Singularity

Tag: Cycling

Ancient and the bluest blue

by on Jul.06, 2011, under Photography, rambling

avatarOK. I’ll admit it. I’m not a big fan of Neil Gaiman. This marks me out as a pariah in the world of SF&F, apparently, because Mr Gaiman can do no wrong.

Please don’t misunderstand me: it’s not that I think his work is rubbish. I quite enjoyed the early Sandman graphic novels. It’s just that, well, I think he is over-hyped. He doesn’t do it for me in the way Pratchett does, for instance. He doesn’t do it for me in the way Grant Morrison does. He doesn’t do it for me the way Warren Ellis does. Or Alan Moore (when he’s on form). That’s just my opinion and I’m sure he’d be the first to say I’m entitled to it. He’s the one making all the money, and I can’t imagine him giving a monkey’s uncle what I think one way or the other.

And yet, despite this, The Doctor’s Wife was the only episode of the current series I really enjoyed. I loved the emphasis on and exploration of the relationship between the Doctor and the big blue box that means so much to him. I liked the banter, which had been sorely missing since… pretty much since the Lodger back in Series 5 (River’s “What time do you call this?” was good, but not enough).

But… Oh, there’s always a but.

You know what? The sign on the door that says pull to open? That refers to the cupboard where the phone is kept, not the door to the police box. Look at the door design and the location of the hinges. The door can’t open outwards. Maybe TARDIS doors are supposed to open outwards, like fire doors are, but police box doors don’t because they can’t.

Can I say “Did not do the research” about Neil Gaiman? Seems a bit churlish given that he wrote the only episode of the current series I thought was any good.

Here’s a picture of Fingal next to an original police box:

fingaltardis2

We have a lot of police boxes in Edinburgh. They make me sad, because so many of them are in such a terrible state. This is what the Doctor’s TARDIS would have ended up looking like, I think, if House had had his way and no one had mentioned her being the last one.

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Dumb Run Done

by on Jun.20, 2011, under Cycling, Dumb Run

avatarWell, 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.

Ready for the off

Merkins Farm

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.

Annual jelly babies

Liquid fire

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.

Dumb Run V Done

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.

Thanks to:

  • 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.

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DR V. T minus 28 hours and counting

by on Jun.17, 2011, under Cycling, Dumb Run

avatar

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.

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Dumb Run Running

by on May.22, 2011, under Cycling, Dumb Run

avatar 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.

Sign of Six

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Put up or shut up? As if.

by on Apr.09, 2011, under Cycling, Rant

avatarMy 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.

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Engage Photon Drive

by on Dec.22, 2010, under Cycling, transport

avatarIt’s always the same at this time of year. The snows come, drivers behave like a pack of lemmings infected with the Rage virus, and I do the sensible thing and leave my car at home. I get to work by bike.

“LOON!”

Yes. That is the usual response. As it happens, I feel safer on the bike. It’s smaller — at the end of the day I can throw myself off the bike onto the verge and drag it with me if I have to. I can get off and walk. More to the point, I can manhandle it around in a way I can’t do with my front-wheel drive Ford Mondeo estate, which, in these conditions, behaves like a river kayak on a sea crossing. Once it goes it goes and there’s no stopping it.

Winter cycling has its own precautions, of course. There’s triple insulation required and I even wear a lid for commuting because I’m more likely than normal to come a cropper involving a sharp fall sideways onto a kerb at low speed, the only incident for which a cycle helmet is really designed; and, more importantly, because it keeps my woolly hat on my head.

The other thing, of course, is visibility. While I refuse to dress in shades of radioactive custard, I do like the shiny. Spielberg Close Encounters Award several years running, don’t you know.

This year Fingal is rocking two CatEye LD610s, two LD170s and a Blackburn Mars 4, while I complement the ensemble with a pair of Fibre Flares on my backpack and some green rope light, just for the lulz. Up front we have a four lamp cluster comprising two Lumicycle heads offering around 50watts of in-your-face halide splendour and a couple of EL400s, because you can never go wrong with an Opticube. With a set-up like that, there’s no point in hi-viz, although I do have some reflective bands at wrists and ankles for the confusion effect (and signalling).

