political cycles

political cycles

Cycling politics. Political cycles. Forever intertwined.

Government and Cycling share a common problem: when the politics becomes the story, the main event, the only talking point.

They’ve both lost their Raison D’être.

Exhibit A. Peter Sagan. Stage 4. The intervention of the Administrators robbed the Tour of Cycling’s World Champion and most charismatic rider. Or to put it bluntly: the biggest name in cycling. The irony was the initial penalty was universally accepted. A significant point loss, hurting Sagan’s inevitable charge into the Green Jersey (that could’ve spiced things up!). Video evidenced debunked the claim of a malicious elbow, instead closer inspection showed Sagan’s elbow hooked on Cavendish’s shifter being pulled outwards. The UCI Race Jury could’ve let it be. Instead we lost 2 Galacticos overnight. The Tour, the cycling (i.e. the important bit) is lesser for it.

Exhibit B. Boris Johnson.  This guy saw the EU Referendum as an opportunity to make a smash grab for Prime Minister. Having become the Poster Boy of Brexit, he didn’t get down to making good on the £350m for the NHS. Instead he and his soon to be ex-Best Friend started squabbling about who should be the next Prime Minister (after Cameron had done a runner). When they’d done with stabbing themselves in the back neither was Prime Minister, neither had a plan for Brexit.

Exhibit C. Nacer Bouhanni. Stage 10. After booting out Sagan from this year’s Tour de France the UCI’s race jury found forgiveness in their capricious hearts. The fiery (and unintentionally comical and irrelevant at the same time) Bouhanni might’ve punched Jack Bauer. A 200 CHF fine and a minute time penalty won’t stop him trying to do it again. Inconsistent administration is distracting. We shouldn’t need to be talking about it.

Exhibit D. Theresa May. The Maybot is the story, her precarious grip on power the drama, her inevitable downfall at the hands of her own treacherous party the obvious conclusion to a sorry tale of arrogance and ineptitude. After the ‘step back in time’ grammar school policy what else has the May Premiership offered? Brexit means Brexit means Brexit. That’s a sound bite not a policy. Strong and stable, strong and stable. Whilst none of her would be executioners have her balls to execute a coup (or simply don’t fancy the poison chalice of being Prime Minister right now), her drawn out political execution is standing in the way of government by her self-centred Government.

Exhibit E. Uran, Bennett but not Romain Bardet. Stage 9. This dastardly trio dared to take on food / water from a third party as they battled through the final gruelling Kilometres of the stage – in Bardet’s case a water bottle from some bloke on the road side. How dare he? It seems a poor rule, contrary to rider welfare but rules are rules. Unless of course you are the French favourite in a French cycle race. Despite all three being caught on camera only Uran and Bennett were penalised. Then as even the UCI Race Jury realised how this might look, rather than bang Barnet with a penalty they repealed all penalties. Bardet’s finish on that mountain runaway was spectacular, instead we’re obsessing about confused and, inconsistent race officiating.

Exhibit F. Jeremy Corbyn. You don’t have to agree with his politics to admire Jezza and his cussedness. He stuck to his guns when even his own MPs were calling for him to go. In spite of the Front Bench / Back Bench rebellions he’s created a truly socialist political party differentiated from New Labour’s copy of the central / moderate reaches of the Tory Party. The infighting has been the story, the ongoing drama of Labour’s soap opera concealed the fact that Corbyn’s policies are unaffordable (and really only attractive to anyone who doesn’t pay tax). The cult of personality surrounding Corbyn sees the important interrogation of his policies a low priority versus ‘will he won’t he survive another coup?

Exhibit G. Unwritten Rules. This Tour. The unwritten rules of the Tour seem to be more comprehensive and less flexible than the actual real rules of the Tour. In F1 if the race leader gets a puncture the whole race doesn’t stop and stand on ceremony. If the race leader has a mechanical. Tough. Everyone else just gets on with the racing and the Team go back to base and figure out how to prevent that mechanical happening again. Time to rip up the unwritten rules and let rip with the racing.

Exhibit H. Trump. His election and the smoke that shrouds Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 refuses to disperse. The insinuation of collusion, real or otherwise taints his Presidency and whilst it continues to do so his opponents can look on smugly. Job done. As Trump and his inner circle firefight the flames licking at their personal reputations, they surely can’t get on with building walls and Making America Great Again. Policies, good or bad are stuck in the political sludge.

