The housebound cyclist’s festive calorie counter

December 23, 2014 at 7:31 pm | Posted in cycling | Leave a comment
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For those of us who like riding up the occasional hill without having to get off and push, Christmas is a scary prospect. All that rich food! All those weird bottles of sticky stuff that Auntie Lil brought back from Kos! All that sitting about watching It’s A Wonderful Sound Of Bridget’s Friends, Actually, Arthur!

At this time of year, fitness magazines like to lecture us on how many miles we need to ride in order to burn off each Miniature Hero, but what can we do if the family have trapped our bikes ENTIRELY by accident behind a teetering mountain of hastily-wrapped Christmas presents? My handy list maps Christmas treats onto a range of festive household activities, so that you can maximise your caloric expenditure while going about your normal holiday business.

  • RHelp! I'm drowning in Quality Street!epeatedly blowing up spare bed that has a slow puncture you can’t locate: 1 medium glass mulled wine
  • Two-minute cold shower ‘cos the boiler’s conked out and nobody can look at it until at least next Tuesday: 1 pig-in-blanket
  • Filling the bath with twenty-five kettles’-worth of water: one spoonful brandy butter
  • Peeling and chopping vegetables for sixteen people while singing along to Phil Spector: 1 turkey thigh
  • Stumbling around the living room with your uncle who says he knows how to jive: 2 roast potatoes
  • Sweeping up broken ornaments elbowed during above-mentioned ‘jive’ session: 1 prawn vol-au-vent
  • Particularly rousing game of Pictionary: 1 small glass brandy
  • Scrabble argument over whether ‘NOPE’ is a word, involving five people, three dictionaries and somebody tweeting at Victoria Coren: 2 dessertspoonfuls gravy
  • Running upstairs to get your reading glasses, then coming down again because you forgot what you went up for, then going upstairs again to get them, then remembering they are on your head: 1 portion bread sauce
  • Turning house upside down looking for things you can cannibalise 6 AAA batteries from, to avert toddler tantrum: 1 glass dessert wine
  • Going through the Hoover bag looking for Luke Skywalker: 3 Brussels sprouts
  • Lifting an eight-year-old into the wheelie bin, demonstrating how he has to jump up and down to crush the rubbish, then calling fire brigade to fish him out again: 3 roast parsnips
  • Hoovering dog hair off the bed that Fenton won’t go on, no, really, he won’t, he’ll just sleep right here in his basket, honest: 2 Quality Street
  • Maintaining cheery demeanour for three days in the face of parental passive-aggression: 16 mince pies and a bottle of Bailey’s

 

Women only

November 12, 2014 at 10:15 pm | Posted in cycling | Leave a comment
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There’s a lot of energy being put into women-only cycling projects at the moment. Don’t like how bike shops fail to cater for women properly? Start a women-only shop! Tired of how the cycling press continues to pretend women don’t exist, never mind ride bikes? Start a women’s cycling magazine! Sick of  cycling anthologies that claim to showcase ‘brilliant writing’, and include one female writer in five issues? Start a women-only anthology!

temple newsam in the trees

The author, doing a bit of women’s cycling

I love the energy and optimism and ‘fuck you’ attitude behind projects like these. But I’ve finally figured out why they make me uncomfortable.

It’s not ‘what about teh menz’. People tweeted at Standard Issue magazine, which is run and written exclusively by women, saying that it was ‘unfair’ not to let men write for it. Men are struggling writers, too! To which my response is, MEN ALREADY HAVE ALL THE STUFF.

It’s not #NotAllMen. Yes, I know, lots of men are lovely and welcoming and inclusive and everything, and lots of men are bemused, feeling they haven’t benefited personally from patriarchy (though that’s a WHOLE other issue, of course). But it’s not about you, this time.

It’s not because plenty of women are happy in male-dominated environments. I feel like this, mostly; chances are, a lot of women who go to bike shops and ride with clubs and read the cycling press already do. But I know plenty of women who aren’t comfortable with this. What about their needs?

