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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

 

Women cyclists of Bristol, united

About a month ago, a meeting was called. El gathered a bunch of women cyclists together in the upstairs area of Roll for the Soul, to discuss the lack of community among the women cyclists of Bristol.

We agreed that there are plenty of women cycling in Bristol now, and it was time to create a feeling of cohesion among us. We all brought forth ideas, from putting together women-only day rides, to weekend camping adventures, and drinks socials.

We held our first social on 11th May, and I’m really pleased to say that it was a big success! There was a great turn-out, taking over the downstairs area of RftS, where women mingled, drank beer, ate awesome veggie food and got to know their fellow lady riders.

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Holly McGowan talks about the history of women in Bristol

We paused the chatter to have a group-wide discussion, which gave people the platform to promote their own events and groups, and show everyone what’s already available to get involved in. I’ll list these here.

They’re not all women-only, so lads, you’re allowed to join in too (unless we say otherwise):

Food Cycle

food cycle
Photo: foodcyclebristol.wordpress.com
  • Open to all.
  • Food Cycle collect waste food from local businesses by bike, and distribute it to various charities and local ‘skipchens’ for use.
  • They also cook and serve their own community meals across the UK.
  • If you have time during the week (or on a Saturday morning), they’re always looking for volunteers to cycle around the city with a trailer and collect food that’s been pre-agreed with the businesses involved.
  • It’s a lovely way to cycle around the city and give something back to the community.

Family Cycling Centre

Family Cycle Centre
Photo: betterbybike.info
  • Open to all.
  • Based on the site of the former Whitchurch athletics track.
  • They give people of all ages and abilities the chance to ride in a safe, traffic-free environment.
  • They have Bikeability-trained cycle trainers on hand to help, and a large range of bikes to try.
  • They also offer family cycling activities and fun days – perfect if you’re looking for a way to get young children confident on their bikes.
  • They also have plenty of volunteering opportunities.

Group Riding for Women

heidi
Photo: eventbrite.co.uk
  • Women only.
  • Training provided by Heidi Blunden.
  • Hosted at the Family Cycling Centre.
  • This event has now passed, but there’s scope for more in future, so keep your eyes peeled.
  • Heidi provides cycling coaching in Bristol, and this event is aimed at women who want to learn or improve group-riding skills.

Cycle the City Tours

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Photo: cyclethecity.org
  • Open to all.
  • There are a variety of tours on offer, to get you cycling around Bristol and learning more about the city.
  • Around once a month, Holly McGowan does a tour which tells the history of women in Bristol.
  • She gave us a taste of this during this social, and I know for sure that I want to join this tour next time it runs.

Breeze Network

breeze
Photo: news.calderdale.gov.uk
  • Women only.
  • This is actually how I met Heidi, who is also a Breeze Champion.
  • These rides usually run at the weekends, and the distance and pace varies greatly, depending on the ride leader and the type of ride.
  • You can find upcoming rides here.
  • Also, if you’re a confident cyclist and able to ride a minimum of 20 miles, you can find details out how to become a Breeze Champion and encourage more women to ride.

Women’s Night at the Bristol Bike Project

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Photo: thebristolbikeproject.org
  • Women (and trans) only.
  • Monday evenings, 6-9pm.
  • This is a safe space for women and trans people to use the workshop and the tools available to work on their own bikes.
  • Volunteers are on hand to help.
  • We welcome all women to either use the space or come and volunteer, to empower other women to learn how to maintain their own bikes.

Cycling Clubs

Facebook Groups

  • Women only.
  • Two Facebook groups you should be aware of:
  • Women Cyclists of Bristol – Closed group for women cyclists, to discuss anything we wouldn’t talk about in a mixed group (from street harassment to periods). They also have their own Twitter account and email address, where you can get in touch if you need advice or want to share something with other women cyclists in the city.
  • Bristol Biking Bitches – This group is full of women who love to get out on their bikes as much as possible, and frequently post in the group to invite others along for the ride. Full of roadies and MTBers, they’re a great group to be part of if you want to go riding with some company.

I wasn’t taking notes on the night, so naturally I’ve probably forgotten a few things. If there’s anything I should add to this, please let me know.

The next social will be at Roll for the Soul at 7pm, on Thursday 8th June. Hope to see you there!

Weekend Round-up

I promised a big weekend of riding, and though not everything went to plan, it’s been a pretty fab one indeed, and I even managed to surprise myself.

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Full disclosure, we didn’t do the entire distance that we planned. Trying to figure out the new Garmin kept us up pretty late on Thursday night, and then delayed us by a further hour or two on Friday morning when it somehow lost the route we’d loaded. Setting out much later than we should have, and getting stuck on a horrible, busy A road halfway through, we arrived in Oxford around 6pm with 36 miles still to go. We decided to cut our losses and get a train to Beaconsfield, then cycled the final 10 miles in the dark, arriving at 9:30pm.

