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traffic cones [Jun. 7th, 2010|04:09 am]

Admittedly, wearing sunglasses and riding your bike in the darkest hour before dawn is not really the smartest thing to do, particularly when weaving along a road that is further obscured by a canopy of trees, branches heavy with leaves, but I could still make out the white lines that marked the edge of the road and that surely counts for something.

I’ve done worse, tooling down a hill towards White Rock Lake in Dallas before there was even the faintest suggestion of dawn in the eastern sky on the other side of the water. The potholes gave the descent a bit of an edge, but it was when I realized I couldn’t see where the road stopped and the water started that I felt particularly exhilarated.

But yesterday morning, I wasn’t trying to get some kind of cheap thrill, I was just trying to protect my eyes from the thick clouds of mosquitoes I kept encountering. I had a bought pair of clear glasses for such an event, but when I pulled them out of the drawer the lenses had the fractured appearance of a broken windscreen and anyone who has tried to drive home at night with a ruptured deer carcass on the hood of their SUV knows how distracting that can be.

It was almost as distracting as the intermittent thwack of arthropod against sunglass lens as another little life drew to an oh too sudden close. It might even explain why I failed to notice the traffic cone until I rode over it. Before I had had time to react it had been released from its compressed form between front wheel and frame and ejected from the back wheel, primarily from the bump caused by the bike hitting a partially constructed manhole cover.

Fortunately I was holding the handlebars firmly enough that I wasn’t knocked clean off the bike, but was merely sent off course in the direction of a second cone, marking a second manhole cover in a similar state of construction. I avoided that one and easily spotted the third one, even though it wasn’t decorated with accompanying cone. As the sky gradually lightened, I became aware of a line of cones stretching away around the corner as every single manhole cover had received a facelift. One cone per cover and a couple of bricks to catch out the unsuspecting cyclist, that was it, no flashing lights to warn the nocturnal traveler. It probably explained why so many crushed cones and pieces of masonry were littering the road

I’m not clear why there was such a paucity of traffic cones to warn approaching road users, it’s not as if we are living in the China of the 1970s, the time of the Cultural Revolution where teachers were down on the farm, the farmers were in the classroom and, from what I’ve heard from people who lived through it, everyone else in Wuhan was either beating the crap out of each other or keeping their heads down and staying at home.

Back then, there was virtually no contact with the West, traffic cones were no doubt hard to come by and owning one probably meant something. It was the sort of thing that would get you noticed (“I was just over at Mr Hu’s and saw his traffic cone, it’s a lovely thing, red and white with reflecty bits”) or else earn you some time in stir for possessing something that so clearly symbolizes the decadent West.

The traffic police in Wuhan enthusiastically erect flashing signs over major roadways that warn you of the penalties of drunk driving (often featuring a cartoon of a martini glass), the dangers of speeding, and the number of fatalities on a particular stretch of road. They install traffic lights at a junction then turn them off after a month and install a new set 100 yards down the road. They even have nightly shows on TV where they discuss traffic incidences in great detail. In short, they take their traffic very seriously.

It’s clear that nowadays China isn’t short of a few bob, so I fail to understand why they can’t they splash out on a few more traffic cones? Compared to the cost of a couple of police cars (always an imported model) it would surely amount to little more than loose change.

And it’s not as if they are hard to come by, there always seems to be shops next to the police station offering a variety of road safety items. Visibility vests, helmets, tape, signs warning passers by of every imaginable scenario, flashing lights and traffic cones in a range of sizes. I’ve seen more cones in the rollerblade training classes that have become popular for pre-schoolers than were on that road this morning.

