Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Award-Winning Fredliness

Fred Awards Belfast 2015
Having been inundated with internet "cycling culture" for years, I sometimes take it for granted that those who ride bikes will know all its geeky jargon. But when I told my own Beloved Cyclist about the Fred Awards, he surprised me by not getting the reference. Who is this Fred, and why is he being awarded? Chuckles aside, his genuine not knowing made me pretty happy - as it means the ludicrous concept of "fredliness" is not as malignantly pervasive as some of us might imagine, having spared at least some cyclists who roam the quiet country lanes of Ulster. Clearly, however, it has not spared the more cosmopolitan people of Belfast - who are not only aware of the term, but have organised a club around it!

Fred Awards Belfast 2015
In their own words:
Fred is a derisive term used by “serious” road cyclists to describe other cyclists who do not conform to serious road cyclists’ norms with regard to dress and equipment, and appear amateurish to them. We wish to reappropriate the phrase to mean “anyone with a deep passion for cycling”. 
The Fréd CC is an informal cycle club who wish to build a better, more vibrant bike culture and in turn encourage more people to use the bike. 
Fred Awards Belfast 2015
Run by a small group of charismatic and mysterious individuals whose identities I shall keep out of the spotlight, theFred.cc is really a reaction to what was once a complete lack of utility cycling culture in Northern Ireland. And while my presence here does not go back far enough to comment on earlier history, certainly when I first arrived in 2013 "cycling" seemed to be used solely as a synonym for the sport of bicycle racing. Even my most "bicycle-mad" acquaintances were either confused or amused by the crazy idea that I intended to actually (gasp) use a bike for transport.

But having endured a similar situation in Boston, only to see it transform within a 5 year time span into as close to cycling paradise as I've seen an American city get, I know that times can change, and so can attitudes. And seeing some of those changes happening here already - even in rural areas - makes me hopeful. As does the appearance of theFred.cc.

Fred Awards Belfast 2015
Though it's tempting to label Fred as an activist group, they are, true to their name, really more like a club. Or, if you like, a gang, a social circle, a community - a collective organic phenomenon with a looseness, flexibility and creativity at its core that suggests exciting potential.

Fred Awards Belfast 2015
Fred's activities thus far have included debates on local issues, annual film festivals, the Ride on Belfast event, bike maintenance workshops, various picnics and "slow rides,"

Fred Awards Belfast 2015
and of course the Fred Awards - a Belfast-held award show that recognises contributions to cycling culture in Northern Ireland.

Fred Awards Belfast 2015
When I wrote about my visit to Belfast in early 2015, the city was on the verge of installing their first ever bike share programme. But aside from some posters announcing this fact, there was not much to suggest even the presence of cyclists, let alone a cycling culture. On the day of the Fred Awards, however, I had noticed signs of two wheeled life even before my arrival at PlaceNI where the event was held. The Belfast Bikes were not only stationed everywhere, but visibly in use. And despite the windy, frigid morning with intermittent rain, I counted a dozen non-bikeshare commuters besides, as well as a Christmas-themed pedicab admired by holiday shoppers.

Fred Awards Belfast 2015
Of course, there was no mistaking the venue itself.

Fred Awards Belfast 2015
Watching a gentleman, dressed in attire at once urban-chic and hi-viz, casually park his Moulton beside a Pashley, a Nihola cargo trike, and a double top-tubed Dutch roadster whose brand I am not even familiar with, I knew that I had arrived.

Fred Awards Belfast 2015
Accustomed as I am to such bicycles by now, it was nonetheless a shock to the system to see them in Belfast, where they are really quite rare,

Fred Awards Belfast 2015
and all "congregating" together at that!

Fred Awards Belfast 2015
It was an even greater shock to the system to then spot these bicycles' owners, all of whom I "knew" to some extent via their online presences, but had never met in person. For example, NI Greenways, who advocates for turning Northern Ireland's 600 mile(!) network of disused railways into rail trails.

