Friday, 25 January 2019

Burns Night again - so more cycling poetry


How about a bit of cycling-related poetry. Every year I say I'd like to get into poetry - along with writing that great novel that gets turned into a film! Once again I haven't got round to it, so here are a couple to celebrate while you enjoy a bit of haggis and whisky.  

The first poem has a moral at the end - if only I could ride a horse! The second poem is an ode to a place that many club cyclists go to for warm weather training, and I imagine for the other delights this Balearic Island has to offer!


Mulga Bill's Bicycle
by 
'Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that caught the cycling craze; 
He turned away the good old horse that served him many days; 
He dressed himself in cycling clothes, resplendent to be seen; 
He hurried off to town and bought a shining new machine; 
And as he wheeled it through the door, with air of lordly pride, 
The grinning shop assistant said, "Excuse me, can you ride?" 
"See here, young man," said Mulga Bill, "from Walgett to the sea, 
From Conroy's Gap to Castlereagh, there's none can ride like me.
 
I'm good all round at everything, as everybody knows, 
Although I'm not the one to talk - I hate a man that blows.
 
But riding is my special gift, my chiefest, sole delight; 
Just ask a wild duck can it swim, a wildcat can it fight.
 
There's nothing clothed in hair or hide, or built of flesh or steel, 
There's nothing walks or jumps, or runs, on axle, hoof, or wheel, 
But what I'll sit, while hide will hold and girths and straps are tight: 
I'll ride this here two-wheeled concern right straight away at sight.
" 

'Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that sought his own abode, 
That perched above the Dead Man's Creek, beside the mountain road.

He turned the cycle down the hill and mounted for the fray, 
But ere he'd gone a dozen yards it bolted clean away.
 
It left the track, and through the trees, just like a silver streak, 
It whistled down the awful slope towards the Dead Man's Creek.
 

It shaved a stump by half an inch, it dodged a big white-box: 
The very wallaroos in fright went scrambling up the rocks, 
The wombats hiding in their caves dug deeper underground, 
As Mulga Bill, as white as chalk, sat tight to every bound.
 
It struck a stone and gave a spring that cleared a fallen tree, 
It raced beside a precipice as close as close could be; 
And then as Mulga Bill let out one last despairing shriek 
It made a leap of twenty feet into the Dead Man's Creek.
 

'Twas Mulga Bill from Eaglehawk, that slowly swam ashore: 
He said, "I've had some narrer shaves and lively rides before; 
I've rode a wild bull round a yard to win a five-pound bet, 
But this was the most awful ride that I've encountered yet.
 
I'll give that two-wheeled outlaw best; It's shaken all my nerve 
To feel it whistle through the air and plunge and buck and swerve.
 
It's safe at rest in Dead Man's Creek, we'll leave it lying still; 
A horse's back is good enough henceforth for Mulga Bill."

John Cooper Clarke-Majorca.

null

MAJORCA
By John Cooper Clarke (1976)
Fasten your seatbelts says a voice
Inside the plane you can’t hear no noise 
Engines made by Rolls Royce 
Take your choice 
…make mine Majorca
Check out the parachutes 
Can’t be found 
Alert those passengers 
They’ll be drowned 
A friendly mug says “settle down” 
When i came round i was gagged and bound 
…for Majorca
And the eyes caress 
The neat hostess 
Her unapproachable flip finesse 
I found the meaning of the word excess 
They’ve got little bags if you wanna make a mess 
I fancied Cuba but it cost me less  
…to Majorca
(Whose blonde sand fondly kisses 
the cool fathoms of the blue mediteranean)
They packed us into the white hotel 
You could still smell the polycell 
Wet white paint in the air-conditioned cells 
The waiter smelled of fake Chanel 
Gauloises… garlic as well 
says if i like… i can call him “Miguel” 
…well really
I got drunk with another fella 
Who’d just brought up a previous paella 
He wanted a fight but said they were yella’ 
…in Majorca
The guitars rang and the castinets clicked 
The dancer’s stamped and the dancer’s kicked 
It’s likely if you sang in the street you’d be nicked 
The Double Diamond flowed like sick 
Mother’s Pride, tortilla and chips 
Pneumatic drills when you try to kip 
…in Majorca
A stomach infection put me in the shade 
Must have been something in the lemonade 
But by the balls of Franco i paid 
Had to pawn my bucket and spade 
Next year I’ll take the international brigade 
…to Majorca
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Women of Colour cycling group - is it necessary?

