Posts Tagged ‘club cycling’

Cycling Speed

August 1, 2013

I have multiple cycling speeds that I can’t rank ‘better’ and ‘worse’. 10 mph enables me to ride with kids and potter about town. 15 mph feels comfortable for longer rides out in the countryside. 20 mph I’m either going downhill or training. And then there’s 25 mph.

How fast?

25 mph is the speed of performance cycling. Road races typically average around this speed, and time trialling at 25 mph makes you half-decent – that’s something I set out to do this year, to ride 25 miles in under the hour, and 10 miles in under 24 minutes. The other night presented probably this season’s best chance of a sub-24 minute 10 mile ride; a warm, dry and calm evening – perfect conditions, on one of the fastest courses in the country, up and down the A590 near Levens in the south Lakes. My mate Jon also rode, similarly intent on breaking the 24 minute barrier. We make good training partners because we’re about the same level, which creates healthy competition between us and means we push each other to go faster.

Warming up

Time trialling emerged as a clandestine activity at the end of the nineteenth century in response to a ban on road-based bunch-racing. Darkly-dressed riders set off at regular intervals around dawn, to ‘test’ themselves over a secret course. Nowadays it’s almost the opposite – signs are erected around and along the course warning motorists an event is taking place, with riders encouraged to make themselves conspicuous through fitting a powerful rear light to their machine.

It might seem one of cycling’s conservative enclaves – most riders come by car (as a teenager my mates and I would cycle long distances to race, but these days Jon and I are unusual in cycling so far as twenty miles to Levens, and back, to take part) to pedal fast through intensely motorised space, using specific and costly bikes and equipment to enhance performance. Yet there’s politics amidst this personalised search for cycling speed.

Like the more overtly political Critical Mass, road time trialling claims increasingly motorised space for cycling, but instead of collectively claiming urban road space it (alone, I think) maintains cycling’s precarious presence (at one minute intervals) on big, busy and fast roads through the countryside. Only such fast cycling as this has hope of survival here; almost as if technological progress has enabled time trial speeds to keep up with broader accelerations in societal speed.

Perhaps less like Critical Mass, time trialling doesn’t seek to subvert the logic of these speeding corridors of automobility – the draughts produced by big vehicles passing close by help you ride faster! – so much as break the near monopoly which motorised movement imposes on them, by insisting cycling (and play, actually) is possible even here. If that seems a dangerous game, think how cycling’s almost lost its right to these roads – roads hugely important to cycling futures – and how without time trialling they’d become motorways in all but name. (What we really need on roads such as these is high-quality dedicated space for cycling, of whatever speed, along either side.)

Warming up at Levens

I set off one minute after Jon, by which time he’s disappeared into the distance. With five straight miles until the big Meathop roundabout, I concentrate on sustaining maximum power whilst keeping my cadence smooth (the graceful blend of immense effort and relaxed poise, neither of which I have, is what makes a great time triallist.) I know immediately I’m going fast, but more surprisingly, it seems a speed I can sustain.

Riding hard along a road which seems made for speeding cars, trucks, and vans with trailers is a strange experience. I have an abstract awareness of my flimsy and fragile exposure to other vehicles’ bulk and speed, yet my physical effort renders me almost oblivious to the specifics of their presence, unless they get uncomfortably close, in which case I use their proximity to boost my speed, accelerating as they pass; a rare bonus from less courteous driving.

Perched on the front of my saddle, tucked aerodynamically in, I gobble up the road. (I fit aero bars to my road bike ahead of a time trial, enabling a more ‘tucked’, streamlined position.) My fear as I approach the roundabout to return the other way is I’ve had a tail wind out and will hit a head wind back, but the second leg feels harder only because of the effort I’ve so far made. Although I refuse to believe it until my ride is over, it seems increasingly likely I’ll beat my target by a good margin.

Heading home

Jon does too, and we ride home happy, both knowing we’ve ridden 10 miles faster than we’ve ever done before. From a serious cycling perspective our times remain unimpressive (we finish 22nd and 23rd of 44 finishers), but they’ll do for us for now.

(Yes, Jon’s helmet is on backwards; it’s just the kind of thing he does, riding home from a time trial – during which he wears it the right way round.)

Heading home 2

At a personal or cultural level there’s nothing wrong with the search for speed; it’s part of a rich and varied cycling life. But I worry that, although cycling has variable speeds, it seems more generally to be speeding up, just when we need it to be slowing down. Cycling promotion seems often to want to speed cycling up, to make it better fit a fast society; the quicker we can make cycling, the more ‘competitive’ it becomes: inter-modal competitions regularly pit the bicycle against the car to prove cycling’s superiority through urban space; Copenhagen’s ‘Green Wave’ speeds cycling up by giving it priority through junctions; and high-profile British success in cycle sport continues cycling’s acceleration, displaying cycling as something best done fast, not slow. Speed becomes everything.

But making cycling fast makes it less democratic. Cycling is most popular in places where it’s slow, because slow cycling requires less effort. And isn’t life already too fast, and cycling better used to slow it down? A slower life is fairer, greener, and probably more enjoyable. There’s no single cycling speed; all speeds matter if cycling is to play the fullest role in society. But for most people most of the time cycling is best done slowly, and unless we create places where people can ride slowly the British cycling experience will continue to resemble a race amidst speeding traffic – an environment where a few might test themselves but most simply dare not pedal.

Cycling’s Helpers

July 16, 2013

Attending to cycling

It’s tempting to treat events as somehow ‘natural’ – they just happen and we simply show up, to watch or participate. But that’s the easy bit, consumption. What about production? Because events never just happen, they’re made to happen, they’re produced. This includes cycling events – and if you want more cycling you might sooner or later want to get involved. At this time of year cycling events abound even in a small place like Lancaster. There’s something happening (or rather, being made to happen!) most evenings, and at weekends too.

Helping hand

For example, every Thursday from early April until late August Lancaster Cycling Club organises an evening time trial at Salt Ayre cycle track. I participate regularly, and help out occasionally. A gorgeous warm and sunny evening, 68 people rode last week’s event: 15 (mainly younger children) at two miles; 19 (children and adults) at six miles; and 34 (mainly adults) at ten miles. Between them those 68 rides reflect enormous work on the part of the riders, in training beforehand and the race itself. But those 68 rides also require huge work from others.

