Monday, 27 February 2023

Freewheeling: Why the cyclist-motorist war?

Last week the broadcaster and TV news presenter Dan Walker was knocked off his e-bike while cycling around a roundabout in Sheffield, on his way to work. 

The selfie he posted on social media while in the ambulance, his bloodied face sandwiched between two smiling paramedics drew hundreds of wellwishers conveying their sympathy and bidding him a speedy recovery.

Dan Walker after being knocked off his bike (photo: D Walker)

The former Football Focus presenter was hit from behind by a car as he crossed the four-lane interchange of the Eccleshall Road roundabout, and was sent flying. Looking at the camera footage shared by another motorist it appears that the 45-year old took the brunt of the impact to his face. According to Walker, paramedics said that wearing a helmet saved is life.

The aftermath of the incident has been dominated by many reactions, and notably fuelled the acrimony between cyclists and motorists.

As well as Walker posting a selfie on Twitter, he followed it up with a personal account and opinion-editorial in the The Times newspaper about his misfortune. This has begun to backfire on him.

Many readers have become tired of the publicity he is apparently trying to milk out of a seemingly minor incident, given that he did not suffer any significant injuries apart from an achy body and bruising to his face. "I've been knocked off my bike several times and it never made it to the papers once," commented one reader.

Others have suggested he caused problems for himself by not wearing any hi-vis clothing. "How can someone who values his life choose to cycle around a major roundabout when there was an alternative traffic-free cycle path?" Said another.

Let the battle commence! 

Local cyclists claim that the cycle path, which passes under the roundabout is riddled with potholes and always has broken glass, not to mention "shady" characters that hang around in the subway.

Cycling campaigners went further by railing against local councils that won't maintain cycle paths, and spew out the hackneyed retort that if cyclists have to wear hi-vis then motorists should drive brightly coloured vehicles!

Motorists hit back by describing cyclists as an arrogant, self-entitled bunch who think they are above the law, jumping red lights and not following any rules.

Then other cyclists rail against motorists being the scourge of society. If they behaved correctly on the road cyclists would feel safe, wouldn't have to wear hi-vis, helmets, and could ride anywhere without the risk of a near-death experience!

Then others question the effectiveness of helmets. One reader sent Mr Walker a message containing data demonstrating that helmets don't protect against injury.

So the battle rages on!

I must say, for my part that in more than twenty years of travelling around by bicycle I have never been knocked off my bike. On two occasions a vehicle turned left across my path and I managed to take evasive action. I have been involved in a mini disagreement with a motorist on two occasions. There have been around four or five instances where I caught up with a motorist or bus driver at the traffic lights after they had overtaken me too closely. I would generally explain their dangerous manoeuvre to them in a polite civilised way, and most of them would apologise (even if a couple of apologies were uttered in a "sorry, not sorry" kind of tone).

This incidence rate over a 22-year period is very low, and hardly what I would describe as a battle between motorists and cyclists. In fact, that is no more than the number of road rage incidents between car drivers.

Furthermore, I would say that I personally encounter more acts of friendliness than negativity on the roads when cycling. 

Motorists generally do give way to me when I am waiting to turn right. Some even slow down and allow me to move into the middle of the lane before I have begun to signal or manoeuvred. Just the sight of me looking over my shoulder gives them a clue about my intention.

I did my cycling proficiency in primary school back in the 1970s, and I must say I still follow the rules I learned back then. I also do dress so that I can be seen. 

I definitely don't jump the lights. Interestingly, while waiting at the lights I have had pedestrians look at me with curiosity, before complimenting me for following the rules!

I am not trying to be smug about my bike riding, but I do feel that there is a correlation between the way cyclists are treated by motorists and the way cyclists behave on the roads, and take responsibility for their personal safety. 

Obviously there will always be a small percentage of reckless drivers, and those people behave like that towards all road users - not necessarily singling out cyclists. 

The problem is that so many cyclists don't follow the rules and don't take ownership of their actions. Many club riders wear fashionable dark-coloured kit, some youths ride in black, and with no lights at night. And in my experience the majority of cyclists jump through the red lights. I have even had other cyclists shout "What are you waiting for?" While I was waiting at the lights as they plough on ahead.

These days I don't describe myself as a cyclist given that cycling is one of a variety of modes of transport I use - car, motorcycle, public transport, walking. I even rollerskate, though I wouldn't trust myself doing so on a public highway. I value my life!

For me, using different modes of transport is important because it means that I naturally put myself in the mind of other road users, and crucially this removes the notion of a them and us culture. 

Perhaps if road users and cyclists looked at road usage in a holistic, multi-functional way, that could go some way towards eliminating these road wars.

Tuesday, 14 February 2023

The Monkey Motorcycle Diaries - Episode 4

I have passed my motorcycle test - yay!

I knew I would get there, but it seemed to be a slow-going, at times, frustrating process. My multiple choice test, which I took last October had gone smoothly after I put in the hard hours and practicing. I assumed that with the same amount of application I could also sail through Module 1 and Module 2. Not so.

On Module 1 I missed the pass by a whisker, on two occasions, both times after messing up the hazard avoidance test - the last exercise of the test. When I passed I found it hard to celebrate because I was conscious of the fact that I still had some way to go. Passing Module 1 doesn't get you a motorcycle licence. 

