I can’t really remember exactly when I first got the idea that I wanted a front rack on my bike. But I’m sure I was living in Glasgow at this point and living a fairly urban existence. I do remember that there were a few months of meandering research into fork trail, porteur racks and mounting points, the arcane minutiae of front load cargo bikes.
Bizarrely, in my view, front cargo carrying seems to be a fairly rare thing in the Anglo-American cycling world. So, I found myself looking at handmade exotica, all lugged and integrated and pricetags to make a man weep. Beautiful though. And with my desire to support local artisans and craftsmanship, I wouldn’t rule out commissioning one of those the very day after I win the lottery. Sadly, I was left with more prosaic options.
So it was that I bolted an Old Man Mountain rack onto my normal bike, nicked a basket from Lidl, and zip-tied that onto the rack platform. And with that simple gear, I was left with the most delightfully utilitarian, disgustingly ugly front basket setup you can imagine. Over time, it’s been modded to the max: adorned with signs; drilled out to accept a dynamo lamp and a mudguard mount. It’s carried bags of compost, half a garden centre of plants, a huge terracotta plant pot, stacks of shopping, sheets of cardboard, barbecues, microwaves, a Brompton, and all the rest. There are just so many things that are amazing about my basket:
- When I set off to ride, I can just dump my lock and normal bag into the basket and go.
- There is no awkward pannier to carry around when I’m off the bike, no silly bracket to clip my D-lock to when I set off.
- When a motorist tries to kill me I can just grab the lock out of the basket and smash their wing mirror off.
- When I need to put my coat on, I can reach it from my bag and put it on as I ride, and take it off and away again when I don’t need it anymore.
- I can put a packet of crisps in there and munch as I ride along.
My basket is basically the best thing about my bike, and I challenge the world to come up with a more convenient carrying setup for a bicycle than a front mounted basket.
Baskets are awesome.
Know thy maker
Where was that made?
Who made it?
These are questions loaded with judgement, and they have been for all time. Branding as we would recognise it today has only really been around for a few hundred years, but the notion of knowing the creator of bought goods goes back far further. Apparently, there was a thriving neolithic trade of basic goods: hand axes and grain and precious stones. Ancient people’s recognised specialities and higher craft, and were willing to trade for it. Identification has always been important.
Branding has become our widely accepted identifier of quality. Companies spend millions crafting their identities and building reputations. And with this, we have a sense that we know where a product is made. But of course, that’s a little deceiving. When factories in Bangladesh collapse, we’re shown that our lovable high street brands ain’t as fluffy as they seem. When unidentified horse meat turns up in somebody’s burger, Sainsbury’s don’t seem quite so much like your local greengrocer. And when your Specialized snaps in half…
The bike world has been spammed this week by a Specialized stooge insisting the danger of ‘fake’ bikes is costing the industry millions. Supposedly, factories in Asia are making copies of other frames made in factories in Asia. Supposedly the fakes are dangerously crap, and are putting lives at risk from de-bonded head tubes and the like. The Specialized stooge has assured us that the fakes are failing the secret in-house fatigue tests they put their own bikes through.
Tellingly, I’ve never seen mainstream cycling media tests of unbranded Taiwanese carbon knock off frames. But I know plenty of riders who have been riding them for years with no problems. No doubt the stooge is trying to prompt an industry wide crackdown on renegade factories selling un-branded frames direct to consumers without their branded mark-up. But what the stooge is really doing is showing fear.
Decades of outsourced manufacturing, with outsourced employment rights and huge profit margins, might be about to blow back in the large companies’ faces. Global recession, direct internet sales, and an inexorable diminishing of the mystique of the mega-marques could all see a major change in the industry.
A few quid more
I spin through Bristol’s streets almost every day. I’m not alone in this, a few thousand probably do too. There’s a reputation, that this old ‘cycling city’ is filled to the brim with cyclists, with a flourishing scene and culture that embraces urban cycling.
Unfortunately, it’s a funny sort of half-truth. There are lots of cyclists, but really, the numbers of leg spinners, commuters and Brompton-eers in their suits pale next to the automotive swarm. We’re flies, gassed out and swatted aside. Bristol bus drivers have been convicted for purposefully running people on bikes off the road. Cyclists die; are maimed, threatened and intimidated.
It pains me greatly that the bicycle, one of the greatest gifts to urbanism, has to be advocated for by people shaking charity tins out to the internet public, but that’s where we are.
Bristol Cycling Campaign has a small crowd funding bid in place to help fund the publicising of their Cycling Manifesto. They want Bristol to become a real cycling city, with segregated cycle paths, improved pedestrian and cycle access and lower speed limits. They want what the Dutch and Danes have had for a generation, and all the wonderful cycling citizens that come out when these sort of infrastructural changes are implemented.