Signing on

Much of that work takes place elsewhere. Cycling’s unsung heroes, its hidden helpers, are busy all year; meeting, planning and preparing even in the darkest depths of winter. But it’s likely these same people who on a Thursday evening during the racing season are down at the track before the first riders arrive, still there after the last riders have gone, and – when back at home the tidying up and paperwork are finally done – back again next week to do it all again. For its helpers, cycling is often less about riding than about making the riding of others happen. People often say they’re ‘giving something back’ to cycling, but these people don’t just ‘give something back’, they keep cycling going. And their lives are shaped by the help they give cycling.

Pushing off

Much work is out of sight, but on any evening at the track there’s plenty still to do: someone must put signs around the track to let other people (especially dog-walkers) know cycle racing is taking place; the track might need sweeping, dog mess clearing up; there are tables and chairs to get out, and – if it looks like rain – gazebos to erect. At the signing-on desk people help riders register, collect race fees, and issue numbers. At the start line, riders are pushed off at the appropriate time (one minute intervals). Near the finish line someone spots and shouts numbers to the time-keepers, who monitor riders’ progress (each lap is 0.8 miles, so 10 mile riders must complete 12.5 laps) and ensure everyone gets their finishing time. Back on the other side of the track, someone sorts refreshments – drinks and biscuits that keep people hanging around and turn the event into an important social as well as sporting occasion.

Salt Ayre time-keepers

When the racing’s over and the riders gone, everything’s quietly and carefully tidied away again, and cycling’s helpers head home to do the paperwork, process and distribute the results, clean kit, check equipment, and circulate details of the next event.

Lancaster's time-keeping crew

That’s Thursday, time trial night. Tuesday and Wednesday evenings see bunch racing, which requires more helpers – including commissaires, marshals, and gear checkers. Racing also takes place at weekends. Then there are training sessions on Saturday mornings, and other evenings. And this is just what happens in one small place, Salt Ayre. But if there weren’t people prepared to organise all this, it simply wouldn’t happen. And a similar story is of course repeated, with local variation, elsewhere. So thanks to cycling’s helpers everywhere.


It’s easy to become a cycling helper. Besides the key organisers, every event requires a bunch of people simply willing to lend a hand – stand with a flag, note down numbers, make some cakes or pour the tea. ‘Doing a turn’ is a basic ethic of how we ride, and applies off the bike too. Because we’re good at taking turns cycling’s calendar is crowded with events. If we’re able, we willingly do our bit. And this is the way to make a more bike-friendly world – if cycling matters to us, by working together, contributing to events, we can help make it matter more to others. Cycling’s profile and popularity will rise as more people commit to doing this kind of work; it would fall were it not for the countless people who already devote a chunk of their lives to help cycling.

Cycling doesn’t just happen; it’s always being made to happen – by people, people like you and me. There are countless ways to help cycling. The cycling world is full of clubs and associations which, between them, contribute to cycling culture and keep cycling going. I’ve focussed here on cycle sport but we can choose any cycling focus. The point is that nothing ‘just happens’; the Berlin Wall didn’t fall by itself, South African apartheid didn’t end by itself; and a cycling-friendly world will not come about by itself – it will be made by people such as those you see here, people like you and me.

Hard to see

This post is dedicated to Bob Muir, who is on the far right of the above photo – it is he who, more than anyone, makes Thursday nights at Salt Ayre so reliably and so successfully happen. Thank you Bob!

Le Terrier

June 9, 2013

Stop for tea at Slaidburn YHA

Our local sportive enjoyed perfect cycling weather last Sunday – a fine, dry, but not too warm day was forecast, and is exactly what we got. I rode with Derek, my brother-in-law. We were amongst the first riders to set off from Lancaster Brewery, at 7:30. We’d got there in time to register, grab a coffee, and chat to Scott and Jamie from local bike shop, The Edge Cycleworks, who were on hand to help with last-minute mechanical niggles.

Le Terrier start at Lancaster Brewery

We rode the longest of three routes, 105 miles with 3,500 metres of ascent. The climbing starts straight away, with the long pull up Jubilee Tower. From there it’s through the Trough of Bowland to Dunsop Bridge, south along the River Hodder, and over Longridge Fell up Jeffrey Hill and down Birdy Brow.

Starting a long ride early means you break its back before you’re fully awake to the magnitude of your undertaking. There’s still trepidation at what lies ahead but, especially if you pedal within yourself and things go smoothly, also a gradual relaxing into the joys of the ride. Then thirty or forty miles in, if you’re still feeling fresh, success seems more achievable. That’s how I felt, anyway, as we rode through Waddington and started the long climb north over Newton Fell to Slaidburn.

A long day in the saddle sees people, places and events quickly come and go in a steadily accumulating blur, so the ride you’re producing becomes hazy even within the process of producing it: incidents occur but are quickly left behind; conversations come and go; sights, sounds, smells and bodily sensations arise and then dissolve … Everything evaporates as it condenses, leaving ‘just’ the ride. So all you’re doing, really, finally, is riding. This is a big part of cycling’s magic, and why sometimes – not always! – long rides seem less hard work than I’d expect.

Climbing Bowland Knotts

We stopped at Slaidburn, over a third of the ride done, for welcome refreshment. From there the ride’s middle third saw us loop round Bowland’s eastern half. We rode through Gisburn Forest up to Bowland Knotts. The panorama there of Yorkshire’s Three Peaks – Pen-y-ghent, Ingleborough and Whernside – is magnificent, and one which – if you lift your gaze – you continue to enjoy as you hurtle down the next few miles.

At Keasden we turned east towards Settle, and then onto little gated lanes via Wham and Long Gill to Tosside. For all the riding I do, this stretch was new to me.

From Tosside we seemed to spend five miles tumbling south off Bowland only to turn near Holden and work our way back up again, to Slaidburn for a second time. My body was tiring now – neither conversation, nor wonder at the ride, nor even turning of the pedals came so easily as they’d done thus far.

Climbing again!

From Slaidburn we made our second south-north traverse of Bowland, this time over the Cross of Greet and down into Wray.

Joining a group

The last thirteen miles are brutal. We talked little now, just the occasional grunt; you need to turn inward, draw on hidden resources. This gruelling finale is along narrow, rough, steep and gated lanes, little more than farm-tracks really. Riding up Roeburndale from Wray you feel like you’re heading into a place with no other way out, yet there is – one which seems to inflict every crease of Bowland’s north-west corner upon you. At points you’re rendered practically stationary, as though the hills are hitting you – they have a power and motion which by now, 90 miles in your legs, you lack. It’s hard to believe that continuing to turn your pedals, however slowly, you’ll eventually see land drop away and sky once more colonise your horizon – with Lancaster, Morecambe Bay, the Fylde, the Lakes, and the Irish Sea all coming finally into view.

Then you’re almost home.