I mean, it’s not as if there are hoards of drunk students queuing up to nick them after a night on the town. Chinese students just don’t do that sort of thing, watching movies on the laptop or playing online games is more their idea of a Saturday night well spent. On the rare occasions I have seen a student tanked up, they’ve always played the role of the quiet unsteady drunk, red faced and legless, propped up on either side by a pair of their more sober classmates. On one hand that’s good, but on the other, I can’t help feeling a certain sadness that they will never know the pleasure of parading down the street in the role of Gandalf, traffic cone perched proudly atop their head.
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misty mountains [Jun. 1st, 2010|03:30 pm]

aren't there any other cyclists out there who blog in this group...?

There’s a quite a good hill around the back of Huazhong University in Wuhan. As far as great climbs go, it probably doesn’t even rank in the top 1000, but it’s got character. Like so many Chinese footpaths and roads, there’s none of this prancing about at the bottom, feeling out the slope by gently traversing its face, coyly suggesting “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours”. Chinese climbs suggest more of a “this is what I got, what you going do about it bitch?” as it heads to the top by the shortest possible route.

The entrance to this particular climb is innocuous enough, a pair of gate posts by the road side without any indication about what lays behind. I must have ridden past fifty times thinking there was nothing more than a colorful collection of used noodle cartons and discarded bottles of coke delineating the edge of the forest. I only discovered it when I entered a bike race in the area a couple of years back.

Only thirty or so participants showed up, equally divided between roadies and mountain bikers, and that was whittled down to ten when it came to lining up for the start when all the other mountain bikers and a one third of the roadies remained where they were on the side of the road. After I got blown off the back in the middle of lap three, I rode by myself until one of mountain bikers joined in for the last two of the 6 mile circuits to demonstrate to me how fast he was. Wanker

I’ve never really got into that post road-race back slapping camaraderie. With mountain biking racing at least you can compare notes about some technical aspect of the course or come up with decent sounding excuses: “I was with you until I misjudged that corner and hit a tree, had to stop to take off the front wheel and smack it back into shape and the steering was all fucked up after that.” What can you say after a road race? “I was going quite fast, but then you went a little bit faster”? In any event, I certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable acting as one of the boys/girls if I’d spent the last 2 hours sitting in the shade watching other riders exerting themselves at temperatures approaching 110F.

Anyway, after a bit of a bullshitting, there was some animated discussion amongst the mountain bikers and it was decided we would do a spot of off-road riding to complement all that side-of-the-road sitting. It was a chance for the mountain bikers to redeem themselves and they did themselves proud. When the wanker who had joined me for the closing stages of the race pointed to the hill, the other nine riders promptly sat back down again and waved us off.

That was twice I’d been set up in the course of the morning but although my legs were pretty much gone, I was glad I decided to follow him because if I hadn’t, I never would have discovered the path on my own.

Now I know it’s there, whenever the track is dry enough, I want to ride it. It’s a good work out and you find a strange assortment of types in the woods. To the right and hidden from the entrance, there is a jeep track that leads to a small clearing in a centre of which is a large stone with ancient Chinese characters carved into it. It’s probably only been there a few years but, combined with the steep rocky path snaking off into the woods on the other side it does lend a slightly mystical feel to the place, although the effect is often spoiled by the loudmouthed paint-ball enthusiasts who sometimes gather there at the weekends for a spot of posturing. They always go quiet when I ride past and I suspect some of them to be the same mountain bikers who showed up for the race and came up empty.

But in the summer, in the pre-dawn hours, the place is deserted, silent and often enveloped in mist or pollution. It’s not exactly the lofty peaks of Crouching Tiger- Hidden Dragon country, but you can still envisage a wizened sage standing still as stone, meditating on something suitably profound

In spite of this, I still wasn’t expecting to encounter a wizened sage, standing still as stone, meditating on something suitably profound. One moment I was into a good climbing rhythm looking to the path ahead, the next I suddenly sensed something next to me and turned my head to the right to see a little old lady 12 inches away and staring at something to my left.

I suppose I could have handled it better than screaming “fuck” and bunny-hopping the bike sideways at an angle of about 45 degrees, landing on my back and scrabbling to put as much distance between us, before suddenly twisting around to see what she was staring at.

