handbags and gladrags

Now we have an investment-quality, made-in-England musette, with both. You could even use the map to get to Harwich.

“Nothing is stronger than an idea whose time has come.”

Victor Hugo

So far this season has seen the launch of…

 

Now we have an investment-quality, made-in-England musette, with both. You could even use the map to get to Harwich, for Hoek van Holland, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Köln or Berlin.

graphics by Jamie Wignall

 

The straps are attached at an angle so the bag rests stable on your back until you need an inner-tube or a banana.

 

French vocabulary is so poetic. The peloton, more glamorous than the bunch, a musette more refined than a bonk- or butty-bag. For best effect these last two are delivered in a gritty (pronounced ‘gritteh’) Northern accent, ideally in a moorland hailstorm.

lunch on the go

A musette is a small folkloric bag-pipe, that gave it’s name to a style of French accordion music, and also – because of a supposed resemblance – to a road-racer’s feed bag, passed up by a soigneur, at a zone de ravitaillement.

The real things are disposable promotional items. Once the contents have been transferred to jersey pockets and bottle cages the musette is slung away to be retrieved as a trophy-relic by some devout witness.

 

“This scrap of cotton? It once held Laurent Jalabert’s fourth breakfast.”

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQKf0IOKXgI&version=3&feature=player_detailpage]

The DD bonk-bag is made to much more exacting standards – an item nobody would want to throw into a hedge. It’s screen-printed, with a timeless design, it will still work well and look great moon-bleached and faded, on DDXL in 2032.

Available on London Fields, on Saturday night, maybe on Dunwich Beach on Sunday morning, if somebody can be a bothered to haul stock over Essex and Suffolk.

also from Bikefix in WC2 by personal visit or mail-order.

Retail price = £20

Strictly limited edition.

You know you want one.

See you on London Fields, on the road or on the beach.

gone with the lamp-lighters and cinema projectionists

It’s entirely appropriate that a frivolous event – a night ride and beach party – has origins shrouded in mystery.

Barry Mason had flair. It was he who invented the Dunwich Dynamo’s creation myth; that a bunch of cycle messengers set-off after an evening drinking session and didn’t stop until they reached the North Sea. Barry always prefaced this confection with ‘legend has it…’ but despite the caveat his sticky tale passed into history.
It’s entirely appropriate that a frivolous event – a night ride and beach party – has origins shrouded in mystery. The problem with Barry’s story is that it may – over time – lead those without much adult memory of the Twentieth Century to misunderstand what those times were really like.

In the years when the DD was a pay-to-enter event, selling enough tickets to cover fixed costs was the difference between profit and loss. Down at Critical Mass sometime in the mid-Nineties, diligently passing out DD flyers with a coupon on the bottom, a scruffy young man took one, read it carefully and asked:- “Do any couriers do this?” Then answered his own question. “No courier would ever do that.”

His declaration was over-statement. There were some bike messengers who rode for fun, but in those days – when delivering letters and packages on a bicycle was a real job, not a lifestyle – many more of them hung up their bikes at the weekends, just as toilet cleaners put down their brushes and carpenters their chisels. On Saturday nights some of the most adept messengers travelled by taxi.

For benefit of teenage readers; a coupon looks something like this…

…in olden days people cut them out, filled them in and sent them – in paper envelopes with cheques or postal-orders – something like Paypal only slower and more concrete.

Email, electronic artwork, email attachments, automated bank transfers, Wi-Fi; it’s easy to forget how fresh this stuff is. Every kilobyte, one less cardboard envelope or – for pedants – one cardboard envelope fewer.

Is it a coincidence that just as the last Scottish Highlanders were cleared off their lands and embarked for Nova Scotia, New Zealand or Birmingham, the British aristocracy went wild for tartan, Queen Victoria had a bag-piper under her bedroom window and – in Edinburgh – North-Brit male toffs started waltzing around in pleated skirts with little daggers stuck in their socks?

The Last of the Clan

When the last un-contacted forest aboriginals get their first taste of Coca-cola, and first experience of steel tools, rich kids start wearing Campagnolo seat-pin bolts through their nasal septa and sporting warrior tattoos.

Sturmey Archer sprocket circlips?

When I explained the theory – that a global infatuation with ‘bike courier chic’ is(was?) a clear symptom that the riders with big bags and radios are running out of road – to Bill ‘Buffalo Bill’ Chidley, the King of the Couriers, he disagreed. As counter-argument the legendary self-advertiser cited a recent case of a messenger who had to ride from Soho to Clapham to deliver a hard-drive.

