Nnnnnnnggghhh….. It’s so PRETTY!
Stopped by my favorite bar/cafe/bike workshop/event space/art & cool shit shop/bunting gone wild establishment yesterday…
Look Mum No Hands is located on Old Street back near my old hood, and it’s a truly excellent example of integrated boundary-smashing bicycle excitement. Check it out.
You can get your tires fixed while you sip a Square Mile coffee or drink a beer and eat quiche and peruse pretty bike greeting cards or read a bike book. Plus, as I may have mentioned, they have bunting.
I covet these posters by Dynamo Works, particularly the one all the way on the right: ‘It is the unknown around the corner that turns my wheels.’
If that wasn’t exciting enough, I’ll be heading back on Saturday to peruse and do my best to only buy one poster at ARTCRANK: a bicycle art party! I love it when people combine my favorite things.
Even better, passing by Look Mum on the way to a meeting, I spied a new bicycle shop next door! So I went by after lunch. Hello Bicycle Man!
I puttered around looking at the cycles and had a great chat with Omar, who runs the place. I think he’s the bicycle man, but perhaps there are several? Anyway, Omar sells really interesting Dutch bikes – not just ‘Dutch style’ but really innovative and well-designed bikes that hadn’t been offered in the UK yet. They’re not all to my taste, but there are some fascinating and very insightful little tweaks on a lot of the bikes.
For example….ever forgotten your lights? Or lugged around a heavy, cumbersome, and annoying lock? Well, you won’t have to anymore with these crazy VANMOOF bikes.
See that unusual top bar? It’s got FRONT AND BACK LIGHTS AND A LOCK embedded inside. Even better, the lights are solar powered, so they charge whenever the sun hits them and you can charge with a USB cord if it’s dark! That is some serious design thinking there.
Also, I quite like their explanatory sticker about the bike weighing about as much as a small pig. I’m a fan of those small amusing human touches.
This bike is innovative in another way: what better way to deter a thief than having a massive serial number staring them in their face? It’s probably no more than a slight deterrent, but apparently one of the main problems with London bike crime is not so much recovering stolen bikes, but more the difficulty of reuniting them with their owners. Pretty hard to forget to write down and register your serial number when it’s welded in big numbers to your bike.
Perfect for tootling around in a pretty dress and sticking a basket full of flowers and cheese and wine and a tall baguette on the back. Hmm. I see an exciting bike picnic approaching.
This next bike is the only German to intrude on the room of Dutchies – apparently it has a carbon fibre chain which doesn’t need grease or oil, doesn’t stretch, and only weighs about 200 grams. Nimble doubts the veracity of this statement. What is certainly true is the egregiously expensive price tag. But even if it’s not to my taste or anywhere close to my budget, it’s an interesting innovation anyway.
So, Bicyle Man. I like it. Sadly, I’m not in the market for a new bike at the moment, but it’s nice to have it right next door to Look Mum for perusing pleasure. After all, just about the only thing Look Mum doesn’t do is actually sell bicycles.
Bye Look Mum and Bicycle Man! I’m dreaming of the day when I can run my own bar/cafe/everything bicycley and awesome shop. Until then…
If you read the Wales ride pieces you may have noticed me being down on the Sustrans routes. Shame on me. I’ll stand by my words when I say you do not want to use the Sustrans route to ride to Reading or Windsor unless you want to take ages to get there and don’t mind riding on gravel, but on a recent trip to Scotland I had the pleasure of riding along route four, and couldn’t believe the difference.
Now that’s how you do a cycle path. A solid tarmac surface, no peds and pretty greenery. I rode for 30 miles and saw only other cyclists, one person walking a dog and my new favourite hero, Sustrans Volunteer Man. Check out this badass -
He is behind the fence, trimming back the greenery. I have no idea how he got there, because this fence went on for quite a distance but his bicycle was parked right beside him. I’m presuming he jumped over the fence, which is impressive when you consider he’s around 60 years old. Well at least I’m guessing he was, but since it’s Scotland he could have simply been 30 and lived a life of cigarettes and fried everything. Here are his tools of justice -
He rides this along the path, dealing swift Sustrans justice to any plants that threaten the safety of mankind. What a total badass.
I rode from Lochwinnoch to Irvine and back. The paths were extremely well maintained, with only a couple of scary transitions into towns full of people with dead eyes. I did it on a friend’s mountain bike, but wished I’d had my road bike throughout.