Into the last, brutal miles

Back where we started, what seemed so long ago, exhausted and content.

Le Terrier is a staggeringly good ride. It’s a stunning introduction to the area for those who’ve not been here. The long course crosses Bowland’s bulk three times (via the Trough, Bowland Knotts, and the Cross of Greet respectively) and goes too round its eastern flank; without going off-road, that’s as comprehensive as you can get. There are no major roads, no traffic lights, just a few villages, and mile after mile of quiet and scenic lanes. And for locals it stitches together into one very satisfying and coherent whole many roads on which you might regularly ride.

Without fear of being biased at all, I can say the event was superbly organised. The route was fantastically well sign-posted, and as if by magic food stops invariably arrived each time I was just beginning to fancy a flapjack! A huge thank you to all who made it happen – I’d name names but fear missing out any of the many involved. (I feel slightly guilty about riding rather than helping with the event, but figure that if some Lancaster CC members at least don’t ride it, word might get round that we’ve devised a route so hard the locals won’t do it!)

But there are two equally splendid shorter rides too; a middle distance of 66 miles, and a shorter one of 47. Sue and Bobby rode the latter, with a posse of other parents and children from our local children’s cycling club, Salt Ayre Cog Set.

Cog Set at the Cross o'Greet

The Cog Set Crew

Bobby’s thoughts on cycling

November 4, 2011

My ten year old son, Bobby, is making a presentation to his school assembly this morning, about his favourite hobby – cycling.

Here’s what he’s planning to say:


My name is Bobby, and bike racing is my hobby.

I learned to ride a bike when I was three years old. Since then I’ve had five bikes, the last two have been racing bikes. That means that they are light, have drop handlebars and thin tyres, to help you go faster.

I go to Salt Ayre Cog Set, my local bike club, on Saturday mornings. There I do training. [show jersey]

On Tuesday nights in the summer I do crits, which is a short kind of bike race. I do 5 miles. In crit racing you don’t get medals for an individual race, you get points for coming 1st 2nd or 3rd  in each race. At the end of the season, which is 8 to 12 races, the points are added up. I came first in the Lancaster crits this year, and got my medal from Bradley Wiggins, who won two golds at the last Olympics. In Britain, for my age group, I am 28th. [show medals]

On Thursday I do Time Trials which is where you go round a track trying to beat your best time, I do 6 miles and 2 miles. My record for 2 miles is 6 minutes and 41 seconds, and for 6 miles its 19 minutes and 37 seconds, which is the same as 18.4 miles per hour.

I also go cycle-touring, which is where you go around different countries cycling from place to place. I’ve done it in France, the Netherlands and Belgium. I like it ’cause you get to camp out each night and you get to go to loads of different places where cars can’t go.

I think cycling is a brilliant sport; you should try it too!

Cycling cultures, cycling politics: riding through the time of the car

August 1, 2011

A few people responded to my recent posts on the concepts of cycling culture/s and cycling politics. One was Dave Barker. After some shorter exchanges, Dave offered to put his thoughts down at greater length. He sent me these a week or so ago, and has kindly agreed to me publishing them here. I want to share them because Dave’s thoughts are so well written, rich and insightful. It’s a long post, but I’m sure many people out there will find it stimulating, and for probably different reasons; the main reason I like it so much is because of Dave’s careful elaboration of how cycling in general, and club cycling in particular, has weathered – by adapting to – the ‘storm of the car’ over the past half-century, and is hopefully emerging now into a new dawn.

For a while I’ve been interested in developing an oral history project around cycling. I’ve done the easy part, in dreaming up a working title – “Cycling lives: riding through the time of the car”; now ‘all’ I’ve got to do is find resources to put some meat on those bones! What I’d like is to hear from people who – like Dave – have ridden more-or-less continuously over the last half-century, to explore and understand with them the changes which cycling in general, and their own cycling in particular, have undergone during the historic phase of mass motorisation: partly to ensure such experiences are captured for the historical record; partly to ensure the historical record appropriately acknowledges and appreciates the roles and significance of cycling from the end of the Second World War into the present day; and partly because proper recognition of the battles which cycling and cyclists have survived in order to be with us still today can inform and perhaps aid the current rehabilitation of cycling.

Whilst I don’t want inappropriately to recruit Dave’s fine writing to this nascent project, I do want to advertise my interest in the reflections and analyses of any one else who may be willing to commit them to words. Cycling – including our own cycling – has not proceeded immune to the car; to the contrary, cycling – or, more appropriately, cyclings (in the plural) – has – have – been shaped (not only constrained, but also – as Dave himself notes in making reference to how cyclists today tend to drive rather than ride out to races – enabled) by the car. By drawing on his own biography, Dave Barker does a superb job of analysing some of these processes, and I can’t thank him enough for allowing me to publish his analysis here.

Whilst this is the first guest blog on Thinking About Cycling, I hope it won’t be the last.

But over to Dave …

What follows aims to be historical/dynamic, but at the same time is unashamedly autobiographical. It also operates on the assumption that cycling cultures and practices have to be seen in relation to other relevant cultures and practices, particularly those of car drivers. The main argument is that our present cycling cultures are the product of the interaction between historical changes and forces over which we have had little or no control and the adaptations we have, collectively, made to cope with these changes and forces.

Looking back, I now see a paradox at the heart of my experience of motorised road travel. On the one hand, as we now know, there were, relatively speaking, ‘no cars on the road’, so journeys ought to have been largely unaffected by the presence of other traffic. On the other hand my recollection of actual journeys (by coach in our case, since we didn’t have a car until my mid-teens) is that overall they were slow, leisurely affairs where rapid (?40 mph) progress on sections of open road were invariably punctuated by erratic movement, long snarl-ups and traffic jams in villages, towns and built up areas; so Birkenhead to London was an all-day (roughly 9 to 6) experience, which, of course, meant that there had to be built-in coffee/tea breaks, lunch stops etc to enable the punters to survive; Birkenhead to Llanfairfechan on the North Wales coast was pretty unpredictable, depending on how ‘bad’ things were in Conway and all the other bottlenecks along the North Wales coast, but I’m pretty certain that, even with an early-ish morning start, we could not expect to arrive until some time in the afternoon (60 miles). I can’t be certain, but I cannot imagine that doing the same journeys by car would have been hugely different. When we did, eventually, get a car, my Dad scarcely ever exceeded 35, and never on principle went over 40; yet I never remember long tailbacks behind us or the kind of furious reaction such driving would provoke today; so I infer that, while he was probably pretty slow by contemporary standards, he was not exceptionally or ‘pathologically’ slow.