And it’s DEFINITELY not because this is some kind of ‘reverse sexism’. This is a thing that doesn’t even exist (but if you feel aggrieved by women’s need for all-female spaces, read this).

It’s because it feels like we’re letting everyone off the hook.

If we make our own bike shops, our own magazines, our own media, the mainstream continues to be run by people who think of men – their experiences, their priorities, their needs, even their bodies – as the default, and women as some kind of exotic mutant version, with less spending power, less influence, and less importance. They aren’t forced to look at themselves, to change their practice, to make their efforts inclusive; instead, we make it really easy for them to say, ‘You don’t belong over here, with the boys. Run along, back to your little club. They’ll sort you out.’

I want to be optimistic. I want to hope that women-only spaces will help women to make the most of cycling, to feel that they are part of the cycling community, and that their issues and interests and skills are represented throughout it. I really want to hope that the presence of women-only spaces will gradually change the mainstream, by becoming a big enough part of it that our needs and our contributions can’t be ignored or sidelined any more. But in the meantime, we have to keep digging away at the mainstream too. Asking questions, being bolshy, being irritating, holding them to account. We can’t let them get away with it.

I launch a men’s cycling range

November 5, 2014 at 9:09 pm | Posted in cycling, marketing | 2 Comments
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Did you realise I had a cycling apparel company? I know! I haven’t had to advertise much. Our core market is women, of course: our range of superbly-cut, technically innovative performance gear in a spectrum of eye-catching, grown-up colours has been flying off the shelves. The revolutionary seaming on our skinsuits has sports scientists rubbing their thighs in wind tunnels up and down the country. Our edgy-but-hardwearing off-road kit is sported by the most fearsome women in the business.

It’s been so crazily successful that we’ve decided to take the plunge. While it’s seen as a risky move, given that the market is so unpredictable and the costs of manufacture are so high, I’m incredibly excited to announce that we’re launching… a men’s range.

We know from market research that men don’t want to stand out. They don’t like competing: it might make them unpopular. Men support and nurture each other. They don’t like getting all sweaty and messing up their beards. Men’s cycling is about friendship, happiness and fun. Our new men’s range reflects all these values.

Our camera chick’s on holiday at the moment, shredding Mongolian trails and sampling the local firewater, so I’ll have to give you the written outline. But I’m sure you can visualise it. This is our promotional video. We’re very proud.

+ + +

UntitledThe sun shines. Three slim, artfully-coiffed twentysomething boys of a variety of ethnicities tumble out of a café, laughing and joshing one another. They wear a coordinated range of impeccably clean urban cyclewear. As they strap on their combat-look ‘it’s more of a hat, really’ helmets and unlock their sparkling city bikes, jolly music plays: the carefree, happy-go-lucky kind with whistling, and ukuleles, or maybe banjos. One boy pops a colourful backpack into his front basket; another puts a small dog in his trailer. They teeter off on traffic-free roads, pointing out things in electrical shop windows to each other. One freewheels delightedly, his Converse-clad feet sticking out adorably to each side. Another tries to do a trackstand; his mates giggle and help him up.

Cut to the same three boys, this time in race-cut performance gear. Their shorts ride up over their unmuscled thighs; their overworked biceps strain the cuffs on their jerseys. Closeups reveal that the jerseys are adorned with swirls of footballs and tiny pint glasses. The shorts feature camouflage flashes. Their drop-handlebar bikes are matt black, with flames painted along the top tube; army green, with stars and stripes; navy blue, with mod targets. They ride unsteadily in single file along an empty country road, elbows locked, helmets loosely buckled, saddles low.

Cut to one of the boys straddling his top tube. He lifts a gleaming bidon to his mouth and drinks from it, his perfect profile silhouetted against the blue sky. Another boy offers him an energy bar; he smiles, breaks a chunk off and nibbles it.

Scouting AheadCut to the boys perching on a wall, their bikes leant up against it. They take selfies, arms around each other. One tries to feed a sheep a sandwich.