This recommendation is largely redundant, since if you live there you already know how ace these routes are, and if you don’t, you’re not likely to be easily able to go ride on them, but I wanted to mention them because they’ve shown me that not all Sustrans routes are a shambles, full of gravel and pedestrians. So don’t bother with them in and around London, but seemingly once you leave London you’re in cycling heaven, where even the cows stop to say hello.
Why are you still sitting there reading this? Go out and ride along this NOW:
That is all.
We’re off to do touristy stuff with the mum in Glasgow and take a minor detour to check out a restaurant menu (no surprises there) and what should we randomly run into but the inaugural Harris Tweed ride!
I’m so sad that Nimble and I missed the London one being out of town this year, and we could have joined in this one in the ultimate tweedy locale.
I got some photos of some dashing young riders.
As if there weren’t already such coincidence running into the tweed ride, turns out the route is going to all the places we’ve already visited in our 3 days here. The fabulous Stravaigin restaurant, the always-fantastic Cafe Gandolfi – it would have been a tweed-clad tour of all our favorite spots.
About an hour before the tour started, there were about 15 people enjoying tea & cakes, but there are apparently 100 expected for the day. Already 2 Colnago cycles!
Nimble will be jealous. We’ll see if we can encounter them later in the day at another delicious stop. Until then, I’ll be riding a double decker tourist bus instead of riding my bicycle….sigh. Maybe we can still incorporate some tweed…
I was going to write a huge post with pictures of our route, breaking down sections into bits of DANGER and bits of steep gradient, and generally show where we went, but I like Mei’s pictorial breakdown better. It’s more romantic, and ultimately that should be the most important thing on a tour. Not your average speed throughout (approx. 10mph), or how many miles you covered each day (40, 40, 55, 35), or even how many feet we climbed (5806). It might be how many calories you burned (9500), because that affects how much you should eat, but even then you should rejoice in the fact that you’ll basically eat as much as you can as often as you can, which is all any human being really wants.
Pictures, I know. Sorry. Here’s Mei outside of a random house we passed.
The house has no meaning. It doesn’t represent anything, we just happened to pass it after not passing anything for a while.
I don’t like planning routes too much when going on long cycles. The problem with having a predetermined route is, checking to see if you’re on that route involves stopping. A long ride on which you stop every few minutes is not a happy ride. Stopping should be saved for eating and weeing, not for aggressively checking your navigational device. It’s unavoidable that you will, but in the interest of keeping it to a minimum I recommend the following technique -
Choose somewhere about 30 miles from where you are. That is where you will be at the end of the day. What is the next town along the way? Go to that town. Any route you like. Then check for the next town, and so on. You need only remember a few towns and you can stay on your bike for ages. Hooray! You might sometimes end up on a scary road, or on a gravel track, but you’ll probably survive. By the end of your journey, if it’s anything like ours, you’ll reach where you want to go in about eight hours (having stopped for an hour to eat HUGE lunches) and you’ll have travelled about 40 miles in total. Or 55, because you decided to actively pursue the most roundabout route possible. But you’ll get there.
Have some kind of easily accesible bag on your handlebars. Store comfort snacks in there, like muesli bars and almonds and probably not chocolate but actually, who cares, some chocolate, with more chocolate for when you get a sugar low an hour later. You’ll probably need to eat twice as much food as normal, unless you already eat too much food. I’ll let you be the judge of that. Buy a battery recharging thing that you can use to recharge your phone if that’s your navigational device, because it’s probably going to run out of juice half way through the day.
This is us as close to lost as we got. Someone even stopped their car to check we were ok. That was nice of them. They probably didn’t deserve the punch in the face I gave them for questioning my navigational ability, especially since we were actually lost, but you need to let these country folk know who’s boss or they kidnap you and eat you.
Clothes! We brought several items of clothing to cycle in and only one item of clothing to wear when not on the bike. That was an error. Really, just have a merino wool top, shorts and spare undies and you won’t stink when on the bike. And even if you do smell a bit, that’s going to happen whether or not you change clothes every day, so bring some nice light clothes to change into at night and just accept that you will be incredibly unhygienic when cycling. There’ll be so many fields to roll around in and mud puddles to fall into and rain to ride through that even clean clothes will be ‘pure humdingin’ after an hour, so you may as well not bother trying.
