A while back, despite firm resolution not to, I got into an argument on Facebook.
A fellow cycling enthusiast, one who prefers the Dutch model of segregated facilities (I KNOW) posted about numbers of people cycling. In what I considered to be a counter-productive generalisation, he made an observation that only a small sub-set of risk-taking males choose to cycle on the roads.
Statistically speaking, he might be right, for given values of “statistically speaking”, “sub-set” and “choose”. But it rubbed me up the wrong way, because it’s not a small sub-set of risk-taking males who choose to cycle on the road. I cycle on the road, even when there’s a path available (I find paths inherently more hazardous). I’ve got quite a track record of persuading other women to cycle on the road, too. Frood cycles on the road, and while he’s male (in the strict, biological sense), he’s no risk taker.
In fact, the majority of people I know who cycle on the road don’t do so because they’re risk takers, male or female: they do so because their assessment of the risk is much, much less than that of those who insist it’s too dangerous.
People are not going to be encouraged to cycle by the assertion that the only people willing to cycle on the road are risk-taking males. My experience of encouraging others to start cycling suggests that it’s much more effective to explain risk assessment and mitigation in detail. Ride so people can see you; behave in a way that’s predictable (i.e. like traffic); understand that the vast majority of drivers really don’t want to hit you; and pay attention because not everyone else on the road does, but understand that’s mostly because they’re Clarkson-wannabes or desperate to get home because their children are being menaced by a hungry, angry, peedo lion and the house is on fire, which is pretty rare, and here’s how to deal with them.
Of course, that doesn’t support the argument that cyclists absolutely must have fully segregated facilities before even contemplating putting a leg over a top tube. Still, no argument looks all that great when it’s demonstrably false from the get-go.
Cyclists who choose to cycle on the road are not a small sub-set of risk-taking males, although they may include a small sub-set of risk-taking males. They’re mostly people who have looked at the hazards, availed themselves of relevant mitigation strategies (lights, positioning, behaviour, vigilance, route choice) and decided that it’s a relatively safe activity.
Because I’ve got several deadlines coming up, as well as NaNoWriMo, I am spending a lot of time at my desk. I’ve had a few days off work, to concentrate on writing, and haven’t been getting out much. Our house is a little on the tepid side, and it has been quite cold sitting here scribbling or tapping away. Today’s weather was glorious sunshine, and I thought I’d spend half an hour cleaning Fingal and getting Shackleton all wintrified with his new rack and lights etc. As you do on a sunny day when you want to be riding but can’t spare the time.
Fingal has been standing in as commuter since my knee went a bit dodgy and Shackleton ate his Carradice Trax, leaving him incapable of carrying luggage. Both Shackleton and Fingal are quite bitey (like the TARDIS), which I’ve always put down to them being commuter bikes and needing to defend themselves against reprobates. Fingal tends to bite people — Shackleton tends to bite his own kit.
But no. As is the way of bikes, as soon as you do any maintenance, you discover a whole host of things that need sorting.
Shackleton seems to have taken a bath in salt at some point. I don’t know when, or how, or where it came from, but in the time he has been snuggling against the other bikes he has become afflicted with rust. The new 135mm double-fixed rear hub I spent months looking for has bearings that feel like they are made of sand and grit, despite having a grand total of 200km on it. The offside rear brake arm has completely seized. The bottom bracket is clunking and, to top it all off, the self-extractor for the Truvativ crank has mysteriously vanished, so I can’t even take the transmission apart to see what size bottom bracket I need.
At one point I might have thought I needed a new bike. I certainly wouldn’t have known what was causing all the grinding and I’d probably have panicked. But these days I know what I’m doing with bikes and so I can make a neat little list of what needs to happen to sort it out.
- Have bath to wash off assorted bicycle gunk;
- Ignore brake as the rear brake is just a handy place for keeping spare brake blocks anyway (it’s a fixed gear);
- Order new M12 self-extracting crank bolt (about 10 quid);
- Take rear wheel and old hub to shop, ask them to change cartridge bearings (I don’t have flat spanners that can do the job). This will fix my wheel and give me a spare hub, yay;
- Buy new chain to replace rusty one;
- Get cranks off, remove bottom bracket, check size, buy and fit new bottom bracket;
- Find somewhere that will shot-blast and repaint my Pompino for a decent price.
All of this is relatively easy, bar the last one. I got Fingal resprayed by Argos Cycles about 10 years ago and they did a splendid job but it wasn’t cheap. Well worth it, I just can’t afford it right now.
