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.

Oh really, winter?

Two can play at that game. Or something.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Winter light

Ah, winter. The cold fresh air hitting your rosy cheeks. Low sun and first flakes of snow. Mulled wine, cosy nights in, warm kisses under the mistletoe...

I bloody hate it all.

Every year, from the last golden days of October, I succumb to a dark, creeping, humming panic. November is a dark month. The clock change leaves me in a listless, lethargic heap on the floor, wailing as the nights close in, the mornings ever darker. The super-bright SAD light makes me feel dazed and a little cranky. I resent having to get up in the dark, get dressed in the dark, and return home in the dark.

I've watched moodily as winter has crept stealthily around my favourite blogs. There has been talk of wooly leggings, studded tyres, and, horror of horrors, cycling in the snow. *Shudder*. It all leaves me feeling very inadequate and vaguely ashamed of myself for having given up on my twice-weekly commute to the other end of town.  I'd foolishly been cycling in the dark with no front light until recently, but realized I had to change my ways when an old man shouted "NO LIGHTS" at me in the dark.

I blame it all on the dynamo fiasco. It's a lengthy and soporific story of birthday presents, ebaying, royal mail incompetence, and inadequate wires. I'll spare you the details. Let's just say I had to bribe the technician at work with cake to get him to extend the damned thing. Exquisite craftsmanship, Mr. K.

And tomorrow, it goes on.
Winter, I am going to kick your ass.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009


In an email this morning:

"Recently one bike was stolen and another nearly stolen from the racks outside the (building). Both incidents took place in the late afternoon. Please report any dodgy behaviour around the racks and if you lock up your bike here we would encourage you to do it very well! D-locks are best and lock up the wheels too if you can. (The bike that was stolen was locked up with a fairly decent cable lock.) Lots of bikes have been stolen around the University too recently, so watch out."

I hope my previous post had nothing to do with this. BACK, THIEVES! BACK, I TELL YOU! Our bikes are worth nothing, but are much loved. 

Incidentally I hope the person who "nearly stole" the second bike was chased off by a mob of angry students, wielding stabby paintbrushes or perhaps sharp rolls of paper. And that, erm, taking innocent pictures of other people's bikes does not constitute "dodgy behaviour".

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Full parking

It pays to get to work early, before the bike stands fill up.

It's probably the nicest stable of bikes I've seen in Edinburgh, and it's great to see all the young ones keeping green, fit, and stylish. I'd like to say this is actively encouraged, but this is a place where the cafeteria counts fried chips as a vegetable.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Bike nerd

My brakes are old.
I can tell from the look of irritation mixed with despair on the mechanics' face. They've been adjusted twice now but keep on giving me trouble, like obnoxious teenagers looking for the next prank to play. "What can we do next that will put M. in mortal danger, as she hurtles down a hill towards a busy roundabout? Ooooh, I know!"

This time the front brake has been misbehaving, refusing to spring back to its original position when released, creating a drag on the wheel that makes me feel particularly unfit as I struggle up gentle inclines. After poking fecklessly at the mechanism for a while, and even more aimlessly at the internets, I came across this refreshingly clear guide to adjusting my sidepull calliper brake (for such is apparently the name of the mechanism).

It seems like the back nut was just too tight, stopping the brake from springing open on one side. I've loosened it slightly, and it seems to be working fine now.

I feel like Sherpa Tenzing, having just conquered an impregnable summit, armed only with cranky frustration and a multi-spanner tool thingamajiggy.

What did you do Sunday night? I took photos of my spanner. Sigh.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Hamburger Bell

Love this hamburger bell, spotted at The Bike Chain in Edinburgh while getting a puncture fixed. It's a bell! Shaped like a hamburger! A bargain at £7. Nice little bike shop with friendly, knowledgeable staff who didn't quite notice we weren't their typical, active-lifestyle customers. "We've just received new Goretex", the young man pointed out. "It's very good". I'm also fairly certain they offered to measure my pelvis.

Do drop in and have a look, they have a good range of accessories and apparel and a selection of Brooks saddles to stroke lovingly.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Dawes Duchess review

I had a hard time finding my bicycle. I had my mind set on a classic step-through upright bicycle, capable of handling Edinburgh's many hills, and light enough to carry the two floors up to my flat.
But at 5'2'', and a small-ish budget (around £300), my choices were limited, especially in mountain-bike centric Edinburgh. I came across the Dawes Duchess in a vague state of despair, and though it wasn't love at first sight, I thought I'd give it a whirl.

