Author Archives: ianji

End of the Road for Bicycology?

Anyone who has looked at this blog or the Bicycology website recently will have noticed that nothing has happened since the May 2012 mini-tour from Birmingham to Leicester. With members of Bicycology spread around the country it was always difficult to get together and eventually people just got too involved in their own local campaigns (or life in general) to keep things going. A couple of months ago I shut down the contact email address because about 99% of email arriving was spam.

The Bicycology website is still online and will remain so for now because it hosts some useful resources (our popular illustrated A5 guides). Our two soundsystems are also still in operation – Pedals normally lives in London where it is a familiar sight on protests and I am lead to believe that Son of Pedals is living in Brighton.

I am still very much involved in cycle campaigning but now just in Hertfordshire. I have been working with Welwyn Hatfield Cycling Forum since January 2009 and then in 2011 I helped set up a Hertfordshire cycling campaign called CycleHerts and was recruited as a cycling representative on the Local Access Forum. WHCF is affiliated to ctc and I have helped out with ctc stuff in the area, for example I volunteered to work at the Hertfordshire County Show this summer with their CycleChilterns project. I was also recruited as a Sustrans volunteer at a local event this year. I did explain that I had no free time but that I had already been doing some route maintenance as a “lone wolf” and was happy to continue doing it wearing a Sustrans hi-viz vest. All that leaves little time for paid work but I make ends meet as a self employed gardener. If you want to contact me you can do so through my personal website.

2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,300 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 22 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Letchworth Summer Celebration

A few months ago Bicycology was invited to have a presence at a summer celebration on the 2nd and 3rd of July called Who do you think you are, Letchworth? As a Hertfordshire resident I was keen to go so I accepted the invitation on behalf of Bicycology and committed to it even if it meant doing it on my own. As it turned out a number of Bicycologists were away on a “Silent Victories” tour (a report will hopefully appear on this blog) and others were unable to go due to having recently taken time off to do Glastonbury, so it was just me. I could have spent both days there but decided that one would be enough and chose Saturday.

Outside the Transition Town marquee.

It turns out that the woman who invited us is the daughter of a friend of mine and is involved in Transition Town Letchworth which had space in a reasonably large marquee that was referred to as the “eco village”. She was keen for me to bring a pedal generator but I didn’t have one so I told her I would take my new soundsystem instead, which is now mounted on the front of a Long John cargo bike. I have never tried getting the system on a train and the twenty mile ride from my house seemed a bit daunting but luckily a friend was going to Biggleswade on Friday in a camper van so I strapped the bike to the roof and went up there with him. On Saturday morning I got up reasonably early and set off on the ten mile ride back down to Letchworth. Fortunately it was pretty much flat for most of the way and I got there in an hour and a half (if you think seven miles per hour is slow you should try riding the beast yourself).

I arrived at the event just before 10am when it was due to open to the public and parked up on the grass outside the eco village marquee. I didn’t have a table so I laid out some literature on a couple of chairs and put on some tunes. I had a fair bit of interest in the soundsystem but most people assumed it was pedal powered and when they learned that it was running on batteries they wondered why I had even brought it. I explained how it was designed to use minimal power compared to conventional systems but perhaps I should have made the extra effort to take my solar panel as well (ideally someone else from Bicycology would have gone with a generator bike and hooked the soundsystem up to that). Anyway, it was a talking point and I did have some interesting conversations with people, most of whom went away with some of our literature. My friend with the camper van showed up later in the day with his kids which meant that when I packed up I was able to load the bike back on the roof and get it taken away while I got the train home. I was feeling rather the worse for standing in the sun all day but I guess it was worth it.

Bicycology at Glastonbury

This year Bicycology put in a proposal to do something at Glastonbury and managed to get six free tickets. I had never been to the festival so I jumped at the chance. We decided to meet at Bristol Temple Meads and cycle together on National Route 3. The idea was to reach the site by early Wednesday evening but due to a missed train and punctures we didn’t leave Bristol till after 4pm, and due to more punctures and general faffing we didn’t reach Wells until it was getting dark. After a chip stop we did the last few miles to Pilton, arriving about midnight.