What passing Module 1 had taught me was that even with all the practicing in the world you can still fail on the proverbial slipping on the banana skin. So I needed to really focus on the next few weeks so that I could get through Module 2 without too many re-takes.

Fast forward to the start of this year when I took Module 2. The weather was not a great omen - pouring rain and low visibility. I was very tempted to not attend the test, but a little voice inside me willed me to go along anyway - pass or fail, at least I would have had the eexperience of riding in challenging conditions. And at least I would have an instructor accompanying me in a protected environment.

During the test, in which the route went around places I knew in Thornton Heath, Pollards Hill and Mitcham Common, I felt relaxed and it was more like an ordinary day riding around - albeit in the rain - something I wouldn't normally opt to do.  

Everything seemed to be going okay, until once again I messed up on the final instruction of the test.  That area of London has a lot of roads with 20mph speed limits, and I had gotten used to riding along those roads throughout the test, and respecting the enforced speed limits. 

Then when I turned left on the south side of Mitcham Common, returning to the cycle test centre I slipped on the banana skin. The thing is, I didn't realised I had slipped on it until I returned to the test centre and heard the dreaded words, "Unfortunately you have not passed the test on this occasion."

Riding along the A236 road along Mitcham Common southside, I was unsure what the speed limit was. All the other roads bordering Mitcham Common had been 20mph zones, so surely this would be the same too. Or maybe not. I wasn't sure. I could either ride at 30 mph and fail for breaking the speed limit, or I could do 20 and hold up the traffic, which would probably just be a minor error - after all I wasn't breaking the speed limit. To hedge my bets further I rode at 25 miles an hour.

Then that familiar voice came through my earpiece "May I remind you that the speed limit is 30 mph." Feeling embarrassed, I sped up to the maximum permitted speed. But apparently, according the the examiner during his assessment, I still didn't get up to 30 mph quick enough and I had caused a long trail of impatient drivers behind me. To be honest, I deemed that to be just London driving! I didn't think it would necessarily be a fail. But that was it - one major error and you're out. He also noted minor errors that I didn't agree with - riding around speed bumps meaning that I was too close to parked cars, taking a left-hand turn to wide, being hesitant at a junction. My disagreement with him was probably more to do with emotions I felt on receiving the shock news that I'd failed. I thought I'd ridden okay, and hadn't felt at all nervous during the ride. I had treated it just like another day out on the bike.

In the interim period when trying to book to do the retake the test was cancelled twice - once due to icy roads, another time due to roadworks outside the test centre.

I had also contemplated taking the test in other places where the speed limit rules may have been less complex - like at Tunbridge Wells. At least there, it is just the one local authority making the rules of the road, as opposed to Mitcham where there Croydon, Merton, Sutton all govern different sections of the area and impose their different rules.

At one point it looked like I wouldn't be able to get a booking until April, and so I signed up to be tested at Tolworth. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever be able to get a test, and after all that I could still fail again!

So by the time I presented myself to the test today I was relieved to have got there - I arrived one minute before my scheduled test time - though I was not feeling especially hopeful.

My examiner was the same man I had for my first attempt at MOD1. He was polite, but not especially reassuring in his delivery. My frame of mind was just to focus and get this damn thing over and done with.

The route overlapped a little bit with a test route for the area that I had found on YouTube and practiced - around Beddington Farm, Purley Way and Mitcham Common, However, there were a lot of the back streets in Wallington that I was not familiar. To compound matters the traffic lights were not working on a big junction between Beddington and Wallington, and I was asked to go through that area on two occasions.

On returning to the test centre after my exam I didn't feel very positive. I was aware of little errors I'd made, and it would just be a case of whether they would be classed or major errors or minors.

"Well done, I am pleased to say you've passed," were his words. It was quite a pleasant surprise that came out of the blue for me. I was elated today as I'd been angry five weeks previously!

I could have kissed the examiner - but I quickly came to my senses and realised it wouldn't be the best idea. Given what day it was, receiving this test certificate from  the examination would beat any Valentine's card! 

Related posts

The Monkey Motorcycle Diaries - Episode 3

The Monkey Motorcycle Diaries - Episode 2

The Monkey Motorcycle Diaries - Episode 1

Monday, 30 January 2023

Memories of bike rides in Argentina - Part 2

Seven Lakes Ride

This is a well-known ride that both local and tourist cyclists like to do. It's about 110km and runs between Villa La Angostura and San Martin de los Andes, passing (you've guessed it) seven lakes in the area, all in the shadow of Andean peaks. The whole route is along a stretch of a longer road, the 5,000km-long Ruta 40 which runs the length of western Argentina.

At the Codillera Bike workshop near Bariloche

The shop, Cordillera Bike, had prepared my bike and provided me with panniers, plus a description of the route. They had also booked my accommodation along the way. While 119 km is doable in one day on a bike, especially as the terrain was largely on paved roads, I wanted to do the ride at a leisurely pace and take the time to appreciate the surroundings I had therefore given myself three days to do it. 

The initial part of the ride consisted of riding out to the ferry port at Llao Llao and taking the 2-hour journey across Nahuel Huapi Lake to Arrayanes Forest. From the boat I cycled along the longest section of off-road of the whole ride, which was around three miles of trails through the forest to and reach the start at Villa La Angostura. The gravel tracks weren't took challenging, though there were a couple of short sharp climbs where it was easier for me to wheel my mountain bike with its panniers than to waste energy riding up it very slowly.