So my reconstruction of  motoring culture and practice at that time is that it was the product of widely shared experiences in which a ‘long’ journey (in terms of distance) would now be seen as a short romp; acceptable speeds were, by present standards, very low; how long the journey would take was very much in the lap of the gods (but it would make sense to err on the side of caution and build in allowances for enforced, unscheduled stops/delays and plan additional stops for food and drink, if the experience was to be bearable); and the attitude to things and people that got in your way was that there were so many of them anyway, that it would make no sense to single out one category (e.g. cyclists) for particular blame or criticism; and, of course, most drivers were or had been cyclists.

The Club and cycling culture into which I was socialised from 1958 reflected all this.  Any cyclist worthy of the name would get to know the local (say 30 miles radius) lanes like the back of his hand, because these were where you sampled the real delights of cycling, and this knowledge distinguished you from the lower breeds like motorists who couldn’t read maps and hadn’t a clue where they were or where they were going except by using road signs and main roads. But at the same time you used the main roads: to get to the area where you really wanted to go; to train; to get in big distances; to link up nice sections in the lanes. So Anfield Club runs regularly used the Chester-Whitchurch road, or the main road from the Wirral to Queensferry and into Wales; Seamons Cycling Club runs in the 70s invariably did Altrincham to Whitchurch on A roads via Middlewich and Nantwich. Club 25s turned in the road (A41) between Broxton and Whitchurch on a Saturday afternoon. My first ‘really’ long ride (160 miles) was getting home to Birkenhead from Oxford. All I needed was an Esso map to clarify which A or B road number I needed to follow. Long distance tours (e.g.100 milesa day for four days round Wales at Easter) were not exercises in the finer arts of navigation. Using the main roads was often less pleasant than using the lanes, but the contrast was not such that you felt the need to avoid them, nor did you infer from the behaviour of most users that, as far as they were concerned, you didn’t really belong there.

I started racing (1961) towards the end of the period when: most competitors rode out to the event (often carrying sprint wheels on sprint carriers); racing and club life were closely integrated, so that, for example, a club run would leave from event HQ when everyone had finished; off your local patch, you booked digs on a Saturday night, rode over on Saturday, raced, then back on Sunday (it was accepted that one of the responsibilities of an event secretary was to book accommodation for visiting riders who sent a deposit along with their entry form) (See, for example, the obituary of Johnny Helms, Cycling Weekly’s veteran and much-loved cartoonist). This gradually changed through the 60s: steadily increasing use of cars to get to events with knock-on effects on the rest of this social behaviour.

Commuting by bike was very similar in the use of main roads, in my case into Manchester from the south-west suburbs using either the A56 (main Chester Road) or the A5103 (Princess Parkway).

It has been interesting to me to find that this kind of experience was shared by top riders whose socialisation took place from the early fifties through to the early 80s (see e.g. autobiographies of Vin Denson and Graeme Obree).

(Obviously there was much more to this culture than routes, roads and navigation, but this is what I want to concentrate on here).

It is difficult to pinpoint how and when this changed, since we’re looking at something that was gradual and insidious, but I would say the late 70s and 80s were decisive. By the 90s things were very different.

Although I was aware in a very general and unsystematic way that our collective behaviour was changing, the contrast was brought home to me very starkly in (I think) 1993 when I tried to replicate what I had done in 1965 (Oxford to Birkenhead with an Esso map), this time to get back to Manchester from the Tour de France in Hampshire in two days via Great Malvern (for a variety of reasons I had not done this kind of riding since the 70s). The 1965 experience was wholly positive and, looking back, quite formative in my subsequent cycling career and identity (in this case becoming a ‘proper’ cyclist – particularly a long-distance one – rather as others became marijuana users or jazz musicians [editor’s note – a reference to the work of the US sociologist Howard Becker, who applied the concept of ‘career’ any identity which requires work and commitment to develop]). 1993 was not an experience I would want to repeat and I began to reflect on the ways in which my significant socialisation experiences were quite simply not available to bike-riders following on thirty years later.

The place to start is probably to consider how being a motorist has changed. The advent of the motorway system and upgraded dual carriageways revolutionised the way in which motorists both behaved and thought. Instead of being a major expedition of highly uncertain duration, the journey from the north-west of England (Merseyside or, where I now live, Manchester) to London became a reasonably predictable 2 ¾ to 3 hour drive; Manchester to Anglesey for a recent Club weekend (bike in back of car) was about one and a half hours (about 50 miles more than Birkenhead-Llanfairfechan, several hours less); indeed this has become the typical currency in which car journeys are discussed: ‘Manchester to Dover is four and a half hours’ etc etc

When the motorways were being built, I remember that some cyclists were optimistic about traffic being diverted off the rest of the road system. With a few possible exceptions (A6 in Lancashire and Cumbria, A50 in Cheshire where A road and motorway shadow each other for an appreciable distance), these hopes have not been fulfilled as traffic levels increased and, with them, average and normal speeds, no doubt heavily influenced by the kind of thinking induced/encouraged by motorway driving.

But not every kind of driving/journey has become faster and more predictable; the most obvious exception has been the typical urban commute. It seems to me that Fred Hirsch’s (Social Limits to Growth) concept of positional goods is particularly useful here. A positional good is one which is consumed only in part because of the intrinsic satisfaction it provides; it is also, indeed it is perhaps primarily, consumed because of the advantages the consumer gains over those who don’t/can’t obtain access to that good. The problem (logically unavoidable as well as empirically predictable) is that these advantages fall away and disappear as more and more consumers strive to acquire this advantage – hence there are social limits to growth. So we want a car at least in part because it enables us to travel further and faster than other people. At first this works; but it works progressively less and less well as more and more people get cars until eventually we get urban gridlock.

Another important factor in the way that motorists have come to see themselves and behave has been the political context in which these changes have taken place. Until very recently (and it is debatable how far this has changed) much political discourse treated public transport as a residual service for unsuccessful losers; and it was widely assumed that those who walked or rode bikes did so because they couldn’t afford a car. The interests of motorists were prioritised in the way resources were distributed,  in the philosophy/ideology/practices of  traffic engineers and town-planners and in the legal system; and individualistic approaches to issues with political and social ramifications (like the decisions we make about whether and how to get from A to B) were celebrated as inherently superior to collective ones (although, as so often happens, while the benefits were enjoyed individually, the costs were socialised).

