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

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sweat out Brexit

sweat out Brexit

I’m loving indoor training.  I get it. It’s my new favourite evening (in).  A cycling variation on Netflix & Chill.  Just sweatier. For 1.

Netflix & Spin.

It’s OK to change your mind.

Select interval training program, clip in and sweat.  I’ve always loved a good sweat – somehow cleansing.  This is sweating of a different magnitude – puddle on the floor sweating, I’m considering wearing a McEnroe-esque head band.  Just considering, I’m not there yet.

It helps that I can overlay a box-set on to the trainer control panel, positioning it over the ever slow ‘time to go’.  An episode (or 2) of Vikings later (I’m fully up to speed on Game of Thrones) and with total mileage spun loaded up to Strava.com, keeping the annual mileage ticking up – it’s an hour well spent.

I admit I was wrong about indoor training.  I’m not going to stop now even though my hand is healing and ready to get back on the road.  As I mop the floor, I ask myself what else might I be wrong about?

Might I be wrong about BREXIT?  What if…

Britain is a trailblazer (BREXITEERS would love that), the sparks of the EXITEER-movement shows signs of catching alight in Continental Europe.  Amongst the post-truth hysteria there are some incontrovertible truths.

  • The EU is a project that needs a reboot for our times. A post war concept born out of disaster it has served to preserve peace for 70 years.  But nothing lasts forever.  European Federalism looks tired and outdated.
  • Globalisation needs the brakes applied. Globalisation is super-efficiency, super-low-cost, super-I-want-it-now.  Is it worth it?  Are the jobs lost making jeans in the UK* to 3rd World Sweatshop using child labour worth it?  Globalisation isn’t by the people for the people.  The Globalisation we have allowed is for the ever-demanding consumer by the stateless corporations.**
  • Political and Civil Bureaucracy needs trimming a back. Central Governments are weighed down by unnecessary self-fulfilling bureaucracy that has lost sight of its original purpose.  The gravy train is running at full speed, no one can jump off (even if they wanted to), it’s impossible to get on.  Maybe it’s time to drain the swamp.  Just not if it’s to build a parking lot (that’s not progress).

We don’t need the same-old capitalism, liberalism, socialism (see above outdated project needing a re-boot), we can’t turn back the clock but we can work out a new modern international dynamism.

I hope the UK can be at the vanguard, sweat out the clowns (boris, farage, rees-mogg) and show the right way through smart thinking, hard work, no cutting corners.***

*Substitute with any Developed World country

** http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2016/12/05/mark-carney-warns-first-lost-decade-150-years-brands-eurozone/

*** I’m not convinced we’re heading in this direction.

the bubble bursts

the bubble bursts

Last Sunday as I charged past yet another beat up old boat, rusting, rotting, covered in grimy tarpaulins and assorted debris (old bikes, chairs, pipes etc) – and obviously occupied – I understood Trump could win. People are living in desperate conditions.  Now. Today. In Great Britain.

They’re also living in run down garages, shacks and sheds (that wouldn’t look out of place in a shanty town) in the gardens backing onto the canal. Now. Today. In Great Britain.

This is the same country where a homeowner can be forced to give up their own home to build a runway (by the same politician who said they wouldn’t have to).

Remember in the USA its BREXIT plus plus plus. Supersized.

In an idle moment of curious voyeurism have you clicked through to: “You won’t believe this: derelict stadium / derelict shopping mall / derelict factory / derelict neighbourhood”? The photos are brutal and real and now in the United States of America – the ruler of the free world.

No wonder people in the ‘Developed World’ are angry with the establishment, the political elite, their elected representatives who just do whatever the hell they like (or as they are told to by their party-donor paymasters).

 We’re ripe and simmering for revolution.

And there has been a revolution. Just not the one we needed, wanted or hoped for but it was the one we got and arguably deserved. 

The question is why? Why when democracy has served up the opportunity for a protest vote:

  • Is the candidate of tried and tested ‘fear and hate’ the most attractive?
  •  Is there no alternative offering hope and goodwill?
  •  Is it a surprise that the status quo isn’t as appealing as loud, brash, rabble rousing change?
  • When we want change we entrust the hardliners to deliver?

From despair comes desperation, desperation leads to taking risks. Its lead to BREXIT and Trump.

Free to ride my bike on a Sunday morning (because I’m lucky enough to be able to enjoy leisure time) I saw outside of my bubble and glimpsed desperation and understood a little better why BREXIT and Trump.

a non-race

a non-race

I wasn’t racing.  If I was – single speed V mountain bike – would be a good match.  The MTB had slicks and gears, lots of them.  I had 1 gear but narrow tyres with trick Mavic hubs and 35mm deep rims – those wheels fly (I think I’ve bored on about them already).