Later – on reflection – I tried to imagine how many old-school couriers it would have taken to carry two terabytes of paper correspondence?

One of the rules of mass-participation cycle-touring is…

Never assume anyone else knows the way.

If you ride the Dunwich Dynamo next week and follow a handful of red lights for half an hour you may find they’re not going to Dunwich at all, just heading up to the all-night garage in Bury St. Edmunds for a packet of cigarettes.

Keep the route-sheet handy – even if you know the way, it sets a good example to greener pilgrims – and this five-bob data display system will add old school Twentieth Century messenger-cool to almost any bike.

batteries not included

 

 

 

“If string will do the job use string.”

Mike Burrows

The Five-Bob data display.

 

You will need…

  • 1 Zip-tie
  • 1 Bulldog clip

Zip-ties – AKA cable-ties – can be purchased in bulk from electrical wholesalers in various lengths and weights. If you’re too tight to pay cash-money for a supply you can find a pirate sign – for example “FILM UNIT” –  cable-tied to a lamp-post and cut it down carefully. Cut the tie where it’s tail enters the head to leave the longest remnant possible.

Alternatively a fine blade can be inserted into the head to lever the ratchet spring open and unlock the tie in one piece. String also works and can be transferred easily between a fleet of machines.

Bulldogs come in all sizes. They are available at stationers. Choose one that suits your application.

Tie the bulldog clip to your handlebar stem, or any exposed cables where its contents will be easily visible on-the-fly.

That’s it.

If the clip tends to rattle on the bars while empty you can make an acoustic damping system using a small section of rubber sheet – cut from failed inner-tube – secured with more zip-ties or double-sided cellulose-based, pressure sensitive adhesive tape (Sellotape).

Use your data display to carry…

  • route-summary information – road numbers, places en-route etc.
  • shopping lists
  • destination addresses
  • flyers
  • maps

Works well with…

  • a plastic bag for rain-proofing
  • a head torch to read data in the dark

Also works with Twenty-first Century bikes.

as easy as riding a bike

While people who used bicycles for travel were a vanishing tribe – stubbornly refusing to vanish – practical cycling was an unusual subject for mainstream media. On the rare occasions that it featured on a TV magazine show, a common convention was to give a naive reporter a bike and ask them to use it for commuting. When they ran into threshold problems the conclusion drawn was not, that the poor neophyte was in need of help, but rather that travelling by bike is impossibly difficult.

funny bike on BBC 1 - as unremarkable part of traffic - shock.

While people who used bicycles for travel were a vanishing tribe – stubbornly refusing to vanish – practical cycling was an unusual subject for mainstream media. On the rare occasions that it featured on a TV magazine show, a common convention was to give a naive reporter a bike and ask them to use it for commuting. When they ran into threshold problems the conclusion drawn was not, that the poor neophyte was in need of help, but rather that travelling by bike is impossibly difficult.

The exercise was analogous to putting a person who’s never skied on a lift up a mountainside, giving them a pair of Herman Munster boots clipped to a pair of two metre laminated planks, asking them to slide back to the valley and concluding from the embarrassing results that alpine skiing is not a bracing recreation but really, really difficult and somewhat perilous.

My own contribution to this clichéd sub-genre was in 1995 when hired to appear in an item about urban cycling by the production company of ‘Ride-On’ – a motoring show for Channel 4. The film crew had me riding round the Elephant and Castle, a busy double roundabout that forms the hub of South London’s road network. They shot me from various locations on the kerb, from the roof of a shopping centre, they clamped a clockwork camera the size of a brick – miniature for those times – on the handlebars and framed my face from below, they clamped it on the forks and shot forward into the moving traffic.

Keen to set a good example to the viewers and taking professional care of my temporary employer’s equipment I rode purposefully but with deliberate care, using the lane markings on the roadway, the patterns made by the files of motor-traffic and a bike rider’s ability to demand the attention of others, to hold an empty zone around my machine.

After each run the director and senior colleagues retired to their mobile home to view the latest sequence and confer in hushed voices. They did their best to seem optimistic – making moving pictures is a bit like going to war, morale is very important – but clearly weren’t happy with what had been recorded.

