wheel I have been thinking about the different skills I will need to master to be a confident fixed wheel cyclist. Practice looking over your shoulder while pedalling. Those moments when you freewheel over a pothole or little kerb with your bum just off the seat. Fixed you gotta keep pedalling. I thought I was a conscientious, alert cyclist then I realised just how much I rely on my brakes to stop me at short notice. Now I need to learn how to control my speed using my pedals and using my brakes that are only just good enough for slowing me down. I came down Beacon Street yesterday and realised if it were fixed I would need to be in control from the top of the hill and not just start thinking about it half way down.

But that fun is all to come. First a bit more practice on the free wheel and a trip to the junction. I hope that I get as much fun as the bikes last owner had and this time next year have better fitness and stamina. I was challenged, in jest I think, to ride up or down Pipe Hill on it. Who knows, maybe one day.

Tootling with the V-CC

A few months ago I went out on a ride with the Veteran Cycle Club (V-CC), the event being the annual Major Nichols memorial ride. Important to note that the club is not for veterans, but aims to promote the riding, conservation and history of old cycles and cycling. With over 2000 members nationally, the Midland section had a ride yesterday starting from Beacon Park in Lichfield and I went along as a guest for the day.

At this time of year many members are reluctant to bring along their very best or oldest bikes. Apparently the salt put down on the roads does terrible things to them and consequently there were a few winter bikes on display, as well as a number of folding bikes.

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It didn’t stop one local chap from bringing his Sunbeam made in 1936 (sold in 1937) in almost complete and original condition, apart from the pump I believe.

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With the milometer showing just 1418 miles to date in nearly 80 years.

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Surprise of the day was the sight of a home made bike with a wooden frame. Mark from Sutton Coldfield told me how he had bought the rear hub and made a wheel, then just kept on going until he made made the whole bike. On just its third outing he was feeling the new saddle and the relatively heavy bike after a few miles, but he was a fine dandy sight on his organic framed bicycle.

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The dozen or so riders set off, pausing in Dam Street to hear some local history by the plaque on Brooke House (more on that story here on the Lichfield Lore blog.)

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We left the south of the city towards Whittington and onto the National Memorial Arboretum where I left the ride while they had a look around and some lunch. A pleasure it was to be part of such a mixed group of cyclists and cycles, there was more than one double take from the Zipvits and the speed merchants as we tootled down the lanes.

Jean Bolton – a fitting tribute

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The funeral of a local cycling stalwart took place today at Lichfield Cathedral. Jean was clearly well regarded in both the local community and the cycling community as there was a large turnout for the ceremony. As requested the funeral cortege was escorted from the cathedral to Stychbrook Cemetery by around 100 cyclists mainly from the local cycling groups Jean was a member and driving force in.

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I tagged along in the drizzly conditions with the group as they cycled up Beacon Street and Stafford Road to the cemetery just off Eastern Avenue, leaving them to celebrate Jeans memory and no doubt tell a story or two.

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Jean Bolton – Lichfield cycling stalwart

Sad news of the death of Jean Bolton recently. Alan, a previous contributor to this blog sent these words, with the family announcement below. The funeral is to be held at Lichfield Cathedral on Monday 18th November at 10.30am.

“Jean was a local hero and as a driving force in the Lichfield CTC Group that met by the then Arts Centre by Stowe Pool at ten sharp without fail on Sundays until its demise and incorporation into the North Birmingham Branch. She was a serious cyclist who helped me get back into cycling in the 80’s and seeing her riding by my house three years ago was a reason I started again – together with the Grandchildren of course. I hope to join the ride on the 18th to pay my respects to Jean and perhaps for me to find out more about a key figure in Lichfield’s cycling heritage.”

BOLTON JEAN (Nee Bellfield) Inspirational Woman, Mother, Grandmother and Friend. Died peacefully at St Giles Hospice, on 28th October 2013. Happily Cycling until the last 8 weeks of her life. Not bad for nearly 85. A Celebration of her life to he held locally. All Cyclists are invited to escort Jean’s Funeral Cortege on their bikes to Stychbrook Cemetery, following the service. Lycra and Club Colours welcomed. Elevenses following internment at the Cemetery. All Welcome. Flowers or a donation to St Giles Hospice would be welcome