The ride itself was amazing, though! From Bristol to Swindon, the Garmin kept us on quiet country roads, cycle paths through parks, dirt tracks and bridleways. At one point we stumbled onto a dirt road that was actually in the process of being compacted. I was so grateful for Regina and her lovely thick tyres. Parts of it verged on mountain biking, even. It was brilliant fun, and the first proper adventure that I’ve taken her on.

Unfortunately things took a turn on the way out of Swindon. I’m not entirely sure what happened, but our Garmin reset its own settings, and locked us onto main roads. We found ourselves on a really ugly part of the A420 and stuck in a lay-by for about half an hour waiting for it to find its satellites and recalculate the route. In the end we turned it off and relied on Google Maps to get us the rest of the way to Oxford. Once we found our way back onto country roads, it became fun again.

One thing I love about cycling to Oxford is the descent down Cumnor Hill. While I’m not usually one to get excited about going downhill, it’s a brilliant way to end a long ride and get that last part finished very quickly! The other thing I love is finishing the ride with a chilli dog at the Gardener’s Arms on Plantation Road. Best food in Oxford.

We left the bikes in the shed on Saturday to give our bottoms a rest, but got back out on the road on Sunday to visit various relatives of Adam’s, and also to ride the lovely Pednor Loop, which is pretty much traffic-free and comes with some stunning views. Yesterday we decided to be kind to ourselves. We left at 7am, rode to Oxford and got the train back to Bristol. I’m glad we rode to Oxford again, as we got to do the part that we missed on Friday. I couldn’t have left this weekend without riding in the Chilterns.

The ride from Chesham to Oxford was really nice. The Chilterns are of course very hilly, and I knew there was a great big descent waiting for me down Kop Hill.

But now I’m going to shock you (and myself). All weekend I had to deal with big descents. Huge descents. Steep descents. Some in the dark. One had a red traffic light at the bottom while still on a steep gradient. After the first few I found my rhythm and I really started to enjoy them. On one hill we clocked a maximum of 65km/h. I’m really freaking proud of myself.

In total over the whole weekend I’d estimate that we rode around 130+ miles. It’s still the furthest I’ve ridden in that amount of time, and I’m really happy with how it went.

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Coming soon… Riding like a S.I.R.

I’ve decided that, providing I can get the Garmin working in my favour, Saturdays are going to become my day for riding solo. I’m dubbing these my Saturday Independence Rides (SIR) and this Saturday I’m planning a 40+mile ride to Westonbirt Arboretum and back. Stay tuned!

If you’re a woman cyclist in Bristol…

Final plug before I sign off. A bunch of us have organised a social this Thursday at Roll For The Soul, aimed at women cyclists of Bristol who want to meet other likeminded women, find riding buddies, learn about the various group rides and events coming up in Bristol, and just generally build a community (girl gang).

If you’re around, come join in the fun! Click here for details.

Upping the ante

Tomorrow I’m doing my longest ride to date.

Admittedly I’m nervous, but for once I don’t feel the surge of fear that usually accompanies a new challenge on the bike. If anything I’m actually quite excited!

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We’re riding approximately 106 miles to visit Adam’s family for the weekend, and then we’re going to attempt the ride back on Monday. We’re giving ourselves an optional bail-out in Swindon if we really struggle on the return, to get the train back to Bristol. 

Remaining positive

I write a lot about my fear and failings, so let’s keep this post positive. Here are some of the things I’m looking forward to:

  • Two days of full-on cycling, where all I have to think about is pedalling and eating all the foods.
  • A couple of days away from the onslaught of social media, election campaigning, Tory propaganda, Corbyn-slandering, Trump warmongering and everything else that’s shitty about the world at the moment.
  • Trying out the new Garmin! I never thought I’d invest in the tech, but I think this will open up new avenues for adventuring further afield without having to continuously stop and check Google Maps (and potentially miss a turning, resulting in disaster).
  • Using the Fitbit again – more tech, I know. I gave up on using the Fitbit Surge because its GPS tracker is a real battery drainer, and it just didn’t have the juice for long distance riding. With the Garmin tracking our mileage, I can use the Fitbit to track my heart rate and calorie expenditure, and get back on track with my much needed weight loss (yay me).
  • My first ever bike jumble! We always seem to be busy when these are happening in Bristol, so I’m looking forward to finally getting to one. Should be fun!

And to remind myself why I shouldn’t be scared:

  • I rode 80 miles to Oxford without clipping in, not refuelling brilliantly, with two huge panniers and a very heavy bike.
  • This time I’ll be clipped in, loaded with food (and a top tube bag for constant access to nibbles), no panniers and a much lighter bike.

I can do this.

Bring it on!

Fangirling and Feminism, or, #WAB2017 Part 2

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I don’t know. Blogging two days in a row?