As we left the office together, the guy from my office on the red mountain bike and I didn’t discuss the ‘race-that-wasn’t happening’.  We didn’t have to.  It was on. I was confident.

Naked, in the office showers last week he’d proudly announced he’d kept up with me all the way from Priory Lane. I hadn’t realised I was being followed.  I recognised him in his cycle helmet now.

Down potholed, rutted and pedestrian strewn Cornhill, I’m happy to let him lead, until the lights at the infamous Bank crossroads, draw alongside, wobbly track-standing as the lights counted down, avoiding eye contact.  On the ‘G’ of the green light I’m gone.  Covering the ground super quick to the next set of red lights 50 yards ahead, then the next and then the next.  Stopping at each.  My track stand is improving.  Red MTB is next to me again.

Queen Victoria Street, left onto White Lion Hill, a perfect right hand bend with a rampart leading down to the Embankment, you can pick up some speed but at the foot of the rampart there’s a tricky junction with a choice: stop (brakes on hard), look, listen.  Or hit the inside of the two lanes at speed.  Hopefully faster than the oncoming traffic, keeping out in front.

The Embankment Super Cycle Highway isn’t very super today.  I join a queue of slow moving bikes.  Overtaking is a squeeze, risk pulling past a Boris Bike it could be too late to see the oncoming Hipster with no lights.  I practice patience.  Red MTB will be held up too.

It’s dangerously dark.  Visibility is limited, headlights glare on my glasses, cyclists pass in and out of shadows but as I wait at Parliament Square I clearly see Red MTB jump the kerb and get ahead of the 30-strong stationary cyclists.  He can cheat if he wants.  It’s about to get fast. He’s not.

The trick is to get through just one of the many set of red lights ahead of Red MTB.  Easier said than done.  At each red light, I draw up to and wait, look back nonchalantly.  Each time as the lights turn, Red MTB sails through, whilst I power up back up to speed.  We leap frog from Westminster to Chelsea.

No matter how hard I push, legs milling around, wheels jumped on I couldn’t get away.  It’s a familiar feeling.  Factors outside of my control constraining and halting my progress.  At least it was only pre-programmed traffic light sequencing rather than someone deciding to knock my house down to build a runway.  Or move my job to mainland Europe post BREXIT.  That might still happen. 

No sign of Red MTB through Parsons Green.  He might have gone through Chelsea Village.  Or I’ve got ahead. At last.  Over Putney Bridge I get caught by the lights at the last moment.  Re MTB arrives just as they turn back green, predictably.  It starts again, from scratch.  All that’s left is the Lower Richmond Road.  I gun it, give it everything.

Inevitably the lights onto Upper Richmond Road West are red. Inevitably Red MTB draws up just as the lights turn green, he squeezes to the left of the traffic I go right and get boxed in.  I race alongside, round, in between crawling traffic to regain ground.  Back at Priory Lane Red MTB is nearly wiped out as a car turns across him, he scrapes through a narrow gap.  I must wait until my path is clear of cars jumping the lights.

The ride was not an analogy.  It was just life.  The more I thought about life’s ironies, of control by unseen forces, of lack of results versus effort, the further ahead Red MTB got.  The red lights had levelled the playing field.  Any advantage I had was negated, any effort expended unrewarded.  Corbyn would approve.

400m to home. Buses pulling in / out. Cars gridlocked.  Traffic lights poised to turn red again.  As I turn off for home I think I’m ahead. But can’t be sure.

(NB. No red lights were jumped in the making by of this non-race (by me at least)).

when a U-Turn is a Good Turn

when a U-Turn is a Good Turn

For no good reason, I decided to deviate from my usual route home.  Have you ever taken a wrong turn and instead of turning back you won’t/don’t make a U-Turn – you plough on regardless? Stubbornly making things worse when a quick pride swallowing U-Turn now could limit the damage.

Instead of riding home along the Embankment’s purpose-built cycle super highway, I went sightseeing, I was feeling nostalgic and wanted to see St Paul’s Cathedral at dusk.  I don’t know the roads well.  It started going wrong as I dodged pedestrians and traffic down Ludgate Hill, waited for slow traffic lights to cross Farringdon Street and on to Fleet Street.

Ignoring the danger signs, I struggled through closely squeezed, crawling traffic, red tail lights glaring, narrow gaps between cars.  The value of Sterling down 20% since the Referendum.  I could’ve cut left down onto the Embankment but I’d gone this far, with the Pound at is lowest value against the US Dollar since the mid-1980s, an easy change of direction seemed like whimsically leaving the casino early.