Please, Administrators / Public Servants when Tomorrow’s newspaper headlines are going to be all about you – think – get a grip of yourself and focus on what we should all really be talking about: a fantastic Tour de France

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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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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?

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

what the f##k is fake news

what the f##k is fake news

Why are proper News Agencies even talking about it? Lying, blagging, brainwashing, fiction, fantasy & propaganda are millennia old.  Where’s the news in that?  Just as every time the BBC interviews Farage and gives him air(time) the coverage of fake news by the mainstream, credible News Agencies gives fake news credence too.

Then fake gets weirder, that arch creator of myth, legend (mostly about himself) and fake news is bemoaning that the reputable News Agencies (that just so happen to hold Trump to account) are peddling fake news about him.

Is this fake news about fake news about fake news? (The latter otherwise known as Alternative Facts).

And that’s before anyone mentions #lookwhatshappeninglastnightinSweden

What can you do about fake news? You could just ignore it.  Fake news isn’t new, it’s just new propaganda, new brain washing.  Faking it is as old as the hills. The ones you should be out climbing – creating your own real news.

If fake isn’t new, neither is the feeling of being let down by fakes.  Buy a Chinarello off Alibaba don’t be surprised when it turns out not to be the real thing and disintegrates in a cloud of carbon fibre splinters beneath you (as if it never existed in the first place).  If you get your news from Facebook don’t be surprised if it turns out to be fake news or someone else’s propaganda.

In an age of populism where he who shouts loudest and most brashly gets the attention it’s more important that a free, reputable and independent press reports the Facts.  Not the alternative ones.  It’s paramount that the credible News Agencies – I’m looking at you BBC – can be relied on to sift through the debris of truth, debunk fake news, don’t allow it to become powerful or an escape route for denial by the powerful.   Otherwise they’re no better than Murdoch’s news.

Remember if it’s not on Strava.com it didn’t happen.

stranger things have happened

stranger things have happened

I’ve called a lot of things wrong this year.  The unexpected has caught me out time and time again.  Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so shocked/surprised to get a puncture in the rear tyre of the bike currently doing Indoor Training service.

But come on – who has ever heard of an ‘indoor puncture’?!

It wasn’t caused by the rear tyre overheating, my wattage is mediocre at best.  Nor the usual pinch flat that my shoddy tyre changing skills are prone to.  The only evidence is a small pin-prick in the inner tube.

I don’t want to cast aspersions and as ashamed as I am to even think it, I can’t look past my 4 year old daughter as a likely culprit to test the pretty blue tyre with a pin.  She has form – previously dispatching a blow-up mattress with a BBQ fork just before bedtime whilst camping.

She’s the easiest target after all and I don’t want to risk accusing my wife, things would really blow up then.

What strange and unexpected events can we expect in 2017?  Trump brokers a lasting peace in the Middle East supported by his ally Putin?  Assuming that US Election isn’t declared null and void when Trump is revealed as a Russian ‘Sleeper Agent’ – a puppet of Putin.

Maybe the European Union disintegrates when a new Government in Germany – elected in reaction to Merkel’s open-door immigration policy – refuses to prop up the failing economies of Italy, Spain and Portugal (maybe that is not so strange/unexpected).

What kind of 2017 do we want/need?  Dull and predictable or for the crazy to continue?  I’m not making any predictions (except that Chris Froome will win his 4th Tour de France – assuming Team Sky isn’t kicked out of the World Tour for TUE abuse).

it’s not democracy (when you lose)

it’s not democracy (when you lose)

I looked at my phone in disbelief, looked at it again, decided that 6am was too early to contemplate what Great Britain had just done. It’s a dream right? It wasn’t. It isn’t. Life goes on. Those strange bedfellows Farage, Boris and Gove can’t stop me riding my bike (yet…). So I rode from London to Brighton with the Bicycle Moaning Collective and let the pedal strokes and banter with my mates order my thoughts.

I started angry. Navigating London rush hour traffic was tiresome, difficult, dangerous. Like life from now on. It wasn’t fair. London had voted overwhelmingly (60:40) to stay in the EU and as the paymaster of the UK is going to have work even harder to subsidise a people so out of step with its collective belief.  The Young voted overwhelmingly to stay (70:30) and it’s their future that’s been hijacked.  That made me angry. And sad.