What really freaked me out was my flurry of graceless activity was countered by her absolute stillness; she didn’t move, she didn’t even appear to notice I was there and she didn’t appear to be staring at anything, or at least at nothing that I could see.

Later on, I began to wonder whether I was the one who had been seeing things that weren’t there, lack of oxygen and all that, but when I went back two days later she was there again. She was wearing a coat this time, so she had been home for a cuppa since our last encounter. She had also adopted a different stance, but still had that aspect to her countenance that she was seeing something on a different spiritual plane, presumably one without mountain bikers hurling foul mouthed abuse into the morning air. I mean, this isn’t Bognor Regis.
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Pedals [May. 28th, 2010|10:06 am]

The left pedal fell off my bicycle last night. I mean it really fell off. The axle didn't snap, the ball bearings weren't suddenly ejected at right angles to my direction of motion, nor did it suddenly collapse into a deformed and twisted representation of what a pedal should be. I noticed it had suddenly gone all wobbly on me so I stopped to give it a bit of a wiggle and it came off in my hand.

I wouldn't have minded except that I had purchased the pedal not one day previously. I haven't come to expect much from a Chinese pedal, but even in my book, a sub 24 hour life span is pushing it.

I'm not sure how the bloke at the shop managed to put it on in the first place. I'm guessing he used a shim that must have been made out of a bit of a metal coat hanger, because there was no way the thread on the tiny little axle was going to make a snug fit with the gaping hole in the crank.

And as always seems to happen, the bike was rendered un-rideable (non-rideable? irrideable? anti-rideable?) 100 yards from home and the bike shop was next to where I work about 20mins away by bike. Nevertheless, I found the pedal could be persuaded to stay in the hole at a somewhat strange angle if I always applied pressure, and so the next morning I limped in at a rather sedate pace like a WWII bomber heading for home with one engine shot to pieces

I found myself reflecting on how the pedals are probably the most important part of the bike. You can ride a bike without brakes, I demonstrate this every day of the week. You can get by without a saddle, you can even use the bike without a chain and coast along faster than you can walk, but you can't ride a bike without both pedals. They also lend the machine its whole left-right symmetry. I know the chain and gears prevent the perfect balance, but a bicycle one pedal shy of a pair just looks plain wrong.

St Paul couldn't have said better when, it in his first letter to the Corinthians (I think), he stated “let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband”

replace “man” with “left pedal”, and “wife” with “right pedal” and it sums things up nicely.

Of course, that substitution doesn't work in every passage in the bible.

Ezekiel 16:32: “You adulterous wife! You prefer strangers to your own husband! Every prostitute receives a fee, but you give gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from everywhere for your illicit favors. So in your prostitution you are the opposite of others; no one runs after you for your favors. You are the very opposite, for you give payment and none is given to you.”

But it got me thinking. There could be a market opportunity here. At first I thought I probably shouldn't go there out of respect for my more spiritual acquaintances back in Texas, but a quick search on Amazon revealed that several people had got there before me. Okay, it wasn't quite along my lines of 'miracle of the bicycle pump', 'St Paul getting a puncture on the road to Damascus' or 'The Confessions of St Augustine Landis' but there certainly seems to be plenty of people willing to throw something together and cash-in in the name of the Lord. Basketball, Baseball & Golf seem to be already covered in the form of spiritual reflections for the avid golfer and so on e.g.

But no one seems to have thought about the accursed cyclists. I blame all the doping scandals for that. But apparently there is at least one cyclist out there who would have us believe he is waiting to be saved. No doubt a book is already being drafted “Positively True: The Real Story of How I Lost the Tour de France”
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Dawn [May. 13th, 2010|08:14 am]

“Tis now the witching time of night,
When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out
Contagion to this world: now could I drink hot blood,
And do such bitter business, as the day
Would quake to look on.”

Couldn’t have put it better meself. These days, replace ‘churchyards’ with ‘public houses’ and it still sums up things quite nicely. Even if you aren’t looking for it, you certainly get to see some weird stuff in the wee hours.