They were running out of options. It began to seem that darkness might fall without them capturing the pictures they wanted. Finally the director took me aside and in a conspiratorial tone asked:- “Can’t you make it look more difficult?”

In the end the segment – which mostly showed cycling to be a sensible way to get around London – went out with a staged coda in which the show’s presenter – an aristocratic ex-race driver – decided to try cycling; rode away and was knocked to the floor by a carelessly swung car door. It was meant to be funny.

In those days the seemingly contradictory notions…

  • Cycling is an infantile accomplishment unworthy of study.
  • Cycling is so difficult, dangerous and demanding that no sane person can contemplate it.

…reinforced each other by taking cycle-travel out of the realm of possible adult behaviour. Cycling was for children or for super-heroes, not for normal folk.

If you haven’t seen this it’s quite interesting…

…a segment from the latest ‘Sunday Politics’ a show on BBC 1, on the feasibility of London ‘Going Dutch’. There’s a discussion between the urbane and articulate Mustafa Arif – a Director of the London Cycling Campaign – a couple of politicians and – bizarrely – Sir Stirling Moss – the Lewis Hamilton of the 1950’s – who retired while I was still in the infants*.

Sir Stirling doesn’t have much to contribute beyond his legendary presence and a lame plea for helmet compulsion, which Mustafa flicks to the boundary with a finely judged mix of deference and contempt.

The interesting part for me is the film which introduces the discussion , and contrasts traffic conditions in Groningen, in the Netherlands, with those in London. It doesn’t dwell on the problems of cycling in our motor-centric capital. Now that most young and thrusting media-types travel by bike this line is no longer really tenable.

Here the metaphorical non-skier up the mountain is boy reporter Andrew Cryan trying to drive a car around central Groningen and finding it more than somewhat problematic.

The message is still that cycling can’t happen but the sensational premise is no longer…

‘Cycling to work? Are you mad?’

…but rather…

‘Where streets are cycle-friendly motoring is close to impossible.’

The young fellow does his best to make it look dangerous, talking to camera, with both hands off the wheel, while the vehicle is moving, but his flustered attempts tell us nothing about the practicality of moving a car in and out of the filtered permeability of Groningen’s centre, just that little Andrew was only there for six hours.

Even then his hyperbolic…

“Unless you were making a delivery or you’re a taxi[sic] you’d be absolutely mad to try and drive here.”

…has to be balanced with the observation that…

“In the suburbs [motor-]traffic flows incredibly well.”

Making car journeys more awkward also makes travelling by car easier. Who’d have thought it eh?

look mum no hands

As we get into the discussion it’s hard to imagine that Sir Stirlingwho once jousted with Juan Manuel Fangio and Mike Hawthorn – was first choice as token apologist for motor-dependence?

They might have preferred Jeremy Clarkson who recently opined that…

“…in Britain, where cars and bikes share the road space. This cannot and does not work. It’s like putting a dog and a cat in a cage and expecting them to get along.”

This simile can’t really bear much analysis.

Q: What kind of dog wakes up in the morning and wonders: – ‘Shall I be a dog or a cat today?’

Q; If a dog and a cat have sexual congress will they produce…

Of course Jeremy Clarkson is a semi-fictional comic character – more Alan Partridge than Alain Prost – and the last thing he would want is to engage in reasoned debate about the baffling, reflexive fluidity of real-life.

Come to think of it the slightly bemused Stirling Moss is strangely reminiscent of eminent character actor Trevor Peacock, albeit in a bald wig.

Trevor Peacock meets Theo Walcott
Sir Stirling Moss

*

  • Q: Who comes out of the skirting board at 220 miles per hour?
  • A: Stirling Mouse.

problems of giantism (part 2)

Cycle sport is fascinating and glamourous. Most people don’t have the fortitude and humility for cycle sport with it’s grueling diet of pain, disappointment and humiliation. A road race – even at the bottom of the pyramid –  may have fifty starters, only one will win. In cycle-sport second place is also known as ‘first loser’.

the Cannibal on another good day

Cycle sport is fascinating and glamourous.

Most people don’t have the fortitude and humility for cycle sport with it’s grueling diet of pain, disappointment and humiliation. A road race – even at the bottom of the pyramid –  may have fifty starters, only one will win. In cycle-sport second place is also known as ‘first loser’.

Eddy Merckx once said  that:- “In racing, there are always more bad days than good.”

And he was Eddy Merckx.

