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.

Morning Morningitus

There was a certain “MondayMorningitus” about my commute today. Firstly the electronic ticket machine had rejected its’ “pin required” upgrade like an unwanted spleen, and so mirrored the operational state of the uninformative passenger information system.

The rather touchingly simple platform ticket machine showed solidarity with it’s electronic brethren in a “one out, all out” scenario leaving me the solitary option of dealing with a real person. Sadly this endemic malady had crossed the electronic/carbon barrier and the station master (mistress?) was also off on the sick.

Continue reading Morning Morningitus

Cycling Myth#4 – Riding makes you fit

Okay not fit but thin. I’m currently in denial about what could be euphemistically referred to as “organic body armour“.

The mid torso blubber has made itself known through a slight tightness in the trouser and a noticeably enlarged belt hole. Loosening my belt would alleviate both these problems, but this would be an admission that cycling 70+ miles a week does not nullify the consequences of a confectionery based diet.

Continue reading Cycling Myth#4 – Riding makes you fit

Bikes and Beer. A winning combination.

Sometimes stuff all comes together to create the perfect weekend. Not often and rarely does it involve paintbrushes or aged relatives, but this weekend we had a good stuff implosion centred on the Quantock Hills. Firstly proper winter weather – crunchy underwheel, windchills up to minus six and endless muti-toned blue sky. Then add commuting fitness, a great bunch of friends, huge plates of dead animal and, of course, beer. Or in some cases Cider. You know the stuff they make in Somerset – tastes like some unholy union of marmalade and rocket fuel.

When riding in summer, there is an expectation of dry trails, sunny days and cold beer. But I’d forgotten the unconfined joy of finding the same deep in midwinter. In 2006, I’ve already had two great rides (although this has to be offset by one pantless morning) so I’m starting to believe this could be a fantastic year.

You’ll be glad to hear that I’ve decided to let a picture or two paint a thousands words rather than drivel on about how great mountain biking is.

Nigel descending to the tea room

Andy having a collective moment

Gets a bit windy on top!

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