But the hours before dawn offer equal entertainment; these early risers can have an unhealthy amount of enthusiasm and can be unbearable to be around first thing, or so I’ve been told. This morning I carried my bike across the lounge on tippytoes and was out before the sun had peeked over the horizon. A perfectly executed stealth manoeuvre an assassin would have been proud of if I hadn’t tripped over the threshold and dropped the bike halfway down the first flight of stairs. But hey, it was dark, and I bet even ninjas sometimes stub their toes on an unmarked coffee table.

Anyway, it was empty roads for the first 30 minutes or so and I was around the lake and off on a side road before the first overloaded truck could force me into the undergrowth.

Even the route through the market on the far side of the lake was deserted at that hour. Most of the vendors were just showing up with their goods, their mode of transport determined by the quantity of produce. A rusty bicycle was sufficient for those carrying a basketful of home grown veg. The more established were rattling up on their three wheeled trucks, the bed filled with a pyramid of water melons, or the fruit that I still haven’t figured out the English name for. It’s called youzi in Chinese and looks like a mutant grapefruit and has the texture of carpet.

After I’m through the market, I have to turn on to a large road that takes me back to the city. The road used to be a small country lane but was targeted for development shortly after I arrived in the city. A high speed rail link to Guangzhou is on one side, and an elevated highway is being thrown up on the other. The road I use is still under construction in places, so there is another makeshift market that is setup on the one side of the highway that is sort of closed. I say sort of because there are still dump trucks loaded with rubble passing through but at least they demonstrate some awareness for the pedestrians and exercise a little caution

Which is more than could be said for the bloke on the electric bicycle that came hurtling past on my left. Even when I used to race, I had some awareness of when I was hitting the limit in terms of how quickly I could react to the next obstacle. Beyond this point you do not pass and all that. I was riding on a tricked out bike with suspension and good brakes. This chump was riding an electric bicycle piled high with a variety of bags of fruit and veg.

Thanks to the dump trucks, on the other side of the market, the road deteriorates into a series of disconnected chunks of concrete. I was able to catch up with this guy to take a closer look. He had the demeanour of a man detached from reality. He never looked to the side, even when I was alongside, or checked what was behind, he just kept going with the throttle wide open. What really got me was he had a dead chicken in his front basket with the head hanging over the edge and lolling from side to side as he hit each bump. I couldn’t decide whether he had just nicked it and was making a hasty exit, or he was carrying it around just for effect in the same way some people have a ‘born to be bad’ sticker on the back of a poxy little two door hatchback. I let him go when he hit 26 mph on a slight uphill.

A few miles further on and I was back on the lake and passing the park in which I used to ride my bike, but which is now out of bounds to cyclists. I glanced over wistfully at the entrance and spotted two riders on flashy looking bikes and kitted out in the gear of serious bikers. I turned around and went over to find out what was happening.

When I got there I saw it was a man and woman, probably husband and wife, and the guy was in a fully fledged shouting match with a little guy who was clearly the guard and who was trying to stop them entering the park.

There are still many bikes in China, but not as many as there used to be. Cycling is either for poor people, or for the idle rich (and foreigners, which might be the same thing). I was worried that my antics of high speed descents down the hills inside the park might have lead to the ban on bicycles, but listening to Mr Rich Guy on I realized the problem might lay elsewhere

“You can’t go in” said the guard
“Fuck off” said the rich guy
“The park is closed to bicycles, you aren’t allowed in unless you work there”
“Look you bastard, I’m from Hong Kong. Fuck off”
And then he started shoving the guard until his wife intervened. Then the two of them rode off into the park, ignoring the further protestations of the guard, aside from a parting ‘fuck off”

The guard finally noticed me and turned to look at me
“er, so the park is closed to cyclists then?” I offered weakly
Surprisingly, he wasn’t that he was embarrassed that I had witnessed Mr Rich Guy speaking to him like that, but that a foreigner had witnessed a Chinese guy being such a complete arsehole and he began apologizing for Mr Fuckwit’s behaviour.

