Kew Riverside Primary School: Kew to Bruges 2017

Kew Riverside Primary School: Kew to Bruges 2017

Friday 19 May, 9AM (sharp) the first Bicycle Moaning Collective Sponsored Ride for Schools of 2017 rode out of Kew, South West London, across London via the perilous South Circular, heading through the rain for Dover on the South East tip of the UK (Day 1: 160km / grippy). Followed by a ferry to Calais (and a much needed drink/sleep) before heading North along the heavily fortified coast (WWII) of Northern France and Southern Belgium before spurring inland at Ostend for Bruges (Day2: 120km / pan flat).

The peloton of parents from Kew Riverside Primary School was unique in a number of ways. It included – shock horror – Mums! (We soon discovered they’re no different from Dad’s – just the toilet stops are more complex!). For the 1st time on our school rides the riders were resplendent in a cycle jersey designed by their school kids, topped off (or should that be bottomed out?) with zebra print bib-shorts. A cycling first for sure.


What wasn’t unique was that they had started training in the depths of winter, were an eclectic mix of cycling-newbies and seasoned weekend warriors, operating as a cohesive unit to drive themselves through the wind and rain, up and over brutal climbs (that one behind the EuroTunnel terminal) to cover the 280km to raise money for their kids’ school. If you knew where some of KRPS riders started and saw how they finished you’d be impressed and inspired in equal measure too.


Enough off the plaudits. There was more than the fair share of cycling mishaps. Failure to unclip the right foot, equals painful fall. As does grinding to a halt (on that hill), slowly toppling and almost gracefully, tumbling into a hedge. Then in the moment of euphoria of arriving in time to catch the ferry there was the abandoning of bikes at the ferry port or the riding with only 20psi in both tyres. That was just the drama in the peloton – the BMC Support Crew have a few stories to tell too but they’re keeping quiet about those – what goes on in the support vans, stays in the support vans. 

After conquering the rain, steep hills, British roads and traffic of the Kew to Dover leg – and most importantly not missing the 1730 ferry (don’t tell the Riders we had booked a flexible ticket!) – waking in Calais to blue skies and a fresh tailwind was a welcome boost. With a few early morning, pre-departure bike tweaks by Glenn the Mechanic (as he is known) the show was ready to get back on the road. A very flat road, hugging the coast and in some places almost straying onto the beach. This stretch of Belgian coastline is well worth a visit, bike or no bike.

Where Friday was a day to test the best of them, Saturday’s ride was just reward. So was some rather exotic Belgian takes on coffee in De Panne. The kilometres flew by and it was perhaps a touch disappointing that Bruges hovered into sight so soon. Maybe carry on to Brussels? No, Bruges will do, popping celebratory champagne corks in a back street behind the hotel will do just fine!

Many thanks to all the KRPS Riders, for training so hard in the depths of winter, persevering with mastering clip-in pedals and for being a damn fine bunch of cyclists – embracing the Bicycle Moaning Collective’s ethos of each rider helping their team mates when they need a smile, some gentle encouragement or a little shove up a hill. Lastly, thanks to Sabina Mangosi who proved that everyone needs a strong mum to help them along.

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a cycling manifesto

a cycling manifesto

Cycling requires honesty.  That climb hurt? You haven’t trained hard enough.  That descent was slow?  You’re not brave enough.  A vote for Brexit, a fear of immigrants the rise of extremism?  Democracy has failed.  Our elected representatives have taken the easy options.

Cycling from London to Luxembourg (330 miles in 3 days / 4 countries in 3 days) had everything.  Gruelling climbs and exhilarating descents, beauty and decay, physical devastation and mental strength. Everything together on one ride.  A country is a bit like that: rich and poor, rural and urban, young and old.  All having to rub along in the same space and time.

10 hour cycling days afford a lot of time for reflection.  By the end of the trip I knew exactly what needed to be done.

