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).

Bike Foundry – Birmingham

A couple of Bicycologists recently took a trip to visit to Birmingham to visit the Bike Foundry (http://www.birminghambikefoundry.org) to add to our general knowledge of DIY & co-op bike projects & to keep in use the mechanic skills we developed on the City and Guilds course we participated in a few years ago.

The Bike Foundry is based in the slightly bizarre setting of a music studio building (they needed a “quiet” tenant in the rooms above the recording studio) in an industrial part of Birmingham called Digbeth, close to the town centre. It’s a workers co-op, part of Radical Routes and run by a small group of people, including one full-time paid employee.

Replacing brake cable

They offer maintenance skills training, cycle training, repairs and fix donated bikes to sell on at a reasonable price – although they are currently looking for more donated bikes to fix up. It is sad to think that the city of Birmingham, once the centre of the Bicycle Manufacturing boom in the UK, is now struggling to yield enough second-hand bikes for the mechanics at the Bike Foundry to work on and provide to the good folks of Birmingham who are in need of decent second-hand bicycles. They usually sell each bike almost as soon as it is fixed up. If you’re reading this in Brum and you have an unwanted bicycle get in touch with the Bike Foundry. They have also started to sell a range of handmade cycling caps and felted ‘lobster’ gloves made from charity shop jumpers.

Most of our time at the Bike Foundry was spent fixing-up a couple of bikes that were to be sold on. The Foundry repair the second-hand bikes to a really high standard, every part is checked and serviced if needed, and they have a good range of spares and replacement parts for bits that can’t be salvaged. We fixed a pink ladies racer, and long neglected child’s bike – which needed almost every part of it servicing. It was well worth all the work we put into it, as it was to be used in a project by the Bike Foundry at a local Special Needs School where they have decided to put Bike Polo on the curriculum as a physical co-ordination and self-esteem building activity.

feisty bike polo

Bike polo seems to be one the Bike Foundry’s big passions and on Wednesday evening we went to a wickedly icy pitch to play polo. Birmingham is not lacking in good bike polo players and we shyly took part in one game, but weren’t quite up the their precise ball thwacking skills. The pitch got more slippery as the freezing night wore on, and despite the amount of falls, skids and tumbles, everyone was playing on regardless.

moving out the bikes to make room for 'tool club'

Thursday evening is the Bike Foundry regular ‘tool-club’, where anyone who signs up for a modest yearly fee can come along and use their well-equipped workshop & tools. Tool-club was busy and buzzing with people and their bikes. The bands in the music studios had just started up for the evening, so it had it’s own mingling of soundtracks drifting in from the surrounding rooms as people turned up with their bikes to repair. We could see how appreciative the people who brought their bikes along were to be able to use proper tools and bike stands – making bike repair so much more of a pleasurable, easy and sociable experience. It’s a great idea, and something every town & city could benefit from.

A posting here would not be complete without some talk of food, and we must mention the fantastic friendly Lebanese bakery & cafe we frequented. When we were not fixing bikes in Birmingham we were mostly munching our way through falafel, pittas, pickles, lebanese flatbreads, houmous and baba ghanoush….mmmmm.

Thanks to all in Birmingham for having us to visit – We were impressed with the dedication and enthusiasm of the Bike Foundry folks and the genuine interest and love they have for all things cycling. It seems like they are a real asset to the cycling community of Birmingham, and they have lots of exciting plans to improve and grow in the future.

New Year – new bicycle

At a time of year when it’s easy to get stressed out with w0rries, future plans, and the whole “where is my life going” thing, it’s nice to escape into a bit of pure creative fun with an angle grinder, welder and a selection of knacked bikes. As in January 2008, when I did my first bike build making a tall bike, I spent time over the last week putting together a rather odd bicycle. This one is a stretched-out bike. I’ve called it a longtail, though I’m not sure if that’s an accepetd term.

I got the idea last autumn. The Hastings bike group HUB got use of a great basement workshop in the town centre and we ran bike mechanics sessions with young people. We got donated a load of bikes. I was looking for a project and an crappy Halfords dual suspension MTB caught my eye. I thought about taking the rear frame section from that and slapping it on another mountain bike, making a long low bike that could be a load-carrier, like the  xtracycle cargo bikes.

I made a mockup by just placing the bits of bike together to see how they looked. It all seemed to line up by eye without much work (as with earlier the tall bike).  No precise technical drawings here! With a piece of frame tubing cut from another crappy mountain bike, things were taking shape.  Seb came by for a couple of days and sorted out the bottom bracket of the rear frame. With a little bit of bending of the dropouts, the axle of this slotted in where the rear wheel would have been in the front bike frame. The new piece of tubing was bolted in at one end and welded to the frame at the other. I used the awful arc welder I found in the road years ago. This is a brutal beast, and if you are not very careful it will blow holes in bike tubing, which then you have to go back and fill. Very slow and messy, and not good for the strength of the final work, but good enough.

Choosing from a  bag of donated spray paints, the new creation became a two tone blue, including the bars too! Components from here and there completed the job, and it had it’s first ride on Hastings seafront in the rain today.

Further work? Well, I guess a rack and/or a platform at the back. Perhaps a frame-mounted wheel-driven generator and a big stand that will raise the back wheel up off the ground and turn the machine into an instant pedal generator. Perhaps a built in sound, cinema and power system –  an all-in-one energy bike?