We took locks. They seemed kind of unnecessary most of the time, but nobody stole our bikes. I think I’d take them again, but maybe not the really heavy D-locks that we took.
Racists! They are everywhere when you leave the city. Well, they’re everywhere in the city as well, but at least we have the common decency to pretend we’re not. Sadly, I don’t think United Colours of Bennetton has advertising in the sticks yet. We had two counts of people shouting ‘ching chong ching chong’ at us, which was quaint and funny (and not ironic that people will be actually talking like that when China has conquered Britain in WW3), and one count of a pub owner telling us that ‘those Asians will take anything for free’. For our American readers, Asian here means people from India and Pakistan, mostly. We call Chinesey people oriental, mostly. I know you don’t dig that, but be ready for it if you’re cycling here. I enjoy encountering this low level of racism. It reminds me that actually, it doesn’t really matter. People are, by and large, quite ignorant. That’s ok though, because people are also helpful, generous, talkative and willing to serve you plum crumble made from fruit picked earlier that day.
This was, without question, one of the best things I have ever done in my life. It was challenging, physically stressful and demanding, occasionally difficult, joyous, educational and life-affirming. It changed my already-intimate relationship with my bicycle, morphing it into something greater. It improved my relationship with the land around me, the people around me and my very wonderful partner on the road, Mei. And even if it didn’t do any of that, the physical hardship was entirely worth it for the exhilarating descents. Travelling downhill for almost two miles at around 40mph is one of the most exciting and terrifying experiences of my life. And the sense of accomplishment is tangible. I can’t recommend it enough.
Look how pleased she is. That’s the Severn Bridge in the background, our route into another country. Moments later we rode into Wales. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life.
Wales. It’s where we’re going. As you can see above, it’s spectacularly beautiful and just might be one of the best places to cycle on the planet. However, we don’t know that yet, because we’re still lying in bed in Bristol.
It’s my birthday and I’ll lie in bed after cycling 55 miles if I want to. Now that we’re on Day 4, I will begin to bestow upon you some key things we learned after 4 days in the saddle and here it starts.
Words of Wisdom #1: Assuming you are not completely broke or a total masochist, go B&B over camping, 100%. I cannot begin to tell you how much I appreciated a comfortable bed, a great night’s sleep, and a hot breakfast after a day on the road. Nothing’s worse than biking for hours on a hard saddle, then trying to fall asleep on the hard ground. Unless it’s waking up the next morning with a sore everything, taking a cold shower, and eating energy goop for breakfast when you could be having this:
Obviously, we continued on our 4 days straight of Full English Breakfasting, cooked to order by the wonderful Rich of Colliters Brook Farm. Go to Bristol and stay there and tell him Mei and Leo sent you. You won’t regret it.
He gave us excellent directions to get our asses over to Wales via the beautiful Clifton Suspension Bridge over the Avon Gorge. Apparently the symbol of the city of Bristol, it’s a beautiful place for cycling, running, walking, boating, or just enjoying the view.
We followed alongside the picturesque waterfront for miles, the river on our left and the immense sheer rock face on our right, cruising past the old Clifton Rocks Railway built into the side of the gorge (a secret transmission site for the BBC during WWII!)…
and crazy people who can juuuuust be spotted trying to climb this insanely large wall of rock.
If you go to Bristol, make sure to visit the area. Gorgeous.
We meandered up the coast along the water, bypassing beautiful stretches of countryside…
as well as the old industrial estates of Avonmouth, trying not to get hit by large trucks hauling shipping containers while taking photos of the amazing old flour mills.
We both really loved getting to see so many different areas of England, from some slightly rundown city centres to the tiniest of villages to the crane- and truck-clogged industrial byways to the wildflower-laden country roads to the golden corn-strewn farmlands. Which leads us to:
Words of Wisdom #2: It’s old news to some, but a new truth to me: cycling is by far the best way you could possibly travel. You get to see so much more than traveling by car or train, but you get to fly along the roads so much faster than walking by foot. You breathe in the sea air and the earthy farm smells as well as the truck exhaust fumes and really feel connected to the land and the places you pass through. Cycling for 8 hours is definitely tiring and at some points exhausting, but you feel a sense of accomplishment every time you pull in for the night and you’ll sleep better than you ever have in your life. Best of all – you can eat as much as you want. I consumed three massive full meals a day – which always seemed to include chips – and fueled the cycling by sneaking quite a lot of chocolate bars in between.
