Wednesday, September 28, 2016

What Happens on Ventoux

Here is the problem with being a contemporary Dutch novelist - especially a contemporary Dutch novelist who delves into the theme of cycling: You are going to be compared to Tim Krabbé. The brilliant author of The Rider, The Vanishing, The Cave. And it’s unlikely the comparison will be in your favour.

In this alone, Bert Wagendorp's novel Ventoux was at a disadvantage before a word of it was ever written. Cycling. Dutchness. A mountain touched by tragedy. The danger of high expectations loomed large.

As if to inoculate against this, the publisher of the English-language translation chose a cover design that communicated such peppy lightheartedness as to almost suggest a how-to guide, a collection of inspirational quotes, or a humorous tale of two-wheeled hi-jinx. None of these being qualities that draw me to a book, Ventoux sat on my shelf until, under threat of an arduous train journey, I finally gave it a go - only to come full circle and discover that it was indeed a Dutch novel of the most Krabbéan (Krabbé-esque?) kind. A slow, morose psychological thriller, with cycling playing a prominent role. It was also unexpectedly sexual. In fact, if there is one thing The Rider lacks that Ventoux is chalk full of, it is "that."

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Plastic Bag Incident (Or, Why There Is Hope for Bicycles Yet)

The other day I had occasion to stop by a large supermarket in Co. Derry, where I had not been in some time. In the soft fluorescent glow, I wandered its abundantly stocked aisles and grabbed a couple of things that I needed, then headed for the till. The cashier rang me up, placing the items I bought in a pile at the corner of the register.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Meet Ellen's Urban Arrow: a Cargo Superbike in Belfast

Ellen's Urban Arrow in Belfast

When I found myself in Belfast some time ago with an hour to spare, I used that hour wisely: I met for a coffee with local cycling celebrity and trans youth advocate Ellen Murray.

As I locked up my bike in St. Anne's Square, her arrival was tremendous. The sleek, black, shark-like contraption she pedaled appeared not so much to roll, as to slice through the stately, rather Viennese, backdrop of white neoclassical buildings. Pedestrians stopped in their tracks. A passing flock of birds hovered overhead. And I, mouth ajar, nearly dropped my U-lock on my foot, as my own bicycle made a meek neighing sound in the presence of this formidable giant.

"Your new Urban Arrow!" I said, trying to play it cool and hide my awe, "How do you like it?"

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Last House

It is a road that I have climbed so often, it is really no longer a road, or a climb, but more like some inexplicably repeating drama. A play in which I find myself performing some peripheral, but necessary, role, again and again, as if caught in a dream loop.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Rubber and Cork: a Gripping Review

There are few upgrades one can make to their bicycle that will have as much bang-for-the-buck impact, as new handlebar dressing. The style and materials of this crucial accessory have the potential to transform the comfort of our bars, while its colour and finish can play a surprisingly dominant role in the overall aesthetics of our machine. All this, at what is usually a fairly reasonable price, makes experimenting with handlebar tape, wraps, and grips worth it - until, hopefully, we find our personal favourite.

For bicycles with swept-back handlebars, my favourite grips have long been the Rivendell Portuguese cork grips. Then, just over a year ago, I tried the newly re-issued Rustines French rubber grips, and it quickly became a tie. While these grips are quite different from one another, they also have some commonalities that I think will make them appealing to many of my readers. And so I present you with this review of both.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

On Maximising the "Retention Factor" of Budget Bicycles

When someone new to transportation cycling asks me for advice on what bicycle to buy, my reply is influenced by two factors. Firstly, their budget. Once that is established, I will suggest a bicycle within their price range. This bike may not so much be "the best" by some set of technical or aesthetic industry criteria, but it will be one I believe is most likely to make a good impression on that person, and, most importantly, to keep them cycling. Because, really, the important thing is not just that the bicycle is purchased, but that it is ridden. And that it turns the new owner into a cyclist!

Monday, September 12, 2016

On Fit and the Myth of Flattering Cycling Clothes

Last week I got a message from a friend who has recently, and very enthusiastically, taken up cycling with a local club. Having gone out on her first few rides, mostly everything is good. The beginner's group pace is comfortable, the bike is comfortable, even the saddle is comfortable. Nevertheless, she was getting pretty bad chafing in the inner thighs after every 20-30 mile ride. Chafing to the point of bleeding - way in there, in the crevices between thigh and crotch. It could be her saddle after all, I thought. But, intuition told me, it could also be the shorts.

Send me a pic where you're wearing your shorts, I wrote.

She did. They were lovely bib shorts, with a nice attractive design. And they were at least one size too big. This was obvious by the way the leg grippers gapped around her thighs, and by the looseness at the abdomen. Most likely, they were equally loose in the inner thigh and crotch area, and the extra fabric was causing the chafing. I have experienced that myself, with cycling shorts that have been even slightly too big, and have observed it in others. Whenever a cyclist I know complains of chafing and the saddle is not the cause, loose shorts nearly always turn out to be the culprit.

Friday, September 9, 2016

...When We Talk About Cycling

When I first met my husband, our initial form of “curting” was to walk through the local countryside. Slowly and aimlessly we strolled, talking - what about I don’t even remember now. It was lovely. And, seeing as I was a cyclist, he kept telling me that one day he would get his old bike out of the shed so that we could cycle together. I looked forward to this.

The day came and we arranged to meet with our bicycles. Judging by the time-capsule look of his neon blue aluminium racer and his logo-emblazoned jersey, I believed it when he said he had not been on the bike in over a decade. But that would hardly matter on our romantic meander.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Rivendell Clementine: a Belated, Befuddled, Bedazzled Intro

I do not like to describe a bicycle as magical, or mysterious. Despite any romantic cooings that might sometimes suggest otherwise, in the cold light of day I do not actually believe there is such a thing. Whether a bicycle is "fast," "comfortable," "stable," "climbs well" (insert other praiseworthy attributes here), it got that way not through some alchemical je ne sais quois, but through specific and replicable design factors. From tubing selection, to geometry, to method of construction - it all plays a role. Other, less obvious factors, lurk in the background also. And while even the most sensitive, most knowledgeable reviewers (of which I am not one!) find themselves stumped on occasion as to how to account for a particular bicycle's behaviour, that doesn't mean the explanation is not there - only that they can't see it.

All of this is to say: I've been testing a Rivendell Clementine over the summer. And I have stalled with its introduction precisely for this reason. I refuse to describe it as a magical bicycle. Yet there are certain things about it, which I am not sure how to communicate without coming across as implying just that...

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Cyclist and the Roadworks

On my bike, I often find it a challenge to make it through stretches of roadworks within the allotted timeframe. The type of situation I'm talking about, is where the entire road is dug up and only a narrow single lane is open in one direction of travel, the traffic along it managed by a streetlight at each end. More often than not, it seems that even when I take off immediately, as soon as my light turns green, by the time I get through the cars at the other end already have the green light to start in the opposite direction.

Now, in theory, there is no reason this should be happening. The speed limit at entrypoint is 15km/h (just under 10mph), which I am certainly managing on my bike - I should not be any slower than motorised traffic.