Okay I lied.

Three undisputed truths of our time; Tony Blair is the right man to run this country, Foot and Mouth was just a small rural problem and mudguards are a waste of money for London riding. Sorry did I say truths? Of course I meant great big whoppers.

I may also have told a little fib about winter and it’s cold, crisp caress. I DIDN’T MEAN IT WHAT I SAID, COME BACK, ALL IS FORGIVEN.

There’s a certain type of rain that once started fills the sky with tree hugging cloud and grounds the birds. It flies in horizontally riding on a fierce wind switching between rampaging downpour and irritiating drizzle. But it never stops – well not until you’re inside and past caring.

I cared a little riding up the Mall receiving little damp patches on my arse with every wheel revolution. It was either the rain slicked streets and my aforementioned dearth of mudguards or a very persistent dog who’d mistaken me for a sprightly lampost. From the looks of my fellow passengers and the subsequent exclusion zone they afforded my dripping person, it may well have been the hound of urinary hell.

ClammyShorts™ is not the most pleasant way to pass a train journey but I still found myself smiling at the prospect of riding home. I’ve been bottling it lately due to many pre-banked and audited desposits in the excuses bank. Mainly around it being cold and me being nesh. Today I had the long ride home to test out both my mettle and my expensive yet lary waterproof.

Neither were found wanting. I’m sure those leaving one metal cage for another were thinking “great bloody idiot” but not me no, I was thinking “great, bloody tailwind”. Note the insertion of a very significant comma. I sailed home cocooned in all things gortex and idly wondered if this is what’d feel like to be really fit. It wasn’t cold enough to be actually unpleasant nor wet enough to pierce my layers of water plating.

I had to add a mile to the journey as the mp3 shuffler was perfectly attuned to my mood and the rain was going to quit before I was. For the last week or so, the reason for my everyday riding was strangely ethereal and difficult to remember. But now it’s perfectly clear again.

I just love riding a bike. Any bike, any conditions, any reason 🙂

Spring: it’s the new winter.

It’s the talk of the platform; “Oh hasn’t this winter been mild?”, “Hah, what do those weather forecasters know? Nothing properly cold about this winter, now back in 76…”. They rub gloved hands and drone on so I tune out.

Yet through gritted and chattering teeth, it’s incumbent on me to make the non PC case against global warming. Having ridden through the dark and cold of our unloved fourth season, let me set you straight: IT’S BEEN BLOODY FREEZING. I’m sure if you’re entombed in five layers of TopMan’s finest polyester and Christmas thermals, it’s distinctly toasty in the waiting room. This is not actually representative of being “outside” where the incessant cold mischievously plays hide and seek with any unprotected body part.

I’ve been forced to develop a layering system based on the horror depicted by my outside temperature sensor at 6:30am.

5 degrees or above: Assuming no Vietnam flashbacks due to small arms fire on the barn roof (hail or heavy rain), grab any two layers, shorts and go ride.

0-5 degrees. Base Layer, Mid layer, Lined jacket. Buff (that’s the clothing item not some reflection on my fro gut), winter gloves, Porrells, stiff upper lip and heroic bearing. A spot of Shackleton method acting and strike out with ones helmet at a jaunty angle.

Less than 0. Abandon layering system. Wear everything. Consider exchanging bike for sled and husky’s.

That’s centigrade of course. Fahrenheit is for those gullible fools who honestly believe Esperanto will ever catch on.

Once road-borne, thermometers are ditched in favour of the extensive empirical evidence surrounding my freezing body. Although for the first mile, corpse is a more descriptive adjective as only muscle memory and gortex keeps me moving. Frosty hedgerows sport inappropriate spring bloom and icy windscreens dangerously limit visibility for suicidally lazy drivers. That and the occasional inverted Post Office van – wheels up in a ditch – which always reassures me the temperature has yet to creep over the right side of zero.

There is clearly some kind of unofficial race series taking place in the major postal districts of Aylesbury and its’ immediate surrounds. In summer they’re door handling everywhere scattering pedestrians and generally acting in an ambassadorial role for their employers. Come winter, the quest for a personal best lines them up for either awesome van control and peer adulation or an extended spell examining shrubbery from an interesting angle. No wonder stamps are so expensive. It’s almost like sponsoring my own racing driver – Michael Postmaster perhaps. Okay, perhaps not.

Cold is boring. Hot stuff keeps you going; showers, bacon sandwiches, the latest copy of Hustler- that kind of thing. That and the secret knowledge squirreled away in every riders psyche– for every cold and pissy winter commute, there’s a perfect summers’ day waiting only a season away. Call me a seasonal charlatan if you will but it’ll be us creatures of the ice you’re thanking for endless days of sunshine and dusty, dry trails. Pint of lager’ll be fine. Ta.