Ferry port at Llao Llao bound for Villa La Angostura

Once in Villa La Angostura I made the most of the facilities and went to a shop for some final provisions, knowing that I there wouldn't be many or even any during my cycle ride. Outside the shop I met a couple who were heading for Chile. They were seasoned cycle tourists and told me what to expect of my journey. "It's amazing. You'll love it." They said. Their biggest issue was that they had bought a bag of linseeds and sunflower seeds to eat along the way, but still had a lot left and they would not be able to take them into Chile. They offered me some, but I was already fully laden, so could only take a little bit. I was happy enough to eat seeds, but not really a kilogramme of the stuff!

After Villa La Angostura the route was mainly tarmac. Initially there were quite a lot of trucks and I feared that this would be the main feature of the route, even if, to their credit they were giving cyclists a lot of distance when overtaking along this wide road. Thankfully, after a couple of miles the trucks all turned left at as junction, seemingly to head towards Chile, so the road then became very quiet. 

Along the way, I passed many cyclists travelling in the opposite direction. Cycle touring and bike packing seemed to have caught on there as much as in Europe because many of the cyclists were also fully laden with gear for a multi-day tour, complete with even saucepans and cooking utensils hanging out of their luggage! They all seemed pretty friendly as they said hello to me.

My first day's ride was 42km (26 miles) which took me past the Lago Espejo and finished at Lago Correntoso where I spent the night at a hotel right on the beach facing the lake. That was one of the best evenings I have ever had on any holiday. The setting was like being on a film set (without the cameras, producers and gaffers etc.). It was a divine view with snowcapped mountains as a shroud around the shimmering lake in the spectacular sunset. The beach was beautifully clean, and there were just a handful of people around. Most people had retired to their lodgings after their day out, and given that accommodation (and electricity) on the beach were limited it meant that very few people hung around. So it was only a mixture of die-hard beach bums and those staying in the hotel who got the benefit of the spectacular early evening light.  

My evening meal was traditional Argentine fare of an asado served in the hotel restaurant. Well by restaurant, I mean the cosy dining room of the proprietors, who were a very welcoming family. It really did feel like being in someone's house, and you could see right into the kitchen from the dining area.

Tables were set so that you would just sit next to people that you don't know and start conversation. I got chatting to an Argentine woman, Cristina, on holiday from Buenos Aires. She was a singer and had relatives in Peckham, South London. Then I also talked to another woman, Benedetta, an Italian originally from Como, who had decided to settle down in a province near Buenos Aires. She was a dance DJ and had a very friendly white German Shepherd dog called Dragon (RIP). Even though none of us knew each other at the start of the evening we had chatted about life and the universe and by the end of the evening we had become friends. 

My second day took me from Lago Correntoso to Lago Hermoso (not officially one of the seven lakes), passing Lago Traful (not officially a one of the seven lakes), Lago Escondido, Lago Falkner and Lago Villarino. 

The route on this day was even more spectacular than the previous day, with more lakes than the previous day, and even higher peaks. All around were forested areas containing a mixture of ancient conifers and beech trees specific to the Patagonia area (Dombey's beech trees). There were also quite a lot of shrubs with berries. I didn't see any wild animals - I hear you can get pumas in that area - though I came across quite a few lizards crossing the road. 

On this day I noted there were fewer cyclists around, and for a while I became conscious of my being alone. This was beautiful, isolated territory. But somewhere I was thinking "should I be appreciating this in the company of someone else?" I was enjoying the moment, but I wondered if some might think I should have someone with me even for safety and security reasons. I could have had a wild animal come after me, an incident with my bike, or even altitude sickness. Was I going to pay for this sublime moment because of my foolhardiness?

Well, I reasoned that I had all the provisions for certain issues - bike repair kit, mobile phone (there was some coverage), money, food, drink, first aid and basic medicines; I could speak the language and I knew my bearings. So at the end of the day, and statistically speaking, I was in no more a dangerous situation than if I had been in a lane in Surrey. In fact given the lack of traffic here I was probably less at risk than if I were cycling in Surrey! I soon forgot these concerns and pressed on, while still enjoying the landscape. 

My lodgings were convivial but less personal as it was a campsite with camping huts. So I had a camping hut to myself and just saw folks in the refectory and on the rocky beach where there had been a DJ sound system for most of the afternoon, and now a couple of guys were playing traditional songs with an acoustic guitar as the sun went down. 

This place had a young, bohemian feel about it, and I must say I did feel significantly older than the punters there. The kids were quite excited to meet a Londoner and asked me about my life and what it's like in the UK etc. I don't know if they would have been so excited to know I was old enough to be their mum and I generally liked to sit at home and watch BBC4 of an evening!

My final day was shorter than  the others. I guess by this time I was keen to reach San Martin de los Andes knowing that I only had this day to enjoy it before catching a bus to Neuquen (and another one to Mendoza) the following day. 

It was once again bordered by lakes. This time they were Lago Machonico followed by Lago Lacar, right at the end of the ride.

Vista just before dropping down to San Martin de los Andes

Before taking on the long fast drop into San Martin de los Andes I made sure to get a photo of the town hugging the edge of the Lago Lacar, with other lakes in the background and mountains all around. If only I had a better camera. This area would be a landscape photographer's dream.