It felt lonely on the Strand, 1 bicycle struggling to survive amongst the bigger, stronger cars, vans, trucks.  Most cyclists are likely on the Embankment’s purpose-built cycle super highway, which is not without its risks or difficulties but is significantly more sensible than trying to go it alone between the Australia House and Somerset Houses. I was on my own.

Waterloo Bridge offered me an escape route. Straight on regardless, heading for a Hard BREXIT.  Instead I chose getting caught out by unfamiliar traffic flows and being blocked by kamikaze pedestrians launching off pavements as I track-stood and scooted through Theatre Land.

I hit Trafalgar Square and the weight of my wilful selection of the hard way home hit me, disorientated, worn down, frustrated.  Inflation rising to 1%, nowhere near a historical high but the highest month on month rise since June 2014 and forecast to hit 3% next year.  When Inflation hits 2% that’s when incomes are felt to be falling in real terms, with an upwards squeeze on the cost of living – mostly food, clothing and other household goods.  It hits the lowest income families first and hardest.  EU Referendum analysis suggests they wilfully volunteered.

From Buckingham Palace, I found myself at Victoria, then roughly headed South West, I wasn’t lost per se but making it up as I went along.  Battling to dissect lines of traffic, repeatedly putting myself at risk.  Cutting across the flow, rather than going smoothly with it.  I had no plan.

Admittedly, there was some fun, adventure, drama, challenge to be had in my divergence.  But it wasn’t rewarding fun, adventure, drama, challenge.  There were a lot better things I could be doing with my time and energies rather than taking the long way home on a pointless, tortuous, self-inflicted journey.

Best not mention Marmite.

political sludge keeps us riding

political sludge keeps us riding

September 2016 was a personal milestone. I turned 40.  What long seemed impossible, was always inevitable.  The mountain I’d built in my path turned out to be a gentle ripple.  The world didn’t stop and my legs are still spinning my pedals.  My monument isn’t the only Impossible that has become the Inevitable.  It was impossible that the UK would vote for BREXIT.  It was impossible that the Labour party vote the unelectable Corbyn as their leader twice.  It’s impossible that the US will vote for Trump. Isn’t it…?

Cycling past the Houses of Parliament I wonder what’s happening in Western Democracies? The accepted wisdom is that these are protest votes by the electorate to give the political establishment a bloody nose.  If this is true then it is a high risk strategy.  This means does not necessarily justify the end.  The results to date are that the UK has voted to exit the EU without a clearly defined exit strategy i.e. a vote for the unknown.  Labour has voted for a leader (and entourage) that is stuck in a 1970s time-warp to regain their party’s socialist heritage i.e. 2 steps forward, 3 steps back.  The USA is quite possibly going to vote for Braggadocious Lunatic instead of an experienced politician because she represents corrupt Washington and he represents the anti-establishment and offers no nonsense change (according to Trump himself).

If this a strange and worrying state of affairs why has no one done anything to stop it? In a globalised ever-changing world politicians are the very slow to change.  In the UK we’ve long been stuck in a political sludge, with just two established political parties of two extremes. The Left and the Right.  The vast majority of us are not similarly polarised.  Love him or loathe him, Tony Blair understood this and created New Labour that in the early days was as close to everything for everyone as you can be.

Why is no one filling the gaping void now?  Our politicians are stuck in a binary inertia. When Apple, Facebook, Google have gone from small tech-start ups to Global Super Powers in a relatively short time, why can’t a new political party(ies) make themselves legitimate in a similarly short responsive time frame?

Why hasn’t Hilary sought to distance herself from being a full-paid up member of the Washington elite?  Maybe she can’t or would be even less trusted if she did but it must be easier to convince US voters that she does represent change and a fresh direction than for Trump to convince US voters he could be the President of the USA.  Whilst Trump has spun, morphed and trampled over his own words over and over again to catch any passing tide of momentum Hilary has stayed Hilary.

As I stop, waiting for the lights to allow me to proceed I worry in another direction, if these protests votes build an unstoppable momentum and the impossible/unthinkable continue to, why aren’t those with true power doing anything about it?  Surely the mega-corporates, the political dynasties, the secret societies don’t want the global disruption that a Trump presidency would trigger?

Which makes me conclude that none of it really matters, that it doesn’t matter who is President of the United States, it doesn’t matter which colour of political party is in power, it doesn’t matter which common market a country is a member, none of this can disrupt the entrenched status quo.

What can be done?  Same as when I hit 40: Keep calm and ride your bike.

another way

another way

I’ve learnt a new word. It was repeated multiple times on the mountain roads I cycled during this year’s Tour de France (when France welcomes the World). It was strangely familiar, I’d heard and spoken a similar sounding word myself before.