But he still didn’t let me go inside the park.
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My Bicycle My Life [Mar. 31st, 2010|04:17 pm]

I never would have thought it possible, but I think I could write a book about my bicycle. It wouldn’t be one of those naff Thomas the Tank Engine books, after all, how could you write a story about a bicycle. “Boris the Bicycle pulled up to the kerb and toppled over...” can’t really go anywhere with that. I was thinking more about a catalogue of failures and repairs that I have experienced since I walked up to the bicycle emporium and handed over the princely sum of 8 quid for my steed. Tall enough for someone of my gait, but still low enough I can get my feet on the ground in a hurry. It was a match made in heaven.

I think I suffered my first mechanical failure within a week when the pedal snapped off. This has happened with such recurring regularity that I tend to consider such events as normal wear and tear. It’s the parts you see, the problem isn’t that they don’t make them like they used to, but rather that they still do; any industry that is set up to be a monopoly and then overseen by the government is not generally noted for its attention to quality.

Until I stumbled up the bike shop I currently use I was relying on the handiwork of a geezer who thought everything could be solved by a spot of welding. Why screw something on if you can weld it? I suspect he would take a similar approach to pretty much anything; kids playing up? Weld them inside the bedroom. World hunger? Have a drop of molten metal to take the edge of your appetite.

Recently though, I was beginning to think that the bike might finally be reaching the end of the road. It had got to a point where the chain was spending less time on the chainring and more time dragging along the rain soaked and crap covered road. I began eyeing up slinky new numbers at the bike shop around the corner, the official vendor of Flying Pigeon bicycles. For 30 quid I could have a shiny new number with plastic bubble wrap still taped around the frame.

Two weeks back I was riding home so I could pick up a taxi to head to the airport for a flight to Hong Kong and ultimately on to the UK. The chain had already dropped off three times when suddenly the back wheel locked and the bike slewed across the wet road and into the path of passing traffic (this is one of the reasons I keep the saddle so low, the bike goes down but you are left standing – albeit sometimes in the path of an high speed dump truck) This time I was fortunate enough not to find myself looking at the radiator of a overloaded car transporter or a humpity bumpity army truck and lifted the bike to the side of the road for an inspection. The chain had been mysteriously sucked up into the box surrounding the whole chainring and rearcog assembly and it was clear it wasn’t coming out in a hurry. I rapidly decided i couldn't be arsed and freewheeled the bike home, dumped it under the stairwell at my apartment and headed to the airport

11,200 miles (200 of which were back and forth across the Southdowns on my mountain bike), and several pork pies and cheese and pickle sandwiches later I was back in Wuhan viewing the dusty heap of rust I had come to call a bike. It never fails to surprise me how quickly dirt accumulates in this city, it looked like my bike could have been parked under the stairs since the early Song dynasty.

Despite the jetlag and pouring rain I decided to take my bike to a shop where they wouldn’t view a few hard wallops with a sledgehammer to be a solution, or would weld the chain to the chainring in a moment of inspiration. I had to freewheel it the whole way, with my right foot on the pedal and the left foot propelling me along. Not the most effective way to travel, but what surprised me was I was still overtaking some cyclists who were in possession of a bike with functioning pedals and drivetrain, although I hesitate to pass comment on the state of the brakes.

“I cannae fix it mon” said the bloke at the bike shop who, while not a Geordie, possessed an Mandarin accent which was surely the equivalent. “Of course ye ken” I replied in a poor approximation of the local dialect “have at it mon” I instructed, throwing in a “hawaeyelads” for good measure.

Thirty minutes later, while I had a totally unintelligible exchange with the bloke cutting sheet metal in the shop next door which wasn't helped by him using the power saw while he was talking, the bike was fixed. I paid up, thanked the guyand rode off down the road. The chain fell off before I got to the corner. I pushed the bike back to the shop.