Speaking of which, we stopped at Shirley’s Cafe in Severn Beach for homemade apple cake and candy bars. Oh, the joys of touring.
There are two Severn Bridges, but it’s the ‘old’ crossing that you can walk and cycle across.
We met friends Danny and Tim (aka our Welsh guard) halfway across the bridge and they took celebratory photos…
continued with us along the bridge…
then escorted us off into our ultimate destination….WALES!
And off to Casnewydd we went, panting in the wake of our Welsh guard, zooming through tunnels…
down country lanes walled with green…
past cows and sheep and horses and my first glimpse of stoat roadkill…
back onto National Cycle Route 4, which we had first encountered 2 days and 130 miles ago…
and on down the Lon eiciau, 200 llath ahead.
It’s amusing, in hindsight, that we celebrated upon crossing the bridge to Wales, because some of the roughest times were once we were in the country. I had been told it was a 40 minute ride to Danny’s home in the historic and picturesque town of Caerleon - but that’s 40 minutes in Danny time and he cycles at minimum 20 miles a day. That’s not much though – he used to commute 40 a day and has done 80 a day touring, all of which means that he scampered up the Welsh hills like a happy bunny while I put my head down and sweated, groaned, cursed, and battled my way to the top. It was worth it for these views though…
And then, finally, Newport! My knees and back and crotch and shoulders were thankful.And even better, just a few minutes later….our final destination of Danny’s gorgeous back garden, where we were welcomed with an enormously large hunk of beef ribs in its 6th hour of slow cooking on the grill. Massive amounts of cycling + even more massive amounts of food = massively brilliant.
And to top it all off – surprise birthday cake and champagne, all arranged by my amazing boyfriend and the best touring partner-in-crime a girl could ask for. Which brings me to my final takeaway:
Words of Wisdom #3: Tour with someone you really, really, like. It’s constantly hard work, both emotionally and physically challenging, and you need someone who you trust to support and push you through it. If you’re extra lucky, it might be someone who will carry your heavy lock and fix your fidgety gears, keep you fueled with chocolate and gross electrolyte drinks, share the beautiful sights and difficult times, give those much-needed words of encouragement when you’re on your last legs at the top of a very very steep hill, and laugh with you at the amazing and the ridiculous moments you find yourself in when biking across a country.
And of course, you need someone to take cheesy congratulatory self -photos with when crossing the border. Couldn’t have done it any other way…
… and cannot cannot wait to do it again. Can we leave tomorrow?
Day 3 is characterized by hours of travel along what must be the loveliest and definitely the steepest roads in western Britain. This is what my thighs tell me, and obviously they would know. I laughed quite a long time when we came across this sign:
It all started with an opera singer wakeup in our cute and quaint litttle B&B in South marston, just east of the vast conglomeration of industrial estates that is the town of Swindon. The bed was amazing, but the real exciting part was the latter B: another full English breakfast.
in our own little nook…
and then off we pedaled, past the lovely back garden that would have been nice for lounging in.
But we had places to be!
Spectacularly green country roads…
awkward motorway intersections where we wandered off-road to stay off the truck-heavy and death-likely M4…
and, somewhere in the grey areas on the map between the major roads, we found beautiful plateaus at the top of tall hills, rich with green corn stalks or golden wheat sheaves or other unknown plants.
These are the tiles of saturated color you see out the windows of planes amd wonder how the ground can look like a golden chessboard.
We passed lots of little villages we had never heard of, some on downhill journeys that we zoomed past in a literal blink-of-the-eye.
Lunch, because we’re eating like athletes, was a cheeseburger with fried onions, onion rings, and chips (the English kind). Oh, and Leo’s chips.
The most notable aspect of Chippenham, our lunch location, was the exit.
The afternoon consisted of riding ridinh riding and stretching…
This photo makes the stretch of desolate pedestrian walkway look a little more romantic than abandoned.
By that point, having not eaten a candy bar for at least an hour and pedaled up several mountains since lunch, I was verging on exhaustion. We were in the middle of the city and supposed to be sleeping at a farm. We must have had miles to go before getting back to the countryside!
but that’s the beauty of England – a short ride from the city centre later and we were again surrounded by lush fields of green.
Rich hooked us up with a massive suite to store our bikes in the old farmhouse.