Once in San Martin I dropped off the bicycle at a local mountain bike shop. I then looked around this delightful touristic town before being picked up by India, the proprietor of my lodgings and going back along a rugged road into the mountains to her very friendly and convivial bike hotel. 

The main drag in San Martin de los Andes

It had been a phenomenal couple of days of sightseeing and meeting very interesting people. I was also very pleased that the weeks of planning and logistics that I had put in place prior to coming here had come to fruition. It is definitely something that I would do again, and hopefully ride on a longer stretch of Ruta 40.


I wasn't in Mendoza for long, and I wasn't sure where to hire a bike in the city. There didn't seem to be as much of a cycling culture there as in Buenos Aires. 

In fact the main outdoor activity revolved more around getting high above street level. With Mount Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Western hemisphere a stone's throw away, every other shop seemed to be selling mountaineering gear and anything else related to high-altitude sports or survival in the mountains. One shop had a giant poster of Bear Grylls in its window display! 

Seven hours in Uspallata (aka film set for Seven years in Tibet!)

In any case I didn't spend much time in Mendoza during the day. On one day I did a day trip hiking around Uspallata, a little village to the West of Mendoza right in the mountains. This place has a claim to fame of being where some scenes from Sevcn Years in Tibet (starring Brad Pitt) were shot. I kept trying to imagine him walking along the same trails as myself, or maybe going for a meal at the restaurant I went to. 

Another day I did an 18km run into the outskirts of Mendoza, to an area called Cerro del la Gloria, set within the Parque San Martin. It was quite a popular area for outdoor activities, be it jogging, cycling, walking, picnics and barbecues or just bored teenagers on their motorbikes hanging out too. Why would I run that far? Well, it was part of my preparation for the Paris marathon. I hadn't intended to run so far - maybe just 10km, but I was quite enjoying the area and it was an alternative form of tourism, I guess!

Parque San Martin, Mendoza

The cycling that is done in the Mendoza area, it seems, is associated with touring around the various vineyards. So when in Rome...... I caught a local bus to Maipù and after a few enquiries I found a café/bar that was hiring out bikes. They gave me a map with information and suggested itinerary to tour the vineyards in that region. It looked great, but the only problem was that I had until 5.45pm, and it was already 1.30pm. I would be lucky to get around half of them. So I had just over four hours to see as many bodegas and taste their wines as possible, before getting back to the bar before they closed.  

A bicycle is definitely the best way to get round. In fact at the first place I visited, Bodega Cecchin, as I was locking my bike a coach load of tourists arrived for their booked tour. So the ticket office said I might as well join them and pay the reduced group rate.

Spoilt for choice at Bodega Cecchin

It was very informative and we got to "taste" (read drink) four different wines. It was like a visit to Denbies Vineyard in Dorking, but in Spanish. They specialised in organic wine, and I was quite impressed with the set-up as well as the taste of their produce, so I bought a bottle of their best Malbec.

I managed to fit in three more places. Two were self-guided, and at the last one, a cool-looking vineyard, that had a vintage look about it, and the folks were very welcome. They did a visit just for me. So I bought another bottle there. 

By this time I was at the furthest point from the bar, and had cut things a bit fine for getting back by 5.45pm. I was about 4 or 5 miles away, so I made a mad dash on the bike. This was compounded by the bottles I was carrying, and worrying that the bag may not be strong enough hold that weight, as well as not being familiar with the area and hoping not to get lost. I did have a few glasses of wine swimming around my body too, so I needed to be  extra careful as I was probably riding under the influence!

It was just after 5.50pm when I got back to the bar and was apologetic for being late. The lady was very relaxed about it. "No worries. Your table is ready over there," as she pointed to a table with cheese, ham and toast, plus a wine glass. My table? I hadn't reserved a table. What I hadn't realised was that anyone who hires a bike from them gets a complimentary aperitif. The 5.45 deadline was more for them, so that they could stop dealing in bikes at that tie and focus on serving aperitifs. So to round off my afternoon of wine tasting, I was served with.... more wine. Well, it would be rude not to make the most of the offerings from the wine capital of Argentina. At least I didn't have any more cycling to do!

A cycling trip around the Maipù and Mendoza vineyards is highly recommended. Bear in mind there are about 15 to see in Maipu, so you need a couple of days to get round them comfortably. Just go easy on the wine "tasting".

Wine and Ride, where you hire a bike and have the run of numerous nearby vineyards

Once back in Mendoza, I made my preparations for saying good bye to Argentina. My trip to Mendoza had been short and sweet, but I had a but to catch that would take me into Chile the following day. 

Rides on Strava

Seven Lakes Ride - Bosques de Arrayanes to Lago Correntoso

Seven Lakes Ride - Lago Correntoso to Lago Hermoso

Seven Lakes Ride - Lago Hermoso to San Martin de los Andes

Mini winetasting route in Maipu

Run on Strava

Run around Mendoza

Related posts

Memories of bike rides in Argentina - Part 1

Saturday, 28 January 2023

Memories of bike rides in Argentina - Part 1

New bike lane in central Buenos Aires

As the professional cyclists compete on the roads of Argentina during the Tour of San Juan stage race this takes me back to this time five years ago when I took a trip to to South America. 

