Monday, 1 March 2010

Une bicyclette, s'il vous plait

Much like open-toed shoes, cotton dresses and fruit salads, cycling regularly seems like a distant memory. We still take the bikes out on Sunday afternoons, but it's just been too damn cold, dark, and miserable to commute on them on a daily basis. There are only so many layers you can put on before you're physically incapable of moving your limbs and/or neck around, both of which, I hear, are quite necessary when winding your way through Edinburgh traffic. Whine whine moan complain complain.

But! This week end I am in Brussels. The weather has not been particularly clement - there was a terrifying moment yesterday when I thought I would get flung over the side of a railing by the frightful wind. This has not helped to paint a picture of a bicycling-friendly town. Cyclists here have to put up with steep hills, mad drivers, murderous trams, and extremely discreet (read: invisible) bicycle lanes.

Belgium does, however, excel at weirdness. This is the land of the giant blue brain, the plasticarium, and the habit of saying "please" (s'il vous plait) instead of "thank you". Hidden behind piles of single shoes, viscose rejects and broken record players at the Place du Jeu de Balle fleamarket, we spotted this fantastic plastic retro orange indoor exercize bike I just had to photograph.

Why does it have a chainguard?

The vendor tried to tantalize us with the promise of a good price, but it was just too bulky to take home. The Ryanair tyrants would never have allowed it. I hope it ends up at the Plasticarium.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Iceberg ahead

You might have noticed we've had a little bit of bad weather lately. People have been moaning about, well, this:

If you're anything like me, you're probably sick of the very word "snow", let alone the grotty, dirty, treacherous stuff, and thankful for the thaw. For the first time in a couple of weeks, we were able to take the bikes out for a leisurely ride along the Water of Leith path, heading for the charity shops and tea rooms of Stockbridge.

It was a bit muddy, but perfectly fine, until we hit this, just on the other side of the tunnel near the Broughton Tesco:

A giant puddle of floating ice. I tried to plough through it, to no avail. Resigned, I unmounted, patent-leather shoes submerged in icy water, and pushed until I was back on firm ground, squelchy but unscathed.

This is quickly becoming my least favourite spot on the path. It regularly floods, I've been shouted out by a granny who jumped out onto my path, and dogs lurk menacingly round the blind corner. Now this. Curse you, snow. Even in your last throes, your torment me.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Competitive blizzard blogging

This is a "spécial dédicace" to Filigree from Lovely Bicycle, who put my whining about three flecks of snow to shame. And rightly so. Until this morning, Edinburgh had been spared the heavy snows that afflicted the rest of the country.

 It fell quietly in the night, dropping on rooftops and gardens, covering cars and roads, transforming the city into a cleaner, more quiet, prettier version of itself. What is it about snow that can melt the dark and hardened heart of even the most bitter of cynics? I woke up and watched as kids rushed excitedly down the street, the dog walkers slipping around on the pavement. A middle aged couple were throwing snowballs at each other. A man carried a big box of Quality Streets to some unknown destination.

It seldom snows heavily in Edinburgh, so I couldn't miss out on this opportunity to try riding in the snow. I took the bike down the stairs, and made my way gingerly outside. I passed my old neighbour who advised me, with bulgy eyes, to beware... BEWARE!

I headed for a small side street that would lead me down to Leith Links. The first few seconds of the ride were exhilarating. I was cycling! In the snow! Weeeee!

Then I fell. I got back up, and fell again. I slid around to the end of the treacherous street, going very, very slowly, getting bemused glances from the drivers trying to clear their parked cars of snow. Clearly my thin, sleek road tyres are no good for these conditions.

Get the flash player here:

I made it on foot to the empty park. Some random observations:
1. I am not the only weirdo in the Links. Other cyclists had gone through before me. Their  tracks extended away from me tantalizingly, but I could not follow.
2. Cycling on fresh snow was much more stable, but my wheels and brakes quickly filled up with snow, stopping me in my tracks.
3. My new coat performed wonderfully. Just the right length, an A-line to fit lots of jumpers under, and wide sleeves for ease of movement.
4. The blue dynamo lamp looked great against all that white. The still uncut cable ties that replaced the previous poor masking tape job - not so much.
5. Don't fancy cycling? Urban skiing is always an option. Not sure what he did when he got to the other side of the park though.
6. Snowballs make good "presents" for those too hungover on Christmas cheer to venture out into snowy parks for fun and games.