So it’s not the end of the world, just a pain in the backside. Which is about how I used to feel about punctures — these I no longer consider as repairs. They’re just a hazard of riding a bike a lot.
What was supposed to be a half an hour in the sunshine turned into 3 hours of cursing as I tried to fix as much as I could to figure out what needed replacing. And I didn’t get Fingal washed, so he’ll be especially bitey this week.
There’s a saying that cycling doesn’t get any easier, you just get faster. Well bike maintenance is sort of similar: you should always support your local bike shop because no matter how good you are at maintenance, you will always come up against something for which you haven’t the tools, haven’t the parts or haven’t the time to sort out yourself.
There are a few things I have argued about so many times that I have now reached a state of acceptance regarding my inability to change the fact that not everyone agrees with me.
I originally started off refusing to argue about gun control. I’m so far past arguing about gun control I can almost pretend there’s even a disagreement to be had. More recently I’ve had to give up arguing about certain things to do with cycling, and as a result feel no inclination to post on cycling fora any more. Posts on cycling fora seem to fall into the same broad categories: the helmet debate, red-light jumping, use of MP3 players while riding, where to ride this week/next week/on holiday, charity rides, campaigning for cycle path installation, whinging about idiots who think we should pay “road tax”, which bike to buy and which saddle to choose. Anything else is either some sort of stupid game thread that goes on for a million posts and is utterly pointless, a series of posts about cake, or a thread about Victoria Pendleton’s arse.
I know this comes across as rather grumpy, but take away the finer nuances or the political argy-bargy that results in moderation wars and this is pretty much what’s out there.
Here, then, are the opinions I have honed through years of argument, reading, research, experimentation and experience. Feel free to disagree, but don’t assume that my failure to engage with an argument on these topics is acceptance of your opposing viewpoint. Because it’s not. I just cannot be arsed.
I don’t agree helmets should be compulsory. The benefits are marginal and the reasons people offer for compulsion boil down to, “it must be safer, it’s obvious”. Well, at one point we thought it was obvious that a plant with leaves shaped like kidneys must have been put here to cure kidney complaints. Saying that the pros all do it so there’s no excuse not to —a statement I read on a cycling website aimed at beginner female cyclists, believe it or not— is a bit like saying that Lewis Hamilton and Jensen Button wear helmets so car drivers should too. Even though this would save more lives than making cyclists wear them, no one ever seems to think that making car drivers wear helmets is a good idea, so STFU already with your helmet compulsion. There are plenty of places out there where you will find information demonstrating that lids can increase the risk of injury and do sweet FA to prevent injury on the population scale, and it’s not my bloody job to educate you. Do the research.
RED LIGHT JUMPING
This is nothing to do with the adult section of certain cities, but a fundamental refusal to adhere to the rules of the road. The one principle that should be inculcated into all road users, regardless of vehicle, is this: SHARE NICELY. The road doesn’t belong to you, it doesn’t belong to anyone: it belongs to everyone. Grow up, suck it up and deal with it.
Conversely, there are instances where the frothing, ranting reaction to cyclists crossing red lights is hyperbolic to the point of comedy. A cyclist going through an empty pedestrian crossing is not equivalent to the Great Beast rising from the sea and donning seven crowns. A cyclist setting off slightly before the light turns green in order to get ahead of the juggernaut in whose enormous blind spot he is sitting is looking out for his own safety and isn’t going to bring about the entropic heat death of the universe.
A cyclist weaving his way across a lights-controlled crossroads in between orthogonal traffic isn’t just putting himself at risk but also other road users, and if a policeman pulls him over for a spot fine no one will cheer more loudly than me.
Deaf cyclists manage, there’s this activity called “looking behind you” (I know it’s not as widely known as one might think) and not all MP3 players have noise-cancelling headphones with a volume control set unchangeably at 11. I can still hear you. Really. It’s fine. Why cyclists should be singled-out for opprobrium when no one else on the road is expected to be able to hear anything other than an emergency-services siren is, as far as I’m concerned, merely another point of evidence for cyclists being treated as a special case.
WHERE TO RIDE
I dunno. I live in Aberdeen, which is hundreds of miles away from most other cyclists, and can’t afford foreign holidays. I guess there must be somewhere nice you could go that has hills/doesn’t have hills, is off-road/on-road, will be nice and sunny/refreshingly cool. It doesn’t really matter, as long as you enjoy it.