I took this picture on my way home tonight, outside Real Foods on Broughton Street, one of my favourite Edinburgh shops. I love the surreal colours of the evergreen on the shopfront, the Christmas decorations and Fingal’s frankly bonkers lighting.

Warp drive

If anybody knocks me down and says “Sorry Mate, I Didn’t See You” I may have to punch him on the nose.

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I bet River Song would prefer Campag

by on Nov.30, 2010, under Cycling, Rant

avatarI’ve been watching Doctor Who on DVD lately, and at the weekend I saw the Forest of the Dead. I expect I’m the only one who felt the episode utterly failed right at the end because the amazing River Song — adventuress, criminal, Mrs Doctor — finishes her existence as mum to three children who will never grow up: the eternal mother.

It is possible to have a career and have kids, although by no means easy, but not every woman wants that, and River Song never struck me as the sort of person who, with an entire virtual reality at her fingertips, would settle for a life of taking the kids to the park and reading them bedtime stories; and it bothers me even more that this was in a programme ostensibly for children. I hate the idea that little girls are being told that you can have your career as an archaeologist and run around adventuring, but at the end of the day what will keep you happy is looking after children, even though they can’t possibly have been made with the man you love (what with him still being alive and out in the real world).

Kids aren’t stupid. They absorb these messages.

There seems to be an idea, somewhere in cultural consciousness, that what women really want to do is stay at home and make babies; not get all oily and discuss gear ratios or whether Batman is more of a psycho than Rorschach. We want to have babies and ultimately we’re only interested in and good for things that are in some way related to the making of and caring for babies. And that hopelessly outdated idea is being perpetuated by happy endings that involve a bedtime story and a goodnight kiss.

I suppose this is also what bothers me about the way those who want to encourage girls onto bikes go about it. There appears to be a de facto assumption that girls aren’t interested in bikes. It is related, I think, to the de facto assumption that women can’t write horror or science-fiction, or don’t like playing games like Bioshock.

I wrote the following piece about the love of bicycles back in 2004 — 6 years ago, FFS. I think it bears saying again, because I still feel the same way.

It was when I caught myself talking to it that I thought things had gone too far. This was not a case of a friendly word of encouragement when trying to break top speed on the long descent on the way to work, or a muttered epithet on the steep climb up past three-fingered Pete, the lollipop man. I was sitting on the toilet at the time – we have a toilet downstairs, in a cubby hole attached to what was once a utility room before we moved in. Now it’s where they live: four of them now. There are more in the shed and another one has even claimed a space in our marital bedroom.

I’m not entirely sure how this happened, how these things came to be such a huge part of our lives. They all have names, even the ones that don’t belong to me (in case you thought it was just me being anthropomorphic), and they all have character. Ivanhoe is my spouse’s indefatigable Dawes Galaxy. Then there is Andy’s Cannondale Bad Boy: a long-suffering, Marvin the Paranoid Android type that resolutely goes by the name of Dave. Fingal is my Orbit Harrier, with a tone reminiscent of Noel Coward and a jealous streak. Max is the Specialized Hard Rock I bought for dismal winter commuting and towing the Bob Yak. He’s a real trooper and has a penchant for fast, slippy descents on the tracks and lanes they laughingly call ‘roads’ round here. Peregrine is the relatively new Pinarello Galileo I bought for no other reason than to cheer myself up, currently only 3 months old and still as excitable as a puppy. The other half has recently bought a Giant Terrago, second hand, and they haven’t developed enough of a relationship yet for us to find out what it’s called.

Out in the shed are the relegations, including Percival the Raleigh Dynatech XC80 – my first proper bike – and Vercingetorix the generic mountain bike never really designed for off-road. All the bikes in the shed are somewhat sad and slightly reproving and we keep meaning to find good homes for them.

It’s a bit mad, really. Even so, we know that if Andy tries to do any maintenance on Fingal it will go badly because Fingal is a one-woman bike, a bit like a border collie, and doesn’t like to be touched by anyone other than me unless it’s a paid professional and I have a good excuse. Max, on the other hand, enjoys being fussed over by just about anybody, Ivanhoe is apparently above such things and Dave is stoic in his sense of being neglected. They have an entire room in our small house dedicated to them.

