Monday, March 2, 2015

Everyday Pilgrimage

St. Aidan's, Magilligan
We live in an era when shops throughout much of the world are standardised to such an extent, and exported goods so easily available, that being asked to procure something "local and unusual" from one's neck of the woods for curious friends can present a daunting challenge. Luckily, in this remote corner of Northern Ireland I have a few tricks up my sleeve for such purposes. Pulling one of them out this windy morning, I set off to visit St. Aidan's Well.

Two miles down the main road from my house, a modest sign points to this local landmark. The back road it invites you to take then winds its way up the looming Binevenagh mountain. From this vantage point, the mountain has a stacked, tiered appearance - resembling a misshapen cake. First come the grassy tiers, then the forested ones, finally giving way to the flat-top cliffs. The well is located along one of the forested tiers.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Concretely Speaking: Musings on Preferred Road Surfaces

Tined Concrete Lane, Northern Ireland
The house I live in stands at the end of a .7 mile farm lane that winds its way through fields of grazing cattle. Thus being the first and last leg of any journey I embark on, this lane - with its lack of traffic and nice scenery - has served as a backdrop for many of my bike photos. Funny enough, the thing that consistently interests readers about the photos I take here is not the scenery but the road surface. What is that stripey stuff and what's it like to ride on? Ah, what indeed! Well, instead of explaining again and again, I thought I would write a post addressing the matter concretely. Got the hint yet?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Creatures of the Night

a quick rendering of last night's adventure [dramatisation]

Returning home after dark last evening, I was proceeding unhurriedly along a narrow farm lane when, in the far-reaching glow of my light beam, I noticed a gray furry thing emerge from behind the row of hedges at the left and make its way toward the field on the right. A split second later, I saw the unmistakable striped, elongated profile. It was none other than a badger!

Being a fairly optimistic person, I was hopeful of an ideal outcome to the situation: that by the time I reached the critter, it would have already completed its journey. But having sensed my approach the poor fellow froze smack in the center of the lane and just stood there, crouching low to the ground, its short paws and hefty torso vibrating with tense indecision.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Cycling Routes and Cycling Abilities

Family Cycling, Glenveagh Castle
On a visit to a nearby nature reserve last weekend, I noticed a man out cycling with his 3 small children. The elder boy and girl, who looked no older than 6 and 5, pedaled along on their own tiny bikes, while the youngest - a toddler - sat in a child's seat at the back of the father's hybrid. I spotted them at the end of the road leading up to the Castle, which meant they were in for a 5 mile round trip overall. Impressed with the kids' good behaviour and stamina, I tried to recall the last time I'd seen children so young out cycling. It had been a while. In the rural area where I now live it's uncommon to see children on bikes beyond the confines of their immediate neighbourhoods. This is not so much due to a lack of infrastructure, as to the nature of the local topography. The area is hilly, and most routes involve climbs and descents that may prove beyond a child's ability. Heck, even adults who are not "cyclists" in the athletic sense of the word, can find themselves overwhelmed.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Wear and Tear on Your Bicycle: Expectations and Experiences

Yesterday afternoon I decided to do some maintenance on my folding bike's mud-encrusted drivetrain. Although when I say "decided" what I really mean is shamed into it ("Look at the state of that thing - It's a wonder your gears don't seize up!"). Some cyclists are, shall we say, a bit more fastidious than I am when it comes to bicycle maintenance. But on this occasion even I conceded that my everyday transport bike deserved a good wash. After all, it had been over a year since the last time! And so the next several hours were spent cleaning the bike - starting with extracting packed dirt and grit out of all the nooks and crannies in its maze-like system of pulleys, and (since, let's be honest, one tends to get carried away with these things) ending with polishing the hubs, spokes and chain links till I could see my crazed reflection in their surfaces.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Sharing the Velo Love

"You must really love me, if you're actually letting me ride this bicycle!" 

Ten miles in, this was said with the slyest of grins - letting me know that the undercurrent of nervousness in my earlier "of course you can borrow my Mercian, darling" had been less subtle than I thought.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Terror of the Trouser Cuff

Beware of Trouser!
Over the past 6 years of cycling for transportation in street clothes, I have pedaled quite comfortably in things that some might consider tricky - from pencil-skirted suits, to long silk dresses, to 4 inch heels. On the other hand, an ordinary pair of boot-cut trousers retains the power to strike terror into my heart. For I possess a remarkable talent for getting the cuffs of said trousers stuck in any and all parts of the bicycle that are even remotely in the vicinity of my ankles.

In my cycling history to date, I have snagged my trouser cuffs on pedals and crank arms, and I have wrapped them around cotter pins. I have gotten them jammed in front derailleurs and I have torn them on the teeth of chainrings. Whilst riding my Brompton, I have caught them on those little wheels positioned behind the chain stays. As improbable as it might seem, I have even had them sucked into bottom brackets. And lest you be thinking, dear reader, "Has this girl never heard of a chaincase?" allow me to remind you that at the start all my transport bicycles had those. But do not underestimate my abilities: On more then one occasion, I have caught my trouser cuffs on the chaincase itself as well, fully enclosed and otherwise.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Of Garden Paths and Urban Routes

bicycles in Belfast
As I sit and work beside a window overlooking my garden, I observe a small barn cat crossing the lawn toward a distant cluster of trees. Both this particular cat and a few of the others make this journey several times a day. And the fascinating thing about it is, they don’t hop across the grass. Neither do they slink through the shrubbery. Rather amazingly, they follow the garden path. The dedicated garden path - a gently curving narrow dirt tract - is not the quickest or the most direct route across the lawn. The cats are not required to use it; indeed no one would expect it of them. And yet they insist on walking along the path, in an elegantly unhurried sort of trot - as if drawn to this more civilised method of moving from A to B.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Finding a Winter Wander-land (and Other Coping Strategies)

Rummaging through some years worth of photos over the weekend in an attempt to tidy up my hard drive, I noticed something interesting. February, despite being the shortest month of the year - as well as one of the coldest - seems to be my most productive month photographically. Judging by the sheer quantity and frequency of the photos, it would appear that I can't step out the door without my camera this time of year, and that everything I encounter - from rusty chainlink fences, to bits of snow-covered grass, to the tracks my bicycle's tires make in the slush - receives its lavish attention.

Friday, January 30, 2015

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

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.