It was my second trip to the continent and a second time to Argentina. I also managed to get across to neighbouring Chile, which was a maiden visit for me. It was a pity I couldn't spend much time there, though I hope to return to the spine of South America and see a bit more than Viña del Mar, Valparaiso and Santiago.

Conversely Argentina is a country from where I've had a good helping both on and off the bike. Here are a few of my on-bike memories.

Buenos Aires (known as BA)

The first time I rode a bicycle in the Argentine capital was in 2006. I had this dream of getting around the city by bike as my time there was limited, so it would also be a way of seeing more of the city. After spending time in a phone box in the town centre, ringing almost every bike shop in central Buenos Aires listed in the yellow pages (paginas amarillas) I found a shop that had an old sit-up-and-beg bike that I could use. 

The shop owner, seeing me as a fresh-off-the-boat gringa was keen to make sure I would be safe riding around the city. He spent time showing me the controls on the bike like it was a new-fangled contraption that I was seeing for the first time. He offered me a cycle helmet that he had taken out of a draw and was dusting down. It was clearly not the custom for folks to wear helmets, but on this occasion he wanted to make my BA experience a positive, and at least, safe one. 

Then he gave me a map of the central area and pointed out various roads that I must absolutely not cycle along. Es muy muy peligroso, he kept saying. Then as I cycled out of the shop he stood and watched me, a bit like a parent anxiously watching their child riding a bicycle without stabilisers, unassisted for the first time.

It was really sweet of him to show that sort of concern. I guess I was a novelty, turning up on my own to rent a bicycle that I'd be riding around the city. At that time, cycling infrastructure in Buenos Aires was nothing to write home about. Well actually it was non-existent!

Emerging cycle culture in Palermo, Buenos Aires

I was staying in the Recoleta district and the ride from the city centre to my hotel involved going along the Avenida del Libertador, a wide road with four-lanes in each direction that was also a popular bus route. Vehicles would tear down the road like they were in some sort of a time trial and there were many bus stops along the way. 

So you had to be mindful of buses pulling in and out, as well as the rest of the traffic. Thinking back about it, it probably was a little scary. It was probably a similar road to the one in Colombia where former Tour de France winner Egan Bernal had his serious collision with a bus last year. I must say, I was riding around BA as someone who was used to cycling in Central London (pre-cycle Superhighways) so I felt quite at home!

Those few days I had on the bike were really fun, seeing different neighbourhoods including contrasting places like La Boca and Palermo. I did have to make an unscheduled stop in La Boca at a mini cycle workshop to repair the bike as a screw on the saddle was coming loose. Again, the guy there was very helpful and was keen to give a good impression. He was also curious when I said I was from London. "Which is better? Buenos Aires or London?" he asked. "Well Buenos Aires is lovely and the weather is much better than in London" I replied. Given that this was the month of February, and the height of summer in Argentina it was the best answer I could give, as someone whose favourite city is London! As well as getting to know different parts of Central BA I also did a ride out to Tigre, a popular arty, touristic town north of the city, on the Parana Delta.

On my return to the bike shop the owner was very pleased to see me and was just glad I had made it around the city in one piece! 

Cycling was not such a widespread activity at that time, but fast-forward to 2018, and I found that things had changed significantly. BA, like many cities around the world had developed its own cycling infrastructure, and there even seemed to be a nascent cycling culture. 

Bike lane in Buenos Aires

Avenida del Libertador now had a long cycle superhighway along it, as did many roads around the city. There were special areas to park bicycles and a bikesharing scheme. It was even possible to park my bike in a public multi-storey car park which is manned. You give the parking attendant a few Pesos and he shows you to an allocated place to lock up and leave your bike while he watches it. Now that's what I call that VIP service!

Palermo, the area where I was staying, had quite a few bike shops that hired out cycles, and some of the hotels were doing so too. So finding a bicycle was really easy, and cycling around BA had become as commonplace as it was convenient. It was so useful to be able to pick up a bike and use it to get to a running race I'd signed up for in Central BA (San Silvestre 10km). I also did other mini tours exploring the area around Belgrano, River Plate, the coastal roads near the University, and going south to the modern Puerto Madero district, where I met up with my friend, Mariana. 

Mariana seems to be a well-known christian name in Argentina, for I met another woman by that name, a hipster who ran a bike shop around the corner from where I was staying. She managed to get me a touring bike for my excursion to Tigre, and was really helpful in giving tips on places to go. 

She seemed quite excited to meet a real-life person from London, with whom she could even practice her English. I was only in BA for a week, as I had to push on to other parts of the country. The cycling I did in Argentina during my 2006 trip was limited to the BA area. For the 2018 trip I arranged to cycling in other regions of the country. So after my time in BA, on a very hot afternoon, I hotfooted it onto a southbound flight for San Carlos de Bariloche (commonly known as Bariloche), in the lake district of Argentina - a complete change of scenery and weather. 

With Mariana at her local bike hire shop in Palermo

Cycle rides on Strava

City tour to San Telmo

Ride around Palermo

Ride out to Tigre

Tour of Tigre


My first impression of Bariloche wasn't especially positive. Sure the folks I shared with the collectivo with from the airport to downtown Bariloche were friendly. But the view from the shared taxi was a bit morose. Granted, it was around 9pm and it was getting dark, after having touched down from a massively delayed flight from Buenos Aires. But the setting looked pretty grim as it had been raining all day, and the temperature was very low. 