Look Mum No Hands! Cafe in London holds various types of events and regular meet-ups. One group they have formed is a Women of Colour meet-up. The first meeting was held in December of last year, and another meeting took place a few days ago. It will now become a monthly event.

First Women of Colour cycling group at Look Mum No Hands

I went to the first one, as I was a little curious to see how the meet-up went, and as someone who likes to meet different types of people in cycling I was looking forward to meeting new people. Also being experienced in cycling and in the cycling community I was looking forward to sharing lots of information about the cycling scene and giving tips to anyone wanting advice.

This group was an initiative borne out of an article written by a woman who bemoaned the fact that she hardly saw any women of colour when she took part in the Ride London 100 last summer. She also claimed to have encountered white MAMILS (middle-aged men in lycra) who gave her "uncomfortable gazes" at the cycle event, or "microagressions" from white males as they overtook her when commuting.

This was then picked up on by the likes of Jools Walker (aka Lady Velo), Jenni Gwiazdowski and Ayesha McGowan, an Afro-American bidding to become the first black female professional racer, who felt that there was a need to group together black women who don't feel that they could get into cycling because of a feeling of being different from others around them.

As someone who has known Jools since 2011, when I interviewed her at the Tweed Run cycle ride for Cycling Weekly magazine, I felt I would like to support her cause, so I attended the event. (I arrived a bit late as I had been at fitness class that evening.)

There were quite a few women, and Ayesha McGowan who linked up to the meeting from her home in the United States via Skype. Although I missed the early part of the meeting it seemed that a lot of the women talked about how they never received encouragement to get into cycle riding, and felt uncomfortable because there was no one else in the group that looked like them.

Some felt they were ignored, and didn't feel confident about getting involved, others talked about being passed over to become brand ambassadors for different marketing companies, or that black women cycling are not represented in the media.

While I believe every word of what the women say, I still find it hard to say that there is some kind of racial or discrimination problem, or even that there are barriers to entry for black women to get into cycling.

That has not been my experience at all, and I have never perceived any barriers to entry or discrimination.

No one in my family was particularly into cycling. My dad bought a Peugeot bike in the 80s and I had a go on it a few times, but generally my parents didn't like me cycling. I have two sisters, neither of whom ride a bike and have never shown a particular interest in doing so even though they are aware of all the activity I do on two wheels.

I grew up in an area where we were the only black family. There were local people who were happy for me to join their cycling groups, however I didn't have the means to join in.

Not having a suitable bicycle, and living in a remote village in Yorkshire where the nearest group was 10 miles away, meant there was no practical means of me joining them. My parents were certainly not going to let me cycle all the way there. And there was no way they would encourage me to ride on public roads.

I did bits and pieces of cycling over the years, as described in my 52 Cycling Voices, and eventually got into regular club cycling almost 20 years ago and I have really enjoyed it. Various people have encouraged me over the years - men, women, black people, white people, including MAMILS!

Through cycling I got into journalism and testing out kit for brands. It is true that I have not seen many black people out cycling, and very few black women. However, the numbers are growing.

The thing is, I still can't say that the lack of black people cycling would be a barrier to entry.

In fact the biggest barriers I have had were from my own folks! My parents did not want me to ride, thinking it was too dangerous. My dad always used to say people who cycle on public roads just want to kill themselves!

My mum couldn't understand why anyone would want to ride any distance over a few miles if they could do it by car. Black women that I met when I came to London found it a bit strange that I would like to ride a bike. At dinner parties mentioning cycling was more of a conversation stopper!

"Did you find the place okay?"
"Yes, I cycled over - it was quite straightforward."
"Hmm.... I never understand cyclists - they always get in the way on the road."

When I was growing up, getting around by bicycle was seen as something you did because you didn't have access to a car. Doing recreational bike riding as a child is fair enough. But cycling around as an adult was just a sign of failure - that you hadn't managed to find a job that paid you enough to buy a car!
My parents didn't understand the concept of cycling as a sport.

With these traditionalist views and encounters, which aren't unique to my family, it's not surprising that black women aren't thinking about cycling as an activity.