I spend a large part of my time campaigning for my and other people’s rights to take them and their kin on the road. I can now tell what size allen key I need at a glance and I can overhaul a set of Ergopowers. It wasn’t like this four years ago. Four years ago I couldn’t even spell Campagnolo, never mind be in a position to admit to taking their side in the pseudo-religious Shimano vs Campag debate. Four years ago I had trouble getting a front mech to shift properly. Now I can build my own wheels.

We seem not to be the only ones to have been sucked into a love affair with these human-powered works of art. Go to any internet-based cycling forum and you will find people waxing lyrical about their ‘babies’ and spending what might seem like a ridiculous amount of money on something that is, to the outsider, really no more than some metal tubes, wheels, cogs and levers. They share photographs of them with each other as if they were snapshots of their children. It is usual for them to refer to their machines by, if not a name, then at least by make and model.

Frankly I think it’s bloody marvellous. More of it, I say. More people should have Pinarellos in the bedroom or Mercians sitting in the hall. It should be perfectly normal to possess a Giant that practically wags its tail when its owner is within view. These things aren’t toys: they are noble steeds, carrying us through no matter the weather. They are beloved companions, accompanying us to far off places made all the more memorable by the true appreciation of the tea and cake that help weary muscles recover for the next leg. This isn’t about having shaved legs and wearing lycra, or being able to relate tales of broken bones gained falling on a technical single track. The famous Mr Armstrong said “It’s not about the bike,” and I suppose he was right, in some ways for some people. In many ways he was very wrong.

The humble bicycle and its cousins are not just for the racing elite. They bring freedom and joy to a great many. While a shiny new car may cruise at seventy miles an hour, if it breaks down it can cause a considerable hole in the bank account. A bicycle can be maintained by almost anyone for little cost. The fuel that propels a combustion-engined vehicle has a price greater than a dent in the wallet: the human powered vehicle is an excuse to eat cake. A car may eat up the miles but the bicycle provides a direct experience of the landscape. Those aren’t just pretty postcards seen behind a pane of glass. They are ascents, descents, swooping curves and pock-marked tarmac. Mountains are not defined by a crawler lane but by the sense of achievement on reaching the summit. A bicycle doesn’t take you to motorway service stations and multi-storey car parks. A bicycle doesn’t trap you in a traffic jam, listening to endless traffic reports and slowly cooking in your own juices. A bicycle isn’t something that carries you around: it’s one half of a team, and you are the other half.

So maybe it’s not surprising that so many have such a fond attachment to their bicycles. Maybe it’s not so surprising that all of ours have names, and characters that reflect the experience of the human half of the team. Having shared with him the moment of metabolic crash at 2am and the exquisite joy of the sunrise 2 hours later on a 125 mile night ride that was just one of our many adventures, perhaps it’s allowable for me to feel attached enough to my Harrier to talk to him while sitting in their en suite.

Fingal’s indexing is playing up again. It’s just jealousy over the Pinarello. I’m sure he’ll get over it soon.

We’ve moved, of course. We no longer live in a small house somewhere between Exeter and Dartmoor, where the downstairs toilet had a Park Tools TP2 toilet paper holder (I still have it, but there’s nowhere to put it at present). This piece is four machines out of date. Ivanhoe has gone to a new home — Frood rides a Revolution Cross called Spartacus these days — and I have acquired some additional steeds. I don’t campaign so much, having become disillusioned with the general acceptance that bike paths are the way to go, but how I feel about bikes hasn’t changed. We even had one in the marital bedroom to make space for the guests over the weekend.

Women ride bikes for exactly the same reasons as men. There are men who treat bikes as training tools and those who treat them as a means to get to work without having to worry about parking charges; there are men who worry about climate change and doing their bit by leaving the car at home; and there are men who just love bikes.