So: cyclists came to be seen more and more as hindrances which get in the way and slow down a journey which ‘everyone knows’ should take x hours or y minutes and which, on this basis, may well have been scheduled to do precisely this. To make matters worse, groups of cyclists out in the countryside are clearly misusing publicly provided and financed space; ‘everyone knows’ that roads are there for the serious business of getting from A to B and here are these groups chatting, laughing and blatantly enjoying themselves, thus using the roads we have paid for as if they were subsidised playgrounds, and this frivolity is what is holding us up and making us late. (No motorist I have met has actually said this, but many do behave as if this is what they think; and to me, one of the most important aspects of our cycling culture is precisely this radical challenge it lays down to accepted norms concerning the proper use of public space). In urban areas, particularly in the rush hour, cyclists became obvious scapegoats with the build-up of frustrations associated with owning a positional good that conferred fewer and fewer advantages. To make matters worse, in many situations cheap bikes deliver the satisfactions the consumer is seeking better than expensive cars.

The response of cyclists/potential cyclists to all this has varied: many have disappeared and many who would have appeared have not done so (how often have we heard some version of ‘I used to be a cyclist, but you wouldn’t get me out on a bike on these roads. It’s far too dangerous’?). The primary adaptive response of most leisure/club cyclists that I know has been to retreat almost completely from the main roads (except in the mountains) and take to the lanes and (more recently) sections of the National Cycle Network (NCN). One big bonus is that navigational skills have improved significantly. I think I am now a better navigator than my dad was, if only because the cost of getting it wrong is so much greater. (I went back to Oxfordshire a few years back, armed as I always am with an Ordnance Survey (OS) map; I behaved as I now always do and used the map to navigate the lanes; it was astonishing (and at first a bit upsetting) to find myself on routes and in places that I had never been on/to and didn’t know existed. How could I have missed such gems? Then I reflected that at 18 to 22 I had been a completely different sort of bike rider doing what was then my thing in an (almost) totally different world. As I said in an earlier post [editor’s note – see Dave’s comments, dated 26th June 2011, to my post ‘A cultural politics of cycling, part 2’], I didn’t choose to live through the era which forced these changes on us, but I am proud of the adaptations we have made to cope with them).

For many urban cyclists similar adaptations have been necessary on the commute as we have cobbled together safer, quieter, less stressful, and often much more ingenious and interesting routes to work and for other journeys round the urban areas. It is particularly gratifying to me that a crucial bit of contraflow on a pavement (where I was stopped by a policeman in the 80s) and a pedestrian-only bridge that many of us also used illegally are both now part ofManchester’s official cycle network. They all learn in the end, even councillors and traffic engineers.

Other adaptations involved collectively choosing to go with the flow. We can’t blame motorists for the fact that virtually no one now rides out to races; racing cyclists have taken full advantage of a road system on which higher speeds and shorter, more predictable journey times are pretty much guaranteed. And just as virtually no one rides out to race, so far fewer club riders go out on all-day club runs. (Johnny Helms racing on a Sunday morning, then going out all day with the Warrington Road Club and typically clocking up 120-150 miles for the day was a product of the 40s and 50s; he had fewer and fewer successors in the 60s; he and his like were probably extinct by the 70s) In my club 85/90% of the (hugely increased number of) riders going out on a Sunday morning are back home between 1 and 2pm. A casual glance at the club feature in Cycling Weekly indicates that this is now the norm.

I said earlier that potential cyclists who would have appeared did not appear. Another ‘crisis’ we had to deal with in the Clubs was the almost complete disappearance of junior recruits in the mid-80s. It seemed almost to be the case that one moment the club room and the club run was heaving with juniors, the next there were none to be seen (I was club chairman at the time and got quite a lot of stick from some senior members who seemed to think that it was us – or me – who were/was doing something wrong. Further scrutiny showed that this was a problem that affected all clubs and many other sports). In our case, however, membership numbers stayed high and even increased as we recruited ‘returners’ and others who have taken up the sport in their 20s and 30s (or later). In the last few years we have been getting juniors as well.

The other most obvious feature of  cycling culture in the last 20 years has been its growing heterogeneity, with the mountain bike explosion, triathlons, orienteering-type events, families on the NCN/Sustrans network, sportives etc etc. One of the problems confronting anyone wanting to analyse it is to get a grip on what is going on (and this is just the sport/leisure side).

Cycle forums, cycle campaigning, the green movement and other forms of activism are also arenas in which bike-riders who maybe 30 years ago would have behaved pretty much as atomised individuals are now starting to act collectively and politically. When I taught Social Policy courses, one of the areas we used to discuss was the way in which politically conscious disability groups began to challenge the view that handicap, disadvantage, exclusion etc are inherently and inevitably part and parcel of having, say, a visual or a mobility impairment; rather it is the environment which the rest of us (the able-bodied) create (on the assumption that everyone is able-bodied like us) that disadvantages and discriminates against those who are, in these respects, not like us. To my embarrassment, it was fully 15/20 years after I had started presenting this kind of analysis, that I began to appreciate that it could be adapted and applied much closer to home. Environments are created to suit the interests of powerful, dominant groups (motorists), ignoring the interests of less powerful, subordinate groups (cyclists and pedestrians). And rather as the disabled were invisible because they had to stay at home, so cyclists and pedestrians became more than invisible; quite simply people stopped cycling and walking. What we are now seeing are early signs of raised consciousness and resistance.

When my mates and I started serious cycling as teenagers, one of our ambitions was to be treated and accepted as proper cyclists, which obviously and necessarily included being thought worthy of a wave and an ‘aye, aye’ when we passed those who were clearly ‘proper cyclists’. Because we wore jeans and started off on relatively grotty bikes we didn’t always pass the test and were often ignored; we found that this was much less likely to happen (in fact it virtually never happened) once we acquired better bikes, a pair of Ossie Dover’s plus-twos and garish diamond-patterned knee-length socks (Ossie was Liverpool’s famous tricycling tailor). And then it was our turn to ignore the plebs (after all we had been through, why should we dispense our favours any more liberally?). I have to confess that I remained an arrogant, elitist, condescending prat right through the 60s, 70s and into the 80s. It is hard now to recall when, how and why I started to change, but I am pretty certain that it was as I started to appreciate that, where cyclists are concerned – unlike Britain in 2010/11 –  we really were ‘all in this together’. Now greeting and chatting with a far greater range of people on bikes is a way of expressing solidarity, camaraderie and shared experiences and interests.

This has been a long-winded way of saying that the cycling culture which I grew up in on Merseyside in the late 50s and 60s has undergone fundamental changes, many of which were forced on us by what might loosely be called the motoring culture; I have argued that we have resisted and adapted; and it may well be that what is emerging is stronger, if only because, in rough and ready Darwinian terms, it now contains far greater variability.