Riding around the Bariloche area near Colonia Suiza

This was a stark contrast to the 35degree Celsius and blazing sunshine in BA that afternoon. Bariloche being in the province of Rio Negro, set in the Nahuel Huapi National Park, some 1000miles (1600km) South of the Argentine capital and on the fringes of the Andes has naturally a cooler climate than many parts of South America. In fact, I wore all my winter London layers and was still not warm enough! On my arrival at the hostel where I had booked to stay, my spirits weren't particularly lifted when the receptionist said, "You haven't picked the best day to come here. It's just been rain rain rain!"

The following morning was not much better, with persistent rain firmly on the agenda. Thankfully, things picked up in the afternoon, so I went out. It was then that I began to appreciate the town. Bariloche is not necessarily anything to write home about in terms of architecture. What is most remarkable is the mountain vibe in this gateway to Patagonia. You are stuck in this town right in the middle of mountains (known as Cerros) and lakes where everyone there seems to be hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking or some other pretty energetic activity. A popular ski resort, Cerro Catedral is nearby, but peak time for that activity would be in June, July, August. At this time of year folks had come over for the rock-climbing, hiking and via ferrata. It was like a South American version of  the English Lake District, but with much higher peaks; or maybe like Chamonix, France - but with loads more lakes.

Circuito Chico at Llao Llao, along Nahuel Huapi lake

I had reserved a mountain bike (via email) to do a tour of the Seven Lakes, so I caught a bus to the shop in El Trebol, just outside Bariloche, to introduce myself to the guys working there. While I was at it, I hired a bicycle to do a mini ride around the local area, the Circuito Chico. The route was well sign-posted for cyclists, and easy to navigate, and the roads were smooth and wide. Traffic was quite light, even though it was the height of summer and there were many holiday makers and coach parties. They seemed to have all gathered either at the Colonia Suiza or at a hugely opulent villa and restaurant at Llao Llao (pronounced shao shao). It was a very relaxing way to spend the Friday afternoon, even if there were a couple of small hills to get over. 

By the time I started my ride the bad weather had disappeared and the sun was out in full force. The area looked spectacular with the Perito Moreno Lake being a constant along the 32km (20mile) ride. I couldn't help but stop every few hundred metres to take photos. The views were amazing. 

In the woods, set in the Colonia Suiza was an independent brewery and beer garden called Berlina. It would have been rude not to stop there, so I joined the throng of the hip folks of southern Argentina and enjoyed a couple of beers. I would highly recommend the beers there; they tasted almost as good as Black Sheep beer. It was a pleasant way to end the afternoon before preparing for my upcoming mini-adventure by bike the following day.

Well-earned beer stop at Berlina Artesanal Brewery - Patagonian answer to Black Sheep!

Circuito Chico cycle ride on Strava

Related posts

Memories of bike rides in Argentina - Part 2

Cycling poetry for Burns Night - Ode to Bicycles

Argentines and Cycling

Wednesday, 25 January 2023

Cycling Poetry for Burns Night - Ode to Bicycles

The bicycle: "The cold skeleton that will return to life" when I ride it through Santiago, Chile

It's that time again when we gather around a fire, sing Scottish folk songs, maybe add in a bit of dancing, eat haggis and read a bit of poetry all in the name of Rabbie Burns. Well actually the only thing I do regularly on January 25th is the last one. So in my continuing tradition here's a cycling poem that I particularly like. 

It has probably appeared on this blog in the past, but I wanted to mention it again, not just because I like it, but also because it is by one of Chile's most famous poets, Pablo Neruda (1904-1973). I was in Chile around this time five years ago as part of a mini tour in South America. I tried to visit the Pablo Neruda Museum in Valparaiso, but it was closed.

While in Santiago I hired a bike and toured around the city. It was a pity that I was pushed for time, but what I saw of the Chilean capital was very pleasant. So I hope to return there and spend a more time one day in the not too distant future.

Ode to Bicycles by Pablo Neruda

I was walking
a sizzling road:
the sun popped like
a field of blazing maize,
was hot,
an infinite circle
with an empty
blue sky overhead.

A few bicycles
me by,
the only
that dry
moment of summer,
barely stirred
the air.

Workers and girls
were riding to their
their eyes
to summer,
their heads to the sky,
sitting on the
beetle backs
of the whirling
that whirred
as they rode by
bridges, rosebushes, brambles
and midday.

I thought about evening when
the boys
wash up,
sing, eat, raise
a cup
of wine
in honor
of love
and life,
and waiting
at the door,
the bicycle,
only moving
does it have a soul,
and fallen there
it isn’t
a translucent insect
through summer
a cold
that will return to
when it’s needed,
when it’s light,
that is,
of each day.

Bicycles: "The only insects in that dry moment of Summer" while I was in Vina del Mar, Chile

Tuesday, 10 January 2023

Freewheeling: Cycling burnout - you can get too much of a good thing!

I have been slowly getting back into the rhythm of cycling regularly. I'm not doing any big-mileage rides, but just little outings around my neighbourhood of around 20km. Admittedly, an ongoing sports injury has prevented me from doing much more, and I have had to steer clear of hills.

But even if I hadn't had this misfortune I still wouldn't have done a lot of riding. In the latter half of 2022 my average monthly mileage fell dramatically from around 700km to about one-tenth of that amount.