I’m a woman. I don’t worry about helmet hair or what the latest fashion is. I don’t worry about which lipstick will complement my skin tone and prevent the wind chapping my lips. I don’t worry about these things because my default mode of being is not one that worries about attracting a man in order to make babies.

I ride my bike because I love bikes. I love the freedom, the sense of exertion, the feeling of raw power. I like the sense of accomplishment and independence that comes from the knowledge that no matter what breaks I can fix it. I drool over a Campag chainset as much as the next person and I had to resist the urge to lick my Planet X Stealth when I got her home.

If River Song was a cyclist I suspect she could build her own wheels and would know to expect trouble from one machine on bringing a new one home. She’d be traffic-jamming with the best and she’d have an opinion about the best gear ratios and tyres for fixed gear riding in the snow.

I don’t think that women need anything special to encourage them onto bikes, or to write horror, or to play the sorts of computer games that are traditionally thought of as being for boys. They just need people to stop telling them that the one thing in life that will ultimately make them feel fulfilled and happy, no matter what else is available, is caring for babies.

Get told something often enough and it’s damn hard not to start believing it.

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Butthurt is as butthurt does

by on Aug.05, 2010, under Cycling, Rant, transport

avatarI feel it would be an opportune time to clear up some confusion evidently being experienced by a significant portion of road users. With my foot injury restricting me to cycle commuting for the past couple of months, I’ve had ample opportunity to observe the unfortunate fact that not a lot has changed since the last time I made these comments. There are a few more cyclists running red lights in a manner I consider to be reckless and inconsiderate, but that might be a result of the urban environment, as their numbers are at least matched by those of drivers doing the same.

The thing is, it’s really not that hard.

  • Advanced Stop Lanes are for cyclists. That’s why they have a picture of a bike painted inside them. You can tell it’s a bicycle because it has two wheels and pedals. The red background is there to make them more visible. The solid white line around them is not there to give a clear outline for the man with the red paint to colour in: it is equivalent to any other solid white line at a traffic light. In other words, drivers are not permitted to cross while the light is red. This applies whether you are on a motorbike or in a car, bus or taxi. It also applies even if you are driving a shiny red BMW.
  • Nice work, hotshot

    Shiny silver isn't exempt either, funnily enough

    The presence of a garish criss-cross pattern of yellow on the road indicates what is technically known as a box junction. These are not difficult to use. All that is required is that you do not enter unless your exit is clear. This doesn’t mean sitting inside one because the car in front is half in and half out so it must be okay then. This applies even if you’re in a shiny black BMW.
  • A speed limit is the upper boundary of the permitted speed at which you are allowed to drive your car on the section of road to which that speed limit applies. The speed limit applies at all times of day and night and doesn’t have qualifying exceptions for vehicle type such as “unless you are in a white van, silver Saab, an Alfa Romeo or a BMW.” There is also no exception that says “the limit does not apply if you are overtaking a cyclist who is travelling at or more than the speed limit.” Nor does it cease to apply if you are late for work/picking up the kids/getting home in time for your favourite TV show. The only time the speed limit does not apply is if you are on a bicycle. If you want to travel faster than the speed limit, ride a bike. If you have good reason for exceeding the speed limit in your car, such as you are racing home because your children are being menaced by an angry lion, whilst on fire, you should probably have asked the police to attend on your behalf.
  • You would not overtake a car that was signalling right 5m before the junction and was in the process of pulling out: don’t overtake a cyclist doing the same thing. We’re not pigeons. We’re not street furniture. We’re not mere obstacles to be dodged at the last possible instant with the minimum amount of clearance. There’s a person on that bike, with a family and a life and an adrenaline gland that gets far more use than it really should because a significant portion of drivers out there can’t see past the edges of their own peer group. Don’t be one of those myopic elbow-polishers. It’s not big and it’s not clever and it’s not going to get you where you’re going any faster.
    Every time you overtake another vehicle you are increasing the risk for both of you. When it’s a bike the rider is not protected by three quarters of a metric tonne of steel and plastic and you don’t get to make that sort of risk alteration without due consideration. Squeezing past anywhere is A Very Bad Thing: doing it while the cyclist is attempting to turn right is an indication that you are a turd who deserves to have unpleasant things happen to your procreation equipment.
  • I do understand that some of you drivers out there have a queue fetish. I mean, it’s obvious. You can always tell: they’re the ones who go racing past at high revs when there’s a traffic jam about 50m ahead, where they’ll sit, marinating in their own impatient juices while the cyclist they’ve just cut up merrily cruises to the front of the line. Because you can do that on a bike. Bikes rock and they so rule.
    Still. Each to his own. Rule 34 and all that. If you get a kick out of being frustrated in a jam then that’s what floats your boat. I suppose it might be a form of masochism, like being tied up by a person you really fancy and teased for three hours before being sent home without so much as a lick. Just, if you’re going to jump in front so you can spend that bit of extra time in the jam, please try to be considerate about it and give the cyclist you’re overtaking plenty of room.
  • Cyclists are allowed to filter through traffic and they are allowed on the road. If this bothers you, please fill out the following butthurt report form and submit it by folding it into a paper aeroplane and throwing it from your nearest tall building. Santa Claus will intercept it and make sure it is delivered to the appropriate authority: i.e. your mum.
  • Inspired by http://spubba.com/extras/butthurt.pdf