This is basically why I view the possible emergence of mass cycling (and a mass cycling culture, whatever that might look like) with a combination of equanimity and enthusiasm. Enthusiasm because this can only be good for public health, the planet, my grandchildren, urban life, and civility and sociability; equanimity because I cannot readily conceive of ways in which lots more people riding bikes in urban areas can have serious detrimental effects on our various cycling subcultures. I take this view mainly because in places where there is mass cycling, this has happened (as far as I can see) pretty well independently of the kind of leisure/sporting/competitive cycling cultures which exist in those cities/countries. My analogy would be that if we also get mass walking/pedestrianism or whatever we might call it, there is really no reason to believe that this will have much effect on the diverse cultures of rambling clubs, athletics clubs, fell-running clubs, long distance walking clubs etc etc. But I also take this view because, compared with what we have been through since the 50s/60s, coping with the consequences of mass cycling will, in all probability, be a bit of a breeze. In the end it will be up to us, or rather you, how we/you adapt to these (and any other, possibly far more momentous) changes which take place over the next, say, 50 years.

Dave Barker on the Galibier, 2003 (by John Pardoe)

Dave Barker is 68; he was lucky to have a bike-riding Dad who guided him into club cycling on Merseyside when he was 15. He got involved in most aspects of the sport and was an above-average time-triallist (high spot: British Students 100 champion, low spot: personal best of 1.00.02 for a 25!). He commuted by bike to Manchester University (room smelled like a race HQ). Member of the 300,000 miles Club and did London-Edinburgh –London in 2001. Now President of Seamons Cycling Club, Altrincham; involved in cycling campaigning and a volunteer on the Sustrans National Cycle Network. Into jazz and grandchildren when not on a bike.

Youth cycle racing

July 29, 2011

Bob Muir has circulated a set of photos he took at our local cycle track, Salt Ayre, on Tuesday evening. With his permission, I’m putting two of them here. Bradley Wiggins presented the prizes, straight after the final Youth League racing of the year.

This season of youth racing has been made possible through the sterling efforts of people from various local cycling clubs working together as Salt Ayre Cycling Association, with sponsorship from Vanilla Bikes and Leisure Lakes Bikes.

Thank you and well done to all – helpers and riders alike – who have contributed to such a fantastic series of events. There were some very chuffed kids on Tuesday night, and quite right too. But racing at this (indeed any) level is not about winning. (There are some important debates to be had about that, and a requirement to examine the very meaning of ‘winning’, but this is neither the time nor place … ;-))

Suffice to say, all children are welcome at Salt Ayre (half-way between Lancaster and Morecambe), and all are given wonderful encouragement and affirmation, by other kids as well as adults. There’s helpful advice and support aplenty should it be wanted, but not if it’s not. So, assuming and hoping the Youth League runs again next year, it’s well worth giving it a go. Maybe see you there?

Last night my son shook hands with Bradley Wiggins …

June 22, 2011

and how chuffed he was! (My son; I can’t speak for Bradley ….)

Bobby congratulated Bradley on his splendid recent victory in the Critérium du Dauphiné stage race. And Bradley signed Bobby’s Salt Ayre Cog Set racing top, having first sensibly checked that he did really want his autograph scrawled across it.

Bobby was understandably nervous to meet face-to-face, and actually get to speak to, someone he has previously only seen thundering round Manchester’s velodrome, as well as on many more occasions on TV, winning Olympic gold medals, breaking world records, riding time trials, and sometimes clearly suffering alongside the world’s other top riders in the high mountains which are the crowning glory – the pinnacle – of our sport.

So it was good it was Sue, with her much cooler and more sociable personality, rather than I who accompanied Bobby to the track last night. I’d have been useless, but Sue can strike up a conversation with anyone, and usually does. So she chatted easily to Bradley and Ben, and ensured Bobby met a cycling champion.

Bobby has been riding the Tuesday night crits at Salt Ayre, our local cycling track. Last night, Bradley’s son Ben rode in the same youth race as Bobby, whilst his wife Cath rode in the senior’s event. Bradley was there to support his family. How great is that? Fresh from winning a major stage race, and just before heading back to France for the really big one, a cycling star comes down to your local bike track, and mixes with club riders at the sport’s grass-roots.

Very good luck on the Tour Bradley – like people everywhere, many of us in Lancaster are wishing you and the rest of Team Sky well, and will be shouting you on, next month.

Family time trialling

May 23, 2011

The Thursday evening time trial at Salt Ayre is becoming a regular activity for our household this year.We went again last week.

It’s a wonderful occasion – people gradually arrive and assemble on the grass close to the starting line. For those who plan to ride, there’s the pleasant anticipation of giving your all, and perhaps even (on a windless night) beating your own personal best (PB). But this is a sociable place too – it gives us a chance to natter with old friends, as well as gently to intermingle, and gradually perhaps to develop ease and familiarity with a whole new set of friendly faces. (We’re always – with varying degrees of comfort – easing ourselves into and out of identities – and how lovely it is to see young people, especially, developing bike-based identities.) It really is a most agreeable scene.

A lot goes on to make these events happen, of course. They depend on a dedicated band of wonderful volunteers from Salt Ayre Cog Set and Lancaster Cycling Club, who must arrive early to set everything up and await the riders’ arrival.

Some people set up and staff the desk where riders sign in, pay for their ride (£2.50 for adults, £1 for children), and collect their number (all riders now have a small number which is pinned onto the top left shoulder of their jersey, so that it can easily be seen by the team of time-keepers who must keep track of the riders’ progress around the 0.8 mile circuit; riders in the 6 mile and 10 mile time trials also have a larger number, which is pinned onto the back of their jersey).

The time-keeping team establish themselves adjacent to the finish line. The area which they inhabit is cordoned off, to discourage interference. (But it’s great that the finish line is so close to the start line as it means that they nonetheless remain part of, rather than separate from, the happy scene.) The time-keepers’ task is a demanding one, requiring uninterrupted concentration. The team, led by the seemingly indefatigable and definitely indispensable Bob Muir, have honed their craft as these Thursday night events have grown increasingly popular, and their task therefore more complicated.

The pattern which has become established is this – the first riders to race are those doing two miles (two and a half laps); they are followed by those doing six miles (seven and a half laps); and then finally, riders completing a ten-mile time trial (twelve and a half laps). On Thursday there were 60 riders in total. They leave at one minute intervals, so there are always many riders on the track at any time. The time-keepers cannot snooze!

