Monday, December 22, 2014

Making Time

When talking about cycling - or, more accurately, complaining about cycling - there is a phrase I am loath to allow escape my lips. Don't get me wrong, I think it, just like everyone else; I'm only human after all. But should I catch myself about to say it, I just clamp my mouth shut and wait till the wave of frustration that brought it on crashes and dissipates safely. Because few ideas are more dangerous to articulate, more poisonous to the cyclist's delicate psyche, than this one.

"I don't have time to ride."

Like all popular false beliefs this one seduces us with its veneer of logic. Because, let's face it: Even under the best of circumstances most of us adults are ever so busy. When we aren't plagued with work, we are riddled with household responsibilities, family commitments, social obligations and miscellaneous errands. It's a testament to our superior time management skills, really, that we can manage to get on the bike at all. And then on top of that things happen. Sad things, happy things, scary things - all requiring strangely similar degrees of swift, high stress responsiveness. There are health problems and bouts of severe weather. There are work emergencies. One day the plumbing breaks and we wait for a handyman who never arrives. The next, a bear cub with an English accent is left at our door in a basket, with a note "please look after me" attached, compelling us to search for its parents while the household sinks into chaos from its merry ursine antics. In the midst of our already hectic lives these random crises erupt when we least expect them and gobble up those precious few tidbits of time that we do have to ride, compelling us to exclaim in exasperation that - while we'd love to ride our bikes, while we truly wish we could - we simply don't have the time! We then feel completely justified in wallowing in self-pity and calling those cyclists who do manage to get out "lucky."

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Fixed Gear Cyclist I am Not, and Yet I Like It Quite a Lot!

Mercian, Horsing Around
Successfully smuggled and equine neighbour-approved, my Mercian fixed gear has now made it over to the Emerald Isle, making my Roadbike Trinity (paved, dirt, fixed) complete again. I have been riding it around for the past 3 days, and it's been so utterly weird, that honestly I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

So what exactly is so funny/sad? Oh nothing. It's just that... How can I put this? Right. I can't actually ride a fixed gear bicycle!

Monday, December 15, 2014

"Dry Cold" and "Wet Cold"

A couple of days ago I woke to a beautiful sight: For the first time this season, the mountains outside my window were capped with a dusting of snow. Across the Lough Foyle, the hills of Donegal stood stark and chalky against a steel gray sky. And just beyond my front door, the ridgeline of Binevenagh was outlined in white - so crisply and precisely, it was as if someone had taken a technical pen to a photograph.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Dream Bicycle Industry Jobs - What's Yours?

Once in a while a really cool job announcement comes up in the bicycle industry and gets passed around via social media, in a way that you can practically hear the frenzied oohs and aaahs and "wish I could"s echoing through the ether. Oftentimes the job's awesomeness is matched only by its utter impossibility. Like the time a well known framebuilder out in the middle of nowhere was hiring an apprentice, requiring relocation to his remote abode and a 2-year commitment. Or that time a fancy cycling clothing manufacturer was seeking an account manager fluent in French and Japanese (and/or Hebrew). The professor in England recruiting an assistant for bicycling-related research, Masters degree in Psychology and 6 recent publications a must...

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Vest for On and Off the Bike: Vulpine Women's Quilted Thermal Gilet

Vulpine Quilted Gilet

For wandering about outdoors in cool weather, I have long been a fan of the down vest (or, as it's known in the UK, the gilet.) Allowing my arms to move without constraint while enclosing my torso in what's essentially a wearable winter-weight duvet, the vest/gilet has been a wardrobe staple for nature walks and photo expeditions since my teenage years. I have not, however, found this garment to be ideal for cycling. The prototypical EMS and the LL Bean vests I'd owned since my pre-bicycling days proved both too short and too heavy for the bike, overheating my torso while at the same time exposing a good chunk of my lower back to the frigid wind. They also pulled at the sleeve openings and bunched up around the tummy area uncomfortably on anything but the most bolt-upright of machines. And so, what was once a wardrobe stable became relegated to the back of said wardrobe once I switched to life on two wheels. But that did not mean I didn't miss the mighty down vest. Which is why when Vulpine released their cycling-specific puffy gilet, they immediately had my attention. Available in navy or red for women, and in navy, charcoal, or marigold for men, the Vulpine Ultralight Quilted Thermal Gilet is priced at £119. I've been testing this vest for a couple of months now, and over that period of time I've found myself wearing it at some point of nearly every day, on the bike and off.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Making Friends with the Dark