I don’t do these and am ambivalent about them. You see, back in the dim and distant past, when I did the odd charity event, it was paid by the mile (or the length) or for outright completion. They were proper challenges, and it wasn’t guaranteed they would be finished, and if you didn’t finish, or finished early, the charity didn’t get the money. These days people sign up for something and that, in itself, seems to be enough for the money to come pouring in.
I object to being told to ask people to give money (even to a worthy cause) to me just because I’m doing something I enjoy doing and would probably do anyway. I also object to being asked to give money in support of something that’s not that big a deal and, let’s face it, a century ride isn’t that big a deal for anyone with a reasonable degree of bike fitness (I’ve done 125 mile rides on no more training than my daily commute of about 10 miles each way); especially when you factor in all the support these rides offer, such as sag wagons and feeding stations.
I am deeply uncomfortable with the underlying concept of a ride of 60 – 100 miles being a huge challenge where the difference between completion and bail-out is whether or not the participant is going to make more money for a chosen charity — and that, to me, is what sponsorship should be in an event like this. If we think that a ride of 60 miles is worth £300 sponsorship, what is going to make us consider riding 10 miles to work and back? That’s a distance worth 100 quid, right? The effect of charity rides on our general view of cycling is something I’m not entirely sure is a beneficial one. If you want me to sponsor you for a bike ride it had better be something that you wouldn’t otherwise contemplate, where your chosen charity will only benefit if you finish, and there’s a real chance you might not. A 60 mile pootle involving cake and coffee every 20 miles just doesn’t cut it. And why do so many of them insist that helmets are compulsory?
The Dumb Run is not a charity ride. We do it because we enjoy it.
No, I do not support segregated cycle facilities and never will. They don’t help as much as people think they do. “But what if we do it like the Dutch?” I hear you cry. Thing is, though, we won’t. Because we can’t. Because we have neither the political will nor the space nor the flexibility of infrastructure.
My bike is something that takes me on journeys far longer than a 2 mile hop to the shops. I ride Glasgow to Edinburgh, Dundee to Kirkcaldy, Perth to St Andrews, Arbroath to Largo. For transport. There will never be a fully segregated network that will allow me to do this at a reasonable speed. In urban areas, segregated paths require me to share with small children who have little awareness, dog walkers and random drunks. In bad parts of town I am more likely to be dragged off my bike and assaulted if I use a segregated path. Worse than all of that, use of segregated facilities gives drivers the false impression that cyclists shouldn’t be on the road and a more intense feeling of righteous indignation when we are.
Many drivers also object to having to pay for such facilities, conveniently forgetting the fact that non-drivers pay for their motorways.
On that related note:
Sigh. There is no road tax. This baseline fact aside, the tax that does exist, Vehicle Excise Duty, is not applied to low-emissions vehicles. Vehicles with emissions of up to 100g/km are charged £0.00. The current estimate for cyclist emissions is 21g/km, putting them in the zero-rate bracket. So, again, just STFU already.
WHICH BIKE TO BUY
You can have no more than two of the attributes light, fast, strong and cheap. Other than that, buy whatever bike makes you happy and want to get on it and ride. That is the only criterion that matters.
WHICH SADDLE TO BUY
The answer to this is long and complicated and anatomically specific. Female anatomy is different from male anatomy, and thus I do not consider it to be in any way discriminatory in terms of either sex or gender to say that biological males will be better off with a different range of saddles from that which will suit biological females. Whatever gender you identify as is entirely irrelevant and I’m an ardent supporter of anyone who refuses to comply with the default bipolar gender paradigm, but what saddle will suit you best does, ultimately, depend on what you keep in your underwear. Because you’ll be sitting on it.
There is no generic answer to this question. I feel unqualified to discuss male saddles, and female saddles depend on individual anatomical qualities that vary widely. So I will not ever suggest a particular saddle (if only because I’m not often that interested in what someone else keeps in his or her underpants) but I may be persuaded to offer advice on how you can go about deciding which saddle would be best for you.
Hope that clears that up. I’m off to get me another lemsip.
I was quite pleased, really, because I’d started giving up hope on the CTC. As far as I’m concerned they’re still pretty much the only organisation out there doing what I want a cycling organisation to do: campaign for the rights of cyclists to carry on doing what we’ve always done, i.e. ride on the road, and campaign proactively for our right to do so without fear of being squished by inattentive car drivers. I used to be a Right to Ride rep, but gave up when they started softening their attitudes towards segregation and falling for the old “some provision is better than nothing” gambit, which in my opinion is the most dangerous trap for a cycling campaigner. The moment someone told me that it was okay for a local authority to fail to maintain road standards suitable for cyclists because there was an off-road, shared-use path, I was out of there.