There are other helpers too. To one side is a refreshment table for tea, coffee, squash and biscuits. Some people organise this. And there is always a ‘starter’ – someone to hold you upright on your bike, enabling you to clip fully in before beginning your ride, and ensuring you start at the right time. All starters have their own style, and all riders their own ways of interacting with them. Some starters hold only onto your seat tube; others steady the front as well as the rear of your bike. Some start to rock you gently back and forth as your start time approaches; others hold you steady as a rock until it’s time for you to burst free. Your departure is sometimes accompanied by ‘good luck’, or ‘have a good ride’.

I’m not sure I should admit how I love the fleeting intimacy of this relationship – between you as the rider about to explode off the line and the person tasked with holding you there, keeping you safe and facilitating a smooth transition from stillness into flow.

No doubt we all differ in this, but I am happiest when I feel able to place my left hand on the starter’s right shoulder. By this the already intimate relationship between us becomes unambiguously physical. As a rider I feel that I am thus more obviously seeking support. And I like to think that the bond between us, however it may or may not develop into the future, becomes just that little bit stronger. Besides, I’m a wobbly bike rider at the best of times!

Relationships matter, in cycling as in life. For all its apparent individualism, time-trialling is no different. It would not exist without close and abiding relationships of solidarity and loyalty between specific people. So I’ll say it now in case I forget to say it later – I thank and salute all those who work so hard, week in, week out, to make these (and similar) events happen. They have become a central part of my own family’s life, and they are a central part of the cycling culture which many people are working in many ways to establish and broaden in this part of the world.

The first riders to go are the two-milers. Here’s Flo, who set off at 7:04 (number 4), during her race. Flo is 7. Those riding the two-mile time trial tend to be younger children. Riding smaller bikes, with smaller gears, and using little legs, two miles is enough. Most important is that they’re participating, developing a sense of the capabilities of their bodies, and having fun. During her first few time trials, Flo would ride past us with a look of absolute joy on her face. When we asked her about this, she told us that having people cheering her on made her break out in an involuntary smile. I’m not sure whether or not I’m pleased that she’s since learned to control herself, and take the whole thing more seriously! Last week she was a little disappointed with her time. After getting a PB of 8 minutes and 52 seconds in windy conditions the previous week, she was 18 seconds slower.

One of the many fantastic things about these events is how they’ve become really inclusive. Time trialling might have traditionally been seen as rather an isolated endeavour – one person (most commonly a man) alone on the road, riding against the watch. There’s nothing wrong in this, but Thursday nights feel quite different – many families participate, some with three generations.

Because the event takes place on a purpose-built cycle track, young children who are not allowed to race on the roads can participate. And – thanks in large part to the superb efforts of Salt Ayre Cog Set in introducing children across our district to the thrills of cycling – many are doing so, along with their friends, siblings, parents, grand-parents and other relatives.

Bobby, who’s 9, has this year graduated to the six-mile time trial. In the photo above he’s alongside Ffion, who is in his class at school, before their rides. Salt Ayre Thursday time trials also seem to be becoming a family affair in Ffion’s house. Ffion has been riding six miles whilst her Dad, Andrew, rides the ten. This week Ffion’s brother Rhys, who’s 6, had his first go – and looked like he was having a wild time as he rode 2 miles in an excellent 9 minutes and 21 seconds. Meanwhile Mum, Sandra, had a go at a time trial for the very first time, completing ten miles in a highly respectable 32 minutes and 21 seconds.

Here’s another way in which these events are reaching out and embracing people who might otherwise never have found the pleasures of competitive cycling. They are creating a family friendly atmosphere and a safe, welcoming environment, in which ‘entering into the spirit’ and ‘having a go’ is really all that matters. And because of this, new people are coming to cycling, and breathing fresh life into cycling, including people who perhaps wouldn’t be seen dead in a skin-suit and who might hate the idea of banging up and down a distant dual-carriageway early on a Sunday morning.

Bobby set off at 7:21, and had a great ride, recording 21 minutes and 2 seconds for the six miles, beating his previous personal best by 21 seconds. I’ve been very impressed by how naturally he’s stepped up to the longer distance, so that already he seems to treat racing over six miles rather than two as entirely normal. Here he is having finished, looking suitably pleased with himself.

Sue was our next household member to go, setting off for ten miles at 7:44. I don’t want to hark on about the achievements of our particular family; as I’ve said already, for many of those taking part this event has become a distinctly family affair, and everyone, younger and older, slower and faster, achieves something real and important, and has lots of interesting stories to tell.

But that said, the stories I know best are those closest to me, so what I will say about Sue is how she didn’t ride a time trial until she was past forty, how she barely trains (we go out for occasional rides together, and also as a family, but she doesn’t put in the long hours in the saddle which I am wont to do), how as a child and indeed for most of her life she’d never have considered herself as ‘sporty’ or ‘athletic’. And yet, having easy access to events such as this helps to make her so, both ‘athletic’ and ‘sporty’. In providing an inclusive and safe space a short ride from our home, where anyone can give cycle sport a go, the Salt Ayre Thursday evening time trials are democratising activity, health, fitness, and cycling.

I’m not saying there are no ‘barriers to entry’. To say so would be for anyone naive, but for a sociologist inexcusable. Clearly, all kinds of people for all kinds of reasons will feel uncomfortable in hopping onto a bike and trying to ride it as fast as they’re able around a track, as part of an organised event. But there is very clear evidence from the people who are participating that the Thursday evening time trials are succeeding in significantly lowering those barriers which once existed, and thus enabling a greater range of people to jump over them, onto a bike.

I hope I don’t sound patronising. My point is that occasions such as these should not only be celebrated, but actively supported and encouraged. What value should we – whether as individuals, as families, as communities, or as a society – put on a regular time and place in which different members of a family can come together and take part in the ‘same’ event? An event in which everyone can have a go? The reasons people ride, how they ride, their experiences of riding, and what they’re getting out of riding will probably all be different. But these differences don’t eclipse the undoubted fact that such riding is similarly good for us. In a healthy society such events would be at the centre of every community.

Sue managed a very creditable 31 minutes and 16 seconds, 58 seconds slower than her personal best. (I’m not sure she agrees with me, but I think she should aim to crack ‘evens’, which is to ride 10 miles in under 30 minutes, at an average speed of above 20 mph, this year. On the next calm night I’ve no doubt she’ll either do so, or come very close.)

Over an hour after Flo, I was last of our family to set off. I finished in a time of 25 minutes and 56 seconds. Fastest 10 miler of the night was John Ingham, in 22 minutes and 31 seconds.