    Inspired by http://spubba.com/extras/butthurt.pdf

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Shopping online

by on May.21, 2010, under Miscellany, rambling, Rant

It's really not that hardI don’t review shops, online or otherwise, except in extreme circumstances. My disposable income, as discussed already, is swallowed by sport. Oh. And food. Food and sports kit. I don’t buy clothes, or a lot of music, or go out socialising very much… I’m pretty much a hermit with a carbon fibre and lycra habit.

This means that reviews of online shops aren’t very helpful unless you too are looking for a shop that will sell you esoteric sports kit and bike bits. If you are looking for a shop to sell you esoteric sports kit and bike bits, because you’re a habitual purchaser of such things, then you’ll already have your favourites and don’t need me to tell you where to go. Your favourites are probably the same as mine, because that’s the nature of the beast.

I, and other people like me who buy from these shops, are looking for an easily defined set of qualities. If you run one of these shops, here is what you should know about what the average recreationally competitive cyclist/triathlete wants from you (other than what you are selling):

  1. Fast turnaroundHacked offWhen we discover or decide that we want that Continental GP4000 in blue in 700x25c we tend to want it now. If not yesterday. And while we comprehend that there’s this thing called ‘the post’ we will be exceedingly happy if it turns up the next day and will definitely come back to your shop and deal with you again. We are competitive. We like things fast. We also like our toys. Ordering something is like setting the calendar to Christmas Eve. Imagine waking up on Christmas Day and being told Santa hadn’t got around to you yet. You would be disappointed.
  2. Shipping costs — Some shops sell the items really cheap and make up the money by charging an inordinate fee for postage. Things don’t cost that much to ship. I can and have sent a fully padded bike bag the size of a small horse by next-day special delivery and it costs about twelve quid. Do not charge me six quid to send me a carbon fibre stem cap, two caffeinated energy gels and a puncture repair kit. Especially if I won’t get them for a week. It will make me angry. I will not come back to your shop. If you charge me anything more than £2 postage and I’m not buying a bike (and if I am, shipping should be free because I’m spending so much already) that thing had better turn up the next morning or, at a pinch, the day after. This is even more especially the case if you have a free delivery option and a priority delivery option. There are shops out there who can get things to me the next day for free, FFS. This is particularly galling if your shop is one of those that charges my credit card upon receiving the order. That means you’ve got my money for far longer than I have my toy. This will also make me angry. I will not come back to your shop.
  3. The ever-awesome XKCD does it againOrder tracking — We order tracking. I love getting the email that says “your order has been dispatched”. Then it’s definitely Christmas Eve. If you offer me order tracking I will make use of it. My shopping experience is made so much better by being able to watch my package, in a virtual sense, as it wings its way to my excited little paws. If you offer me order tracking and a fast turnaround then I will forgive you charging me for postage when there are shops who will send things to me for free because you have just made the entire transaction an order of magnitude more engaging. Order tracking should be thought of as an extra layer of wrapping, and even if you already know what you’re getting, unwrapping packages is so much fun.Order tracking means I am much more likely to come back to your shop.