Ellen Murray/ Fred Awards Belfast 2015
And Ellen Murray (aka "Auntie Ellen/ trans youth worker/ utility bicycle hack/ transport infrastructure nerd/ autistic/ Cats!") whose twitter feed is indescribably addictive in its warm and disarming approach to tackling difficult topics.

Fred Awards Belfast 2015
As well as the elegant Siobhán / aka daisybella

Fred Awards Belfast 2015
and the dapper Steven Patterson of sustrans.

Fred Awards Belfast 2015
To see so many bikey people in one place was exciting and a bit overwhelming - as, quite frankly, I live in the sticks and just don't see or speak to many people (or bicycles) on a day to day basis.

Fred Awards Belfast 2015
Re-introduction into civilisation under such circumstances needs to be slow and gradual. But having plunged straight into Belfast high society, I grew overexcited and, I imagine, must have wandered about quite feral and wild-eyed, frightening all the attendees with my deranged grin, large camera and excess of tweed.

Fred Awards Belfast 2015
No doubt for this reason, the organisers tactfully suggested that I "go photograph from over there" - and pointed to a sort of tower/ isolation chamber at the back of the room, apparently reserved for just such a purpose, which I quickly scaled and hid out in until such time as I regained my composure.

Fred Awards Belfast 2015
But once I did, climbing down from there was easier said than done.

Fred Awards Belfast 2015
I made several attempts. But at length it became apparent that even the smell of coffee could not persuade me to descend the vertical drop of the tree house-like structure,

Fred Awards Belfast 2015
Coming to the rescue, first the delightful folks of See.Sense attempted to lure me down with a promise to show me their new headlight design. Then, cycling coach extraordinaire Dave Smith/ aka ffflow gave it a go, by vowing to teach me to mount a bicycle properly once and for all.

Fred Awards Belfast 2015
Alas, even these fine incentives did not work. And when it began to seem I would be stuck in the Tower till well past the time everyone wished to get home, the Fred Awards organisers had to think quickly.

Fred Awards Belfast 2015
And that, dear readers, was how I came to be named "Best Cycling Writer 2015" by the good people of theFred.cc!

Fred Awards Belfast 2015
Happily, others' victories were free of such scandalous corruptions, and you can read the full roster of the 2015 Fred Awards winners here. Some new discoveries for me included the Velo Cafe Magasin, which won the best Local Bike Shop award and 5A Coffee, which won Best Cycle Cafe. I was also happy to re-discover Sticky Bottle, winner of Best Cycling Media, and surprised to learn that Vitus (pronounced "Vee-toose," we were all reminded!), winner of Best Cycle Brand, is now Northern Ireland based.

Fred Awards Belfast 2015
Not at all surprising and well deserved was the Belfast Bikes win of Best Cycling Infrastructure. It was lovely to meet the people behind this successful bike share programme. I don't get out to Belfast much, but on my next visit I hope to try the bikes.

Fred Awards Belfast 2015
After some outdoor chatter and frolics (I swear this is not what it looks like!), the Fred Awards closed its doors and the bike folk of Belfast scattered.

But all through the day I kept spotting more two-wheeled action throughout the city, and pictured what this place might look like in 1 year's, 2 years, 5 years time. Teeming with utility bikes of all shapes and sizes? Protected bicycle paths? 600 miles of greenways?

Fred Awards Belfast 2015
Well, it seems that some of us harbour hope. And encourage it whatever small ways we can, award-winning "fredliness" notwithstanding!

With thanks to everyone involved, full picture set can be found here.

35 comments:

  1. What a nice story! I had never heard of Fredliness, but I live in California. Here, such a gathering would tend to drift into the political sphere. I'm thinking Critical Mass or the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. I just want to ride my bicycle! Without being assumed to be making a statement.

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  2. I learned the meaning of "fred" through bike snob and never heard of it before despite over a decade of being one:)

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    1. I have a sneaking suspicion that many of us learned it from Bike Snob!

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  3. It used to be, when I thought of Northern Ireland cycling was not what immediately came to mind! This changed gradually but surely as a result of your blog. Thank you as always for the fine writing and the beautiful imagery.