Normally it’s French words that are anglicised to effect a certain Je ne sais quoi. This time the French have adapted the English word: FREXIT. Maybe in Germany (DEUXIT), Italy (ITXIT) and Spain (ESPANXIT) similar words are daubed large in heavy set white letters on their mountain roads for cyclists to read. Why are they telling cyclists that they wish to free from the supranational shackles of the EU? Is it because as cyclists we’re continually seeking a freedom of sorts too? More probably because the eyes of the World through the lens of TV cameras suspended from multiple hovering helicopters, will be focused on the mountain roads too. 

Against the mesmerising mountains it looked alien, ugly and in your face: FREXIT (Libre Savoie was much less so, cute even). Out of place in the context of the inherent internationalism of the Tour de France. Riders from America, Russia, Columbia, Scandinavia, France, Italy, Spain & Great Britain (the Great somehow seeming incongruous and out dated) in the same peloton even in the same team working to achieve a collective goal. How often does the Breakaway get away? How many GC contenders solo to victory without their team? Not impossible but not often.

Spectators from all over the world flock to France, supporting riders from countries other than their own, looking past nationality to the heart of their chosen rider, backing them because of their riding style, swagger, temperament, their feats in the face of pain, even just the bike they ride or their record (Palmares (exotic French word)). We’re free to choose, not restricted to just supporting our fellow country men.

So why, when a nation becomes discontent does it turn inward and dismiss the outside world? Nationalism is portrayed as the answer to but it has all so often turned ugly. Whilst technology is pushing aside national boundaries, breaking down barriers, racing towards globalisation, deep down human nature leans towards tribalism. When disenchanted, seemingly threatened we seek identity and safety within our own pack.

Politicians know this. They are skilled in creating fear of ‘the other’. During the EU Referendum, our ‘other’ were the ‘job stealing immigrants’. Trump is championing Muslims as his ‘convenient other’ threatening the American way of life. To be honest we’ve got history in Europe, we’ve written the book on the politics of fear, using fear to gain popularity. We’ve readily walked that thin line that leads towards ethnic cleansing and genocide before.

Don’t worry, we’re sophisticated, developed nations. We won’t fall in to that trap again. We learn from our mistakes, history doesn’t repeat itself, does it? The true success of the maligned EU project has been its success in preventing (another) catastrophic war between ever squabbling nations. I am not sure why that is not more widely acknowledged.

Tormented by the hard climb, tormented by Dom and The Doog disappearing up the road above me, tormented by FREXIT, my mood has turned black as I finally crest the summit where I celebrate with a drink (stale, warm electrolyte), take my summit photos (monumental), another drink (chocolat chaud avec expresso – I’m introducing Café Mocha to France a Col at a time), eat an energy bar (soggy). No time left for a baguette jambon et fromage as the others have scoffed in the time it has taken me to catch back up to them. Clip in and descend.

This is true freedom. Pure excitement, earned and paid for. Nothing else matters other than staying away from the precipitous drop, the slippery white lines, the cracks in the road surface, gravel in the corners and soft, melting asphalt. Nothing other than enjoying the controlled exhilarating madness of descending a hair-pinned, switchbacked, off camber, mountain roller coaster from mountain top to valley floor.

Within the safety of the gorge, a tumbling meltwater fuelled river to my right I’d forgotten about FREXIT/BREXIT. On the mountain I’ve found the answer. When life becomes a cruel, endless grind, misery and resentment builds. When life is exciting, exhilarating, challenging it dissipates. Politicians don’t need to stoop to stoking the flames of fear to create unity. There is another way: energise and excite, create that elusive feel good factor that can unite a nation. Of course politicians know this too. It’s a space race or other vanity endeavour (like hosting the Olympics).

Conveniently we already have our national project: BREXIT. Rather than use it to curl up into an isolated little ball, closing out the outside world, it could be the vehicle to re-tool, re-focus, re-build, re-energise our curmudgeonly, insular, stuck in the past, clinging to former Imperial-glories nation. Make it current, on trend, world leading, prosperous even. BREXIT is a legitimate ‘once in a generation’ unifying challenge, adventure even, more legitimate than going to Mars or bagging a fistful of gold medals.

Our BREXIT project should have our children’s futures at its core, it can be exciting, collective, deliver national pride. What about a British-devised solution to climate change, cost effective supersonic travel, mass water purification in the Developing World, a new sustainable fuel source etc etc? That’s just the stuff I came up with at 60kmh on the down side of the Col de la Colombiere. There’s no limit to the potential, only our ambition.