Bikes and epic mud don't mix.

This year for the first time there was a special Green Traveller Initiative to reward people for arriving by public transport or bicycle. This included a bike lockup area and cyclists camping field with solar showers and compost toilets. We arrived at the cyclists entrance but were going to be working in The Green Fields, and since we had trailers and a load of stuff that we needed there we thought it would be better to head straight over with our bikes. We neglected to take into account the Glastonbury mud! Cycling was almost impossible so we had to push, but within a couple of hundred metres great globs of grass-reinforced mud had formed around brakes, preventing wheels from turning. I guess it took about an hour to drag our bikes across the site and find our space. Fortunately we were able to crash out in a marquee and not have to worry about putting up tents in the dark.

Checking out our info display.

We were in the campaigns area of the Green Futures Field, sharing a space with Veggies (the Nottingham based vegan catering campaign), an art exhibition and Rubbish DJ’s (turntables and amps mounted in a rubbish cart). The art exhibition and DJ setup were in the marquee which was closed up at night. Each morning we opened it up and laid out our Bicycology stall at the front. We had taken a load of old tyres and chains for making belts and bracelets – people could either make their own or buy them ready made from us with all the money going to 56a Infoshop in London. Very few people had been mad enough to bring their bikes across the site through the mud so although we had plenty of tools there was very little bike fixing to do (I did help one person fix a pushchair). When people came to our stall we chatted about cycling and related issues and had lots of information for people to take away as well as a big stack of our brand new bike stickers. Other jobs included helping keep the nearby recycling/upcycling point organised and going off site for supplies (I did two runs to Shepton Mallet by bike for Veggies). For food we gave Veggies a sum of money upfront in exchange for free tea/coffee and veggie burgers from their van and to join their crew for an evening meal – much appreciated.

The Rinky Dink passing the Veggies van.

Of course it wasn’t all work and we had plenty of time to go off and do other stuff. We went together to see a great set by Chumbawamba on the Avalon stage and Chemical Brothers on The Other Stage (which had a very impressive soundsystem). One of my favourite acts was Mal Webb (who I had never heard of before). On the Sunday night while Beyonce was doing her thing on the Pyramid stage I went to see Suzanne Vega on the Acoustic stage – I last saw her 24 years ago when I lived in New Hampshire.

Sunday was hot and sunny which dried out a lot of the mud but Monday morning was a race to get the marquee down and packed away before the rain returned. It was much easier getting off site than it had been getting on and we were on the road before noon. The light rain had a welcome cooling effect as we cycled up into the Mendips past Wookey Hole. After a short stop at the Castle of Comfort for refreshments there was a long downhill to Chew Valley and we made good time back to Bristol.

Cycling back to Bristol in the sunshine.

We didn’t have nearly as much impact as when we last did stuff at the Big Green Gathering but it was a useful experience and I had a great time despite the mud. Glastonbury is not on in 2012 and if we go back in 2013 we might be better off applying to do something in or near the cyclists camping area (where I am sure there would be plenty of demand for help with bike fixing and teaching bike maintenance skills).

New Year in Corris

Back in October there was a suggestion on the Bicycology list to have a social gathering at New Year. As it happens we have a connection with the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales and they have a couple of eco cabins which accommodate 18 people each. It seemed like enough people were interested to make it worthwhile renting one of the cabins for a few days, with the added advantage of supporting CAT at a time when they could use some extra income. Plans were coming together nicely until the freezing weather ended and it became apparent that there were multiple burst pipes in the cabins which effectively made them uninhabitable. Fortunately Corris Hostel is just a few miles up the road. Unfortunately they also had a burst pipe and had cancelled all their bookings but Mike who runs the hostel was extremely helpful and got things sorted out enough for us to stay. In fact it turned out well for him to have people there to keep the fires going and help dry the place out.

