Saturday, 5 April 2014

Rough Stuff

My club do an annual or possibly so it seems a three times a summer road ride where people bring out their play bikes and their weird toys and we hit the trails, the bridleways and the cobbles.  I went on this today and took the hybrid, an odd choice, it would seem, judging by the 80% turnout of cyclocross bikes along with a smattering of road bikes, hard tails and as incongruous as my own, a full suss.

It was just so much fun.  Abolishing the required lycra, giddily sporting rucksacks, baggy clothing, all the things you wouldn't normally see on our oh so serious image conscious rides.  The hybrid is a fairly heavy beast compared to some, and it was oddly interesting to see how it handled life in grupetto of road and cyclocross bikes.  It wasn't bad.  Once it got up to speed it wasn't bad. It made me work hard to regain the group should I lose it (ever corner, must look at that ...), but once I was back on then everything was fine, warp speed maintained.  I worked hard, and the bike worked hard.  By the end of the ride (well, in honesty at the cafe stop) a bit of experimentation led me to the assessment that my back brake had given up making any effort at all.  It maybe slowed me a little but I suspect that unless on an uphill it would never in a million years stop me.  A few years ago that sort of behaviour would have me worried and panicing.  Nowadays I just take it in my stride, figure out how to manage a combination of slight slowing from the back along with judicious use of the front brake, and mostly it worked out.

I have, now, however, ordered a new bike.  A cyclocross bike.  It's steel and it has disc brakes.  That'll show 'em I think.

And to close with a phrase used by one of the old wizened skinny dudes in my group.  I know where I am, but not where I'm going.  I kind of like that.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

City's Backsides

I ride and I ride in the words of the master that is Iggy Pop.

I took part in a charitable endeavour.  Actually, I felt a bit of a fraud.  The Sport Relief Manchester Cycle was a 50 mile trundle through the flatlands of the city and out into Cheshire wastes (sorry, should that be plains do you think?).  It was not overly onerous and it felt wrong to ask my nearest and dearest to give me money to do the thing I enjoy doing.  Riding my bike.

I tried to make it seem like a torturous ordeal.  For example, I added mileage by riding 5 miles to the start and 5 miles back again when I'd finished.  I did it wearing a half hearted attempt at a fancy dress costume, but it did involve a shortie cape.  And I did it despite the hideous weather conditions with stinging hail whipping into my face, and visibility so horrid that I did ride with lights on in the middle of the day.  But it still felt like a fraudulent endeavour because I was still simply riding my bike, pretty much like I do every weekend.

Anyway, for charity, as it were, I paid a £35 entry fee and I sponsored myself half the target amount to hide my embarrassment in asking mates to give me money.

In a selfish world, it too added mileage.  I like a bit of mileage.  I've always been a bit of a numbers obsessive since the first ever bike computer I owned which was about £2.99 from a local supermarket. Magnet on the wheel, wire to the handlebars and seemingly a battery which lasted for ever.  I used to get home from every commute and update a spreadsheet; how many miles had I done, what was my average speed, what was my fastest speed, how long had the journey taken.  I like tangible proof of what I'm doing and some kind of motivation to try to get a little bit fitter, to go a little bit faster, all in all, to be better.  Nothing wrong with striving to be better after all.

The numbers obsession gets worse and worse as technology provides more options.  When I first started bike commuting I didn't even own a mobile phone.  Now the phone tells me just what I've done, and shows me the same stretches of road and the speeds achieved day by day by day.  It's an obsessive's dream come true.  Or nightmare come true.

In true form, I have a mileage target and am obsessively planning and monitoring.  40 days, 1200 kilometres to achieve.  It's a Strava thing.  I know that there are 33 days to go of the challenge.  I know we are 17% of the way through the days, and I know that my mileage (kilometreage sounds wrong) is at 17% of the total, and I know it's that way because I planned that it should be so.  It's like providing a squirrel with a pile of acorns and expecting it to just take what it needs, but instead, of course, one by one it removes each acorn from the pile and one by one places these in its own carefully selected storage place.  It can't just leave the pile be.  They are there to be taken.  So are the miles.  The piles of miles.