My 53/39 Chainset needs to be swapped for 52/36, the corroded Di2 battery needs replacing and 11 speed would be nice.  Whilst I’m at it I need to take a long hard look at myself, dropping some weight (obviously), strengthening legs and training intelligently wouldn’t leave me falling out the back of the peloton every time the road goes upwards.

A simple systematic and honest approach.

I’m hoping whoever holds the keys to 10 Downing Street tomorrow morning does the same.  A map of poverty in the UK would be a good place to start.  It would correlate strongly with maps of sub-standard housing, low life expectancy, high unemployment, entrenched benefits dependency and hot spots for extremism.

Put simply, if people live in a decaying, degrading, demoralising environment they will become disillusioned, despairing and dangerous.

Take the challenge head on, no short cuts.

The most deprived areas of the country need to be prioritised for fundamental improvement.  Improvements in housing, healthcare and education infrastructure.  All would bring better standards of living, employment and have a positive impact on communities (and lesson the anger).

Charleroi, sits approximately half way between Calais and Luxembourg.  It’s Belgium’s 4th largest city and the largest in the region of Wallonia.  As we cycled the last few KM of a 200KM+ ride, make that dragged ourselves homeward, we passed through the imposing remnants of Charleroi’s heavy industrial past.

The rusting hulks of factories and plants were as breath-taking as they were imposing as they were sad.  Those derelict machines are not coming back to life, the jobs they demanded likewise.  Monuments to the past are their best role now.

The UK has tracts of Industrial Legacy too.  A map of these would correlate to that map of poverty too.

Yesterday lunchtime, for the first time, the UK sourced the majority of its energy from renewables (50.001%) and in doing so provided a glimpse of the future and a solution for now.

The UK’s rich industrial heritage needs a reboot.  Rather than mourn the loss of jobs in 19th/20th Century Industries, reminisce for the glories of the Industrial Revolution, there should be investment in the industry, manufacturing and technologies of the future, centred on the map of ‘communities targeted for rebirth’.

Taking the lead in 21st Century technologies – renewable, environmental, lifesaving – would give the UK something to be proud of and believe in.  Other Nations would take note and follow.

If you put the hard miles in, work intelligently there is no need to feel fear or anger for the future.

Of course this isn’t a Manifesto for Cycling.  Where are the demands for investment in segregated cycle-ways with super smooth tarmac and priority traffic lights?  Sometimes the needs of others need to be prioritised first and the 10 Downing Street key-holder needs to put the needs of their supporters aside to break up current divisions and make a real and positive change.

(My bike is in for a full groupset re-haul with the best of the old groupset being donated to the mechanic doing the work so that he can build up a bike and join us on our rides, just maybe not the 330 miles in 3 day ones).

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flick the switch

flick the switch

I’ve always wanted a pair of knee warmers.  I’ve always loved my arm warmers.  knee warmers are a logical acquisition.  I’ve always wanted to drive a BMW.  Last weekend I was lucky enough to be handed the keys to a brand spanking new BMW. 

At first I was a little disappointed, one look at the BMW’s tiny boot and I panicked.  How was I going to fit my bike and the rest of my family’s weekend bags in the boot/trunk?  As the boot lid clunked softly into place, rather than marvel at its automatic-ness, I despondently wished that my lumpy Volvo SUV wasn’t languishing in a Volvo dealership deep in rural France (that’s a whole different story) – until the simple silver ‘335d’ letters glimmered in the late pre—Bank Holiday sunlight. 

Until that moment, I feared that I had been saddled with an overrated, underpowered, pseudo-aspirational vehicle that would not meet my multiple long Easter Bank Holiday weekend requirements (I.e. Comfortably transporting children to grandparents in Devon for Easter, including a visit to the beach, an Easter Egg Hunt and of course an epic ‘Trans-Dartmoor’ bike ride – not many cars can meet that ask).  335d had changed all that.  Sure, compromises needed to be made but when being in possession of a 300ps, 4.6 second to 60mph all-wheel drive rocket, nothing seemed impossible.