I travelled to Wales by train, arriving at Machynlleth (known locally as “Mac”) just as it started getting dark on December 30th. I had my bike with me and intended to cycle the 6 miles from Mac to Corris. There was a choice between taking the A487 which would have been a steady climb on a main road, or the more interesting back road. I was with a couple of other people who were also cycling and we unanimously chose the back road which turned out to be rather too interesting due to lingering snow that had been compressed into sheets of ice. We all managed to stay upright though and arrived at the hostel to a warm welcome and cups of tea.

Trying not to get wet feet.

I woke up with a headache on the 31st and although I joined the others for a walk the day was pretty much a write off for me. I spent most of the afternoon and evening in bed, only getting up just before midnight for long enough to see in the New Year. There were 16 people in the group but only 8 of them were actual members of Bicycology. I knew most of the others already and perhaps some of them will be inspired to get more involved, and perhaps even join the collective. Bicycology currently has 22 official members but some of them have dropped off the radar and it would be great to get some new active members so we can do more stuff.

I was planning to take the train home on January 2nd and I wanted to climb Cadair Idris so I had to do it on New Year’s Day. I woke up early and felt fine but everyone else was still in bed so I set off cycling on my own. When I got to the car park near near Minffordd I locked up my bike and set off up the path. I think it took me three hours to reach the summit and by that time I was in thick cloud. There is a stone hut near the trig point which apparently used to be a cafe and I used it for shelter while eating my packed lunch. I always like to climb a mountain on New Year’s Day and the lack of a view didn’t really bother me. It took me a couple of hours to get down and I was back at the hostel with plenty of daylight to spare. Almost everyone else had walked down to CAT in the afternoon and they hadn’t arrived back yet so I enjoyed a quiet cup of tea. The following morning there was another expedition to Cadair and since visibility was forecast to be much better I decided to stay an extra day and climb it again! Everything had frozen up overnight and visibility was excellent. There were only small patches of snow still on the mountain but we could see all the way up to the Snowdon range which was still pretty well covered.

Admiring the view across Llyn Cau

Although this trip was not a formal Bicycology meeting we did have some useful discussions about our personal highlights of 2010 and some ideas for 2011 which we may take up in our next proper meeting in Birmingham on February 19th. I can’t end my report without mentioning food. We were fortunate in having a number of excellent vegan cooks in the group and the catering was well up to the usual Bicycological standards – but I will leave it up to others to elaborate (perhaps in the comments). So thanks to the organisers and cooks and particularly to Mike for allowing us to use the hostel. I would thoroughly recommend Corris Hostel to anyone wanting to stay in the area.

Bristol Triple Event

The recent Bristol Cycle Festival was billed as Bristol’s first community organised bike festival. Bicycology were there and Liz wrote the following report:

In the Park

For the classic bicycology event we had a nice mix of people who’d come along because they’d seen it in the program/on our posters, and those who were just passing. Unknown to us there were at least two other community fair type events happening in the immediate vicinity at the same time, so we had a steady trickle of interest rather than an overwhelming crowd. Patrick’s bubble machine and Si’s smoothie maker drew in the punters particularly nicely. The kid transporting section innovation went pretty well too, with several parents coming specifically to try before buying and chat to others to hear the benifits/drawbacks of different systems. Im, Ms Miles, the OJ and even my sister, were rocking the craft section. Plus we had a Tabs.

Carnival Day

Then it came to the carnival day and it all got a bit random… We were up making crazy dino tails the night before, and arrived late to the muster point still trying to safteypin bones to jumpers. When I asked the steward if he’d seen another dinosaur he kind of giggled a bit and said- ‘not the huge, unmissable, life sized stegosauras skeleton?’. Sometimes, when you enter a carnival for the craic and to try and reclaim a bit of a political angle from what was effectively a council created critical mass, it’s worth having a professional puppeteer and her mate on hand. Emma, our flatmate, had left the chaos of our terrace some 4 days earlier for Trevor’s, with a large pile of scrap store kit and some of our bio regional yard bamboo. They emerged bleary eyed but triumphant on Trevor’s tandem under the most amazing creation- whose head could be made to move in time with the pedals beat.