Okay, okay just occasionally those impossibly blue mornings make it worthwhile; Swallows on the dawn patrol silhouetted perfectly against a climbing sun and random Mandelbrot patterns iced onto spiders webs. And mainlining lungfulls of – what feels like – air on speed which only climatically freezing conditions can produce,

Those days are great. There just aren’t enough of them.

Roll on proper spring with your rain, wind and storms. I’ve about had enough of winter.

Caption competition

Worryingly – for any readers of the blog who have sustained an interest way beyond the mean boredom threshold – there are 10 new entries ready to wibble. It’s getting easier to write stuff but I have this sneaking suspicion that’s because I’m getting lazier in terms of grammer, humour, vaguely contextual metaphors and the use of smilies to replace said, it, me and bollocks.

So in an attempt to buy time to convert drivelling badly informed rant to grammatically correct and appropriately punctuated drivelling rant, here’s a couple of pictures from Spain. Where it snowed. Alot.

Andy “Staying Alive” Hooper

Martyn “The Spade” Buckley

Nigel “Extreme Shaving” Parker

Captions appreciated as humiliation of others is this weeks customer care.

More here. Not terribly interesting but there’s only so much snow, steps and cold, irritated riders you can take pics of.

The Lord Nelson Principle: I’m a road user too.

You have to pity Lord Nelson. 200 Years after teaching Johnny Foreigner the fallacy of messing with the British Empire, his statuesque legacy has been reduced to a repository for pidgin shit.

That’s a timely metaphor for those of us fighting slightly less important battles on the streets of London. It’s a traffic heirachy; pedestrians assume the role of randomly mobile statues being dumped on by us cycling pidgins who – in turn – are hated by everybody else.

It’s important, regardless of social position, to be able to look down on someone else. Battered and broken as we are, we’re enriched by the fact that the multicultural jay walkers have it even worse than us. Yet they know the risks – step off on amber, and if you’re spared crushing by the testosteroned car driving muppet, we’ll sweep up the remains with the malicious insertion of a sharpened bar end.

Maybe we should side with the peds so our combined anger musters an army to march. We can reclaim the streets from those motoring usurpers because our cause is just.

I wish.

Motors rule and what’s worse is that they know it. If not in possession of four wheels* and a sneeringly arrogant mindset, then you’re merely aluminium swarf waiting to happen.

If road usage was a game of stone, scissors and paper, the car wins every time. Cyclists anywhere on the road are just slow moving slaloms and pedestrians on a crossing merely the meek to be intimidated. Like I say motors rule – let me show you what I can do with a heavy right foot and an 5 star safety cage.

We can’t hurt then. And they know that too.

And yet while we’ve losing the war, there is still satisfaction to be gained in the odd battle won. The archpriest of destruction is a little less close to canonisation once you’re wrenched his door open, grabbed him by his fat, greasy collar and pointed out – probably not in a polite way – that if he ever tries that move again, you’ll relocate his teeth onto the plush leather interior.

It’s not a solution but it’s our only option. We resort to guerilla tactics because the rule of the road, and those who are paid to enforce them, just doesn’t apply to anyone who once executed a three point turn without crashing.

Today I stuttered out a staccato rant to the pretend policeman who were busy criminalising those they could catch because the real criminals are beyond the metric of their targets. They didn’t care and after a bit, I didn’t either.

We’re on our own out there; Nelson and his pidgins. It’s up to us slavishly obeying the law to meter out justice in the only way we know how. And that’s to behave like a car, own the centre line, give way to no-one and ride on the hair trigger of instance violence.

It’s not a solution and it probably doesn’t help. But feck me, it feels good.

* I like to think of Motorcyclists as our close brethren albeit with an engine. Except couriers and their car wide top boxes – they’re trained killers. And Scooters, they’re just stupid.

Groundhog day

The shadow of Punxsutawney Phil lies heavily across this late winter’s morning. The trains are still delayed, the coffee machine is still broken and the weather is still on the bloody freezing side of arctic. I’d place a handsome bet that the penguins of that region are grumbling “global warming my furry arse?”

Leaving southern Spain in bright warm sunshine and spring like conditions, my return to the UK woefully failed to deliver any of those much loved climatically encouraging characteristics. However I felt a surge of patriotic pride at the slew of “out of order” signs plastered across assorted vending machines, toilets and amusingly one of the departure gates.

I have returned to damning evidence of some hard partying at my desk. Cables, computers and phones have been flung to the four corners of my workspace, resembling the aftermath of a ground zero event. Clearly my mildly ironic signage proclaiming – the genetically indisputable fact – that “your mother doesn’t live here” has failed to instil any manner of basic housekeeping. I shall be setting mousetraps and other such deterrents for my next trip away.

What with spring showing the bonginess of a partially coiled sponge, this could be sooner rather than later. I’ve been showing remarkable mental strength by successfully stifling the urge to check the Granada weather. Such an action would likely trigger a chain reaction involving booking flights, wasting more non family holiday and – possibly – resulting in impending divorce or death by rolling pin.