Then there was the charity kerfuffle. For those who don’t know about this, the CTC didn’t used to be a charity. It was a member’s club, like the AA or BSAC, which made sense to me. I paid them a certain amount of dosh and in return I got certain member benefits, like third party insurance, as well as the comfort of knowing the organisation was out there promoting the interests of me as a cyclist, and of other cyclists out there. Then they decided to become a charity. In my mind this makes them more like Greenpeace — not necessarily a bad thing, but I’m not sure how they square member benefits and their commercial wing with being a charity; and the offered explanations were opaque. Not only were the explanations opaque, the rather impolite way the two sides of the debate went about garnering votes didn’t merely lose my interest, it flung any curiosity or investment I had in the process out of the window then stamped on it repeatedly with boots covered in dog shit. If I hadn’t been absorbed in other matters at renewal time, I’d probably have cancelled the direct debit.
I wasn’t pleased to be asked to participate in this group because I thought it was a recognition of the things I’d said way back when (I doubt that the CTC knows I was one of those asked to participate): I was pleased because it meant that finally they were doing something to make it look like they were paying attention to what their members had to say about them, and about what their members want from them.
There’s a first time for everything after all.
We had to complete some homework before the group, part of which was to create a collage representing what cycling means to us: a collection of pictures depicting our involvement in cycling and the emotions that cycling evokes. What was most interesting about this was how similar the results were. There were four of us in our particular group, all of us members, three men plus myself. Our ages ranged from 24 to 40 and we were pretty diverse in terms of careers and how much cycling we do (although I did note that we all fell fairly neatly into the “white, middle-class” demographic). All of us talked about independence, freedom and sense of achievement, as well as a streak of non-conformity.
Here’s my effort (click for a big one in a new tab):
Cycling is a big part of my life. I had to cherry-pick memories to represent concepts: moments that are the distillation of hours of adventure.
From left to right, top to bottom.
Frood ahead of me on a trip to Lincolnshire. I was sick that day. Horrendously so. I was in the early stages of acute bronchitis and my heart rate was through the roof, hovering at around the 190 mark even at a meagre 15mph because I couldn’t extract enough oxygen from the air. It was like being at altitude. But I did it, Frood sitting ahead of me the whole way so I could draft him (with the added side-benefit of being able to stare at his bottom).
A wine bottle label, for the aesthetic element. Cycling isn’t just about function, it’s about form. There’s nothing more beautiful than something that is not only artfully designed but also does a job, and I’m not just talking about the bike. You can keep your stick-thin models and bodybuilders who are as weak as kittens. I like my women athletic rather than anorexic, and my men strong rather than muscular.
Cake. Blueberry muffins. Need I say more?
Shackleton, on the banks of the Tay. I was riding home from a training course that day, 40-odd miles, just for the hell of it. I do that sometimes. Having a bike means that travelling for business can be fun rather than a chore.
Peregrine, Campag chainset gleaming in the sun. You cannot possibly tell me that this isn’t beautiful. Look at it!
A velvet fist concealed within an armoured glove. This is the other side of cycling: the assertive, occasionally aggressive side. Not everyone likes this part of it, but I kind of do, and I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t exist. I will, however, note that it doesn’t have to. You don’t have to be a superhero to commute to work, but if you like the feeling of being one, well, that option exists. You can ride at a sedate, steady pace and get to work with your hair in place and your work clothes ready to go; or you can put on lycra and a fierce grin and traffic jam like it was sport. Cycling is whatever you want it to be.
Jelly babies on the bridge at dawn during DRV. Cycling can be an adventure, and it can be doing silly things with like-minded people and having experiences you couldn’t have any other way. It’s about seeing things in a way you wouldn’t ever see them from inside a car, and about getting places under your own steam at a pace that can surprise you, often fuelled by little more than sugar, water, and a sense of determination.
Max, with the Bob Yak, and the fish flag, sitting outside our old flat in Kirkcaldy. Think that you can’t carry much on a bike? Think again. I can carry masses of stuff with that sucker. The Bob Yak even features as a hinge for a piece of plot in one of the stories I’m working on (minus the fish flag, I have to say).
Munky, snoozing on a train. The bike is the only means of independent transport you can carry with you on other forms of transport. How awesome is that? This also represents the happy, physical exhaustion that comes about after a decent ride. He’s surrounded by some smaller images representing the occasional sense of outrage and gobsmacked bemusement engendered by other road users.