So I already told you I cycled from Bristol to Oxford on Saturday. I partly did it for fun but mainly did it because I was attending the Women and Bicycles festival, hosted by The Broken Spoke Bike Co-op. Now I’ve regaled you with my cycling story, it’s time to tell you what the festival was about.

Obviously, as I was cycling on Saturday, I only actually attended on Sunday. I was gutted to miss Saturday’s activities (panel discussions about making space for women in cycling and going places by bike, a key note by Rickie Cotter, and workshops including yoga, the science of saddlesore, fixing a flat and preparing for a long-distance bike journey). However, I don’t regret my decision to ride up on Saturday, because it was the only day when the weather was glorious, and if I’d attempted to ride there on the shitstorm that was Friday, I would have been put off riding long distances for life.

But I’ll tell you all about Sunday – or at least my experience of it.

Café Over Share

Sadly the day didn’t get off to a great start before we arrived, so we were late and grumpy. We were signed up for a yoga class, which we missed, and were late to the first workshop, which was called a Café Over Share. The idea was great – the room was filled with chairs split off into circular groups, and each circle had a selection of signs on the floor with different topics of conversation. They ranged from diarrhoea, to menstruation, to wild animal chases, to wild camping. The idea was you could join a group and have a conversation about topics that not everyone would normally be comfortable talking about.

Unfortunately because we were late, all the groups were fully immersed in their conversations and we found it very difficult to join in. Most of them were full, and only two had space. The first was labelled as ‘cycle training questions’, which wasn’t very relevant for us. The second had a variety of signs in front of it, but it turned out that the three women sitting there were actually conducting an interview and just using the space, and we were completely ignored when we joined them.

So yeah, honestly, the day didn’t start well. We felt a bit excluded, and didn’t really know what to do with ourselves. We wandered off to get a coffee and a slice of cake from a local café, and re-joined the festival after the session had wrapped up. It improved from there.

Panel Discussion: Cycling as a Family

This isn’t a relevant subject for us, but I was curious to hear what the panellists had to say, and Adam is really interested in all cycling developments, particularly when it comes to adjusting bikes to suit a specific need. It turned out to be a really thought-provoking and hilariously entertaining discussion. The panellists consisted of Josie Dew, Maryam Amatullah, Carolyn Roberts and Isla Rowntree.

Josie has cycled all over the world, covering a lot of ground with her children in tow, and has some very interesting approaches, including bungee cording them down, and riding a 4-bike tandem whilst towing a trailer. The school runs sound hugely entertaining. She also told some brilliant stories about how she tackles dangerous drivers, by telling her children to act irrationally and wave branches in order to prompt drivers to give them more space when passing.

Despite not having children or being remotely interested in them, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed listening to Isla Rowntree comparing balance bikes to stabilisers. To paraphrase, with stabilisers the child actually learns to ride a tricycle, and depends on turning the handlebars to steer. When the stabilisers are removed, they have to un-learn everything and learn to balance from scratch. Balance bikes, on the other hand, help young children get used to using their body weight to steer their bike, and when it comes to progressing to a ‘real’ bike, all they need to do is learn to pedal.

Having learned to ride a bike with stabilisers (as most people did), I reflected on this and realised that I had been riding my Ridgeback hybrid for three years, depending mostly on turning the handlebars to steer. Adapting to Regina and the forward-leaning position, I’m re-learning to ride, and learning to lean with my body to steer, in a way I never have before.

The Adventure Syndicate: North Coast 500

The pièce de résistance was the premiere of a film by The Adventure Syndicate, telling the story of their seven-woman team cycling the North Coast 500 in 36 hours. To say it was inspiring would be a huge understatement. I actually cried a few times. It was just so empowering to hear Lee Craigie and Emily Chappell talk about their ultimate goal: to get at least one rider around the full 518 miles in 36 hours, and how they worked together as a team to make that happen. They knew that individually they could all have made it, but that wasn’t the point of the ride. It embodied The Adventure Syndicate’s commitment to encourage and enable women ‘to identify their ambitions, overcome the obstacles that stand in their way, and make the most of their talent and potential.’

Watching the film made me want to ride the NC500 one day, though it’s a long way off. In the meantime I’ve signed up to their Yorkshire Dales Riding Weekend, which I’m super excited about.

Fangirling

The final part of the day I want to mention was also the highlight. I got to chat to Emily Chappell (who I was quietly fangirling over in the corner all afternoon) and got a lovely autograph in my copy of her book, What Goes Around: A London Cycle Courier’s Story.

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I’m going to continue fangirling over her tonight in fact, as she and Lee Craigie are going to be at Roll For The Soul in Bristol from 7pm to talk about long-distance rides. You can grab your ticket here.

No doubt you’ll probably be hearing from me again tomorrow. This week has been a great bike-filled one so far!