I had high hopes for the knee warmers too.  The Devon weather had just enough of an edge to it to chill, the strong Westerly didn’t help matters – although the extra effort required to battle through the Atlantic’s worst surely generated more body heat.  Not wanting to resort to full length bib-shorts (to be honest I’d not have fit them in the BMW’s boot) I wrapped my knees up snug in the handy clothing extenders.   

The disappointment.  Pearl Izumi can usually be relied upon to produce kit that surpasses expectations. Not this time.  Mostly the knee warmers slipped down to rest annoyingly above my thigh and flap loosely at my ankle. It could be that I’m just too short and I’m doing a fantastic bit if kit a disservice.

The BMW was also proving to be less than the sum of its expensive parts.  It’s simple, austere interior wasn’t a place of drama although the driving position did fit like a bespoke suit.  The iDrive system was a complex distraction, less easy to navigate than the Devon lanes.  That wasn’t the only distraction, the narrow backseat placed my daughters in uncomfortable proximity allowing open warfare to break-out.

Devon wasn’t a disappointment.  In that rare moment of sunshine, it’s truly a special place.  At other times it’s a brooding, menacing land.  Cycling in Devon?  I’ve complained bitterly about Devon before.  Is there a more sadistic County for cyclists?  Its ups are big, sharp, steep it’s downs short, sharp, steep, with brakes jammed on to survive the gravelly surface, the mud or the inevitable farm tractor or worse caravaner.  There’s no payback for the arduous uphill toil.

Just as Devon’s mood switches from sparkling to dark so could the BMW’s.  I chanced across a button that switched its persona from mild mannered middle manager to a spitting, snarling possessed maniac.  One touch of the dull, innocent switch and the beast within  growled and threw itself forward like a guided surface-to-air missile.  Press the button again and Hyde became Dr Jekyll again even wanting to help with fuel conservation.

BMW engineered mood-change. 

At a flick of a switch from calm to dynamic, angry to sublime.  If only it was so easy to control our moods.  From erratic to rationale, from ignorant to wise.  Or maybe not.  With control, spontaneity goes out the window.

What of the knee warmers?  I donated them to my Father who thinks the soft fleece liners will be great for polishing furniture.

 

the year of the blog

the year of the blog

A year has gone full circle.  I’m driving through France looking at the rough agricultural tracks or gravel roads dissecting the vast agricultural lands, running far into the distance again. Kids are in the back of the car watching Disney movies again.  My wife is sitting next to me in the front, probably pretending to be asleep again so I don’t talk to her about cycling through France by Gravel Road.  Again. 

With most of my eyes on the road ahead, out of their corner I watch the gravel roads, farm tracks, dusty pathways dissect the vast agricultural lands of France, (France is not a country that will go hungry), they often disappear over the crest of a curvaceous hill or the sanctuary of an inviting wood.  Each promises an adventure. Each promises their own unique story.

The same old day dreams.  Not much has changed over the last 12 months then.

Except I’ve changed and I think writing this blog has played a part. 

Seeing your thoughts in print has taught me being opinionated is not a nice trait.  It can quickly sound like just having a rant.  Digging in and holding firm on your position can just be pig headed.  For every one of your own opinions there are at least a hundred others? Who’s right?  Who cares?  Unless you’re the President of the United States of America (or a judge in Hawaii) it doesn’t really matter.

Every time I’ve knocked together a post I’ve asked myself: am I being a pig headed ranter?  Hopefully not.  That’s my one rule for my attempts at writing.  I’ve tried to carry this over into my other relations at home, at work and at play.

Having got over the lack of traffic to https://subconsciouscyclist.com/ what do they say?  There are lies, damned lies and statistics.  I resolved that I was getting more than simply hits from hits.  Which was just as well.  From Blog writing I’ve tried to develop different styles of writing and get used to seeing my words alive, out there, sort of in print.  It’s still cringe making to think someone I know may read my thoughts and know what I’m thinking.  I guess that’s a rite of passage for any writer.  Either way it’s more nerve-wracking than descending Col du Glandon at 90kmh.

