Tuesday, September 1, 2015

It's Just Like Riding a Bicycle... Backwards

Thomas Cycles Backwards
One day not so long after having moved into the house we currently live in, I was sitting in the front porch, writing, when out of the corner of my eye I noticed the figure of my neighbour Thomas - the owner of the farm next door - circling the yard on a bicycle. Now, to see another person cycling through the farm was in itself unusual. But even aside from this, something about the way he moved through space was sufficiently dissonant to yank me out of my own little world and force me to have a proper look at what was happening. Seated on his bicycle's handlebars in a bolt-upright position, the sexagenarian gentleman was pedaling backwards - cruising around the yard in this manner with an air of utter nonchalance.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Box vs Superbox - and Other Updates in Bike Shipping

Full Sized vs Frame-Sized Bicycle Box
Some time during my last visit to the USA I was talking to a bike shop employee about the difficulties of posting complete bicycles to non-local customers. I mentioned the existence of bike boxes that are large enough to fit an entire, fully assembled upright bicycle of Dutch/utility-sized proportions. He told me such things did not exist - that bike boxes are getting ever-smaller, so that anything but a fully disassembled roadbike is becoming impossible to fit inside them. I insisted that I'd seen with my own eyes the kind of box I was describing, whereupon he led me to the shop's computer and asked me to show him. We tried the search a few different ways, but could not find an example. And while I vowed to get back with proof of my claim, life's relentless current got the better of me and I promptly forgot about this debate. Until yesterday. When the two-fork project I am working on with Germano-Italian manufacturer Bella Ciao arrived at my doorstep in all its glory - in just such a box! For scale, here it is shown with a standard sized bike box in front of it, and an especially large upright city bike sandwiched in between.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Weight Training

Berthoud "Photo Bag"
Over the past week I’ve been doing a site photography project that required me to travel with most of my camera equipment. The distance was a bit further than I typically cycle with that much weight, but I enjoyed the challenge. The first couple of times I rode an upright bike with my gear in the front basket and pannier, since that was the only way to fit it all. It had been a particularly windy week, and the combination of the headwind, the couple of daunting inclines along the way, the extra weight, and the upright position left me pretty tired after these 20 mile trips. So on my last day of shooting, which called for fewer pieces of equipment than required at the start, I decided to make things easier on myself and take “Alice” - my DIY roadbike.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

There Goes the Neighbourhood

It was a rare sunny day in the city of Derry and I was sitting on a bench eating lunch with a friend, when beside us a party of four began to lock up their bicycles to a nearby pole. There was a woman in her 30s, two girls aged around 10 and 6, and another woman, perhaps in her late 60s, who looked to be the younger lady's mother. The children had arrived on some brightly coloured kiddie mountain bikes. The adults rolled in on loop frame city bikes with panniers and baskets. After wrangling a cable lock around all four machines, the mother started to extract things from her bags while the grandmother herded the boisterous girls toward a bench on the far side of the square. Just like us, they were about to have lunch under the leafy shade of chestnut trees, beside medieval city walls, overlooking the river. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched them with the same relaxed curiosity as I would any other mildly interesting, but not especially remarkable, street scene.

Monday, August 17, 2015

A Murderous Climb

At the 'Murder Hole'
With its slog of a 6-mile climb through exposed boggy scrubland, the Windy Hill Road is everything that it promises. It is windy. And it is hilly. And so one would think the name by which it's officially known would be sufficiently evocative. The locals, however, take the evocative factor up a notch and call it the Murder Hole Road.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Out of Reach

Long Dawes Frameset
So this is what happens when you spend time on twitter kids, let this be a warning! A fellow bicycle obsessionist posts a link to this tiny-looking 1970s Dawes frame for sale, suggesting I might find it "lovely." I glance at it, smile, and forget all about it. Minutes later I get a private message. "Get it! That's a good frame!"

Really? Aside from being sold cheaply, what exactly is so good about it? Is it the unremarkable construction? Or the peeling aftermarket spray job? Or the fact that it is missing every single friggin component and will be a pain to build up considering how many non-standard parts it will need?

"Seriously, get it before someone else does. If you don't get it, I will."

"Sounds good - enjoy!"

Later that day the Dawes set sail from the Green and Pleasant land to the even greener and pleasanter one across the waters.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A View Well Earned

I do not subscribe to the notion of "earning" things on the bike. You know - like the idea that you earn a descent by climbing, or you earn a cafe stop by doing a strenuous club ride. Sure it can be rewarding to experience sensual luxuries after bouts of effortful pedaling. But framing things in this way implies there are aspects of cycling that are a chore, only to be done for a reward. I prefer to think of every part of the pedaling experience as rewarding in its own right. There is beauty and pleasure to be gleaned from climbing, even without a breathtaking view at the top. There is satisfaction in pushing against a headwind even without the anticipation of a good hot meal after. That is just my way of thinking. And it has kept me in love with cycling through thick and thin.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Car vs Bicycle Speed: Rural Edition

Untitled
One of the trickiest parts to driving a car in rural Ireland, is navigating the narrow winding roads. Even the "main road" where I live is a single carriageway, barely wide enough for two standard-sized cars to pass each other in opposite directions, with constant hairpin bends and blind crests. At the side of the road there is no "shoulder," but instead ravine-like trenches. Let your wheel wander too near to the edge, and your car will be violently pulled off the road. Misjudge the distance in the other direction, and you'll smash into oncoming traffic. As a driver, you cannot ever let your guard down. And you must constantly monitor and reduce your speed.

Friday, August 7, 2015

A Look at the HOY Vulpine Performance Range

Hoy x Vulpine Range
Ever since their launch in 2012, I have been a fan of the small British cycling apparel company Vulpine. But when they teamed up with olympic cyclist Chris Hoy to start the HOY Vulpine range earlier this year, to be honest the news did not really turn my head. I'm into Vulpine because I am into wool, quality, and good tailoring - not so much "collabos" with superstar racers. So the venture only really came up on my radar when gentlemen readers from the UK began emailing me to ask for a review. It was then I finally had a look at the attractive and surprisingly economical (made even more so by the massive sale currently on) HOY Vulpine range. And while a women's line was released simultaneously with the men's, since the inquiries I've been getting were coming exclusively from men, I tasked my in-house male model with putting it through the ringer - which he has dutifully done for about a month now.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Shattered Record

"Distressed" Record Ladies
It began because I wanted a so-called "beater bike" - for leaving at bus stations for days at a time and such. This was a role hitherto filled by an old Viking mixte I'd found discarded last summer. But in my eyes the Viking was actually too good for the job and indeed I had other plans for it. Was there not something even more nondescript and decrepit I could get my hands on? I presented this challenge to my friend Bryan (aka "Elton John," of the hub/derailleur dumpster Kalkhoff fame) and he did not let me down. "I have just the bike for you," he said reassuringly, "...though I doubt you will want to feature it on your blog!" It sounded perfect.