Every time a motorist scares you half to death, inches from your bars, every time you fear for a loved one pedalling home from school, every time you hear someone say “It’s far too dangerous to cycle, are you mad?!” think of wonderful folk like the Bristol Cycling Campaign. And consider chipping in a few quid.
From sea to hillside
I’ve spent the past few weeks in Ireland, with two friends, road tripping round the west coast in Brucie the van.
But there was no cycling.
No lung tearing hills or adrenal descents, no fiddling with cable tension and listening for creaks. There were no muddy smiles or chainring tattoos.
There was just two weeks of solid surfing.
Surfing cleans you out: it works your arms and chest and leaves a cold neoprene hood tan line round your face. There’s the post surf inner warmth and huddling for a cuppa afterwards that is just so much more intense than any cycle. Surfing is just incredible, unique.
But we three are mountain bikers too, we’re cyclists. So of course there was much chat still about bikes and riding. The west coast of Ireland is a wild place, thick with rolling hills and heavy with boulders and rocks. There are jagged Kerry landscapes and softer boglands, lonely peninsulas and empty coves. Throughout the coast there are small outposts of people, villages and towns clustered round fishing ports and rivers, dotted along rough minor roads.
The whole trip was filled with a clear theme: Ireland would be amazing for two particular kinds of pedalling fun.
All the wild little roads are potholed and winding, with rough surfaces and barely any vehicles. They meander along the coast, with big old views and heaving passes. Wild camping spots are everywhere. The coastline is just begging to be explored on a long slow tour. We talked about stopping at all the little fish restaurants, evening pub grub and boiling icy clear sea water on the Trangia for the pasta, sheltering from the wind.
On a surf trip, you spend a good chunk of time straining your neck out of the window, looking for waves, desperate to see over the rise of a hill or around a corner, scanning for setups, coves, beaches, points. But, as riders, we scanned the hillsides too. Now and again someone would say “Look” and draw a path with a hand to show a trail on a hillside, a line down a rock chute or a trail on a ridgeline. But there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of trails into the hills. Land access in Ireland isn’t quite where it is in England and Wales, let alone Scotland. And so, inevitably, to fat bikes! No trail? Pfft! Bloody eight PSI and four inches wide and you’re unstoppable! So we gave it all the chat and imagined the rides out into those barren hills on the stooopid fatties.
More bikes required, and definitely another ferry ticket for an adventure or two, that’s for sure.
Boneshaker X BBP
There was a bonfire in a baker’s bicycle rack. Thats almost all you need to know.
But of course there’s more.
The inimitable Boneshaker boyos hosted what must surely have been the social highlight of the Bristol cycling scene so far this year. The Bike Project workshop was dreamed into a candlelit cinema art space to celebrate the launch of issue #11.
Human-high bike part figures hid behind the yard trees, quill stem fingers laced around branches, emerging through the woodsmoke. There were bikes chained to walls and organic apple juice. I’m sure there was free range beer too, but whatever. Prints and t-shirts, badges and zines, elderflower cordial and a huge projector screen.
Clearly though, this wasn’t a bloody Odeon. Old sofas, oak benches filled, standing room only and the crowd weren’t shy: heckles and hoots, and high levels of stoke. Hollywood didn’t get a look in here either. Playing were shorts from the Bicycle Film Festival, internet bike culture couture and strange viral videos . But best of all, our impromptu community cinema was powered by carbs. To one side, a polo bike, the tall bike and couple of mtbs were rigged up to a cycletricity generator, and a constantly changing crew were spinning out smooth wattage, powering the laptop, projector, sound system. It was beautiful: slow rhythmic whirring and hot changing riders so everyone could have a go.
People say cinema is passive, picturing popcorn and slouched red velvet chairs. But this was something else. This was raucous human power, this was actively building and reinforcing the community.
Old friends and new ones, beautiful art and bike culture joy.
Welcome to Bristol.
Critical Mass arrests
Critical Mass is a pariah; “a black cloud on cycling advocacy”; a call to arms; a howl of rage; a defiant glare…
In the midst of a tepid Times campaign to make cycling safer, a pathetic “cycling mayor”, and suffocated by the endless lycra sport image of Hoy, Cav, Wiggins et al, cycling in the UK needs so very desperately an outlet for the angry demands for safer cycling for normal people.
I will now state, with style and wit to rival Oscar Wilde himself, my key feelings about this whole debacle.
Fuck the police.
Fuck the Olympics.
And solidarity with all those arrested and the three who have been charged.