Still, hopefully it's making me fitter and hopefully it'll make me thinner too.  I live in hope.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Great Expectations

I have the optimism born of being injury free (almost).  I'm genuinely excited about me.  About the things I have ahead of me, about my life, but mostly about me.  It's a nice kind of a feeling; one I seem to remember from times gone by.

I'm excited about all the possibilities life is offering me.  Excited about the multi day mountain bike ride which takes folk down through Wales, excited about the possibilities offered by the Lands End to John O'Groats ride, excited about the Brecon Beacons, ridge walking the black mountains, getting to the top of the Sugar Loaf, something which I simply stared at from a distance as a child.  I'm oddly only mildly excited about the Dolomites this summer, other things seem somehow more immediate and have the added bonus of being things I have discovered I want to do.

I'm excited about moving house at some time this year.  Excited about me in new surroundings, with the possibility of playing house. It reminds me ridiculously of childhood games in the garden with my brother and sister, oddly, a new home will make me feel like I'm playing house again.  The old house, well, it doesn't offer many play possibilities any more.  It's furnished, it's painted and there's every kitchen utensil under the sun in a big fat ceramic pot.  My work here is done.  But a new place, a new place.  Mmmmm.

I'm even excited about the essay I'm writing which has encouraged me to get to grips with twentieth century writing about cities.  Dublin, Harlem, they sound like places of dreams, even more so on reading the stories and the poetry, almost mythological in nature.  If I ever go to either place I shall feel that sense of respectful worship on being given the privilege of being there.

It's exciting, yes?

Monday, 3 March 2014

Show and Tell

I've been doing a bike maintenance course at my local sixth form college.  I'm loving it.  I'm properly impressed too at the college for daring to be different and put this course on.  Ten weeks, two hours a week, every Tuesday night a room full of middle aged folk come together with a shonky basic bike (provided by the college), a bike stand and a small bike tool kit (again both supplied by the college).

The course has given me huge amounts of confidence.  I missed the first week, but fearlessly arrived at the second week hopeful that my late start wouldn't have me standing in the corner with the dunces hat on.  It didn't.  Each week has slightly separate subjects, not all of which rely on prior knowledge from an earlier week. You can, in fact, almost pick and mix.

We have done:

Gear indexing
Bottom Bracket servicing
Head set servicing
Wheel trueing (kind of)
Crank removal
Cassette removal
Spoke replacement
Brake adjustments
Brake cable replacement

There's probably other stuff too which I have simply absorbed.

The fun bit starts now we start to bring our own bikes in for servicing.  We are an eclectic mix of people.  There's the woman trying to learn so she can service her family's fleet of bicycles, we have a triathlete ironman chap, we have a Dawes touring bike man who does thousands of kilometres, we have a woman who routinely travels around Manchester on her fixie, we have two mates whose mountain bikes are mouldering in their respective garages.  We're a nice bunch of folk.

Last week I rode in (all of a mile) on the hardtail MTB to show and tell.  The wheels and pedals were approved of.  Which makes me chuckle, because when you're riding with Annie Last's second hand wheels they really ought to muster a little respect.  Although I never mentioned that.  This week I plan on riding in on the Trek Hybrid.  It's a bit of a contrast from the MTB, but it does have a new back brake and brake cable and a new chain, all carefully fitted by yours truly.   It is an ugly beast, mostly made that way by the aluminium welding of slightly over the top proportions.  I may hit the high point for the last lesson by borrowing the lodger's 1980s vintage steel road bike, complete with downtube frame shifters and internal cabling.  For extra kudos, it is pink.

Let's see if I can win at show and tell.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

In memory

Today I rode in memory of someone I have no memories of because I didn't know him.  Terry Brown was a member of the North Cheshire Clarion cycling club, the club I have belonged to for two years.  I seldom ride with them, life and other activities taking priority, but for me they are more of a convenience.  A Saturday ride of guaranteed distance and duration, with folk who keep a reasonably decent pace, and where someone else, crucially knows the route.  It takes away the need to think about route planning or map following, and I simply get to ride my bike along only gently undulating roads with friendly folk.