Regular rides around my local lanes in Kent and Surrey, training sessions at Herne Hill Velodrome, plus rides further afield to the Lake District Peak District had bumped up the mileage. I even did a few trips overseas - to Milan and the Italian Lakes, the South of France, Northern France and Belgium, as well as my regular London to Paris run. I guess I was making the most of our new-found post-Covid freedom. 

These rides were also in preparation for a couple of cyclosportive events I'd signed up for - Fred Whitton Challenge, Ride London, and the Etape du Tour. I did the first two events, but ended up not making the trip to the Alps for the latter event.

In fact by the time the Tour de France was starting I could feel my enthusiasm flagging, and when the inaugural Tour de France Femmes - the big event we'd been anticipating at the end of July - I was ready to move off in a new direction and just watch the bike racing from a distance. 

There was no specific thing that happened to make me feel this way. It just seemed like an unexplained burn-out, and as a result I just felt indifferent about all things cycling. So as a result, after putting my road bike away in the garage on my return from Paris for the Tour de France, it and the other bikes stayed practically unridden for around two months. I didn't miss riding, and for a timecI felt relieved that I didn't have to feel guilty at not training or not doing a 100km ride. 

I enjoyed the fact that on a sunny Sunday I could do an alternative leisure activity like rollerskating, visiting an art gallery, or even indulge in an extended Sunday lunch.

Some years ago I recall the boss of an advertising agency where I worked, speaking disparagingly about cyclists who go out on these really long bike rides on a weekend. He laughingly talked about how he wouldn't be putting in place facilities like showers in the office as he didn't want to encourage this sort of strange cycling behaviour. At the time I thought he was being a little mean and uncharitable towards cyclists. Maybe he was even jealous that he couldn't have that level of fitness to cycle even 10 or 15 miles.

In hindsight I believe what he was getting at was the cycling culture of riding a bicycle all day on a Saturday and/or Sunday, effectively keeping you away from your friends and family. He was all in favour of pleasant leisure bike rides out in the countryside with others and maybe stopping in a pub or having a picnic. But doing all this Tour de France style riding especially when you're nowhere near being professional just seemed antisocial. He even questioned the mental health of folks who see it fit to do these bike rides week in, week out!

Funnily enough as I reached this burnt-out phase I was beginning to think the same. So you've gotten out and ridden your bike 200km and climbed over this iconic hill or ridden over that historic stretch of cobbles or unsurfaced road. Have a pat on the back, but does life really have to be about just that? Then you go home and spend three or four hours watching a bunch of guys or wonen doing the same thing on TV. It all seems like watching paint dry until the last 15 minutes or so, and then folks marvel over those final 15 minutes of the race that was won by an athlete who comes across with slightly (but not much) more charisma than a wet lettuce. 

I found the whole thing rather quirky. I found it especially as these cycling fans talk of the sport like it's the most important thing in the world and trounces every other sport on the universe for entertainment, and bemoan the fact that the mainstream news channels don't feature this event as the top story in their sports bulletins. 

I realised I didn't want to be part of this crowd, and maybe deep down I just wanted a break from this soup, so that I could re-establish the relationship I wanted with cycling. At the time I'd just bought a motorcycle and was taking lessons.

I was getting more and more into ensemble playing with my clarinet, and I was learning to play the flute. So in short there was no time to be doing 200km bike rides. More importantly, I felt happier at the end of my day to have done a 20km cycle ride, flute playing and even a bit of housework. It might sound like a more conventional and less adventurous way to spend a Sunday day, but thers are times when I am not after adventure. 

As much as I like cycling, sometimes you can get too much of a good thing. Nowadays I prefer to have well-rounded weekends where I do a selection of things in moderation. I will always continue to ride my bike, even if it is just for social, domestic and pleasure. Maybe my cycling strength won't be enough for me to hold my own in a race or get round a 200km and 5,000m altitude cyclosportive now, but the fact that I have been there already gives me a sense of satisfaction, and I feel I have a healthier approach to cycling and cyclesport compared with previously. 

Sunday, 18 December 2022

The Monkey Motorbike Diaries - Episode 3

I am two-thirds of the way along the route to taking the L-plates off my dear Honda Monkey 125cc bikje. Part 1 of three was all about doing the theory test, and Part 2 was Module 1. The final part, Module 2, will be at a time in the not-distant future.

Slightly worn but somewhat valuable certificates!

Once I pass that then I will have the A1 licence. It is basically a full licence, but restricted to 125cc motorcycles. Usually the A1 licence is what young riders get as they are not old enough to be issued with the A licence which allows you to ride any sized bike. For that, you have to be over 21 years if you have done a progressive access course, or over 24 years old if you are getting directly into motorcycling. 

So, as a woman in her fifties some might say that I should go for the A licence. Folks on motorcycle social media groups often say that the A1 licence is a waste of time getting if you are over 24 years old. After all, it will cost the same to obtain as the A1 licence. Furthermore, you'd soon get fed up with riding a 125cc and I will be wishing for a big bike.

The thing is, on a number of fronts I don't agree with what folks say. Firstly, in my opinion, getting the A1 is a hell of a lot cheaper than getting the A license.