I would say this is a bigger barrier to entry than any white MAMIL! I too have done the Ride London 100, and never got any strange looks from anyone. In fact for a while I joined a chain of guys until my legs turned to lead after Leith Hill!

Finish line of the 2017 Ride London 100 
People have been saying "if you can't see it, you can't be it," meaning that you can't become something if you don't see people who look like you doing it. I can't say I identify with that phrase though.

Fair enough, if I had seen other black women cycling I would have found it inspiring. However, there were no such sights when I was a child. (And if there had been, what is there to say that another black woman is "like me". Just because we are both black doesn't mean that we are the same, or have anything in common!)

Nevertheless, I still got inspired by the occasional young man I saw on a road bike around South Yorkshire, or the men I saw on TV riding the Tour de France.

These Italians, Spanish or Irish guys who looked nothing like me still made me dream of riding up a mountain pass in Europe - and I eventually did it for the first time on a Graham Baxter Sports Tours training camp to Spain in 2000. I was the only black person in the party of around 60 participants, but it didn't bother me one jot.

At no point did I ever feel that I should join a group of other black female cyclists, or black cyclists. I have only ever been interested in joining groups of pleasant people I can get on with, who have similar interests to mine. I find it hard to see how being black and female would be the basis for forming a group.

There are various statistics around cycling. According to Cycling UK, in 2017 4% of the population rode their bike more than once a week, and 5% rode between two and five times a week.

White people were three times more likely than people of South Asian and Chinese origin to cycle more than three times a week, rising to four times more likely than people of black origin.

Another Cycling UK survey reported 8% of women in the UK describe themselves as regular cyclists (compared with 20% of men). So the figures for black women who cycle, would be low.

There are various explanations for these low numbers, based on such issues around confidence and negative experiences on the road from motorists - things which aren't race-specific.

A survey by Transport for London did call out family responsibilities such as caring for children and other family members as a barrier to cycling for ethnic minority women.

I am not querying these statistics, but for me the bottom line is and will always be about not allowing reports and statistics to bog me down, and just getting out there and doing the thing I want to do.

As for the other points around representation, brand ambassadors or finding cycling groups where one can feel comfortable, there are various responses to that.

Transport for London marketing photo

On representation: Many years ago, when I first got into racing, British Cycling published a full-page photograph of me in action in their events calendar. I was wearing full club kit, with my race face on. It was quite a shock to see my mug plastered next to "March", but one can't say I was invisible!

Some years after that I was photographed along with a few others as part of a marketing campaign for the Sky Rides. I regularly see photos of black women in Transport for London's marketing materials on cycling.

Plus, as a writer for the former Time Inc magazine, Cycling Active I regularly featured in photo shoots to accompany the ride stories I wrote.

So I find it hard to say there is no representation. In fact, considering that black people make up only 5% of the UK population, and black women represent an even lower number than that, it wouldn't be realistic to see loads of women of colour in a campaign - particularly as so few ride a bike anyway.

If black women would want to see more women represented in cycling campaigns, more black women need to get out on their bikes. And the facilities are available for that to happen.

There are Breeze Rides, Cycling UK rides, Regional women's cycling groups on-line forums, and a Velovixen forum specifically for women cyclists. There is no reason for any woman to feel isolated in cycling - regardless of race.

I, myself set up a women's local cycle racing group with some other women in 2010. We appealed to women of all levels to join, and we organised rides for beginners too. We marketed this on-line and through the cycling media, but no black women turned up. Now I was racing at the time, and was regularly photographed racing, as well as writing updates about the races in the cycling media.

So much for "If you can't see it, you can't be it"! There was every possibility for those black women who wanted to try cycling, to have a go. And we had groups for beginners.

As for ambassador programmes - that is extremely competitive for anyone who applies. With hundreds of applicants, the odds of being selected are always going to be stacked against you, particularly as marketing managers want to see specific evidence that an individual's cycling activity fits with the essence of their brand. There are plenty of white people whose applications are rejected!

Getting into cycling and doing it regularly is not especially easy for anyone, regardless of gender, race or the level people would like to achieve. You may well have to go out of your comfort zone at times, as well as reading and researching around the subject.