Final cut, to two of the boys sitting in a pub garden, in more perfectly-clean cycling gear. The third boy appears with a tray of halves of cider. They clink glasses, throw their heads back with perfect-toothed laughter, and pick at gourmet burgers.

+ + +

There. That shouldn’t scare anyone off, should it?

This post owes a lot to the Bechdel Test, and Elly Blue’s Bike Test. Sarah Connolly also writes very well about similar issues, as does Collyn Ahart.

 

I extend registration vests to the REAL menace on our roads

October 13, 2014 at 11:46 am | Posted in cycling | 4 Comments
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Now that the campaign is well under way to enforce registration vests for cyclists [caution: opens Daily Mail article], I’d like to extend it to another group of irresponsible road users, whose reckless behaviour is responsible for countless accidents that go unreported, simply because they don’t occur in cities.

Some of my best friends are sheep. Living in the countryside, it’s important that we all get along – that we show each other mutual respect.

sheep

Key contributors of ozone-depleting methane gas. Or something

But increasingly, I’m seeing sheep barefacedly refusing to acknowledge that the person who is bigger is always right. Instead of sticking to the nice, safe fields designated for their use – fields built with huge sums of taxpayers’ cash – they insist on dicing with death on the roads. They appear from nowhere out of the fog, very few of them using adequate lights or reflectors. Oblivious to the fact that their grey coats render them all but invisible against Yorkshire skies, they stubbornly refuse to wear the recommended hi-vis clothing.

Moreover, once on the roads, do they stay in single file, allowing motorists to pass carefully and go about their law-abiding business? No, these wool-wankers amble along in packs, their stupid little tails rotating as they trot, while car drivers on important trips to country pubs are held up for hours.

And they’re so insufferably holier-than-thou! Out in the open air, vegetarian diet, plenty of exercise, yes, yes, we know. Yawn.

But the worst thing is they are intent on teaching these terrifying habits to their offspring. Earlier this year I looked up from checking Facebook as I was driving along a rural road, to suddenly see a gaggle of sheep in my path. Some of them were lambs who looked to be nothing more than a few weeks old. And not a single one was wearing a helmet. It’s time these cloven-hoofed crackpots were put in their place.

So, I ask for your support in backing my campaign for sheep registration. In time, this can be extended to other jaywalking, motorist-endangering nuisances like pheasants, squirrels and hedgehogs.tabby cats

 

Ratha! Supper Cross comes to Framley Hall

August 25, 2014 at 7:31 pm | Posted in cycling | Leave a comment
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Cyclocross is one of the most accessible branches of bike racing. Women, men, old and young participate with equal gusto. However, there is one sector of society that is still under-represented in ‘cross: the upper class.

In the interests of inclusivity, I’m promoting a new event. Ratha! Supper Cross provides an opportunity for ‘cross racing in the beautiful setting of Framley Hall. Course highlights include:

Ha-Ha, Heaton Park - geograph.org.uk - 490439

Shoulder your bike for the Ha-ha Challenge

Rose thorns - 01

Don’t fall off in the Rose Garden

Indiancobra.jpg

Bunny-hopping ability will gain you advantages in the Vivarium

Rock garden (6172688208)

Sketchy under-wheel in the Japanese Rock Garden

Inspired by the Glyndebourne model, the race is split into three sections, with intervals allowing participants to make the most of their glorious surroundings.

Ratha! Supper Cross begins at 5pm. After fifteen minutes of racing, there will be a twenty-minute interval. (Interval drinks, from High-5 to tequila, should be ordered in advance, and will be handed up in the last lap.) After a relaxing stroll around the course, participants return for a further half an hour’s racing before the ninety-minute dinner interval, where they are encouraged to change into evening wear in the Portaloos and make their way to one of our Michelin-starred French dining establishments (L’Hut Scouting, La Chippée, or our newest acquisition, Le Café Au Centre De Leisure L’Autre Side Du Ring-Road). Alternatively, riders can set up their picnic tables in the grand Ratha! tradition; please bear in mind that prime spots (the Dense Clump Of Trees, the Only Flat Bit Of Grass) may need to be booked early.