Thanks for sticking along for the ride the last 12 months.

the importance of backing up

the importance of backing up

Monday is the worst day for me to get on my bike.  Firstly, it’s Monday.  First day back at work.  If I’m lucky I’ve had a long ride on Sunday.  Not forgetting the destination is work.  Did I mention work already?  Did I mention I don’t want to go to work on Monday?  (I’ve not landed my dream job of being paid to write about cycling. Yet!)

If I rode MTB then I’m doubly reluctant or simply unable to drag myself out of bed, kit up and ride to work.  More likely I’m feeling like I’ve been run over by the bus I need to catch to the train station.

Monday morning trains run chaotic. Worse than usual.  Of course, it’s the Train Drivers first day back too.  I’m guessing many of them don’t want to go to work either, their boyhood dreams of being a train driver have long evaporated under the onslaught of the early morning alarm.

The sardined passengers are in a worse mood than usual too on a Monday, many sense of humours have been lost in the act of getting out of the wrong side of the bed.

Riding then makes best sense.  It also makes sense in the case of ‘backing up’ – riding for a few days in a row – between scheduled and well needed rest days.

Often the http://thebicyclemoaningcollective.com big summer rides are big multi day affairs – 300 miles in 3 days –  long days in the saddle, or consecutive assaults on big mountains.  Backing up in training is essential.

It’s quite clear the Democrats didn’t back up.  True they put 2 hard terms together thanks to their star player: Obama.  However, they didn’t look far enough ahead, they rested on their laurels, they failed to back-up for when the big test came along.

Here’s some very unscientific research to substantiate my weak hypothesis.

Rewind Saturday Night Live to pre-Barack, 2008, watch Tina Fey lampoon then Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin, sit back and enjoy the comedy gold.  Fast forward to the 2016 US election, sub Fey with Alec Baldwin and the jokes are the same.

What’s going on?  Different but the same message.  Lazy SNL script writing or did Barack’s two lauded terms fail to help Good Ol’ Joe Six-Pack and make America Great Again?!

Back in 2008 the SNL team had a lot of material with the ‘Washington Outsider’ stuff, ‘Joe Six-pack’ as the Republicans targeted the traditional blue collar vote.  Sound familiar? Maybe I shouldn’t take my political insight from SNL but essentially SNL lampooned the same electoral message in 2008 as they did in 2016!

There it is.  Indisputable.  The Democrats had plenty of warning, at least 8 years.  They can’t then be surprised that the same disenchanted, alienated voters targeted by the Republicans in 2008 were the same disenchanted/alienated voters in 2016.  They’re still there, just more so, the so called Deplorables.

(Note to Hilary: don’t insult the voters that you need to vote for you to win).

The Democrats got lazy, got complacent. They didn’t clock up the hard miles in training so that they could put a run of strong back to back performances together.  They resorted to the classic under-trained cyclist’s desperate solution: throw money at the problem.

How often does that work?

on a wind and a prayer

on a wind and a prayer

Mother’s Day is the enemy of all cyclists (that aren’t mothers).

Obviously, all cycling is banned on Mothering Sunday.  Even Christmas Day has more relaxed rules.  I’ve scoured the Velominati for advice on this matter to no avail.  Fathers/sons are on their own when it comes to the protocols of Cycling on Mothers’ Day.

It doesn’t matter how many bunches of flowers purchased, breakfasts in bed made and Sunday lunches cooked all cycling passes remain revoked.  I was facing the bleak prospect of a cycling-less weekend.  Thankfully there’s no such thing as Mothering Saturday and on this technicality, I was successfully able to secure a 2-hour window of ride opportunity.  I had to act fast.

Fortunately, thebicyclemoaningcollective.com’s network of loosely cycling related Whatsapp groups range far and wide and within no time I had a partner in-ride on non-Mothering Saturday Afternoon.