Fingal, fully loaded at Inverness station. You can carry your home on your bike, if you’re happy to call a tent a home. You can strip your life down to the bare essentials of shelter, food and a means of cooking it, water, the clothes you stand up in and a spare set; and, in my case, a notebook and pen. You can pack all of this on a bike and you can go wherever there is a road or track to take you. Unlike walking, however, on a bike the weight is shifted by a geared mechanism, so you can pack a few non-essentials like fishing gear, snorkelling kit, espresso maker, art materials, beer…
I really like beer.
There’s my mum and dad, talking to someone we met in Tentsmuir Forest. I don’t ride off-road much because I have no 3D, but I really, really love riding fire trails and easy routes with my parents. Cycling is the one activity that they like as much as Frood and I do. Well, that and hillwalking, but mum and I both have issues with old foot injuries that make walking any distance quite hard. Cycling can be a family affair, and it’s something people can enjoy for many years. The lack of jarring impact makes it ideal for those with dodgy joints.
More Dumb Run shots. It’s the adventure thing again, and the achievement, and the ability to find enjoyment in ridiculous conditions. Yes, we will beast ourselves up those hills and dare the midges because there’s Merkins Farm at the top, and that’s funny. It doesn’t matter that it’s 3am and pissing down, we’re already at Linlithgow and it’s not much further to go until the bridge and oh! My bike looks like deep sea plankton! How cool is that?
Some random stuff. A smiley face (a screenshot from Death Machine, as it happens. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions). Me, fettling. I can do my own maintenance. I’m wearing very little and yet it’s one of the few photos of me I actually like and in which I think I look okay. Cycling does that for you. Stitch, drooling over the shiny, which is what I do whenever a Campag catalogue arrives in the post.
Tank Girl is more about attitude than anything else. I can’t really explain this one. It’s all about the feeling.
The next picture is the Burton’s factory on my way to work. I am tortured by the smells of biscuits wafting from that place when I ride past. You don’t get sights, sounds and smells in a car the way you do on a bike. I keep thinking I should write to Burton’s and ask them what biscuits they’ve been making that day to see if what my nose tells me they are making is what they are actually making. Because that would rock.
Beer, noms. ‘Nuff said.
More mountain biking with Frood and my parents, and then Fingal sitting outside a police box in Edinburgh. Two forms of transport that are bigger on the inside than you think from the outside and can take you places where you’ll see things you could never have imagined and didn’t expect.
Yes, that is a Doctor Who reference. Just roll with it.
One of the questions in the focus group was about what the CTC should be offering its members: what one thing could they do that would make a difference. Cycling is all of these things, and more. It’s adventure, it’s freedom, it’s transport, it’s mobility, it’s a state of mind and a state of body. There is no one thing that the CTC can offer its members that will make a difference to each member.
Except for one thing: keep fighting the good fight to make sure we can carry on doing this thing we love, and have the freedom to do so in a way that makes us happy, whether that be traffic-jamming to work or taking the kids out for a leisurely Sunday afternoon pootle along a fire trail. As long as the CTC is doing whatever it takes to make sure that I and other cyclists like myself will be able to make many more pictures like this one, they will continue to receive my membership fee every year. That’s all I want from them. Nothing more.
And certainly nothing less.
I could post about the riots taking place in England, but there is enough about that going on out there in internetland, and I have nothing in particular to add to what others are already saying. I’m shocked, appalled, greatly concerned for the welfare of friends living in the areas affected and hoping that whatever resolution the Government comes to isn’t a knee-jerk reaction involving water cannon and further erosion of our democracy, without feeling particularly optimistic that this will happen.
So I’ll talk about something else instead.
This is a rare weekday post from me, the reason being that I’m not at work. I spend a lot of time telling people that cycling isn’t dangerous, and the numbers back me up. It’s not dangerous, which is why every time anyone starts bleating the same old same old about cyclists wearing helmets or dressing up in shades of radioactive lemon custard I get quite cross. It’s not only unnecessary, it’s victim blaming. It ignores the hierarchy of dealing with risk, which has personal protective equipment right down at the bottom and removing the source of the risk right up there at the top.
On urban roads the greatest source of risk comes from other road users.