That is just part and parcel of trying any new physically demanding activity. I am not saying that prejudices and issues don't exist in society, but I am inclined first to remember that we have a responsibility to put in the effort if we want to achieve an outcome, and we shouldn't be so quick to attribute difficulties in progressing, to society.

So from a personal standpoint, a specific cycling group for black women isn't really necessary. Such groups that set me apart because of my colour give me a feeling at best that there's a special need and we're not like other folks, and at worst that someone is trying to bring in Apartheid!

I am happy to go along to the meet-ups and socialise, talk about the latest cycling news, exchange tips and ideas.

I am not interested in joining a moan-fest of people talking about being downtrodden and excluded though. At the meet-up there was talk of organising rides, and I would be happy to do some - though my rides will be defined by the terrain and level/speed, and not by people of a particular race or colour. They will be open to any woman (or man even) who wants to come along.



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52 Cycling Voices: Jenni Gwiazdowski

52 Cycling Voices: Ayesha McGowan

52 Cycling Voices: Maria David

Photo shoot in the Chilterns

London women's circuit racing


Thursday, 3 January 2019

Reflections on Rapha Festive 500

It was only a couple of days ago when I finished riding the Festive 500, but now that Christmas is out of the way and we are back into the usual routine it seems a distant memory, but I wanted to list the things I learned, in case anyone want to tray this sort of thing.

A section of Bristol to Bath cycle path

Why did I do rail trails?
To get in 500km I could have just done various rides and club runs from my home along the usual routes like Surrey Hills, the Kent lanes and Pilgrims Way, and even out to Windsor. But I felt that given it was a specific challenge I decided to try something different and give it a theme that would motivate me.

Riding rail trails was a way of staying off-road and not worrying about being unsafe due to the climatic conditions or the traffic.


Why did I travel around the country?
As someone who writes about cycling I feel it is important to know about as many cycle routes and locations as possible. By doing a theme that took me to different parts of the country I would be killing two birds with one stone.

I had already planned to do cyclocross races outside of London (in the South-West and in the Peak District), plus I have family in Yorkshire, so it was a no-brainer to do rail trails in those areas.


How did I know which rail trails to ride?
Some of the rail trails were ones I had written about for cycling publications in the past, such as the Down's Link and the Crab and Winkle Way. Some were trails I was familiar with because I lived near them or used them when visiting family - for instance the Middlewood Way and the Hudson Way.

Then there were other rail trails that I was aware of from word of mouth, articles, or just looking at an Ordnance Survey map and they are quite obvious. That's how I found out about the Marriott Way and the Bure Valley rail trail. Checking out an area on an Ordnance Survey map is extremely useful as it gives information about local trails, some of which may be relatively unknown (like the Bubwith rail trail) but also cut-through routes and of course how hilly an area will be.

There were loads of others rail trails that I would have like to include, but logistics just couldn't allow it. For instance in the Peak District there were Tissington, High Peak, and Sett Valley Trails. Closer to home there were the Forest Way, and Worth Way. There are loads more around, so I will probably have to do another series on rail trails.


Did I have any contingencies in case of problems?
I did as much as possible to plan for the controllable things. For instance, I put mudguards on my gravel bike, knowing that the trails could be muddy.

They worked well most of the time, but the day I did the Longendale trial the conditions were very wet so there was nothing I could do about that. So then, it's just a case of having spare clothes and the means to wash down your bike.

Margate beach, before the fog arrived
I generally try to plan routes that are not too far from train lines so that I can resort to that if something goes wrong.

For Christmas Day and Boxing Day when there were no trains I aimed to do local rides so that I would not be so far from home if things went wrong, or so that a taxi ride would still be feasible if I really had to take one.

I did do an impromptu train ride on the Kent day when on the Viking Coastal Trail and got lost in the fog after Margate. There had also been a lot of talk of local train strikes and engineering works over the Christmas period so I kept a watchful eye on that. For instance, I knew that trains would be sketchy in the East Anglia area so I planned my day to Norwich being aware that trains would not be working.

And of course I always have tools - at least to do the repairs that I know how to do! Then the usual things like money and enough charge on my phone. I also had strong mountain biking lights as I knew it was highly likely that I would be riding at night.