We finally figured out that the rear axle had worked its way loose, ejecting several of the bearings. This had caused the back wheel to move forward in the frame and, since the crankset was moving left to right with similar gay abandon, this was causing the chain to drop off on every pedal stroke. By tightening down the rear axle so the wheel was barely rotating, moving the wheel back in the frame and locking down the nut with a hammer, the chain was so tight the crankset couldn’t wobble. All the parts were locked together in perfect harmony and under excessive strain every turn of the pedals. At some point in the future I am expecting the chain toshatter, showering pedestrians and small animals with small metal fragments. It’s the sort of insighful China story you might read about in the Daily Telegraph.

The guy in the bike shop seemed quite pleased by the results of our combined efforts. Job well done and all that. He sent me off with a “there you go mon” and watched me ride off down the road until the groans and strains from unlubed metal against metal was out of earshot.

This morning the single bolt holding the basket in place sheared, dropping it under the front wheel.
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Renting Bicycles [Feb. 16th, 2010|04:40 pm]

If there’s one thing worse than renting a car, it has to be renting a bike. Part of the problem is that in most developed countries anyone who rides a bike is considered to be a bit of a sad bastard. Exceptions include the Nederlands where it’s so flat it starts to make you a bit funny in the head, and Switzerland. Need I say more?

If you rent a car you have to have a valid driver’s license, insurance and a credit card so should you happen to roll the car six times and end up hanging upside down from your seatbelt in the middle of the Nevada desert all because you were trying to find an radio station that played anything but Country Western while tooling along close to 100mph it doesn’t matter. You can even go one better and purchase one of those full damage waivers. The only time I tried that was when I rented a car in Johannesburg and drove it up to the Zimbabwe border. It proved to be of little use when I was pulled over at gunpoint by the army as a suspected carjacker and when I almost ran over a policeman who I suspected to be a carjacker, but when I returned the car at the airport and the Hertz guy began to inspect a long dark scratch the length of the front wing I merely said “, I think I hit a hog” and when the front light cluster came away in his hand I added “and maybe a fence” I filled out a form and 10 minutes later I was heading towards departures.

But no one in their right mind is going to provide a credit card for a bicycle rental, let alone some form of identification. The most anyone is prepared to part with is a deposit to cover the approximate cost of the bike. No wonder then that the quality of the bike is dubious at best. On that same trip in Africa three of us rented mountain bikes from a small town in the Transvaal region and headed off for a 40 mile loop that took in several winding climbs up into the surrounding mountains. Ten miles from home my back tyre blew out on a rocky descent causing severe back wheel slidies at speed, but I think the real damage was caused by riding it in on the rim. The look on the shop owner’s face made me feel bad enough to offer pay for the shredded tyre, but not so guilty as to wait around to discover how badly I’d fucked up the rim.

In Hong Kong it isn’t so much the quality rather than the size of the bike that is the problem. The first time I was there I tried renting a bike and was offered a pink number that looked like it had been stolen from a small child when she was playing with her Barbie dolls. When I pointed out the size issue the shop owner kindly raised the seat by a couple of inches and I spend a happy 30 minutes wobbling along the harbour front at Hong Ham.

Suffice to say, I wasn’t expecting much when I stopped by a bicycle rental shop in LiJiang last week. I was resigned to something that would be too small, and weigh at least twice as much as any normal bike. I wasn’t disappointed, although I have to admit I was impressed by the range of happy colours.

I settled for a mountain bike manufactured by the catchy sounding “Bike Sport” company and handed over 100 yuan for a deposit. It even had gears and suspension forks, although when I hit the first bump they compressed and never came back again. Some of the gears even worked when you fiddled with the lever for the rear derailleur, although nothing happened with the one at the front.