I’ll write in more detail about my own experiences of riding time trials at Salt Ayre some other time. The key point for now is that Thursday night cycling at Salt Ayre, and thus potentially everywhere, has become an important and healthy local occasion, and exactly the kind of thing which should be more widely promoted.

In praise of the cafe

February 4, 2011

What would we do were not the countryside dotted with welcoming places of food and drink? For the cyclist, the cafe’s a crucial resource, it enables us to ride, it makes our rides.

The cafe has today become for many people – people who arrive by car – a destination, a place to which they travel in order to go there. This isn’t so for the cyclist, who goes to a cafe in order to go for a ride; for the cyclist the cafe is a resource, not a destination.

And doesn’t that make the cafe so much better! The cafe matters so much more to us.

At this time of year, building the miles and my legs, I wouldn’t make some of the rides I make were it not for the cafe. Yesterday, for example, I set out from Lancaster, over Jubilee Tower and through the Trough of Bowland. At Dunsop Bridge I knew a decision had to be made – either turn right to struggle into the wind to Chipping and then fly north to home, or else a longer, harder route – left with the wind to Slaidburn, up over Bowland Knotts towards Clapham, and finish with a 15 mile push west into the still strengthening wind.

I took the  harder option, thanks to the cafe.

A few months from now, when I hope I’m fitter, stronger and leaner, I’ll not depend on them in quite the same way, though still they’ll have their uses. But for now, the cafe acts as both insurance and hospice. Confidence in making my rides gradually longer and harder comes from knowing there are cafes en route. I might not use them, but should I want to or need to, they’ll be there.

The cafe also breaks up these pre-season rides into more manageable chunks. My mileage dropped dramatically in the tail-end of last year, the snow and ice meaning I did no long rides at all through December. But a couple of weeks ago I learned I’d got a place in this year’s Fred Whitton Challenge. So over the next three months I must teach my body to ride more-or-less non-stop for 112 miles over all the Lakeland passes, the double-whammy of Hardknott and Wrynose Passes coming when I’ll already have 100 hard miles in my legs.

Last week I followed a 78 mile route along which I’d identified four potential cafe stops, at Ingleton (18 miles), Hawes (36 miles), Sedbergh (51 miles) and Kirkby Lonsdale (62 miles). Two months from now I’ll aim to use none of them, but last week I used two; after 36 miles into an icy head-wind I was ready for beans on toast at the Penny Garth Cafe in Hawes, and partly because it’s such a quick and easy stop I sank a mug of tea whilst eating my flapjack outside the caravan-cafe on Devil’s Bridge at Kirkby Lonsdale – both those places have stronger cultural allegiances with motorcycling, but they’re supremely useful and welcoming to the tired and/or hungry cyclist too.

Yesterday I almost rode on at Slaidburn, twenty miles in, but with the climb to Bowland Knotts at 422 metres just ahead, I decided instead to be cautious and replenish myself with a mug of coffee and a couple of slices of toast at the Riverbank Tea Rooms. What joy to sit outside in the sunshine, on 3rd February in the north of England! And what privilege to make such places meaningful to both ourselves and cycling by enrolling them into our rides, into our biographies, into the history of cycling itself.

A few times recently, and again yesterday, I’ve found myself approaching Wray – about 10 miles east of Lancaster – at lunchtime. And I seem to have struck a deal with myself – I stop for a quick lunch (the soup is always quick, and delicious) at Bridge House Farm, so long as afterwards I ride back to Lancaster the harder and longer way, on the north side of the River Lune.

The cafe is a building block in our cycling lives. We use the cafe in different ways at different times. But cyclists don’t just go to the cafe, cyclists have need for the cafe. The cafe is central to the cycling experience, and for that I think it ought to be praised.

Welcome to any CTC members …

December 11, 2009

… who might be checking this blog out for the first time, having read about its existence on Newsnet. Please have a dig around, and I really hope you stumble across something which makes your visit worthwhile, whether it entertains, inspires, informs, enthuses, challenges … or perhaps, infuriates, irritates, disturbs … from my perspective those reactions are pretty good too, as so-called ‘negative reactions’ form an important part of thinking processes, and if this blog is dedicated to one thing more than another, it’s probably to the encouragement of more thinking about cycling, hence the name …

Over the last few weeks I’ve started to post some of my existing writing here, and I’ll be continuing to do that – as time and inclination permits – until I run out! I hope that’s not only for my own benefit, but even if it were, it feels nice to be assembling the work I’ve done around cycling over almost a decade now, in the one ‘place’. I’ve often been good-naturedly accused of being a bit of a luddite, so I’m quite surprised – but also quite pleased and intrigued – to discover that I’m finding something ‘cosy’ about this little space in the blogosphere which I’ve begun to carve out …

But this blog is dedicated much more to my current and continuing thinking than to my past thoughts, although of course I continue to think about and work on those too .. I’ve said it before but it certainly bears repeating … thought is an on-going, never-ending process … and it’s co-operative and collaborative too, so please feel free to chip in, or pick up the baton and run with it … there are many, many better and/or different thinkers than me out there (and even if you don’t consider yourself to be one of them, it’s never too late to start, and having a go is what matters most …)

Also, in case you’re worrying or wondering (although of course I know that you’re probably doing neither ..), this blog definitely isn’t about being clever … I’m not terribly good at doing or being that, and besides, for me the main thing is a love of and for cycling … Cycling is magical, it’s beautiful … for me personally, it’s an enormous part of my world; always has been, in different ways, and (although everything changes, “all that is solid melts into air …” etc) I hope it always will be. And like many other people out there, I want cycling to grow … to contribute to a better world. Both in theory and in practice, cycling has the capacity to transform lives, cities, societies … I think it also has the capacity, though this is less tested, to save human life on this planet, the only one we’ve got …

So I love thinking about cycling, I love investing hope and imagination in cycling, I love following cycling, I love talking about cycling, I love writing about cycling. But if I must have an ‘above all’ (which of course I don’t, but I’ll push myself into having one anyway), I love doing cycling – that is, cycling … it’s all connected, there’s a cycling whole which is impossible to unravel here, but the foundation, I think, is time spent on a bike … without that, this blog most certainly would not exist.

We are extraordinarily lucky to have CTC. We are CTC. We’re one great club. So it’s wonderful that you came by, please have a browse, and do come back occasionally. For me, building and boosting cycling involves two very important but sometimes overlooked things – first, the development of ideas and thinking about cycling; second, the production and development of a diverse and vibrant cycling culture. This is my own very little way of chipping in to the long, good fight …

So my warmth and respect to you all, and in the hope that we become friends ..