It's a club now 300 members strong, after just four years of being. It has a nice feel to it.  Nearly half that number showed up this morning to hold a minute's silence for one of our own.  Oddly his death kind of hit me.  It hit me because I of that "one of our own" sense.  How could somebody do this to someone like me.  And that's also the crux of it.  This is a first for me, well, maybe two firsts.  Firstly, the first first is that on hearing of his death I identified with him.  Up until now it seems that every other death or life threatening injury I've heard about catapults my mind into thinking about their wife, partner, family.  I identify with the bereaved person or the carer because that's mostly where I've been, that's the feelings I understand, and it's also a bit of a support for the underdog. Being a carer in those situations is brutal, simply brutal, and before I'd gone through it, my understanding of the sheer exhausting pain and devastation on an ongoing basis was just so limited.  First hand experience has changed me.  But this time, I identified with the man down.  There but for the grace of god go I every time I commute to work.  The second first was my suspended belief in the "how could this happen to someone like me".  Nearly a decade ago now I stopped thinking "things like this don't happen to people like me".  My brutal world told me to expect things like that to happen, or at least not to be surprised or phased in anyway when things unpleasant and unnecessary happen.  Bad things happen to anyone. It's part of life. Yet here I was, thinking how could this happen to someone like me.  I guess change is blowing through leafy canopy of my brain.

The National Clarion have a motto of "No rider left behind" and they have an almost frighteningly organised system to make sure that they are true to that.  We have various shouts of Tail and Pace to make sure those having a bad day don't get left behind.  You kind of roll with the punches a little bit as to what's going to happen in the grupetto you have elected to join.  Sometimes you all in military precision step on the pedals, and sometimes you dawdle along waiting for the person with the hangover / chest infection / six months off the bike / first time group riding / just not that fast.  And nobody minds if the pace is slightly slower than advertised.

Today I selected my ride leader (we split into groups of 8) based on his physique.  Short, carrying a bit of timber.  He didn't look too fast.  A group of mixed age range and body types, with mine the only female. I like riding with all male groups, I'll be honest, women tend to slow the damn thing down. I avoid girls.  Over the course of the ride, we lost, by agreement, two riders.  The first turned off for home realising it just wasn't happening for him. And the pace increased.  We break formation at hills, and I think me panting past one of the other riders finished him off. We regrouped at the top of the hill, and he managed to get some words, one of which included "bonked" out, and he headed for home.  Then it got interesting.  The war of attrition had reduced 8 to 6.  Who was going to be next, I wondered.  My answer was the bearded dude next to me.   Neither of us were capable of carrying out conversation as the pace started to punish us, but somehow when I saw him slipping behind I managed the yell of "pace" to get our leader to slow down.  It was good, I wasn't the worst, I didn't represent womanhood badly I feel, staying in the group.

Interestingly, and I know I'm harping on, I find it increasingly weird that there's discussion and argument circling around on various cycling websites about how our cycling clubs don't cater for women.  I don't know what other women are looking for from a club.  I really like that my club caters for cyclists.  I don't need anything special; I don't need help with punctures, I don't need a coffee stop, I don't need a wheel to sit on and I don't need to be given a pink option in the club kit.

What is it, I wonder, that women want?

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

New Job

Well, OK, the job's not so new any more, and in some ways of course many people haven't noticed that I do actually have a new job.  A 10m move down the corridor doesn't count for much. I have, however traded up from the wrong sized men's fit adidas clothing into the sleek black of women's rapha kit.  Nice.

One of the odder things about the new job is the occasional ability to work from home but paired up with the occasional need to work from home at 7pm on a Monday night or 7pm on a Sunday from someone else's sofa.  I find it kind of mellow that I have now participated in two evening conference calls with the guinea pig.  There I am, in my dining room, still clad in my Rapha clothing because it's warm and my house is not.  In the corner sits the guinea pig, and throughout the call I can hear her gentle hay munching noises.  Rhythmic, content, the world is a remarkably calm place where guinea pigs can sit in on conference calls.  She hasn't signed a confidentiality agreement but that's fine.

