Friday, January 30, 2015

Reading René Herse: the Bikes, the Builder, the Riders

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It is oversized. It is heavy. And it is strikingly beautiful. Which perhaps explains my initial impression that René Herse: the Bikes, the Builder, the Riders was a lavish coffee table book. Inside this exuberant tome, I expected to find an extensive collection of historical photographs, tied together with snippets of text in a tasteful, neutral font - just enough to provide a bit of background. But the old adage of not judging a book by its cover (or size, or heft?) holds true here, and then some. Jan Heine's labour-intensive creation is, so to speak, above category. In part meticulous scholarly research, in part engaging historical narrative, and in part analysis of a cross-section of the bicycle industry, this book could stand on its own without a single illustration - let alone the 450 it actually contains.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Of Meat and Muscle

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Back when I was in elementary school, our science teacher - in what, retrospectively, seems like a rather risky endeavour - decided to teach us about dissection. So one morning she brought in a metal tray piled high with dead baby sharks. We were shown how to slice up the unfortunate, thawing creatures, then handed a list of organs and things to identify. As we busied ourselves with this task - some eagerly, others queasily, and a few downright bawling (did I mention this was elementary school?) - the teacher walked around to check on our progress. She stopped at my desk to find me frozen with a look of despair on my face.

Monday, January 26, 2015

A Nod and a Shake: On Cultural Subtleties and Non-Verbal Greetings

Chris Sharp
Whether we're passing motorists, pedestrians, or other cyclists whose presence we wish to mark with friendly acknowledgement, we are all well versed in the art of the silent greeting. It would hardly make sense to shout "hello" across the road after all; it would only get drowned out by the street noise. In its place we employ a set of standard non-verbal behaviours to communicate acknowledgement or recognition. Typically, this will be a wave of the hand, or a nod. A straightforward enough affair.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Making It

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Among the people I know who have tried their hand at making a bicycle frame, I've observed a curious trend: After completing the project, most did not build up their bike straight away. In fact, some still have the bare frame hanging up on a wall years later, with only the vaguest of plans, if any, to turn it into a ridable bike. I did not understand it. I would have thought they'd be eager to ride the bike they made with their own hands. But that was before I went through the process myself - before I too felt the postpartum/PTSD-like aftermath of the framebuilding experience. For someone who is neither mechanically inclined nor endowed with physical strength, building a bicycle frame from scratch can be difficult, exhausting and, in truth, demoralising. In our culture of can-do, we perpetuate a myth that creativity and effort in of themselves will necessarily fill us with pride - that even if we do a lackluster job and our teacher holds our hand the whole way through, that portion of our psyche that is the internalised supportive parent will accept our blotchy finger paintings, saggy papier-mâché vases, and crooked macaroni picture frames with utter delight. Everyone gets a star! In reality, the act of making can fill us with shame and an acute awareness of our limitations. We come up against our own boundaries, and, instead of turning away as we'd normally do, we are then forced to spend time chafing against them only to reaffirm their steadfastness. It's uncomfortable territory to hang out in; an experience we'd soon rather forget. Except that we now have a memento of it! This may go some way toward explaining why it was 20 months before the frame I made, with the help of master builder Mike Flanigan, became a ridable bicycle.

Friday, January 16, 2015

In Mixed Company

Bikes of Westport
Late one night I received an urgent "help!" text from a friend who had met a man she liked in a bar. The fellow, who'd arrived by car, invited her to Go Home with him. She had arrived by bicycle, and, while ever so keen to see his stamp collection, did not want to leave her bike locked up in a shady neighbourhood overnight. Not to mention she'd need it to travel to work in the morning. In an innuendo-filled, tween-worthy texting fury we debated whether her date's car was spacious enough to fit her hefty 3-speed. But ultimately, she decided that even broaching that subject would Kill the Mood - after all, she'd just met the man! So she opted to go home alone instead, feigning maidenly ambivalence toward his stamps. "Need folding bike to get laid, goddamn it!" was her sad parting text to me that night.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Snow Daze

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Considering how much the stuff limits my winter cycling, my enthusiasm for this year's first real snowfall is a little perplexing. What exactly am I so excited about? Is it the lack of traction around bends on the unsalted roads? Is it the poor visibility? Or is it the overall fact that my two-wheeled travel radius has just decreased by a factor of god-knows-how-much until further notice? Oh the moaning I've done about snow in years past once its presence was no longer a novelty! Has my memory been wiped clean?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Transportation Time Trials: How Much Difference Does the Bicycle Make?

Pedestrian Town Centre, Coleraine
The ride to the closest town is 7.5 miles along windswept, gently rolling terrain. Since moving into my current place just over a year ago, I've been making this trip several times a week and on various bicycles. When I cycle for transportation, I tend to ride in a leisurely manner, not putting in a great deal of effort so as to avoid sweating. I certainly don't try to set records, and I don't time myself deliberately. Despite that, I've consistently noticed, that the bicycle I am riding makes a substantial difference in my arrival time.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Fast, Plush, and Robust: In Praise of Clement Strada LGG Road Tires

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Since switching to Clement Strada LGG tires on my roadbike, I've had quite a few requests to review them. But how does one review tires? I have not used a sufficient variety of road tires to establish a solid basis of comparison. Still, I am so pleased with these particular tires, that I'd like to provide some feedback.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Demise of the Country Pub, and Other New Year Ruminations

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Last week I greeted the New Year in a pub that is walking/cycling distance from my house - a circumstance that is becoming increasingly uncommon around these parts. It used to be that the countryside in Northern Ireland was littered with public houses. Every tiny village and hamlet had at least one. Today, you can still see their remains along country roads - boarded up, or in various states of dilapidation. Others have been torn down, the land beneath them now sprouting housing developments, and only the memories and direction-giving habits of older locals keeping them alive in spirit. "Take a left at the Oasis," one might say, even though no such place has existed for decades.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Calm and Bright

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I've always had mixed feelings about Christmas celebrations. But the one thing I like about this time of year, in particular Christmas eve and day, is the stillness. In countries where the holiday is a big deal everything comes to an utter standstill. It's not just that the shops are closed and the streets are empty. It's the preternatural energy around all that closure and emptiness. It is as if time itself freezes, the Pause button pressed on some giant remote control that affects everything and everyone - save for a few stray individuals making their way down empty, windswept roads. And at times like these, boy does it feel fantastic to be one of those individuals - out and about on a bicycle. The landscape is wound so tight with stillness, it practically vibrates. The absence of activity is a heavy presence in of itself, and on two wheels I feel myself slicing through it like a knife through a block of marzipan. It feels eerie and comforting at the same time - as well as surprisingly, delightfully festive. Here is wishing everyone a magical cycling experience over the winter holidays!