Participants then return for the final fifteen minutes of racing. Podium presentations will take place in the Orangery, for warmth: staff will do their best to remove all the tarantulas, but please watch your step.

Ratha logo

Sneak preview: Strava for singers

July 27, 2014 at 8:46 pm | Posted in cycling, music | Leave a comment
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Singing practice can be a lonely business. Just you, the score and a surprised window cleaner. Why not get social? The newest app in the Strava family lets you upload your training, track your progress and match your efforts against fellow hopeless amateur singers all over the world. Take a look at my latest activity file:

strava singing headerRumours abound of notoriously competitive professional singers downloading the app, so don’t be disheartened if your QoM (Queen of the Mezzos) is mysteriously taken by Paula Murrihy. You’ll just have to train harder to get it back. To the piano!

Bike-based classical music demystifier

July 25, 2014 at 4:17 pm | Posted in cycling, music | Leave a comment
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If you followed me for the cycling content, you might be a bit bemused by my sudden foray into classical music overenthusiasm. Relax! Music is just like biking. It’s all about finding the right event. Use my handy guide to decide which type of musical offering will suit you best.

1. Opera is the audax of the classical world. Characterised by incomprehensible content and sections that are much longer than they look on the map, you’ll need endurance, a comfortable saddle, and a plentiful supply of snacks. Short naps are advisable.

bars1

Act 1, scene 713: Chorus cycles round and round the roundabout seventy-three times in slightly varying orders

2. Groovy contemporary ArtMusic installations: Think of these as cyclocross. Hard work, loud and excitable, you’ll spend more time than usual on your feet, but they’re over quite quickly and someone might hand you up a beer.

3. Recitals. Held in small, intimate venues, recitals are like criteriums: a chance to get up close to your favourites. You might even get an autograph; you should bring a CD for this, as Sagan-style body-part-signing still guarantees ejection from most concert halls. And when the performers surprise you with a ‘spontaneous’ encore, remember to act like you didn’t know it was all worked out in advance.

4. Introduction-to-the-orchestra afternoons, community gamelan projects, Gareth Malone-style choirs, etc.: these are the Go-Rides of classical music. Designed to get people participating who’d otherwise be sitting in the pub, diehards will insist grumpily that they always raced with the Cat 1s and it never did them any harm.

Starting Line

Having an excellent time. Wrong

 

5. Early music conventions: these are Tweed Rides. Everyone goes to enormous lengths to source genuine equipment and use it in an authentic way. This generally means looking impressive, but getting a bit overheated and suffering unexpected chafing.

6. ‘Modern’ programmes, including anything that uses video, audience participation, or the good bits from otherwise dreary works: These are essentially sportives. They’re fun, accessible and popular, so purists will look down their noses at you for not doing things properly. Look on this as an added bonus.

 

I pass some essential legislation

June 23, 2014 at 7:50 pm | Posted in cycling | 4 Comments
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Well. Gosh. I’m… I don’t know what to say. Thank you! Thank you SO MUCH. I haven’t got a speech prepared, of course… Golly. Er… I’d like to thank my agent (Tish, darling, you’re a miracle worker), my fans (I ❤ you all), my social media team (you GUYS!), and my big brother for failing to swap me for a bootleg copy of Donkey Kong all those years ago.

Corona1.jpgAnyway! On to business. Now I’ve been elected King of Everything, I’m looking forward to making a few changes around here. I’m pleased to introduce my very first piece of legislation: the Sunday Driving rules.

Sunday Driving rules

No driving on Sundays*.

.
*Exemptions

Exemptions MAY be granted under certain STRICT conditions. To apply for exemption, please fill in this form and submit it in triplicate four weeks before your intended driving-on-Sunday date.