With the sun on our backs and the near gale force winds in our faces we hit out past Hampton Court Palace, up and over Col du Sandown and on towards the Stockbroker Belt.  The wind was fluctuating wildly between head / side / on yer back.  When on the rare occasion, it was the latter we easily lit up 40kmh and some. 

Easily making up for when it was the former and were grinding out 15kmh.  When push (from the wind behind) came to shove (in the face) the average was still good.  This was hard riding, with the Spring sunshine an unexpected friend along for the ride.  Even the time on the clock was looking sweet.

Then Matt O turned left on to a farm track.  Apparently, this is what they do in Belgium – ride carbon Aerobikes on concrete / gravel tracks through farmyards.  No punctures. No problems.  The wind still wasn’t our friend but taking the scenic route had put my “I’ll be 2 hours, I promise” in jeopardy.  We didn’t stop pushing hard but neither did the clock.

70km in 2 hours (plus the 30-minute margin of error that should be applied to all rides), I was relying on another technicality and now relying heavily on my plans for Mothering Sunday coming good.

the good cyclist

the good cyclist

What makes a good cyclist? Strong heart? Big lungs? Legs like tree trunks? Good bike handling skills (cough…Chris Froome), ethical (COUGH…Lance Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis, go on…cough… Wiggins!)

That’s maybe unfair but we now know that Team Sky’s marginal gains programme was heavily reliant on doctors’ notes rather than ingenious previously unimagined improvements.

If it’s too good to be true it probably is.

Don’t be too hard on the riders. They’re just the “inconvenient interface” – soon to be replaced when cycling regulations permit – between the sophisticated Corporate Behemoths that fund mega teams like Team Sky & the high-tech bike manufacturers – all driven to extreme behaviour to get you and me to buy their product. Guilty.

Back in the real world, not the otherworldly world of elite sport, what makes a good cyclist?  How’s this?

Self-aware, take responsibility for their own actions and always ready to help others.  Not a physical attribute in sight.  Do you ride with someone like this?

Not only do they think of others, they think like others.  Cycling is about putting yourself in someone else shoes.  Or behind their wheel.  You must to stay alive.  Cycling is about thinking about other peoples’ point of view; can they see you?  What are they about to do? What are they thinking?  Are they thinking?

Sound a bit religious?  Cycling is a religion to some.  Or it’s just a good old fashioned code of conduct.  If you live your life on a bike like this what about extending it to your real life?  Projection doesn’t have to be just for cycling.

Why do others think and behave how they do?  Not everyone can be right or wrong and it’s rarely black/white.

  • Trump Supporters: what makes a near majority of voting American’s vote for an egotistical, volatile chauvinist?  Desperation?  Frustration?  A feeling that it can’t be any worse than it already is?  What’s wrong with wanting to break a system that failed to punish the Bankers that created the Financial Crisis that saw their houses repossessed, their City’s decay and the Political Elite get ever more elite?
  • Brexit Voters:  how can the unemployed factory worker in a UK Northern City not understand the benefits of the European Union?  Why would they want to restrict the free movement of labour that provides cheap cleaners, cheap builders and cheap factory workers?  Don’t they want exotic barista’s in their artisan coffee shops, exotic street food in their gentrified districts?  Or did they just want to give the fat-cat bureaucrats a bloody nose?
  • Right Wing Fascists / Islamic Terrorists: what makes these young (predominantly) male so prone to fanaticism?  So Angry?  So easily turned to violence?  Surely unlimited data bundles and lack of responsibilities make them happy and content?  Maybe the violence has always been there, just now there’s no outlet (no state sponsored war) or their zero prospect of owning a house, moving out of their parents’ home, having what their parents had is so depressing it makes them angry and seek a cause of their own.

If you don’t consider life from another perspective and bowl on blindly, thinking everyone has got you in their sights, watching your back, are looking out for you, are the same as you, think like you – you’re not going to last long.

Subconsciouscycling is about using the freedom of cycling to free the mind and travel in a direction you might not otherwise.  Is it time for a Newpolitics to think differently too?

#cyclingcansavetheworld