Another problem was we were following directions from someone who we later found out had never tried riding around the old town, let alone to the far off destination she had suggested we visit. Thus, when she said “不远” what she really meant was “I have no idea where it is or how long it will take to reach by bicycle”.

The third problem was the projection used by the map we were referencing. Cartographers have long been aware of the problems associated with trying to represent a globe, which is three dimensional, on a two dimensional surface. There are a variety of projections, Mercator or Molleweide to name but two, that try to address such issues, each with their associated limitations. The town map that was our guide for the journey used none of the popular projections. The fact it was set out more like a pirate map suggested that it designed more for a sense of fun that accuracy and, as we overshot the first turning by two miles, I began to realize that it was using what could best be described as a roadkill projection. In the same way a flattened opossum can have limbs splayed out into a range of sizes, with the intestines sometimes reaching out across the greater part of the road, so our map had randomly assigned distances between successive crossroads.

We overshot the first junction because we thought it was equivalent to the width of the town whereas it was really 100 yards. The next two junctions, represented by similar distances on the map, turned out to be a mile apart each and the distance to the all important left turn which was an inch on the map was, oh, 10 miles away. We rode at least twice that because we couldn’t believe anyone could draw a map that would represent distances in such a random manner and began inspecting every small road that headed off into the wilderness.

In the course of our search the bottom half of my front derailleur snapped off and I finally realized why I couldn’t change gear. As I started to stand on the pedals as the road headed up to the mountains the handlebars came loose. Fortunately I had brought some tools with me in case such an event should occur. By the time we reached our destination the sun had sunk behind the mountains and the temperature was beginning to drop. Fifteen minutes later we decided we need to head back to the town while we could still see where we were going. I manually lifted the chain into the big ring and we put down the hammer. My girlfriend’s bike was single gear so I ended up pushing her along to keep up the pace.

On the way back half of the left hand pedal snapped off, but by the time we got back it was so dark the shop assistant could barely see the bike, let alone the abbreviated state of front derailleur. She was in such a hurry to close up that she handed me back the deposit and then tried to give me an additional 15 yuan for renting the bike.

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Geraint Thomas: The Welsh Wingman [Jan. 31st, 2010|09:47 pm]

I landed an interview with World and Olympic cycling champion Geraint Thomas at the start of his racing season for the new British super-team, Team Sky.

In it he reveals his chances of one day wearing the Yellow Jersey; what it’s like serving as a super-tough domestique; and gives his frank views on what should happen to drugs cheats.

Read the interview for current affairs website, WalesHome, here.

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Drink cycling - are you guilty? [Jan. 30th, 2010|11:12 am]
My column in today's Saturday Magazine takes a look at drink cycling and the way many of us take a softer approach to pedalling under the influence.

Should we be looked down on - and punished - in the same way drink drivers are?

Read it here and, if you feel moved to, leave a comment at the bottom.  
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Alastair Campbell backs cycle safety campaign [Jan. 27th, 2010|05:43 pm]
Downing Street spin king turned blogger and cyclist has thrown his weight behind a campaign to cut deaths caused by heavy goods vehicles. Last year, 13 cyclists were killed on London roads. Nine died after colliding with lorries. Of those people, eight were women.

Campbell called on the government to act fast after Labour MP Gwyn Prosser tabled an Early Day Motion. “Politicians of all parties are rightly encouraging people to use bikes more,” Campbell said. “There are good environmental and health reasons for that. But… there has to be greater focus on the safety of cyclists”.

Read more...Collapse )
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Cycling Proficiency Tests [Jan. 21st, 2010|08:19 am]

Everyone is ready to point out the problems with living in China, restrictions on what you can say, pollution, too many cars, eating rice everyday. All of these are reasonable points. I would counteract, however, by saying that at least over here we don't make our kids take a bicycle proficiency test.