Anyway, it served its immediate purpose – getting me through the dark days of early January without a nervous breakdown!

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.

Gwersyllfa at Hinsawdd Gweithred Beicioleg Arddull!

Bicycology arrived at Climate Camp Cymru on Thursday afternoon. I wasn’t there till Friday afternoon, so what happened on Thursday will have to get covered by someone else, but I had a great time when I was there.

We took a train that took a little over 3 hours (and two changes), but involved meeting two people we knew for chats about all things bike and climate related (and lots else besides).

When we arrived we jumped straight into the Environment Awareness Day the locals had organised in the shopping centre in the middle of town. Bicycology already had a ‘Free Bike Fixin’ presence, and we hooked up our new pedal-powered green traffic light and set up some sounds – only to discover that music was banned due to the lack of a licence, and the microphone was picking up noise from the generator.

Free Bike Fixin

Free Bike Fixin

A few trips to the charity shops later and we were playing a children’s story tape and some sound effects (unfortunately unhealthily loud coal mining noise was not on the list of 80 sounds), and wearing a brand new second hand Bicycology Green jumper…

After fixing up a few gears and the usual chatting about pedal-generators and cycling tips we set off up the mountain (no kidding) for the camp.

A little bit of sweating and lifting later we arrived at the snugly situated camp, less than 100 metres from a black as hell hole in the ground, and sandwiched between a main road and a dual carriageway…. in a nice way!

There were a fair number of structures, and we sort of set up in the Tat Shop, with a leaflet stash, bunting and bike fixing banner.

The plenary featured a Bicycologist (masquerading as a Stupid Planer) talking about adopting residents, and residents talking about adopting Climate Campers (and a Smash EDOer, Rossporter and Mainshiller talking about well, I think you can guess…)

Anyway, twas all quite inspiring thinking about such locally supported campaigns and the future scope for camps and action and all that…

Afterward we hung up a charity shop sheet and screened ‘Green Machine’ (pedal-washing machine), the G8Bikeride film, Bungeeboy’s Heathrow film, and some other shorts, before bed.

I ended up doing gate duty till 3am, listening to a flautist and warming wet legs on a rocket stove fire.

Saturday focussed on a walk out of the camp, a tour led by Residents Against Ffos-Y-Fran (see photos). The mine is insanely hideous, as you would imagine, and epic in scale – even from what little you could see from the limited area the police allowed us to roam on (common land, since you ask). A few people got a bit of hassle from attempting to walk down a road the police decided wasn’t acceptable to walk down, including one guy who was bitten by a police dog and arrested – I didn’t see any of this though.

Walking Near the Mine

Walking Near the Mine

Viewing the Devastation

Viewing the Devastation

Clowns and Horses

Clowns and Horses

I did have a chat with a copper about why accidentally killing an innocent non-protestor is pretty unforgiveable and a sign that police tactics and training and attitude are, well, wrong, rather than… just a mishap, which went pretty well actually, especially given that he was holding his alsation on a leash, and it may well have been the one that bit the bloke earlier (I didn’t hear about that till later). The alsations were lovely but went bloody mad when I waved goodbye to the two doghandlers, god knows what they do to them to turn them so nasty…

In the morning a couple of us attended the DIY Wind Turbine workshop given by a guy from V3 Power, which was very inspiring. Then I gave a workshop on Pedal Generators and basic 12 Volt to answer some people’s bemusement from the first workshop (both were attended by over 30 people).

Pedal Generator Workshop

Pedal Generator Workshop

Saturday evening we put on an open air cinema spectacular – showing ‘Wild Horses’ (there were lovely ponies up by the mine, and the mist rolled in and out of the camp a few times), ‘Duck and Cover’ (a hilarious but sadly real American Civil Defence educational film about preparing for imminent Nuclear Attack), ‘The Humble Magnificent’ (to now standard guffawing in all the right places and applause at the end), ‘Cyclists Day Out’ to amusement and joy, bits from ‘Return of the Scorcher’ (amazement at the loads carried by bikes, and loads of bikes, in China and Holland) and the first half hour of ‘Fourth World War’ (covering mainly Argentina after economic collapse in 2001, and Palestine intifada).

Sunday involved dancing the hokey-kokey and playing Goldenballs’ new consensus-sound game as the conclusion to Molly Scott Cato’s thought-provoking and exciting economics workshop attended by 50 plus people at the end (words that *really shouldn’t* go together I think you’ll agree). After that I had a great chat about Transition and its limitations with some random dinner queue folk, then there was a closing plenary that involved lots of insanely quick consensus decision making and fine facilitation. Then we played some tunes as the Tat Down tatted away marvelously, before loading up and riding down the mountain (more fun than going up, of course) and enjoying a train journey back where the Climate Camp essentially took over the train.

Soul not Coal!

Peter Pannier

Climate Camp Cymru
Residents Against Ffos-y-Fran
Wikipedia entry about Ffos-y-Fran
Earth First! Action Report
Monbiot on Merthyr
South Wales Police Report

Ahem, of course, the Open Cast Coal Mine is not (according to Miller Argent) a horrific blot on the landscape and threat to the climate and future existence of life on earth, but on the contrary, “will create a better and safer environment for the local community for the benefit of future generations”.