  4. Range of stock — I know this should probably go without saying, but anyone who is serious about a sport that involves serious kit, such as cycling or triathlon or kiteboarding or whatever, is impressed by a shop that sells things no one else does. I am likely to forgive you many failings if you happen to sell something I want and can’t get anywhere else. Mine!And here’s something else of which to be aware: we know what we want. We will consider all the options carefully and in many instances we will come to your shop because you have turned up in an internet search as having that one thing. You may make an additional sale on the back of that one thing. If you sell that one thing and meet all the above criteria, then you are likely to get a repeat customer. When you consider how much money people like us are prepared to spend, it’s worthwhile giving us a good experience. The corollary to this is: if you claim to have a particular thing and list it on your website and we find your shop because we want that one thing, and order it from you, it had better be there. If it isn’t there, make sure you contact us immediately and explain as much. Which brings me to…
  5. SwapsI'm not sure this is what I ordered As I’ve already said, we know what we want. Do not make a decision for us if what we want isn’t there. Pick up the phone. Email us. Tell us what’s going on and let us decide what to do about it. We gave you our contact details for a reason and thought that was why you wanted them. The only exception to this is if you have a specific section on your order form that asks us what to do in case of the item not being in stock (there is one shop I use that does this).
  6. Customer service — We want to give you our money. We want to give you our money and have you send us objects of delight that will make us happy/go faster/feel lighter/dance up hills/give us shiny bicycles. Just be niceIn other words, what we are doing here is exchanging cash for pleasure. This isn’t life or death. We’re not paying for something that we need and can’t live without. You do not have us over a barrel. Good customer service is therefore part of what you should offer if you want us to come back, because there are plenty of places that offer excellent customer service and we will give them our money instead if you don’t. We like to reward good service. Bad customer service is, more than any other factor, likely to make customers turn away. Not only will they turn away but they will tell all their friends about you, and not in a good way.

And this is why I’m posting today.

When I went across to Ireland to do the Galway Triathlon last year I had to drop into Nigel’s Cycles to pick up some CO2 canisters because I wasn’t allowed to take mine on the plane. While there I had a nose around, as one does in a bike shop, and he had the Hydrapak Gel-Bot bike bottle in stock, something I had not seen before. I came very close to buying it because it’s exactly the sort of utterly superflous, but dammit so intrinsically useful-looking thing that I find irresistable. At the time I was already over-budget for the trip by some way and couldn’t justify the expenditure.

Then I read a review of one of these things last month and was reminded of how cool it had been, and decided that I’d like one. I hunted on the internet for this item (see point 4) and found a range of places, including Ebay. Most of them had the running version, which I didn’t want. I wanted the bike version (see point 4, again). The three places I looked at initially were good enough to state that it was out of stock (see points 4 and 5). Then I found Pure-Sports, who said they had it in stock. It was a good price, too, notwithstanding the £3.99 postage cost, which set my hackles on end (see point 2).

I duly put in my order. They had order tracking. Excellent (see point 3). By that afternoon my payment had been processed and stock had been allocated, according to the order tracking. The countdown to Christmas had begun.

A week later my bike bottle had not turned up (see point 1). Santa was spurning me. I was disappointed. I called.

My item was not in stock. Not only was it not in stock it had been discontinued. Someone had ordered the replacement model on my behalf and they were waiting for it to turn up (see point 5). Ah, but did the replacement have the gel flask, which is why I wanted it? They couldn’t tell me. Someone would get back to me.

Nobody did. I emailed them. No response (see point 6). A further week later I called again. Apparently the replacement model did not have the gel flask and I was being refunded. Fair enough, but with this level of communication failure the shop had already lost any future custom. At this stage, however, I would merely have crossed them off my list of potential retailers.