There was only one other very dinky sound system so Kt and chris’s mix was basically the soundtrack to the whole thing, (which was huge, at least 250 costumed riders at my guess) and Oj and Im where throwing far finer shapes in the dense crowd than the mini bike dancers managed in the splendid dance off later.

And then we discovered that they were awarding prizes, and we’d won! Patrick was sporting ‘Carboniferous Carnivores against Capitalism and Car Culture’ and Mole had ‘Burn cars not Fossil Fuels’ all over his tricertopsy skull as the mayor (or similar besuited dignatry) dangled a ‘made in china’ plastic medal from it. All most surreal. Then there was top performace stuff and loads of schemeing about properly forming our own syncronised tricks troupe.

Food is our Fuel

We started off with amplified speeches outside Tesco, and 16 riders gathered. From brief chats en route it seemed alot of people who came were new to the area, and it was a great opportunity to introduce them to sections of the cycle path they might not have used before, and the amazing allotment projects they could get involved in. We covered a huge amount of ground in 3 hours- both in terms of sites, tastes and topics. The atmosphere was really conversational, with some of the student types getting to ask about kale, to everyone blagging foraging tips off the gloriously excentric Mike, who did the most condensed but useful intro to permaculture I’ve ever heard. OJ head-cheffed the dinner and apple and hazelnut cake, so it was allll good. Catching one of the last fine evenings of summer and being surrounded by masses of fruiting abundance felt pretty lush.

Huge big ups to all the crew who came and long distance love to those who couldn’t. The festie organisers are talking about doing another one next year you know..

More photos here on Flickr.

Vestas Occupation

We had been planning a significant presence at the Big Green Gathering and had even organised a public bike ride from Bath Spa train station for people who wanted to cycle there. Unfortunately the gathering was cancelled at short notice as a result of political pressure from the police, which left us at a loose end. We discussed various alternatives and came up with a plan to take the sound system down to the Isle of Wight to support workers occupying the Vestas factory. I didn’t go myself but five other Bicycologists set off from London by train on the morning of July 30th and stayed for the weekend. One of them wrote the following report:

The occupying workers were about 300 metres away from a security fence, they had access to a large balcony. When we arrived they were deprived of food by Vestas, surviving on one small evening meal, and whatever they could get from tennis balls, which were cut open and stuffed with food or whatever else they needed and could be thrown at them with varying success as to whether the balls actually reached the balcony. One of the workers who left the occupation was sent to hospital with dangerously low blood sugar levels.

The support crew on the roundabout consisted of us, the climate camp & climate rush folks, seize the day, rmt union workers and SWP people. There was a kitchen and nice meals, locals are well behind the campaign and kept turning up with loads of food. The atmosphere was mostly good, and improved during the time we were there.

It was great that our kit, especially pedals, was really appreciated by everyone. Pedals enabled people to speak movingly to the occupiers about why they had come to support them, amplify a seize the day song written about the occupation with the relatives & locals, a band to play a kayleigh, and a comedy inuendo-filled late night question and answer session to take place between the occupiers and us, which hopefully elliviated the boredom for a while, and had the added bonus of informing us that there was a crass fan amongst them. The cinema screen was great, but unfortunately the street lights prevented people from being able to see the projection well enough, which was a shame.

Shortly after we arrived there were various attempts to get food to them, and the Vestas management then said it would allow food in, which they did, only to withdraw their offer later on. So people defied the security and fencing to get food to them including a granny from a local catholic church with a holdall of chips!

It was really nice to be involved in something that it felt like the whole of the island was supporting. To see people taking direct action and be really respected for it almost universally.

Update – here is a video of the church granny getting through with chips and another one of Pedals in action.