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    1. I know, it used to be pure Game of Thrones.
      If only they could incorporate cycling into that show.

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    2. bad boy of the northDecember 26, 2015 at 8:32 PM

      Replying here for the first time,so bear with me.I liked your posting on the fredcc.Perhaps a Game of Thrones spin-off.(hopefully the producers aren't reading this).I really would be a (ahem) spin off.Perhaps a Game of Spokes!

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  4. For what it's worth, I also encountered "Fred" first on Bike Snob NYC. His usage is almost exactly OPPOSITE to that of the Fred CC.

    They write: Fred is a derisive term used by “serious” road cyclists to describe other cyclists who do not conform to serious road cyclists’ norms with regard to dress and equipment, and appear amateurish to them. We wish to reappropriate the phrase to mean “anyone with a deep passion for cycling”.

    In contrast, BSNYC uses "Fred" to denote a cyclist who adorns himself (and, presumably, herself) with all of the accoutrements of the serious racer. As such, a Fred might well be clad in full team kit, be sporting shaved legs, and be astride an expensive carbon fiber steed shorn with the latest deep dish carbon wheels ... all while being at best a Cat 4 or 5 racer.

    Perhaps the difference is simply explained by British Isles vs. American convention?

    A ruling is requested! [grin]

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    1. deepbrook,

      The way this post defines "Fred" is correct and it's the way the term has always been used. However, I decided at a certain point to apply the term to the "serious" roadies as well, because they're no less silly than the "Freds" they're laughing at. (Indeed they're usually sillier.) So basically I've broadened it for my own purposes. (And please know I cop to my own Fred-dom as well.)

      --Wildcat Rock Machine

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    2. @deepbrook
      I was going to write the same thing. There seem to be two different definitions of "Fredness" and I usually go by the BikeSnob's one. It's more fun that way. If you stick to the original one, you could call Fred pretty much everyone on a bike, even kids on their tricycles.

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    3. @bostonbybike - "you could call Fred pretty much everyone on a bike, even kids on their tricycles"
      that's exactly what we're aiming for… deep down everyone's a Fred in some way or other.

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  5. Very good indeed! Sounds fun!
    I am reminded of the cycling infrastructure closer to home (in my area) the city/county planning organization has a web site and they are ambitiously going about their work, but what I found discomforting was their pervasive use of the word "Recreation" in other words not addressing Bike routes as bonafied transportation alternatives, but as a wholesome way to kick off some steam, cobwebs or whatever.
    To me just pouring a cement path that goes from random point A to random point B is a waste of time, resources and money. To make matters worse said pathways usually meander aimlessly in a pleasing esthetic, but otherwise inefficient manner. To me it seems like one should address the idea of viable transportation from the outset rather than having it be a happy accident if the route is more than just an exercise route.
    On the other hand I wonder if the organizers are aware of this dichotomy and are using a bit of subterfuge to slowly build a network, because a bunch of harmless bike paths if far less confrontational then some sort of overtly transportational routes designed to challenge your ideals of transportation and get you out of your car!??
    - masmojo

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  6. This is really a lovely idea, but I don't think they've got the concept of "Fred" right. A "Fred" is someone who has to dress in a road jersey and tights or bike shorts, preferably matching, to ride their bike. Who obsesses over having the latest equipment on their bicycle, and who is always talking about the trade-offs between say Shimano's drive train versus SRAM's. Who wants to discuss what tire pressure they're running before going on a ride. Etc. In other words, someone who is much more concerned with the mechanics of riding their bicycle than actually getting on their bikes and going for a ride. It's pretty much the opposite of the people in your photos.

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  7. I quote from WCRM's post of 17 Dec 2015 ("The Chain of Fools is Lubed with Fred Intentions"):

    '"After 200 miles (in dry conditions), the power savings of the UFO chain drops off. Ceramic Speed says that by, “using the Squirt Lube in the maintenance of the UFO Chain, the traces of optimization are stimulated even further, resulting in an upgraded and high-quality training chain.”

    Yes, you read that right.

