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.


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


Your help needed with my highly scientific road racing poll

February 5, 2014 at 11:16 am | Posted in cycling | 2 Comments
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So, after going road race training and having a ball, I’ve entered my first ever road race. It’s in March. 2/3/4 cat women only. Fifty-seven of us so far. (I KNOW. 57!) Traffic-free circuit, mostly flat.

I tweeted about this last night; responses fell into two broadly opposing groups. Please improve the objectivitical scientificness of my research by answering the poll below, which summarises these two viewpoints. If you’d like to add any further points of view/ advice/ tips/ warnings/ jokes, please do, in the comments section. Merci!

Winter cycling decision tree

December 13, 2013 at 4:42 pm | Posted in cycling | 2 Comments
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winter cycling decision tree

‘Cross diary 28: I pump up my tyres and I oil my chain

June 19, 2013 at 2:01 pm | Posted in cycling | 3 Comments
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So, you know me. I’m the one who likes getting muddy, and toiling up slopes with my bike on my shoulder, and falling off on singletrack. I do a bit of running. I ride on the road when I have to, mainly to try and get a bit fitter for ‘cross.

But something weird is happening to me. I’m turning into a ROADIE. I find myself idly browsing forums, looking for views on Look vs. Time pedals. Someone goes past on a Dual and I think, that’s the one with the mudguard eyes. I wonder whether I need different handlebars. I still can’t do anything useful, like adjust my gears, but I nod sagely as the boyf tells me that clunk-down-two-gears-at-once-and-have-to-go-up-a-gear-again is a common Campy problem. I start to refer to Campagnolo as ‘Campy’.

Campagnolo Support Van From 1976

Of course, there’s a simple reason for this. Avid readers will remember me buying a new road bike. A part of me still feels embarrassedly ‘all the gear, no idea’ when I’m getting ready to go out on it. Everyone’s pointing and laughing at the slow chick on the cool bike, right? But this evaporates as soon as I am riding it, because the FUN takes up all of my brain.

Nevertheless, it strikes me I lack skillz. I mostly go out on my own, and the tricks of group riding are mysterious to me. (Until recently, I thought ‘through and off’ was when you wobble up the inside of a line of stationary traffic, then topple over at the lights because all your library books are in one pannier.) So when @sparkieturner volunteers to run some women-only skills sessions at Seedhill athletics track*, I know this has my name on it.

We have all sorts of laughs. Mark sets out the cones and we wobble in between them. (Well, I wobble; Lucy manages to nip in and out of them without knocking over a single one.) I practise. Mark moves the cones nearer to each other. It’s like the Matrix. I am Neo. Suddenly, I start to believe that the back wheel will follow the front one. I do it perfectly, raise both hands from the bars in jubilation, and don’t fall off. No-hands riding, too, then. There is no spoon.

We do partner work, passing each other bottles while going along, or giving each other a friendly push. We learn that elbows-out riding is just like that bit in Dirty Dancing. We try to learn to trackstand, to impress our kids.

josh tall bike trackstand

Most funly, we try to go FAST. I’m scared of this on the road. OK, I’ve been doing my TT-for-one, creaking up to Todmorden and back, trying to break 33 minutes for 10 miles. But I don’t dare go for it properly, as buses have a habit of suddenly appearing in front of me. Indecisive sheep loom out of the fog. Potholes materialise like gateways to Hades. Whizzing round a running track turns out to be the answer. The bike wants to go fast, and now I can let it try, safe in its artificial world, where the only thing holding us back is the indignant screaming of my quads and the howling headwind in the back straight. We do through and off in a little group. I’m so excited I keep forgetting to yell CLEAR! and the person behind has to do it for me. We push the pace up and SPRINT for the line, each lap. I’m right down as far as I can get, chin on the bars, pretending I am Cav (the boyf remarks later, ‘You’re just a 12 year old boy.’) I notice that I can wind the sprint up a bit and catch Lucy for the line, even when she starts ahead of me. This feels so utterly PRO I can hardly breathe for glee.

 Blue Blur Route

There’s a lot to learn. I’m still scared to get on someone’s wheel (though I’m getting used to the slightly unsettling feeling of staring at the bum in front of me). I have no idea how to position myself coming into the sprint, and I push far too big a gear, ‘cos I can’t think about changing up in the middle of it. I STILL can’t get my left foot into the DAMN pedal. But, astonishingly, I’m not terrible at this. And that makes me too happy for words.