Dark and Stormy Night
As the season of early sunsets descends upon us, many cyclists find themselves overwhelmed by the prospect of commuting in the dark. Now entering my 6th winter of relying on two wheeled transportation, I too find this aspect of things challenging - in particular since moving from a populated, well lit urban area to a remote, pitch-black rural one. But while it's certainly been difficult, it has not been impossible. And as I settle into another winter of moonlit trips along winding country roads, this time around I am finding it less daunting, more comfortable. To get to this state, it has helped to consistently follow a 2-prongued approach: (1) to always have good lights, and (2) to know the road as well as possible. It's an approach that's straightforward and commonsensical enough. But in the event this may prove useful to others, allow me to elaborate.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Owl and the Bicycle: A Strigo-Velocipedian Give-Away

Is it just me, or does there seem to be some overlap between people who love bicycles and people who love owls? Okay, don't answer that, because I prefer to believe it is so! That is why when the Daniel Rolnik Gallery brought this adorable print to my attention, I could not resist suggesting a give-away. And while normally, I am not a fan of curvy-tube BMX bikes, I must concede this one looks like the right machine for this particular Strix aluco. What do you think?

The digital print, by artist Mike Joos, measures 8"x10" and is priced at $60. An edition of 100 were made, with all but one now sold out. And now, this very last remaining print could be yours, oh lucky reader - at no cost!

How, you ask?

It will either delight or horrify you to learn that poetry is involved...

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

In and Out of Character

Cyclist/ Pedestrian Bridge, Coleraine

One afternoon not so long ago, I was doing something I don't normally do: riding my roadbike through a busy town center. I was cycling slowly, meandering really, taking in the sights. Then I stopped to take a photo of the sun setting over a distant scrap yard. As I admired the pastel heaps of debris whilst considering composition, a man walked past and turned his head to look at my bike. He then remarked offhandedly that it looked "out of character." What do you mean, I said. But before my words could reach him, he was out of earshot.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Keeping Toll as You Roll?

Forest Path Bromptoneering

Having recently installed a new operating system on my mobile phone, I've discovered - only after being told of it by a friend - that it comes with this nifty built-in app which automatically tracks my daily walking milage. So I opened it up and had a glance at my stats. What I learned surprised me: Apparently, I've been walking an average of 7.5 miles a day over the past several days. And since the app can only track milage while the phone is on your person and I keep mine either in my coat or bag, that includes outdoor activity only. Had it also counted footsteps taken indoors, the figure would have been higher. All that considered, I am fairly impressed by the milage. Granted, I am traveling over Thanksgiving weekend and don't have a bike with me, so walking is how I've been getting around. Still we're talking about casual, purpose-driven urban pedestrianism here, not hiking. To rack up 7.5 miles a day on foot in this manner is more than I would have guessed.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Not Just the Stuff of Memories

Out on bikes side by side with a friend, it was one of those late Autumn mornings, simultaneously freezing and piercingly sunny. The air smelled strongly of dry hay from the farms and dry leaves from the forest, then more softly - like the basenotes of a perfume - of seawater and peat fires. Smoke rose in ringlets over houses at the base of the mountain and was carried up over the ridge to mingle with the streaming sunlight. Wind blew in playful, uneven gusts as the road ahead shone blue with the sky reflected in its glistening wetness from the previous night's rains. My eyes were tearing, my nose was running, the skin on my face was tingling. I was swallowing cold air - my mouth frozen in the shape of a silent "aaawh!" from the sheer sensual pleasure of it all.