That was probably the last bike ride of the year. Tomorrow I'm off to Lancaster (apparently, the "cycling capital of the North West" *snigger*), then heading off to Paris where there will hopefully be some messing around on the Vélib and its slightly less glamorous suburban cousin, the Velcom, as well as some fondling of my sister's old Peugeot.

Happy holidays, fellow bike pervs.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Parking in tenements

I'm very fond of Edinburgh's tenements. They're all much the same - dark stairwells, vague smell of mould, steps rounded with age, polished wood bannisters and a sprinkle of dust on the victorian tiles. Some are poorly kept, others gleam and smell of bleach. There's often a scrappy, unkempt garden behind them, where the best barbecues are to be had on the precious few days of summer.

They do, however, present a challenge to the Edinburgh cyclist. Many of them have old and battered front doors, giving all too easy access to any bicycles left in the staircase, where thieves can (and do) operate in relative quiet and peace. Too many bicycles can also cause problems in poorly kept tenements where unwanted goods often pile up - a friend recently lost his bike to a staircase fire, after a discarded cigarette butt lit an abandoned mattress. The tenants were fine, but the bike was melted to a crisp.

 I drag my bike up two flights of stairs to the safety of my flat, but was reminded of the bike parking problems on a visit to my sister's:

Ground floor: a random assortment of probably unused bikes. Most without saddles, and three random spare wheels.

First floor: a convenient nook for one bike. I wonder if this is an original feature?

And finally, on the 3rd floor, an acrobatically perched BMX.

I can't help to think this problem will have to be tackled for cycling to continue to grow in Edinburgh. Many tenement tenants (students, young professionals) are prime candidates for making the switch to bicycle commuting, but there's little street parking available to them, other than the odd lamp post or railing. Carrying a bike up and down several flights of stairs is not an attractive option for many, nor is keeping them in often cramped flats.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Father and Daughter

Father and Daughter, Michael Dudok de Wit's Oscar winning short from 2000.
Seemed fitting somehow for the year's shortest day.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Let it snow

In the few days leading up to Christmas, I revert to my native Frenchness. I dream of goose, take much delight in mentioning foie gras to sensitive, battery-chicken eating Brits, and ponder where  to buy duck confit and marrons glacés (Relish is handy but a little dear).

So it was with a "bof" and a shrug that I greeted this scene yesterday:

Pfff, ouais.

Mmm, bof, whatever.

I can't quite muster the energy to get annoyed about Winter's underhanded ways and frankly po-faced use of snow. Besides, I have these:

Dans ton cul, Hiver.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

In which I kick winter's arse

After yesterday's rant about the cold and how miserable it makes me, I expected nothing less from you, Winter. I'd been muttering dark curses under my breath at night. I knew I would rise to a sharp cruel pain in my neck, and a splitting headache, the direct result of not having cycled for a week. I was delighted to wake up to your pathetic excuse for a morning - grey, dull, and utterly gormless. No really, there's nothing I love more than barely managing to see my breakfast tray at 11 am. I blame the cheese on toast fiasco on you, Winter.

Then there was all that twitter excitement about the snow. Oooh, it's snowing! It's settling! It's not settling! Snow flakes! Magical! Bla bla bla! You enjoyed that, didn't you, Winter, you sadistic little turd. But I bet you didn't see what was coming next.

I got the spanner out. Both of them. I cursed and mopped my brow and got chain oil all over my pyjamas. I was worried when I realized I had no cable ties. I caught a glimpse of defeat. I saw your smug razor sharp smile, Winter, when I turned the pedals and the loose cable got all caught up in the wheel spokes and ripped itself loose of the light. I blanched when I failed to locate the electrical tape.

I ruined my manicure for you, Winter.

Thanks to you my nails are more scabby emo than Rouge Noir.

But I will have the final laugh, Winter. It's not pretty, it's not secure, and it won't last, but: there is Light.

And a lot of masking tape. Oh, shut up, Winter.
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