Clapham Common to Tooting Bec by bike was jaw grindingly slow. Much gnashing of teeth. As my anger simmered on Cycle Super Highway 7 I thought of the heavily EU subsidised areas of the UK that had just shot themselves in the foot, cut their noses off to spite their faces and because…because? I couldn’t answer the question because it just didn’t make sense. It could only be that they had brought into the negative, small minded, intolerant, scaremongering dangerously preached by the Out campaign. A negative nasty message had won out.  That doesn’t make a positive message in anyone’s language.

The going wasn’t getting any better, Brighton ever distant, we’d not even dissected the M25 in 2 hours. I was becoming disillusioned.  My suspicion is that the Outers had taken a leaf out George W Bush’s Iraq War approach to planning: Shock & Awe and wing-it.  Then helpless, not in control of my destiny, feeling cheated by democracy. Yes, I had a vote, I’d used it, expressed it and lost. Like democracy the blue tarmac was letting me down, falsely promising a smooth ride but interrupted, cut up and blocked by buses, pedestrians, traffic lights.

The roads opened up, the traffic was getting faster as we got closer to the edge of town, we were on dual carriageway, with roundabouts to navigate and fast moving traffic coming at us from right to left. It was scary. I’m scared that we history is repeating itself, are we in the 1930s again? Where acceptance and of racial scaremongering and intolerance was capable of gripping hold of a nation and causing mass evil.  We hadn’t just turned the clock back that far, had we?

When you reach How Lane, a climb that says goodbye and shakes the City out of your legs and High Road descent that ducks under the M25 and the ride is on, the country side lit by a setting sun beckons. Why the long face?  Maybe today was our era’s defining political back lash, the people striking out at the establishment and giving them a bloody nose that they hadn’t anticipated, that just might’ve knocked the political class of their pedestal and now what next? Had Out foreseen Scotland voting overwhelming to remain in the EU and now threatening to leave the United Kingdom?  Was their vision of Out really England alone?  The UK now looks like a fragile House of Cards.

Politics in freefall, like me on my bike on Coopers Hill. Feeling like a kid again at 60kmph. Youth had lost out today – but maybe this is the catalysts for mobilisation and engagement of the young and open minded.  They won’t make the same mistake again of not making the effort to get to the polling station if they don’t want their parents’ to f#ck them up again.

As the minutes ticked by, the headwind had still not given up, I was tiring, yearning for the end.  There wasn’t much talk in the peloton. The ‘enraged of London’ chat had subsided.  Our own journeys were all that mattered now. With the freedom of a post-work Friday night ride in a setting sun, lighting up the South Downs in a golden glow. I didn’t feel so angry, frustrated, worried.

Maybe it’s about time we backed away from the World stage, for too long we’ve hung on to our imperialistic past (viewed through rose-tinted glasses), harboured ideas above our station and believed our own hype that we’re a ‘special’ nation deserving of a place at the table of the Global Elite. James Bond isn’t reality.  As former partners laugh at our impotence and we can no longer afford to take on the self-appointed role of policeman to the World, life might be simpler, safer.

It could be exciting. The last global disruption to our lives was the Financial Crisis in 2008, at the time that seemed cataclysmic but largely due to the Central Banks creating benign economies through interventionist monetary policy resulting in a low interest rate environment. Even the bitter pill of austerity has been easier to swallow as we’ve all been able to keep paying our mortgages. Crisis what crisis? Move on nothing to see. But this time who knows what is going to happen?

Who knows? Who cares? I’m too busy struggling up Ditchling Beacon, no record time tonight. It’s taking everything just got to get to the top and then enjoy the long fast descent down into Brighton.  Enjoy myself.  Besides we can just leave it to the politicians that created the mess to sort it out. We’ve not left yet. There’s a lot of stuff that has to happen for it to happen.  Our soon to be former EU partners might yet muck things up by following the UK with their own referendum and precipitating the collapse or re-design of the EU project

Ultimately I arrived in Brighton convinced that the journey has actually just begun and that no one knows where it will end.  I suspect that the architects of Out may not get the result that they imagined or desired.  Their promise of short term pain for long term gain may actually translate into short term political instability leading to a transfer of political momentum to a younger, more flexible, more global, more tolerant, more engaged electorate thus turning full cycle, negativity to positivity. I’m In.

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Footnote: On the rider tonight – a few Brits, some Aussie’s, Irish of course, Namibians, 1 Slovak and a Greek. I hope that doesn’t stop.