How did I cope with doing it all alone?
I never really gave it any thought. I do loads of travelling and bike rides on my own, so this was no different. If I am not sure of something I don't have any qualms about asking passers-by for local information.


Did I get tired?
To be honest, it was more tiring than I had expected, and probably more time-consuming as well. Because the rail trails were in different parts of the country I needed to allow time to drive to the places, find somewhere to park, then set up the bike before I could get going.

On the first day I set off in good time in the morning, but most of the other days my rides started late because before I could leave the house I had to blog and do social media across the different platforms (Blogger, Instagram, Facebook, Strava, Twitter) about my previous day's ride. I wasn't very good at using some of the platforms - especially the Instagram Stories and Facebook Live - and I ended up taking longer than usual!

Even though I was getting up at 6am to do social media it still led to late starts because I also had to gather my things together, load the car and drive somewhere.

By the time I was starting the ride it was practically the afternoon, and by the time I'd done the ride and moved on to the next place I would just have time to eat, rest up and go to sleep - something which I did quite easily because I did get increasingly tired as the week went by.

On one day I did social media, drove a couple of hours, did a rail trail, raced cyclocross and drove to the next place - and somehow I fitted in some Christmas shopping. I think I might need a social media team to travel with me next time, as well as someone to do my chores!

I was most relaxed on the last day because I didn't have to drive to get to the start of the ride, and I knew that I wouldn't have to get up early the following day.


What else did I learn?
The need to have lots of clothes for when night falls. The weather was generally mild over Christmas week during the day, but at night the temperature would drop suddenly and dramatically. I was glad to have extra coats, hats and gloves.


Would I do it again?
Most probably yes, but not necessarily as part of a Festive 500, so that I can take my time. Having said that, the next time I do a Festive 500 it is likely to be based around a new alternative theme which could also end up being equally challenging!


Review of the Rail trails


My favourite rail trail
This was strictly not a rail trail, but I liked the River Avon trail from Bristol back to Pill because on that section I was in the Avon Gorge with Clifton Bridge right above me. That looked quite spectacular. As for pure rail trails I like the Monsal trail for the beautiful views of the Peak District, and the series of tunnels.

Monsal Trail just before one of the tunnels

Most remote lost and lonely: Market Weighton to Bubwith - you just don't see anyone around as you bump along rugged terrain past farm houses and stables for over 10 miles.


Best maintained: Bristol to Bath - it had beautifully smooth tarmac and was well signposted to various other trails and bridleways. Selby to York was also well maintained.


Most dramatic: Longendale - it goes the length of the Torside and Woodhead reservoirs, with the Peak District towering over you. There are also nice views of the Woodhead Pass in the distance.


Most family friendly: Monsal trail - there are seating areas, refreshment stops, and a good compact off-road surface; sections of the Downs Link, especially around West Grinstead and Partridge Green where there are places to eat, and play areas.

Start of the Crab and Winkle Way in Whitstable
Most logistically convenient: Middlewood Way - it is never far from the villages. Both ends of the trail are near train stations and there is a train station at the half-way point, at Middlewood.

There are places to sit, picnic areas and nearby shops and pubs in Bollington and Poynton which are along the way.

Most challenging to ride: Crab and Winkle trail - there is a tough gradient to get up whether you ride it from the Canterbury side or the Whitstable side;

The full length of the Down's Link could be a challenge as it is around 36 miles when starting from Shalford and going all the way to Shoreham-by-Sea. There is a brief section with a steep climb and a steep descent; Market Weighton to Bubwith is quite bumpy and may require reasonable off-road biking skills if you are not used to that terrain. A mountain bike may be a more comfortable option for a novice.


Hidden gem of the week: Waterlink Way - a traffic-free route through south London that is round the corner from where I live, but had never previously ridden it in all these years; Market Weighton to Bubwith rail trail - a good trail to practice for cyclocross practice if I lived up that way. It appears that hardly any cyclists ride it because no one seemed to be on it when I was there!

And I can't neglect to mention other key traffic-free cycleways I rode on, that aren't necessarily rail trails - Avon Cycleway, Regent's Canal, Viking Coastal Trail, and Transpennine Trail.


Related Posts
Festive 500: Rail trails in England - Day 8 (Last day)

Why I like the Festive 500

Wanna do the Rapha Festive 500?