So it’s somewhat ironic, not to mention galling, that I’m currently at home having aggravated an old injury getting out of the way of a speeding motorist. It has been suggested I report it, but in my mind it’s one of those things: it’s a hazard of urban cycling, along with punctures, potholes and pigeons shitting on your head. I’m not badly hurt —I’m already a lot better and I’ll be better still tomorrow— and the chances of identifying the driver are somewhere between zero and anorexically slim.
These things shouldn’t happen, but they do.
What interests me about this is my own reaction. I was in two minds whether to post anything publically about this for fear of making people think that cycle commuting is dangerous. I’m the one who was injured and it hasn’t changed my mind about whether or not cycle commuting is dangerous, so why should I think that telling anyone would make them think that it is?
This question cuts to the heart, I think, of why cycling isn’t more popular. We have become too risk averse. We are not given the opportunities to find out what it’s like to push ourselves too far, to get hurt. We no longer have the extensive experience of bruises, cuts, scrapes, burns, broken bones and gashed scalps that were such a feature of my childhood. We no longer know what it’s like to heal. Scars have long since stopped being something to show off in the manner of Quint and Hooper in Jaws or even Riggs and Cole in Lethal Weapon 3.
I remember when scars were the skin-words of life-stories. I remember sitting in a pub in Oxford comparing scars with a young man I had only met that afternoon, conceding him as the winner when he showed me the puckered marks left by seven stab wounds he had received saving his then-girlfriend from a gang of attackers. Now scars are something people pay cosmetic surgeons to minimise, and skin-words are carefully wrought in the abstract fonts of body modification, artfully designed rather than emergent.
People these days are more concerned with hiding the traces of their lived lives, with combating the seven signs of ageing and the application of science to achieving what Dorian Gray did with a portrait in the schoolroom.
I don’t think that people are worried about dying out there on the roads. If they were, they wouldn’t get in their cars. In Scotland there were 105 fatalities amongst car users in 2010 and only 7 cyclists killed during the same period [source]. Total casualties were 8,293 and 781 respectively.
I think people are worried about getting hurt, because they have so little experience of getting hurt they exaggerate in their own minds how bad it will be. This might not be the deciding factor when it comes to cycling, of course, no matter how much emphasis people place on perception of danger when explaining their reasons for not cycling. Perhaps those who claim laziness are correct. Perhaps it is simply peer pressure, or the sense that cycling isn’t normal; that only freaks, weirdoes, the excessively sporty and the excessively poor do it.
I only know that while I’m grumpy about having a hurt back, I’ve not been put off in the slightest. I still don’t think that cycling is dangerous and I can’t wrap my brain around the idea that there are people who are so convinced that it is they would rather drive 5 miles to work than get on a bike. The driver of the shiny black car that nearly took me out speeding around a roundabout in Sighthill is far more likely to become another statistic one day than I am; and I’m still more likely to injure myself banging my head off a kitchen cupboard (again) than I am to be injured commuting by bike.
I took this shot when collecting Munky from Waverley Station on his way up for the Dumb Run. These double-layer cycle racks must be pretty new because I hadn’t seen them before. Mind you, I use Haymarket most of the time and am rarely at that end of Waverley even when I do use that stop.
I think this is a great way to store bikes. They can have a natter while their owners are away doing whatever it is their owners do, and the individual storage units keep them sufficiently apart to minimise fighting. Mine have a tendency to get into arguments when left stacked together and there’s no one around to keep an eye on them, which I assume is because they’re bored and have already said everything there is to say to one another. I’m pretty sure Blackbird has been chewing Fingal’s bar tape recently.
I notice there’s a bike there with pink wheels, which is rather swish. I’ll bet that one’s quite precious, in a princessy way. The sort of bike to complain about vegetables in the bedding.
Well, the short version is: we made it.
This was year five of the Dumb Run, hence DRV. Of those five years, we’ve made it to St Andrews twice. Given that DRIV was a non-starter, that gives us a success rate of about the same as K2 summit attempts.
It is best described as an interesting year, I think. There was the damp, still, midge-infested start at Dumbarton Castle, where we were convinced it was going to be just the three of us before I received the welcome text message saying that another couple of riders were sheltering from the rain down the road. Then the first puncture as we hit Stirling Road, barely 2 miles into the ride. The border collie chasing us up the Auchencarroch Road, barking right behind me on my blind side and scaring me so much I nearly fell off my bike; and Munky doing enough of a dog impression a minute later to give me another fright.