    Just let those two words sink in:

    TRAINING CHAIN

    I think we've just reached Peak Fred.'

    The term "Fred" - in Canada's Saggy Underpants at least - is used to denote the type of cyclist who embraces crabon, Strava KoMs, lycra, and embrocations. Pretty much the total opposite of the usage in Belfast, apparently. Maybe now we can have..."Fred vs. Fred"!

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    1. Training chain! So that would be, like the cheap 10K gold-plated as opposed to the full on golden one?

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    2. HMMPH! When I was a boy it was a training WHIP(!) and I daresay a much more effective stimulant to optimization than the chain and lube in the comment above.

      Fred Fredrikson

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  8. I hope there was a Fred Festival Award (dare I suggest that they will someday be known as the Freddies?) for Best Knitting Cyclist? Or Best Cycling Knitter?

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    1. True enough. I guess if there is a category for cycling cafe, there should also be one for cycling knitter. I shall try to snag that in 2016, once my shop opens!

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    2. Online, brick & mortar, or both?

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    3. online; doubt I could sit still enough to run a B&M! (unless a decently sized velodrome could be fitted inside)

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  9. Congratulations Velouria! Your award was well deserved and, quite frankly, long overdue. Those of us in Boston should have presented you with such an award while you were still residing, cycling and writing here. Your quiet form of advocacy is far more polite, subtle, and perhaps more effective at encouraging people to bike than all the shouting that some of us tend to do.

    Congrats again,
    Mark, from Roslindale

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  10. Great post and photos - I don't think any cyclist should use derogatory terms to describe others - I have found 'roadies' here to be quite rude, though I imagine it is a 'group' attitude and that individually they would not behave in this way. I have experienced their 'mob mentality' but don't give any recognition to it - in any case, the Fred cc club has a good agenda and I hope this encourages others to take up cycling, in whatever form interests them.

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    1. Somehow I have managed to meet only "good" roadies in person, and seeing this behaviour online makes me realise how fortunate that is.

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  11. It's morphed over the years to mean many things.
    Years ago it was used by road cyclists to look down on the bearded, sandal wearing cyclists who perhaps went touring, audaxing etc. More recently it's been used by road cyclists to describe the modern MAMIL
    Broadly it's a devicive term to allow on group of cyclists to look down on another group.
    http://bikeparts.wikia.com/wiki/Fred_(bicycling)
    In the eyes of Bernard Hinault… we're all Freds.

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    1. I've always understood the definition to be rather flexible, the core idea being that a fred is not a "proper" cyclist in some respect (attire, equipment, mannerisms, skill, etc.) and is at the same time over-enthusiastic. Basically an "uncool" cyclist.

      The bit of historical speculation on bikeparts wiki is pretty interesting and I wonder whether that is indeed the origin.

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    2. PS: pretty sure debating the definition of "fred" is in itself not entirely un-fredlike : )

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  12. Wonderful club idea. I do wish a mix of cyclists could come together where I live to form a club like that. It's mostly about road cycling/racing or mountain biking so far.

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    1. "Maybe spending too much time reading and commenting on bike blogs also makes me a Fred"

      That's a dangerous line of thought my friend.

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  14. Congratulations! I think you deserve it more than any other blogger out there.

    And just to get this straight, it's Presidential Medal of Freedom, Nobel Prize, Fred Of The Year and then the Booker Prize in order of importance? I keep getting it confused...

    Spindizzy

    P.S. Are you required to build a new custom bicycle to attach your headbadge "Freddie" to or do they present you with a new Mercian to stick it on if you win it a second time? And just so you know, I'm TOTALLY prying that off your bike the first time I see it outside the Pub...

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    1. As I recall, they pledged to present badge holders with custom Northern Ireland-built bicycles, once such things exist. Judging by my latest hipster beard count in Belfast, I think we are close.