One of the other curious things about the call is that folk are dialling in from all over the world.  Occasionally you find it's wine o'clock for one or other member of staff, and you can picture a mellow sunshiny evening with a solitary glass of red wine to relax after a hard day of whatever it is they actually do in the field.  I get the impression the wine is generally either a rarity or simply a scene setter and not actually real.  But it's a nice thing to believe in. My colleagues.  Relaxed, happy.  Pets, wine, family, rugby teams, cycling teams.  A jumble of life peacefully humming along behind us.

Working hours are a confusion.  When do I start; when do I finish?  It feels like every hour the macbook is switched on is potentially work, it's a 24 hour operation.  Right now, it's twenty to ten in the evening here but it's four hours ahead in Oman and who knows where the rest of my working word are right now.  And tomorrow starts at 8am.  Sunday involved an odd hour.  Monday seemed to finish at 8pm.  I think Friday may be an early finish ...

Friday, 14 February 2014

Gotta Fly

I got stuck in Geneva last night.  Kind of.  Except that Easy Jet found it easier to send me to France for the night. 

One of those times where the only possible behaviour of a non wealthy adult is to stand in line, relax and hand over all responsibility for your own existence to the staff of an economy airline.  From the moment I joined my first queue of the night my destiny wasn't in my hands.  Without money, once you have finally discovered where you're meant to go and how to get there on discovering the flight is cancelled, you queue. 

First you queue for the desk where they are supposed to find you another way to get home.  With a van in Liverpool airport, the place designed to be inaccessible by any form of public transport, and me in Geneva, Easy Jet kindly found me a flight into Birmingham.  Apparently neither Manchester nor Liverpool nor Leeds Bradford being available for me.  Although people behind me in the line I later discovered had those options.  Still, for me, Birmingham it was.

Secondly you queue at the desk where everyone else is queuing for hotels.  After 25 minutes the queue hasn't moved, not one person has managed to leave the front of the line.  So they send a woman round with a list, and she takes down your room requirements. At this point you realise that as a single room requirer you are screwed.  But you wait some more.  After an hour you get to the front of the queue.  A  hotel room has been found for you.  It is in France.  You are sent to wait for a shuttle bus.

Thirdly you queue for a shuttle bus.  You wait there with the dude you have been chatting with in the last queue.  You have become good friends.  The Easy Jet woman comes out and looks at you.  How many of you are there asks the woman who has booked you all into the French hotel.  We may have to get you a taxi she says.  And disappears.  And returns.  The shuttle will be 15 minutes she says.  We queue.

The shuttle arrives, the driver concerned about numbers.  We get in.  We discover it's going to be a 30 minute drive.  I chat to my good friend Michael.  Turns out we have a friend in common.  We are both happy about her new born son.  He offers me use of his phone charger.  I decline.  On arrival at the hotel I have a second sense about queueing and make sure I am first.  I still can't get a shuttle bus at 8am to get me to my flight at the airport.  I missed the queue for that completely.  I'm on a 9am one.  It's going to be interesting.

The following day I arrive once more at Geneva airport.  I look at the queue for check in. I consider crying.  I am hand baggage only, surely it must be easier than this.  I haven't even, for pity's sake had access to pyjamas, toothpaste, clean knickers or deodorant.  I look for any cunning electronic machine to check in.  There are none. In desperation I queue.  I chose the information desk and put to him my "I'm going to miss my flight" dilemma.  He bobs over to the oversize luggage belt and miraculously produces a boarding pass for me.  I take it and head to security.

At security I queue.  20 minutes to get a tray to put my assorted phones in.  I queue once I  have the trays.  Eventually I get through. My gate is already announced, so to make a change from queueing, I walk.  Possibly to France.  I walk, then I sit then the flight opens and I stay sat.  I'm done with queueing now.