I got to thinking about this after reading an article in the Guardian lamenting how few children get on their bikes these days. Accompanying the story was a photo of some kids participating in their bicycle proficiency test. A serious looking woman was leading the way, perched on a bike with a saddle so low it looked like her knees would be hitting the handlebars on the up stroke. She was wearing a helmet and a high visibiltiy vest. Presumably she had gone through one of those screening processes to ensure she wasn't a war criminal or had ever threatened a budgerigar(Melopsittacus undulatus to you mate). The kids in the background had expressions ranging from concentration to fear to total boredom. No one was smiling.

I looked up the bicycle proficiency test online. I was initially directed to a site that talked about“ bikability” - full of fun but short on information . I finally found the test at the CTC (the Cyclist Tourist Club) site another serious bunch of people who potter about on bikes sporting overloaded panniers and ridiculously low gear ratios.

I remember a couple of kids taking the test when I was at school, but I was surprised to find the first test was held back in 1947. It was always the sad bastards in the class who took the exam; they inevitably had overenthusiastic fathers who were course instructors and who would periodically show up in the classroom to give slide shows about the benefits of the program. This was before the days of high visibility vests and helmets so instead they would wear those reflective sashes and woolly hats during the talk that were the rage back then. Sure, they probably made you more visible at night, but at the cost of looking like a twat.

I downloaded the Level 1 test just to see what was expected of the modern day tyke.

The first four tasks are as follows: 1.Get on and off the bike without help. 2. start off and pedal without help. 3. Stop without help. 4. Ride along without help for roughly one minute or more.

Whatever happened to Dad taking off the stabilizers, sending you off down the hill with an energetic shove and then wandering back indoors to leave you to fend for yourself? By the time you came back looking for assistance with the de-biking procedure you had completely slipped Dad's mind and he was out laying concrete for a new path in the back garden or welding a bracket to the coal bunker so you cut a deep gash in your leg later that afternoon.

There was also a requirement in the test to “Use the gears”, without really specifying what was expected. Does that mean farting around with the levers and randomly shifting between the big bastard and piss easy rings at the front while at the same time running the rear derailleur back and forth across the block at the back so that one minute your feet are a blur and the next you are straining to maintain any type of forward motion? Also, if the instructor is expecting you to “Stop Quickly with Control” I somehow suspect he doesn't want the examinee to lock the back wheel and bring it out sideways so as to bury his mates in a shower of gravel. I can only guess what they might come up with to increase pass rates – laying next to the bike for a period of one minute? looking at the bike in a non threatening manner?

The proficiency test even teaches kids about cycling etiquette, which apparently involves communicating clearly with other road users. Personally i've found two fingers adequate for most situations. That and banging on the car roof.

I think that might be where the whole thing is going wrong. Kids don't want to get on their bike and learn a lot of rules. They get enough of that at school, and only have more of it to look forward to as adults. They want to get out and have fun and once you get adults involved you can probably forget all about that. Instructors should be teaching kids how to pop wheelies (front and back) and bunny hop the bike over immovable objects so that when they fail to achieve the necessary height they find themselves launched over the handlebars and into the air. Dangerous? Only if you try to hop the park bench so you land on the concrete side.

Doing stupid stuff like that can teach kids valuable lessons about what you can and cannot do, and acceptable levels of risk. One of the most important things I learned when trying to ride my bike along a wall (it seemed a good idea at the time) was that once you start you are absolutely committed, there is no backing out. It was a lesson that served me well many years later when downhill mountain biking in Colorado.

When you are kid, you don't want a certificate to acknowledge you are a proficient and sensible cyclist, your medal will be a pair of twisted forks or a buckled wheel. I can still remember my Dad watching me with a concerned expression as I rolled up to the house with a bleeding hand hanging at my side and a badly damaged bike. I'd assumed the crappy steering was because half the handlebar had sheared, although , technically, it was still attached because of the brake cable. But (as I later found out) the problem was compounded because I had also managed to snap the axle on the front wheel. A certificate on the wall could never stand next to my sense of achievement as we pulled out the front axle to find it in two parts and my Dad said “What exactly were you doing...?”
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