The motorcycle test to get the A license has to be done a minimum 600cc engine size. So given that CBT only allows you to ride a 125cc then any time you want to practice and prepare for the test you have to go via a motorcycle training school. The A1 licence, being for 125cc bikes means that if you own a 125cc bike you can prepare for the test yourself, without having to go through the programme in a training school. And it is true that the sessions will be the same as for the A licence so it will cost almost the same - around £800-£1000.

So yes, there is a case for going for the full A licence if you only plan to prepare via a school. But that's not my line. I went to two different schools in order to obtain my Compulsory Basic Training (CBT) certificate, neither of which were schools that I rated. By the time I'd done my CBT I had had my fill of training schools and so am not ready to send my cash to any training school for the time being.

So with that in mind, I was ready to do the A1 as a privateer and just pay the test fees (£15.50 for Module 1, £75 for Module 2) plus a small investment (£15) in a set of cones to practice riding around in a car park.

As I already have my little Monkey to ride I can get all the practice I need riding around the various streets in London. For my Mod 1, I took to hanging out in carparks - at the local Tesco, usually early in the morning; then in a local sports centre, and even just on quiet residential roads for things like the emergency stop and hazard avoidance test. 

When I told a few people of my intention to prepare and take the test as an individual many people were quite skeptical of the idea and told me that it would be really tough as I don't know what the examiner will be looking for - there is a reason why people get trained by a motorcycle instructor. I just didn't feel convinced that a motorcycle instructor would teach me anything that I couldn't work out myself or obtain from online resources. Judging by the behaviour of other instructors I had experienced I just didn't rate them enough for me to want to take any instruction from them.

After passing the multiple choice test, which I thankfully passed first time, with the help of the DVSA video practice tests in books and on-line, I then attempted my Mod 1 at the driving test centre in Mitcham. That wasn't a great experience.

I had visited the test centre a couple of days before, to get a feel for the layout of the place, but I wasn't allowed to ride around the route. On test day I was very nervous, and the examiner was anything but friendly or welcoming. He delivered the instructions quite quickly and when I asked him to repeat, so that I could check I had understood what he wanted, he sighed and repeated them again just as quickly. At one point he said, "You haven't had no lessons have you?" I replied that I had prepared for the test but I was feeling very nervous. That didn't register with him and when I asked him to repeat the instruction on another occasion he shouted at me saying, "You should listen."

Despite all that I performed all the tasks correctly, except for the very last task, the hazard avoidance. On my first go, as I looked at my speedometer and saw 25 mph shortly before the speed trap I abandoned the attempt knowing that I wouldn't be able to reach the required 31mph.

On my second attempt I was determined to give it some welly, revving the engine right up and I went through the trap at 34mph, then brought the motorbike to a controlled stop feeling pleased that I had done a good swerve.

But, uh oh! I looked at where I had parked the bike and realised I stopped completely in the wrong place, and nowhere near the cones where I was required to come to a halt! I knew I had blown it and just wanted to ride straight home.

The examiner said I hadn't done badly apart from the final exercise, and he put it down to me having gone through the speed trap too fast, and not being in control of the bike. I didn't agree with that. I knew that the nerves had gotten the better of me, and his behaviour had not helped matters.

I went home feeling quite furious with the situation and fed back about the behaviour of the examiner, who I later discovered had not even gone through the proper administrative processes at the start of the test. I have no idea if DVSA will have taken any action in respect of this. Given some of the negative feedback that I have heard about the place, I don't get the impression they care.

On the road to a life of no L-plates

Still, it didn't stop me going back to take the test on another occasion. On my second attempt I did everything perfectly, but once again I failed on the hazard avoidance test. My first attempt was too slow, and on my second attempt I looked down at the speedometer, and seeing that I was at 34mph I thought "great" and released the throttle, only to drop, unbeknown to me, down to 28mph. I could have kicked myself. Finally, I got the test on my third attempt, and with just one minor error. When I did that test, I didn't feel nervous at all - probably more fed up and with a bit of a ground hog day/here we go again feeling. So I was probably quite relaxed!

It's been a bit of a faff getting the Mod 1, but to be honest, I still feel that it has been worthwhile doing it this way, and I have generally been very much in control of where I am and how I go about the motorcycle test preparation. The times I failed were on the same issue - the hazard avoidance test. That was also the aspect I practiced the least during my preparation because it wasn't that easy to find an off-road space where I could ride at 31mph without potentially being a nuisance. But when I found a magic cul-de-sac the day before the test, and practiced on it during a quiet time of the day that made all the difference. I now have the final part to do - hopefully that will be a more straight forward affair. 

Some people might still wonder why it's so important to have an A1 licence if I could just continue with the CBT certificate and L-plates, then keep renewing it every two years - something that is quite commonly done. Firstly, I am not sure how economical that is in the long run because CBT renewals cost at least £150 (as much as £180) in the London area, and that works out as as more than taking an A1 test. 

Once you have an A1 licence there is no obligation to renew anything, You don't need L-plates and you have the same status as anyone on a larger bike. So you can carry a passenger (if your bike is set up for that), you can ride on a motorway (if you dare to do so on a 125cc bike), but for me most importantly, I can take the bike abroad. My goal in the next few months is to be able to take the Monkey to France - to ride up the Champs Elysées, park there and soak in the Paris in the Spring atmosphere. I look forward to getting to the French capital significantly quicker than on my pushbike!

Related posts

Monkey Motorbike Diaries - Episode 1

Monkey Motorbike Diaries - Episode 2