Cut to a month later. I still haven’t had my refund. This is why I am moved to post about it. This particular shop has demonstrated complete failure at every one of the things I ask for in a shop. The turnaround was shocking. The shipping costs were excessive. The order tracking was there but it lied. (How can non-existent stock be allocated?) The one item I wanted from them wasn’t there and they did not contact me within seven days, which the website claims they will if there is a problem with an order. They made a decision about what to send me instead of asking me what I wanted and, finally, their customer service has been shockingly poor.

In contrast, I called All Terrain Cycles yesterday because they also had the Hydrapak Gel-Bot bike bottle on their website. They had three in stock. The nice man checked to make sure it was the bike bottle not the running version and was evidently appreciative that I knew the difference although he didn’t. I placed my order at just past 4pm and did not feel any need to quibble over the postage. This morning I received an email saying that it has been despatched by 24-hour courier, complete with tracking number (>click<). Now, even though I know I won’t get it until Monday because I had it shipped to my work address, I am already in a state of excited anticipation.

Pure-Sports: you’re doing it wrong and I’m telling all my friends.

All Terrain Cycles: you’re doing it exactly right and I’m telling all my friends about that, too.

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Invisible Gorillas

by on May.14, 2010, under Cycling, Rant

avatarI sometimes wonder why we are so fixated on the provision of cycle facilities in this country. The Beauty and the Bike project is only the latest in a number of initiatives to try to tackle the issue of increasing the popularity of cycling by installing infrastructure. They come right out with it and say: It’s the infrastructure, stupid!

Regular readers will already be aware of my feelings about this, and the organisation that started it all, Sustrans , which is not, and never has been, a cycling organisation.

Here’s why it’s not the infrastructure:

Selective attention blindness is probably the main cause of SMIDSY incidents on the road, as discussed by the author of the original study, Daniel Simons, in this Seed magazine article. The phenomenon is one in which an observer is so focused on looking for one thing that he fails to see something else that is right in front of him. Hence, in the above video, people who haven’t heard about it will be so absorbed in counting the passes between the white shirts that they completely fail to spot the gorilla. Seriously. It may be impossible to believe but it’s true.

Did you spot the gorilla?

It’s also why no amount of fluorescent material or bright lighting will help a cyclist be seen —apparently you’d be better off wearing the same colours as road signs, because drivers are expecting those— and why segregated facilities are not only unhelpful, they make the problem worse.

Drivers are looking for other cars. This is a peer group phenomenon. The other members of their peer group are more important to them and have higher priority, and there are so many more of their peer group that road users who are not members of that peer group are involuntarily ignored. Frequent cyclists who are also drivers tend to be more aware of cyclists sharing the road for the same reason. Other cyclists are members of their peer group. The more frequently a person cycles the more he is likely he is to spot other cyclists from behind the wheel of his car.

I’m basing this on personal experience, incidentally. I’m not sure if any formal studies have been done into the correlation between cycling frequency and likelihood of spotting cyclists on the road.

If we combine selective attention blindness with peer-group attention selection and segregated facilities, we’re creating a situation in which cyclists won’t be able to use the road even if they want to. Drivers will become less used to seeing cyclists and if cyclists become more unexpected than they are at present, then they’re even more likely to end up in physical conflict with motorised road users.

Cyclists on the road in a world dominated by car culture are the invisible gorilla beating his chest in the middle of the screen. It’s bad enough right now. The more cyclists who choose to give up their right to the road and let drivers get away with not having to look for them, the more imperative it will become to have a fully integrated, segregated network of routes for bikes. The more segregated routes we have, the more dangerous the roads will become.

I don’t know about you but that strikes me as a move in completely the wrong direction.

I shouldn’t look at websites like Bike Belles and their ilk any more. They’re sexist, they’re insulting and they’re trying to make my cycling experience even worse than it is already.

When will people accept that getting more people cycling shouldn’t be done at the cost of those who are already out there doing it? It’s not the infrastructure: it’s evolutionary biology. We can’t tackle this problem by treating the symptoms because there isn’t enough space in this country for building yet more paths. We need to tackle the source of the problem, and the only thing that will do that is getting more cyclists on the roads.

Every single person who chooses to ride on a segregated path is part of the problem. Every single person who chooses to ride on the road is part of the solution.

Which one are you?

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