We had unexpected encouragement from the nightlife, when we are more used to heckling and occasional hurled stones. We didn’t get lost in Cumbernauld. THE COFFEE MACHINE HAD BEEN REPLACED. My gods. Actual hot coffee. Will’s singing through Linlithgow had to be heard to be believed (sorry, Linlithgow). We made pretty good time through the first half, notwithstanding the fact that I hadn’t done a ride of more than 35 miles in the last two years. I wasn’t left with no legs and lungs made of cream cheese. This was partially a result of Munky’s welcome pacing on the gentle side, and riding Peregrine the Pinarello instead of the fixed; nevertheless I was relieved that I wasn’t a shuddering, weeping heap by Falkirk.
At the Forth Road Bridge we met up with Dave Holliday, got our jelly baby shot and watched the sun turn the sky into molten copper over the Forth Bridge before winding onwards to the Wild Bean Cafe at Dalgety Bay for supplies.
Then through Fife, which is always bigger than expected, losing Scoosh at Largo because of time commitments and nearly losing Dave H near Crail when his rear wheel decided to throw five spokes, dropping our pace even further. We hit St Andrews after 10am, 200km after we started. Frood was there with beer and edibles and we all collapsed on the grass in the blazing sunshine.
It was a good year, although I think it’s the last I’ll be doing a Mother Hen impersonation. In future there will be a stiff warning at the start that anyone haring off into the distance will be expected to take responsibility for themselves rather than having someone chase after them if they miss a turn. There are route sheets for a reason, after all. I think I might also have to warn anyone thinking of joining in towards the end rather than doing the whole ride that people who have been up all night riding across country, especially in wet weather, tend not to be at the brightest and cheeriest first thing in the morning. It’s okay when everyone is in the same boat, but I suspect it’s rather off-putting for someone coming late to the party. My endurance was remarkably good, all things considered, so I am very pleased on that score.
- Will for the singing and the mood boosts;
- Andy for the MTFU hipflask (dude, you so rock) and the P-P-P-POWAH;
- HLaB for sticking with us at what must have been a painfully slow pace for him;
- Scoosh for making me paranoid about my saddle height and defending me from Mr Angry;
- DaveH for getting up at 3am to do something silly; and
- Especially massive thanks to Frood for the support.
Here’s to Dumb Run VI. Dumbarton Castle, 20:00 (8pm), Saturday June 23rd 2012.
At 20:00 hours tomorrow night, a number of cyclists equalling n, where 3 < n < 13 (as far as we know) will set off from the foot of Dumbarton Castle on our annual cross-country trip to the Royal and Ancient Golf Course of St Andrews on the east coast.
The ride takes after the much more famous Dunwich Dynamo, another annual nocturnal ride to the beach. A friend of mine, who runs the hugely successful Friday Night Ride to the Coast, observed recently that what makes a successful ride is the story, and the writer in me agrees. The Dun Run is successful because it has as its beginning the ultimate British conurbation of London, and wends its way through increasingly rural environs until it reaches the very opposite of a city: a village that no longer exists, having been swallowed by the sea.
The Dumb Run also tells a story, albeit a very different one. The divide between Scotland’s west and east is more than geographic. Dumbarton and St Andrews are the start and end point not just because they were handy. We travel from a place that both has the castle with the oldest recorded history of any stronghold in Great Britain and more recent industrialisation in the form of shipbuilding, to a quiet, picturesque town in one of the most visited parts of Scotland, which has the country’s oldest university. We travel from a land of grey ironworks and steel to a place of green grass and sandy beaches. The Clyde is nuclear submarines and religious rivalry played out on football pitches; the Forth is fishing boats, academia and princes falling in love.
The journey between the two travels a narrow corridor of quiet A-roads running through the heart of Scotland’s industry: further north it’s all tourism, shooting estates, salmon fishing and distilleries, with the exception of Aberdeen. Here Scotland’s population is concentrated, and we purr through in the night with nothing to show of our presence other than quiet laughter, the whirr of chains and the ticking of freewheels.
This isn’t the most scenic countryside Scotland has to offer, but it’s dark, so who cares? By the time the sun comes up we’re in Fife, which is prettier by far.
The Dumb Run is my favourite ride of all time. I love the Dunwich Dynamo, don’t get me wrong, yet the adventure has gone out of it. It’s not a question of if you’ll make it, but how fast. The challenge isn’t in making it from start to finish but in getting to the front of the queue at the feed stop, finding a place on the coach for the return trip, or getting your bike back without damaging it.
