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.
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.
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'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,"
and of course the Fred Awards - a Belfast-held award show that recognises contributions to cycling culture in Northern Ireland.
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.
Of course, there was no mistaking the venue itself.
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.
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,
and all "congregating" together at that!
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.
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.
As well as the elegant Siobhán / aka daisybella
and the dapper Steven Patterson of sustrans.
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.
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.
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.
But once I did, climbing down from there was easier said than done.
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,
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.
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.
And that, dear readers, was how I came to be named "Best Cycling Writer 2015" by the good people of theFred.cc!
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.
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.
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.
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.