1. Name …………………………………………………………….
2. Address …………………………………………………………
3. Vehicle registration …………………………………………
4. Fill in and sign the following DECLARATION, to be witnessed by an upstanding member of your local community (Breeze ride leader, bike shop mechanic, cycling blogger, etc.):

I, …………………………………, hereby apply to be allowed to drive on Sunday the …… (day) of …… (month) 2014 ONLY.

I solemnly swear that I will stick to A roads and motorways, venturing only onto smaller roads when the above are not available. (I attach my proposed route and understand that it is subject to official approval.)

I further declare that I have a legitimate, unavoidable reason for driving on this particular Sunday (e.g. piloting an emergency vehicle, participating in a remote cyclocross race, staffing the Rapha coffee van). I understand that the following are NOT considered legitimate reasons, and will result in the immediate rejection of my application:
a. Tootle to a country pub for lunch
b. Trip to the garden centre
c. Taking all those tetra packs to the dump
d. Visiting every supermarket within a twenty mile radius looking for barbecue skewers
e. Going to sodding IKEA
f. The sun’s out, Deirdre! Put the top down and let’s go for a spin!
g. Going The Pretty Way
h. Driving anywhere to go for a walk, fgs

Ducks Crossing at Symonds Yat East - geograph.org.uk - 1029734I also hereby declare that I will smilingly and uncomplainingly cede priority to all non-motorised road users, including (but not restricted to) cyclists, pedestrians, horse riders, mobility scooters, runners, inline skaters, skateboarders, sheep, pheasant, ducks, frogs and wayward footballs.

I am aware that driving in contravention of any of these declarations results in immediate and permanent revocation of my licence, and enters me into a weekly draw to appear on Celebrity Masterchef as an ingredient.

Signed ……………………… (driver)

Signed ……………………… (witness)

 

 

Book review: France En Vélo, by John Walsh and Hannah Reynolds

June 2, 2014 at 10:45 am | Posted in books, cycling | Leave a comment
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Francophilia oozes from this book. Part travelogue, part tour guide, it takes you on an idiosyncratic, 1000-mile journey through the authors’ favourite bits of France, with plenty of historical, cultural and culinary detours along the way. Hannah and John know France very well, and their route is largely off the beaten track; I was tickled to see the stunning yet little-known Gorges de la Nesque included, for example.

You get the feeling it would be a giggle to go on holiday with these two. Their enthusiasm for good riding in gorgeous scenery is matched by a healthy interest in the local tipples and a penchant for serendipitous exploring (the list of Picnic Essentials includes swimming gear, and one of the Useful Phrases is Could you fill my bottle with red wine, please?).

france en veloThe book is beautifully laid out. All the pictures of spectacular vistas, inviting streets and architectural gems will induce hopeless nostalgia in anyone who’s visited France, and send readers who haven’t scurrying off to Tripadvisor. Ideal for dreaming over on wintry evenings, you can practically smell the lavender and taste the Sauternes, and the loving detail gives you a real sense of what you’ll experience when you’re there.

It’s a terrific read, then. But would it work as a holiday guide?

Hannah and John suggest ways of adapting the route to your preferences, including dividing it up into different stages depending on how far you want to travel in a day, or doing parts of the route as short breaks. There’s plenty of practical information about each town, including where to shop, stay and get your bike bits from, and I can see all the tidbits of historical and cultural information really enhancing a holiday.

However, the vivid detail that’s so enchanting in your living room might weigh a little heavy in your pannier. The book includes turn-by-turn route descriptions, which would work in a walking guide, but I’m unsure I’d be hauling it out at every junction to check I was going the right way. For me, a different format would have worked better – perhaps a narrower, slimmer volume with directions that would fit in a back pocket, and an accompanying text with the local colour, for route-planning over pizza in the evenings.

I was expecting fold-out maps, and was a bit surprised to find schematic route plans only. So you’ll need to get hold of a set of Michelin maps (not a bad thing, in itself), and spend some time beforehand translating routes from book to map.