See? It doesn't look too bad, does it?

My glamorous moutain-biking assistant holding the culprit. "You look so French", he said.

It has a steel frame, 7 gears, a chainguard, mudguards, and a basket.
Sadly, the test ride was disappointing. There was an air of cheapness about it, of over-complication. The colour was more purple than plum, the stitching on the grips was naff, and the rattan "effect" basket was, well, plastic.

Still, I could have overlooked all this if it hadn't been for the rickety feeling when I took it for a test ride. It was light enough, comfortable, and easy on inclines. Perhaps it had something to do with the bike having been assembled that morning, but I could feel every bump in the perfectly smooth road, and just felt like the bicycle would fall to bits beneath me.

Dejected, I walked up the road to find my lovely Falcon... but that's for another post.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Cramond ponies

When I moved to Scotland 10 years ago, I was dismayed, nay appalled, to discover a complete lack of Shetland ponies in the capital. Where were the pet apartment ponies I'd been promised? The pony postal services? The seeing-eye ponies? I'd built elaborate fantasies where I would go to the corner shop on my pony, my feet dragging slowly on the ground below us, a happy expression plastered on my face. I began to believe that Shetland ponies were imaginary, the pathetic fabulation of a Scottish Tourist Board desperate for attention. Imagine! Miniature ponies! With tiny little legs! And big fat furry bellies! The tourists will believe anything. Ahahahhaha.

Thankfully, Shetland ponies are a mere bicycle ride away now that I have a trusty steed of my own. Just follow the cycle paths in Northern Edinburgh to Cramond Brig. Edinburgh Council have a set of very useful downloadable cycling maps if you don't know what I'm talking about, or indeed if, like me, you're likely to get confused by the many obscure junctions along the way.

The ponies are right near the old bridge (a picturesque affair on its own), in a neat little field. Look, there's one:

They're a rather friendly bunch:

If a little inscrutable:

Ponies. Who knows what goes on in their furry, shaggy brains.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Winter warmers

The temperature has dropped dramatically this week. Scotland's been blessed with some rather lovely autumnal weather, and for once we are seeing a few clusters of golden leaves where there would normally only be bare branches and sodden, muddy lawns.

The cycle paths along the Water of Leith are particularly inviting.

Lovely, but cold. I've dug out my leather gloves and a raw silk scarf that has been serving me well. I don't exactly need a new coat, but I can't help eyeing up all the lovely offerings online.

Two of my favourites come from Urban Outfitters, and would look so sweet on a vintage bicycle:

(As an aside, when did casual coats start costing more than council tax?)

But my heart has gone to this cape-coat from H&M:

For autumnal dressing tips, head to London Cycle Chic and Riding Pretty. It's my first winter cycling, and I haven't quite got the warm/sweaty balance right!

Basket case

Yes, I know. My bicycle has a basket. It's very handy. I can keep things in it, like my lock, a bottle of water, a scarf, some wipes, my bag, and even, last week, the heavy folder containing my annual accounts. It's wicker, and dusty, having been cannibalized off an old bike I purchased on ebay that turned out to be far too big. It has the patina of age. And it fits a french sourdough loaf just so.

But why are people so pleased by it? Even grizzly mechanics' features soften as they affectionately pat the basket. "And you have a basket". Yes, yes, I have a bloody basket. Now can you tell me why my chain is skipping?

My workplace has a lovely stable of bicycles. There are two blue Pashley Poppies there, some dutch bikes, elegant roadsters and an array of perfectly charming bicycles. I'll admit I often stand by the floor length windows, indulging in a spot of bike spotting. Passing by the other day, I noticed two girls standing amidst the bicycles, pointing, discussing the options, obviously keen to purchase bicycles of their own. One of them pointed at my basket, determined. I could see the words forming in her brain "I need a basket. Just. Like. That". I watched, open mouthed, as her friend grabbed, no groped my basket, examining it, nodding in approval.

Dude. Basket fondler. Step away from my basket. They're barely the cost of a meal out. Go get your own.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

The perfect cycling raincoat

I am self-employed. This means that any excuse is good not to do any work.