But as I was chipping the ice off my windscreen this morning, the cheeky chuntering of that damned groundhog was both clear and clearly irritating.

And the next person extolling the virtues of winter especially in a riding context will be in receipt of a rapid and no nonsense slap across the chops.

The rains in Spain fall mainly on the plain.

They had better bloody not. Ok for the meteorologically challenged I’ve included the entire Sierra Nevada range in that last comment. I have this perfect picture in my head of sun kissed singletrack, warm rides and cold beer. Three out of the four weather sites insist on something different and damper. The other one is hedging it’s bets. I’m going with that one for now.

Still compared to spending another day in this (hopefully) final slap of winter, even warm rain seems almost too good to miss.

I have to pack my bike. This is likely to be a unmitigated disaster spiced up by tape which sticks to everything (cats, children, dinner) except the frame, serious bleeding due to aggressive wielding of the Stanley knife and a “Michelin Man” sized bike that exceeds the volume of the bag by 20% or so. Then I’ll go and fetch the hammer, and then they’ll be an argument and before I know it, I’m taking my hardtail because I’ve beaten the 5-Spot to within an inch of its’ life.

Remember that Fawlty Towers sketch when John Cleese is birching the car: “It’s not like I haven’t warned you is it, you are getting what’s coming to you, etc”. That’s a metaphor ably describing my life at the moment.

We going with these people http://www.ciclomontana.com/ and riding trails like this:

http://www.ciclomontana.com/img/content/welcome_1a.jpg

Cupping my electronic ear, I’m picking up some angst racing down the information super highway. Can’t quite make it out, something like “plucky flooking bar steward”.

Four days riding, beer scheduled to start at breakfast and much fun to be had with like minded friends 🙂

“Oi! You can’t park there”

“I just did” is, in my experience, a proportional response. This holds a special pleasure when directed at some pompous ass who truly believes every Englishman’s home is his castle. It’s almost charity work to disabuse them of the notion that house deeds rarely extend to the public road.

I had a similar experience today. Chiltern Railways “cyclists charter” treats bike carrying in the same vein as murdering your fellow passengers with a blunt axe. Messy and bad for business – especially at peak times. Therefore I had little option but to haul cold, dark butt out of bed at 6am in the morning so as not to suffer the fate of a possible eviction at Amersham.

Wind back a bit here. Why was I doing this? So I could swap

From This

To This

And I hear you ask again Why the hell was I doing this; replacing one mountain bike with another? Long story which inevitably will be blog-food in due course.

As the 6:35 rolled out of Stoke Mandeville, I’d cunningly wedged the bike into the disabled area. The train was almost deserted and short of suffering some potential early bird wheelchair action, I was perfectly positioned for some quality snoozing.

What I’d failed to recognise was a. this is the slow train which stops at every station, siding and seemingly where people stick out an opportunistic hand and b. there is a critical mass of sad buggers travelling that early. Past Amersham, it’s standing room only and lustful glances are being cast at the foldable seats nailed shut by forceful insertion of a mountain bike.

Continue reading “Oi! You can’t park there”

Street Riding

“I’m just off to ride my bike in town”. A phrase so lacking in machismo it hints as ladies clothing in your wardrobe. And yet it’s a precursor to a splinter riding activity that has much to recommend it.

What’s good; It’s close, it’s easy to start and hard to finish, it embeds useful skills for trail riding and it hints at urban rebellion. What’s bad; you feel old and sometimes a little stupid. It’s the clothes you see, cooler friends than me (that’s everybody) pull off the jeans and hoodie “Urban Grungy” look while I’m reduced to sporting a pair of Fox Huck Pants superbly disguised as those polyester trousers you wore at school, clashing horribly with a jey riding jacket. I tried a hoodie once but when even my own kids were almost crippled with laughter, I reassigned it to the cat basket. Accessories include knee and elbow pads, helmets and the smallest bike in your shed.

Continue reading Street Riding

A 1000 miles is a long time in commuting

I kept a diary of my first couple of months commuting, mainly for my wife to read to the kids when the inevitable death by BMW finally happened. Now less scared and more scarred, a veteran of over a thousand miles and sixty instances of playing “the running man” with bicycles, things have changed.

I’m a little fitter, a lot more confident and completely engaged in the battle of good (that’s us riding bikes) and evil (that’s everyone else trying to kill us). I’d only offer the glove of friendship to a fellow non cycling road user if it gave me the opportunity to slap him across the chops. I’m bored of the cold and sick of the dark. If I’d started December 1, not June 1, I wonder if I’d still be doing it. I think probably not.

Still having driven round the M25 this weekend to watch the rugby (more on this later), it’s clear that my right to whinge should be negated by the awfulness of the alternative.

It should be, but it isn’t. I shall whinge on 🙂

Here’s the extract. I culled the rest on the grounds that you’ve suffered enough.