The Dumb Run is insanity on wheels. The first 30 miles has midges, the weather is cruel, the itinerant Buckfast Zombies more likely to throw stones than to cheer; the only feed stops are service stations — the coffee machine has been broken in one of them for the past 5 years and the other might not let you in at all.
We have only one rule: nobody gets left behind. That’s what makes the difference. This ride is a shared experience. It’s contending with the elements as a democratic collective; supporting one another with practical application of sugar and caffeine, banter and beef jerky, whisky and cake.
There’s no way for me to explain what makes this ride so good. You have to do it. You have to be there. You have to experience the highs and lows and the sheer preposterousness of it.
It’s not too late to join in. And if you can’t make it this year, check back on Sunday, when the date of DR VI will be posted.
It’s nearly the end of May, which means that there are only four weeks to go until this year’s Dumb Run. I’m still holding out hope that I’ll be recovered sufficiently to do it, which means Frood’s on stand-by with the gaffer tape.
We’ve already got more takers than in any previous year, but in order to give a taste of what’s in store I’ve posted a retrospective of the rides so far, which you can find here.
By my calculation we’re up to ten now. We only need three more for Armageddon. Let’s see if we can do a better job than yesterday’s damp squib.
My first ever internet forum was…
OK. Almost my first.
Almost my first ever internet forum was the sadly-defunct UC-UK (that’s Urbancyclist-UK), which I joined when I was still living in Oxford. It was an email list — what back then were called bulletin boards weren’t terribly popular as we preferred discussions delivered direct to our email boxes. It’s a whole other discussion as to why fora became more popular, although I would venture the suggestion that it’s a matter of numbers. Email groups are good for one or two threads in which tens of the most vocal members are involved. Fora are good for hundreds of active threads from which thousands of members can pick and choose.
I’ve been a member of one internet cycling community or the other ever since; a rare example of a female who cycles on the road and who is an assertive participant in internet discussions about cycling.
OK. We’re not that rare. But we do comprise a remarkably small proportion of the virtual cycling population.
One of the things I’ve noticed throughout my long experience of cycling fora is the inevitable tendency of male posters to respond to female discussion threads with blatant, unapologetic lechery. While a man could post about choice of saddle to avoid prostate problems without worrying too much about other posters joining in just to make comments about his tackle, it’s impossible for women to have a discussion on a forum about female-specific issues without men posting innuendo. In the last such thread in which I participated one male member thought it would be appropriate to post a suggestion that he sexually molest any female cyclists on his next club run.
I’ve had enough of that sort of nonsense. And I said so. Repeatedly. I suspect the laddish atmosphere that can prevail in cycling communities is what puts a lot of women off taking part.
It’s something I’ve taken to doing relatively recently. A lot of the time I feel like a killjoy, like I’m taking it too seriously. I’ve certainly been accused of taking things too seriously and over-reacting — of having a hair trigger — on numerous occasions. But it’s simply that I’m pissed off with having to tolerate comments from the lads, as one forummer once put it. I’ve even been told that if women want to discuss female-specific cycling problems we should get our own private forum, and if we don’t get our own private forum then we should put up and shut up about it.
Boys, as they say, will be boys.
Given the paucity of women taking up cycling, anything that is likely to make them feel unwelcome, in my opinion, should be stamped on and stamped out. Those of us who have the inclination and confidence to take a stand on these things should do so. It’s appalling that any woman should be made to feel she’s over-reacting or being a spoilsport for demanding a similar degree of respect and consideration to that given to the men.
I’m delighted to end this by saying that the thread in question generated some very useful discussion and led one member to express pleasure in the number of ladies present. Don’t feel bad about demanding respect, girls. No matter how foolish, out of order or hypersensitive you may feel expressing your desire to have a perfectly ordinary conversation without being interrupted by the sort of comments that would familiar to Benny Hill, I can guarantee there are other women there who will be grateful to you for making the effort.
Nip it in the bud and maybe the message will start to sink in.
And guys? If you wouldn’t go up to a bunch of women discussing something in a tea shop and interrupt them with whatever you are about to post to a forum thread, because you’d look like an idiot and a creep and a pervert, don’t post it (although if you would then it’s your call). Also, if a woman objects to something you’ve posted, don’t immediately assume she’s over-reacting but check your language. All we’ve got to go on is what you’ve written.
Remember, too, that “it’s just a bit of fun” is really, really lame if not everyone agrees with you.
I don’t want anything too ambitious, just the opportunity to share my experiences as a female cyclist with other cyclists without wondering whether the next post in the thread is going to ignore the cycling element in favour of sex.