The very specific local recommendations in the book may mean it’ll suffer from Lonely Planet syndrome, whereby you arrive in a town to find none of the places you were hoping to eat/ drink/ stay at exist any more. There’s an accompanying website, which isn’t very developed at present – this would be a great place to post up-to-date recommendations, e.g. from travellers using the book. Ideally, the book would have its own app, so you could check directions and local information while on the move.

All in all, though, this is an inspiring read for anyone dreaming of cycle touring in France. Maybe the best approach is to let it stimulate your imagination, and then do as Hannah and John would do – pack a few maps and your swimming gear, fill your bidons with vin rouge, and see where the Mistral blows you.

  • France En Velo, by John Walsh and Hannah Reynolds. Wild Things Publishing, 2014. Rrp: £16.99

I was kindly provided with a free copy of this book for review by Wild Things Publishing.

The hills are alive with the sound of Kraftwerk

April 27, 2014 at 10:41 pm | Posted in cycling, music | Leave a comment
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Some embrace the technological side of training. Until they’ve uploaded their Garmin file and downloaded their power data, their ride didn’t really happen. For the rest of us, impecunious, ill-equipped yet improvement-hungry, there are more basic measures such as rate of perceived exertion, where you judge which zone you’re in based on your words:panting ratio in conversation.

However, if you mostly cycle unaccompanied, these scales are inadequate: riding along talking to yourself tends to attract unwanted attention. Happily, Top Boffins at the University of Richmond and Ealing (URE) have come up with an alternative for solo bikers, the Richmond Assessment of Vocal Exertion – Objectively Normalised (RAVE-ON). This protocol is easily administered by even the most unscientifically-minded: simply match your level of effort to your ability to sing a set of well-known tunes.

No pictures of Whitney on a bicycle were available. So here’s Kate, instead

Level 0. Whitney Houston – I Will Always Love You

Level 0 is rest. Pumping up your tyres. Shaking up your Science in Sport. Going for fifteen last-minute wees. Full of hope for the joys of the ride ahead, you may wish to sing your bike a love song. This one will do nicely. (Classical fans may substitute Handel’s melancholy ode to kit malfunction, Dove sei, amato bene? (‘O, where are you, other armwarmer?’) if they prefer.)

Marc contemplates how much cooler he’d look leaning up against a bike

 

Level 1. Soft Cell – Say Hello, Wave Goodbye

Level 1 is your warm-up. Long on drama, short on breath control, emulating Marc Almond’s singing is ideal for maintaining a steady pace while perfectly articulating the abject horrors of raising your heart rate, trying to persuade your legs to go round, and resisting the urge to get off and go home at the end of your road.

pic63_80.jpg

 

Level 2. Kraftwerk – Tour De France

At Level 2, you’re properly warmed up. Your breathing settles easily into that familiar HUHH! HAHH! rhythm, yet you can still control the legato phrasing on ‘Sprint finale à l’arrivée’. Make sure your accent remains Audrey Tautou-esque: veering into ‘Allo, ‘Allo territory is a tell-tale sign you’re working too hard.

 

Level 3. The Jam – Eton Rifles

Level 3 is getting harder. The three-to-five-word phrases typical of Paul Weller’s oeuvre are all you should be able to manage as your breathing shortens. Staccato delivery and narrow vocal range also characterise this level, particularly when climbing out of the saddle. On the plus side, spitting and growling are likely to be interpreted by passers-by as simply part of your gritty rendition.

Level 4. Bee Gees – Staying Alive

At level 4, you’re working hard. You can still produce most of the chorus (hah! hah! hah! hah!), though the sustained efforts of the verse should be beyond you. As a bonus, many men find working at the top end of level 4 enables them to achieve the hitherto inaccessible falsetto range.

 

Level 5. James Brown – I Feel Good

At level 5, you won’t be identifying with the themes of this song. Instead, you’ll be laughing hollowly at the idea of ever feeling normal, never mind good, again. In fact, your reproduction of this song will be limited to the initial OWWW! Which is, in itself, probably the best summary of the state you’ll be in.

temple newsam lying on ground

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