* You’ll remember Mark from the terrific cyclocross skills sessions last winter. There are still a couple of weeks to go on the women-only road skills course: Fridays, 7-9pm, Seedhill Athletics Track, Nelson, BB9 7TY. Just show up with your bike. £5 a session.

‘Cross diary 25: I interact with some motorists

April 22, 2013 at 4:11 pm | Posted in cycling | 2 Comments
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One of the great things about a ‘cross bike is a bit of off-road optionality. Don’t like getting squeezed by buses in Mytholmroyd? Simply drop down onto the towpath instead! But nearly everyone rides on the road at some point, and motorists can be downright scary. So here’s a quick straw poll.  You’re riding along, humming a ditty, when a car overtakes you close enough to shave your legs. Do you:

(a)      Shout ‘YO, BUMFACE!’*;

(b)      Shake your fist at them in impotent fury, like a Scooby Doo villain;

(c)      Chase them down so that you can do (a) and (b) right up close;

(d)      Smile and wave happily at them.

 Happy Cyclists

My one-handed riding is still a bit shaky (I once fell off trying to fling a banana skin into a hedge), which more or less rules out (b) as an option. So I’ll admit that I tend towards (a). Like many of us, this has got me into trouble. A driver tried to run me off the road in Camden. I yelled something NSFW at him; he stopped and got out. Big bloke, menacing expression. ‘WHAT d’you call me?’ Oh, dear. Suddenly remembering some advice from (I think) Richard’s Bicycle Book, I sprinted straight at him. He jumped out of the way; I tore off and hid, sobbing and shaking, until I was sure he’d gone.

Shouting at people sometimes has other, unexpected effects. I SCREAMED obscenities at a driver in Kentish Town, only to realise with horror that he was a colleague. Him (amiably): ‘Oh, hello! Did I do something wrong?’ Me (mumbling): ‘Well, you WERE a bit close back there…’

London is a good place to practise (c), of course, because you do actually catch up with people, even if you’re not very fast. At the traffic lights in Highgate, I pulled up next to a woman who’d sideswiped me. I was STEAMING. She rolled the window down, I took an ENORMOUS breath, and she said, ‘I’m EVER so sorry!’ Me: ‘Oh! Er, well…um. OK then.’

two dogs - dalmatians - driving a red car

So none of these work too well for me. Recently, I’ve started trying (d) instead. The effects are quite interesting. Waving cheerily at motorists freaks them RIGHT out. You can see them thinking, ‘Oh, crap. Do I know her?’ (An added advantage is that you can do it in great anger; as long as you’re showing your teeth, they won’t be able to tell.)

A variant of (d) is Trying To Stay Calm. A bus driver passed me with inches to spare the other day. I growled to myself, ‘I’ll HAVE you! There’s a bus stop in a minute!’ But when I caught him, I thought, OK, let’s try this. I knocked on the window and said with a blinding smile**, ‘Do you think you could give cyclists a bit more room?’ We discussed his driving good-naturedly and he said he would try harder. ‘At least you’re not shouting at me!’. We wished each other a nice day and I rode off, slightly bewildered. Smile for the camera

So I’m trying to extend this principle into general road use. When people let me out, I thank them ostentatiously. If they manage to hold back for a few seconds until it is safe to pass me, or overtake by pulling right out into the opposite lane, I wave and grin delightedly. Once, at the bottom of a long hill with parked cars all down one side, I looked up and saw an HGV coming the other way.  Help. I prepared to leap off but the driver saw me, stopped at the top, and waited patiently while I creaked up in bottom gear. I beamed and blew him a kiss; he looked delighted and blew me one back.

Oh, this sounds preachy, doesn’t it. It’s not meant that way. I don’t live in the city any more. I don’t have to deal with multiple, terrifyingly close passes every day, like I used to. It’s not possible to keep your cool if you feel like everyone is trying to kill you. I absolutely believe that less vulnerable road users need to bear the responsibility for looking after the more vulnerable ones, and I’m not trying to shift any of this responsibility onto cyclists. But I often feel helpless as a cyclist, reliant on motorists to be decent and nice, to behave themselves, to think about what it’s like to be me. Pointing out bad behaviour positively, and trying to reward thoughtful behaviour, makes me feel like I’m doing something, however small. If a couple of motorists come away thinking of cyclists as actual people too, maybe it’s worth it.

Lego Penny Farthing

* you may substitute an epithet of your choice, here

** it really IS blinding. Friend A to Friend B, discussing me: ‘I saw @accidentobizaro outside the Co-op. I couldn’t hear what she was saying because I was so mesmerised by her teeth.’

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