Groundswell: Bicycle Culture Rising

If you’ve not heard of them, Joe Biel and Elly Blue are two writers, filmmakers and bicycle activists. They co-own Microcosm Publishing in Portland, Oregon, and are currently touring various cities in the UK with Groundswell: Bicycle Culture Rising.

Joe Elly
Photo: pdot.org/groundswell

The event comprises of 8 short films that delve into communities using bikes for social justice, and a discussion of the boundaries which undermine them.

On Tuesday 5th September, Joe and Elly came to Bristol and presented Groundswell to a packed-out workshop at The Bristol Bike Project. The night was organised by Lucy Greaves, a mechanic at the Project, and a wonderful wordsmith in her own right.

The night was hugely insightful, providing a glimpse into other cycling communities.

On the one hand we laughed with Peatonito, a Mexico City vigilante, facing the traffic head on and using guerrilla tactics to make public spaces safe for cyclists and pedestrians alike. All while wearing a custom-made lucha libre costume. We loved him.

towardsthehumancity . org
Photo: towardsthehumancity.org

On the other hand, we shook our heads in dismay and gasped at the treatment of a single mother, who has been pulled over, ticketed, and arrested more than once, just for riding her bike to work.

Other films tackled subjects like race, poverty, gender, and social isolation. I won’t talk about them in depth, you should just watch them for yourself. What I will say, is that it was hugely thought-provoking to glimpse into other worlds. Where for some, bikes are a form of social justice, and for others, they’re simply a way to get out into the world and meet other people. For one man in particular, bicycling quite literally saved his life.

But it wasn’t just about how people are making it happen. Some of the grassroots initiatives that we saw and talked about, didn’t quite achieve their goals. The reasons why they failed were also discussed.

Joe and Elly argue that in order for a city to be able to build a thriving cycling community, they need three things:

  1. Political proponents – local politicians who support cycling infrastructure, and ideally use it.
  2. Boardroom advocates – the important folk who schmooze with various influencers and acquire vital funding.
  3. Street-level activists – those of us who ride our bikes every day, showing that there is a demand for safe cycling infrastructure, and lobbying our governing bodies for change.

This made me question whether Bristol has what it takes to become a better cycling city. Supposedly it’s one of the best cities in the UK for cycling, and in many ways I can see why. We have plenty of bike lanes, both on- and off-road, shared use paths, space for bike parking, and a wealth of beautiful Sustrans/National Cycle Network routes at our disposal.

However, while these things make it possible to cycle around Bristol, many of them were clearly not well thought through. Many bike lanes are nothing but crumbling red paint on the left side of the road. Plenty of them suddenly end, and become car parking spaces. The road surfaces can be awful in certain parts of the city.

And yet, we are the home of Sustrans. For four years, George Ferguson was our mayor. Every day, scores of people commute to work by bike. Yet, I just don’t know if I can see things improving for us.

Of course, watching these films did make me realise that we have it better than many cities, and I recognise that we’re very lucky in that respect. But it made me question, if even a city like Bristol hasn’t managed to get it right yet, then what hope do others have?

Go watch the films, and tell me what you think. There were so many thought-provoking themes that came up that night, I’ll be exploring some of them further in future posts. Stay tuned for that.

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When it’s too hot to ride

tampabay.com
Picture: tampabay.com

It might seem blasphemous to some, but with the weather we’re having at the moment, I’m struggling to motivate myself to get out onto long rides.

I’m still commuting by bike, and I’m taking myself off for the odd pootle, but I think it’s important to know your limits and understand where you need to make some allowances, for the sake of your health and your sanity.

When it’s melting weather, I’ve found the best thing to do to keep myself pedalling is to plan an activity that I can handle in this heat, and then make the bike a means of getting there, rather than the centre of attention.

You may disagree with me, and that’s okay. I take my hat off to you if you can still throw yourself up hills while the sun is high in the sky.

However if like me, you want an excuse to pedal without melting, here are some ideas to get you doing just that.

Ride in the woods

http-::redwoods.co.nz:
Picture: redwoods.co.nz

If you’re lucky enough to live near a wooded area, take yourself there with some thick tyres and a packed lunch. You’ll get a lot of shelter from the trees so the sun won’t be beating down on you, and you’ll get to ride around some beautiful bridleways.

Best bit: the sound of snapping twigs.

Take a dip in some water

wildswim.com
Picture: wildswim.com

Working up a sweat is fine when you’re going to reward yourself with a dip in some cold water very soon. Whether it’s a river, a lake, the sea, or your local swimming pool if that’s all that’s available… wear your swimsuit under your clothes, de-layer, and jump right in. You don’t even need to worry about getting changed afterwards, because you’ll dry off in no time.

Best bit: floating on your back with the sun on your face.

Find a beer garden

thevictoriawestbury.co.uk
Picture: thevictoriawestbury.co.uk

I’m not really a drinker, but I’m not averse to sitting in a beer garden with a pint of soda water. I like the atmosphere that comes with it, and there are plenty of country pubs that put a lot of effort into creating a serene outdoor space. And of course if beer or cider are your thing, go for it.

Best bit: there are usually dogs!

Ride to a museum or art gallery

http-::alifecurated.com:
Picture: alifecurated.com

This one comes with two advantages: the acquiring of knowledge, and air conditioning. If you’re open to learning something new about the history of the local area, or see some works of art that move you, you can generally enjoy a free day out. Plus there’s always a café, and usually ample space for locking up your bike.

Best bit: if you’ve got company, you’ll have plenty to talk about on the way home.

Volunteer at your local community project

facebook.com:thebristolbikeproject
Picture: facebook.com/thebristolbikeproject (spot me in the photo!)

I had to slip this in here. If you want to be surrounded by bikes, but not particularly riding them, why not pop down to your local community bike project and see if you can help out? They may have some workshops where you can tinker with old bikes, or work with members of the public and show them how to fix a puncture.

Best bit: giving something back to your community, while perfecting your tinkering skills.

Go for a spin class

http-::dashofwellness.com:
Picture: dashofwellness.com

I know. I hate myself for even saying it. But the fact is, if you really want to burn some calories while you pedal, but are averse to the heat outside, sign up for a spin class and do it in a room with air conditioning.

Best bit: you’ll have earned your ice cream.

Finally, some important tips on staying safe in the heat:

  • Drink plenty of water. Carry as many bottles as your bike can hold, and if you’re out for the day, fill them up at every opportunity. Generally staff in cafes and pubs are more than happy to help.
  • Add a pinch of salt to your water. You won’t taste it, and it will help replenish your body when you’re sweating a lot. I like to add a slice of lemon as well.
  • Pick your time of day wisely. If you’re only out for a short time, leave extra early in the morning, or go riding in the late evening, when the temperature’s at its coolest. Avoid riding in the middle of the day when the sun is high in the sky.
  • Wear sunscreen. Baz Luhrmann got it right. Keep topping it up.
  • Wear a cap. I won’t take part in the helmet war, but cover your head if you’re going to be out for a long time under the sun.
  • Eat ice-lollies. Yep. I don’t care how healthy you want to be. If you’re sweating buckets and you pass an ice cream van, just do it. You deserve it.