There’s a category of person – almost all men – who love the frisson, the glamour, of cycle-sport but lack the courage, fortitude and humility required to participate. Some of these people enter events that are NOT races, then try to win them.

“Re: Dunwich Dynamo 4th / 5th July 2009

by *********** » Thu Jun 25, 2009 1:39 pm

Yes – it’ll be my fifth year (I DNF’d in 2007 due to the weather).

We’ll be leaving at 8pm and going like a bat out of hell. This may not be in the spirit of things, but it avoids having to pass hundreds of slower cyclists on dangerous roads, and the queues for food can be appallingly long if you get there late.”

Plenty to worry about in this exemplary gem pruned from the archive of an internet forum. The writer’s identity has been redacted.

No shame in not finishing, if you tried your best, better luck next year. Not finishing due to the weather – in 2007 there was a brisk tailwind, it rained during the night, which was warm, and the morning was fine and steamy – is the sign of an ill-equipped, ill prepared and callow rider. Not finishing a planned journey because of the weather, in England, in July, is pathetic.

I’m guessing the writer’s never held a racing license or pinned on a number to ride against the watch, that their idea of “like a bat out of hell” equates to a brisk but comfortable pace, and is a long way South of 40 kph?

These criticisms are matters of taste. The real embarrassment is the idea that they don’t want to overtake hundreds of slower cyclists on dangerous roads. Usually there are 364 and a half – this year one more – days when you can ride from Hackney to Dunwich without passing more than a dozen bike riders.

If you don’t want to meet other pilgrims why are you riding a social event?  None of the roads on the DD‘s recommended route are subject to avalanche, landslip or flash floods. If you find them more dangerous than you want them to be then you’re doing something very wrong.

last of the Flemish hard men?

An unwritten rule of cycle racing is ‘there must be blood”. In a race you’re expecting to take risks. As Sean Kelly sagely observed…

“You don’t think about hospital. You think about winning.”

Cycle-touring is different. Nobody is standing by to scrape you off the road and put you in an ambulance if you miscalculate. If the difference between success and failure is the width of a tyre you overslept or misread the ferry time-table. The point is to be reliable and efficient, to travel and to have fun.

The formal stop on the Dunwich Dynamo – this year at the delightfully secluded Sible Heddingham Village Hall – is to allow the luxury of running water and flush toilets. Hot drinks and a short menu are offered for sale to help cover the costs of opening and staffing this amenity. If you find the idea of queues ‘appalling’ fill your bottles, eat the food that you’re carrying and leave the rest for those who are less well prepared or more tolerant of waiting. If the food’s run out or the line is too long DON’T KVETCH. It will only draw attention to the fact that you’re lacking in the prime virtue of cycle travel SELF RELIANCE. Keep the place tidy.

The Dunwich Dynamo is a free event. It’s idiotic to float a free event and then complain if others use it to act out their harmless fantasies. If folk want to treat the Dunwich Dynamo as a road-race – and can somehow overlook the fact that it has no entry fee, no start time, no finish line, no prize list and no UCI ranking – and they manage not to endanger or inconvenience anyone but their own sorry selves where’s the harm?

In most jurisdictions bike racers are fined or disqualified for dropping litter. At the highest level, where a discarded bidon or empty musette will be fought over as if it were the blackened toe-nail of a medieval Christian saint, nobody minds. Debris is part of the show. In extreme instances…

…valuable equipment may be left behind in the frantic struggle to keep up.

Some people who’ve only seen bike racing on TV think it’s OK to drop litter so long as your bike has no mudguards, your riding as fast as you think you can go and your wearing a replica pro-team jersey. The truth is that affecting the reckless habits of a big time bike-racer on a free-to-enter touring ride makes you look like a DOOFUS.

If your cruising speed is North of 30 kph why not leave late and breeze through the field offering words of encouragement to the halt and the lame? A push on the uphills(ASK FIRST)? You might meet some nice people? If you find someone in trouble you may be able to offer help? There’s a surprisingly large number of people who think fitting a tyre is difficult, that a puncture is an emergency. Set a good example, remind people – softly – to be quiet in villages.

If you prefer to ride early and go as fast as possible remember your sweetie wrappers and dead tubes aren’t holy relics. If you drop them you put the future of the event in jeopardy. You carried them out, You take them home.

And make sure you’ve enough clothes to be warm on the beach in the small hours.