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  15. I once wrote "Freds: A Scholarly Treatise" and it was published by Grant Petersen at Bridgestone Cycles USA. Originally I had written it for Bicycle Guide, who had received a letter to the editor referring to their editor - a friend of mine - as a fred. But then Grant published it: http://www.adventurecorps.com/way/freds.html (In retrospect, I think my article basically perpetuated the use of the term, but I flipped it on its head, using the term to refer to the people who mainly used the term.)

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  16. 'Fred' has been in common usage since the late '70s. Eben Weiss, The Bike Snob, was a small child. Yes, it was a reference to Fred Flintstone.

    Before going any further I will ask you to think about a situation you may not have experienced. Imagine you are in a group of forty riders going down a hill at 50 mph. It's not a descent, just a hill. Since it's a short hill the group is still in relatively tight formation. Now in that situation it is tremendously important that the rider in front of you and the rider next to you and in fact every rider in the bunch be very predictable and reasonably competent. This is why racers value uniformity. This is a very good reason for racers to value uniformity.

    Back in the '70s the racing community was the unique and only expression of organized riding in many localities. So the racers did meet riders who would be directed to some other organization in 2015. As you indulge hating on racers in this festive season you might remember that it was the race community that kept the sport alive. We kept the flame. The bikes you all enjoy would be very different and very much less available if we had not been there. For those who imagine that the Earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep prior to AD 2010 none of this will make any sense. As much as Americans abhor history, and will do anything to avoid it, it is not possible to live outside history. Attempting to do so never works.

    This is to be a long comment and holiday obligations are all around still, I may resume later.

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  17. Continuing about that group of 40 riders at 50 mph. All of our bikes were just about mechanically identical. We had all assembled our own bikes and we all did 99% of our own mechanical work. In a group of forty riders there were 80 eyeballs doing a continuous safety inspection of each and every bike. And we had all learned how to ride in the same school. We had the same training the same education the same experience. The group might have a visitor from Bogota or Bologna or Beograd and the visitor would slot right in because he had the same patterned behavior too. I am describing a very safe way to ride.

    The Original Fred fit a pattern but there were not all that many of him. It was a small world and each Fred was a character. Fred was an autodidact. Repeat Fred was an autodidact. He'd figured out how to ride a race-style bike in a world that was not all that bike friendly. Of course he could have come to the race community in the first place, we were always welcoming to newcomers. But Fred hadn't found us until he was a formed rider. He really was a rider and most Freds were quite strong. Having figured it all out himself he thought he really knew something. And he wanted to show us how good he was. When we dropped him cold during warmup he thought we were mean. We were only looking out for our own safety, and for his.

    Fred always had the same wrong ideas. First, he equated strength with speed. Which is total nonsense, and still widely held. Second, he believed that equipment translated to speed. This is still the core sales pitch of the bike industry and it is still completely wrong. Finally he thought he had one or two personal quirks and that they were a mark of character. From our point of view Fred had a hundred quirks. He was a ball of quirks and little else.

    When a group has unity they can do a lot of riding that can't be done otherwise. Going down a hill at 50mph "do your own thing" is not just jejune, it is dangerous. It can't be tolerated.

    The riding style of the 70s is gone. I watch racers today and they are a mess. They don't even know why they demand conformity. Racing seems to be mostly about posing with fabulously expensive consumer products. They're all Freds to me. The most pathetic race experience I've ever had happened two years ago. Sunday ride with my sweetie. Taking a shortcut across the golf course we met a CX race. Looked to me like Cat 5 warmup. We decided to do a lap. Now I've probably done 50 CX races and I was never much good. I've also organized and promoted a couple dozen CX races. I know what a CX race looks like. Me and my sweetie were on our everyday 1960s road bikes. My sweetie was then 64 years of age and not at all in good health. She's never competed in her life. Never wanted to. We were passing everyone on the course. They didn't know how to ride at all. When we went past the start/finish the officials went ballistic. We were not in Cat 5 warmup, we were in the Cat 3 race. Everyone we passed had incredible and incredibly expensive kit. All on handmade CX tubulars and highend carbon wheels. And they could not ride. Freds.

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  18. As an actual FRED, I rather hate the term, but I have never heard it in the wild. Only bike snob.

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