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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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.

let them wear lycra

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It’s not gone away yet and it will probably never go away, the knowledge, the feeling that when you catch sight of yourself in the mirror as you head out the door for a ride – there is something very amusing about cycling attire. The shoes that make you walk precariously, less graciously than a pair of 6 inch heels (I’m guessing here), the resulting wobbliness accentuates the lycra-clad form, opening up cyclists to further ridicule.

If that wasn’t enough, the whole looks is quite possibly worsened by garish colours, topped off by big sun glasses (even in winter) and a bulbous helmet, which even though it unquestionably saves lives doesn’t help the overall look.  Sure, some guys and girls look great in head to toe lycra but most of us don’t.  It can be a uniform: I’m a cyclist and proud. Or it can be a statement of intent: I know I’m out-of-shape but I’m doing something about it.  Or it can just be the most comfortable and practical clothing to wear on a  bike.  But it’s our choice.

Imagine if we couldn’t choose what we wanted to wear on our bikes. If politicians decreed that wearing lycra is offensive and not in the public interest (there are many I am sure that would argue that this is the case). Thankfully that hasn’t happened yet to the minority group known as: Cyclists.  But it is happening in France to Muslim women – probably one of the most subjugated minorities in the world.

I’m not wholly sure why, Muslim women are not allowed to enjoy the beach, to sunbathe or swim in the sea whilst wearing a burkhini.  I do understand that France is a secular society and that the ban is not national but locally imposed on the beaches of the South of France.  I also know that the burkhini was designed to promote inclusion, to allow Muslim Women to join their non-Muslim friends on the beach whilst not falling foul of the religious rules that they abide to.  That’s got to be a good thing, right?

Instead it is being used to further repress a small minority who need help rather than persecution and humiliation.  Surely there are better ways to target Islamic extremism. The ban on the burkhini and the public bullying of the women who wish to wear them by the authorities can only exacerbate rather than cure.

Next time I waddle into a pub or cafe in my lycra, sweaty and bulging, attracting the inevitable amused side-glances and giggles, I’ll return the grins with my own, safe in the knowledge that the police are unlikely to force me to publicly remove an item of lycra clothing perceived as undermining national identity.

homage to farage

Inevitable: sun in / rain home. As my cycling shoes fill with water I begin to think that I need to diversify my subconscious cycling thinking away from a) the weather and b) Brexit.  So I consciously think of c) how rubbish my legs are at turning the wheels and how nice it would be to lock my bike to a lamp post and get the train home. I don’t have a lock. So back to the weather: did I mention it’s raining? Not the good summer rain that washes away the sticky, uncomfortable humidity – but the ‘cold, chills your bones’ type of rain – in June (must be time for Wimbledon).

With each cold wet sideways launching gust I’m closer to giving up.  nigel farage didn’t give up.  Whatever your politics you have to admit farage has got stamina, determination and bucket loads of cussedness.  In most walks of life if you successfully dedicate yourself to a cause for over 17 years you get a medal.  Singlehandedly – pretty much, boris and gove jumped on his bandwagon late for their own personal gain – he’s taken the UK out of the Europe Union, incited over 17 million Brits to follow him over the top or off a cliff depending on your view.  Not many people alive can say they’ve achieved or even thought momentarily of achieving such a crazily monumental act.

Duly he got his moment in the sun yesterday.  I bet he wrote his speech to the EU Parliament years ago and rehearsed it in his head a thousand times but if he was honest with himself he probably never thought he’d actually get to deliver it.  How he chastised his MEP colleagues, starting with a triumphant “17 years ago you laughed at me – you’re not laughing now” (I’ve slightly paraphrased here but accuracy has become a casual casualty of late), followed by a stinging “you’re in denial”.

He threatened that the UK wouldn’t be the last member state and that their European project was failing.  There may be truth in his words and haven’t we all wanted to throw rocks at an all powerful establishment at some point in our lives?

But farage couldn’t help himself, in his moment in the sun – he got sun stroke.  He insulted his colleagues with the ‘none of you have ever done a proper job in your lives’ damnation, thus undermining any credibility his speech may have had. Like a gurning bully he swaggered and swung out, but he wasn’t finished, he still had the effrontery to suggest that everyone be “grown up” and promise to be “friends”.  He had done all of this selflessly in the name of “the little people, the ordinary people”.

Hey wait a minute. Since when was ‘little’ good? When did ordinary become good enough? What happened to being extraordinary?  This feels like our Star Wars moment. The small and the ordinary have had their sway, led by the Dark Side.  Those that aspire to be big, larger than life, extraordinary need to find their opposite of the Dark Side. The trouble is we don’t even know what that’s called let alone what it looks like or who it is.

Newsflash: It’s not boris.

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.