I've had my own studio to work in for the past year, but have hardly used it. Getting a bike changed all that - suddenly, the 30 minute walk turned into a 10 minute exhilarating ride, and I found myself heading to the studio every day. My productivity has been high, and my chronic back and head aches have all but disappeared.

Now that October is rearing its ugly, wet little head, I look at the skies with a mixture of resentment and anticipation. Is it going to rain? Do I get an excuse to sit in bed all day, with my laptop warming my belly, ignoring the croaks and groans of my abused back muscles?

A cycling raincoat has been high on my list of must-have bicycle accessories. It had to be cute, bright, waterproof, and hooded. Oh, and cheap. Is that so much to ask? Look, Kate Hudson has one:

It's Burberry, apparently, so completely out of my price range. But look how happy she is, clutching that giant water bottle, ready to provide her own rain if necessary.

Raincoats seem to be one of those elusive things that only briefly appear in shops in February, when all you want to buy are summer dresses and open toed shoes.

Even the internets failed me. Googling raincoats is dangerous business. Do not search for "Shiny red raincoat", unless you are into erotic pictures of semi-naked ladies prancing about on the beach. Oi. You. Come back here. I am not finished.

I did find this:

Isn't it cute? A snip at £17 from La Redoute. I wonder if I could fit in their biggest size? I mean, 12 year olds are pretty bulky these days.

Pfff, fine. How about this:

From some obscure French brand specializing in all things Breton-striped and waxed. So obscure they haven't answered my enquiring emails.

I even considered this Boden "Urban Mac" for a while:

But then I read this review left on their site by "Fifi" (!!!):

"Such a great coat. When I tried it on for my husband he summed it up "It's great, it looks like you haven't just given up afer having children!" I will feel flash on the school run."

Oh Fifi. Fifi, Fifi, Fifi. Here. Have a giant water bottle.

In the end, dispirited and frizzy-haired, I settled on this from Uniqlo:

Less than £20, on sale, and it's given me the perfect excuse to sit in bed all day: I have to wait for the postman to deliver it. Bliss.

Monday, 28 September 2009

The commute

"I choose to cycle chic, and at every opportunity, I will choose Style over Speed" 

Doesn't my bicycle look lovely in Holyrood Park?
This picture was taken on a soft summer afternoon, near Arthur's Seat, an extinct volcano a stone's throw from Edinburgh's city centre. Cycling along the smooth, winding bicycle lane, you can glance at the swans as they alight gracefully on the mirror surface of the ponds. You stop, laughing gaily, for an impromptu picnic on the mostly deserted lawns. A soft breeze ruffles your hair, and you let the gentle sun warm your bare skin, your toes enjoying the fresh grass underfoot...

Unfortunately, on a windy day like today, this is what it looks like:

Great day to choose for my first commute to work. Just going downhill was a struggle. The gentle incline at the bottom of the hill almost killed me. I'm pretty sure a pair of walking grannies overtook me. I huffed and puffed, grimly noticing that even the lycra-clad hardcore commuters were struggling past me. Your soft-cushioned cycling shorts can not save you now, Mr. IT Manager.

I arrived at work red faced and sweaty. Sometimes there is neither style, nor speed.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Old bikes

Above: not a bicycle.

I have few memories of cycling.

Two bikes lay abandoned in the rooftop conservatory of our building in Hong Kong.
They were rusty, flat-tyred, and scraped angrily against my skin when I fell over. I was determined to learn. I went round and round the limited space, sweating in the heavy, hot air, deafened and awed, looking up at the belly of the planes that thundered, so close, down into nearby Kai Tak airport.

Indian summer in DC, wobbling along the Potomac canal. Control? Balance? Ha. I scraped through thorn bushes, cursing the road, the twigs, the bike, anything. Then later, feeling smug, the fresh flush of confidence spreading gaily across my cheeks, letting my attention slip, and falling straight into the canal. The bike was fished out, but the November air went right through my wet clothing. and my pride was bruised.

Angkor adventure. The monsoon rain was strong and refreshing. We laughed like the maniacal, demented harpies we were, elated from our death-defying ride through the thick Siem Reap traffic. Monkeys skipped along the road. We sped along the tracks between temples, waiting for the next glimpse of grey stone between the trees, feeling quiet, and alone, for the first time in weeks.

Now, finally, scarily, I have my very own first bicycle. I'm ready for more memories.
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