Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Lough, Lapped!

Lap the Lough 2016

In the interest of honesty, I should say this up front: I would not have considered riding Lap the Lough had I not been invited to cover it. There are several reasons for this. First, it's a sportive. And in my seven years of cycling, I have avoided sportives as some might avoid poison ivy, or jellyfish, or malaria. I am a cautious, risk-avoidant cyclist. And sportives (aka charity rides, gran fondos, or whatever you want to call them), reek of danger: a heady cocktail of riders with mixed handling skills trying to go fast in very large groups, without necessarily knowing how to ride in groups. In addition to this, I am generally not a fan of crowds. Crowds make me panic. And crowds on bikes just seem like a special kind of nightmare that I want no part of. A club ride, a niche dirt road event, or a local brevet, are just about the height of what I can cope with. A "famous," mainstream sportive in which 2,500 cyclists are expected to take part? Oh goodness me.

The other thing about Lap the Lough is, well, the lough! Or rather, its absence. I had visited Lough Neagh once before. The countryside is pleasant enough, even though by Irish standards it is, frankly, somewhat lacking in drama. But the most curious part, is that the lough itself is mostly invisible from the road. So, while it's true that Lough Neagh is the largest lake in all of UK and Ireland, the satisfaction of lapping it requires some capacity for abstract thought, since the actual body of water would remain hidden from view.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Etiquette on "Helping" Others with Their Bikes?


I had an interesting encounter over the weekend with a woman I met out on the road. She told me that her bicycle felt uncomfortable. Why? Well, prior to setting off, her neighbour - an Expert Cyclist (what is that, exactly?...) - had topped up the air in her tyres. She said her tyres had felt fine just as they were. He insisted they needed topping up and did it anyway. They now felt hard as rocks and the bike was bouncing her about, but she was afraid to let air out on the go, lest she deflate them too much without a pressure gauge. I pinched the tyres and said that a few quick taps on the valves should get the pressure down to comfortable range, without any danger of losing too much air. I then stepped aside while she did this herself. She already had one "expert" molest her bicycle, I figured, and did not need another stranger stepping in.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Time Off the Bike: What's Your Damage?



As an optimist, I find it alarmingly easy to get used to a good thing. To embrace it as the default, even if deep down I know it is the exception - that precariously balanced, delicate state of affairs, where fortune chances its smile upon me. This goes for everything: health, domestic contentment, even cycling fitness. The warm summer breeze in my face, I enjoyed my spins up the mountains this summer all too well - conveniently forgetting that the stamina and climbing ability responsible for this enjoyment were hard earned - a product of months and months of putting in miles and pushing my limits.

But it doesn't take much to shake the illusion. 4 weeks off the roadbike, to be precise. Although I tried to be active in other ways, those weeks did their damage. I could tell by the way I felt as soon as I clipped in and pushed off, that we wouldn't just be able to pick up where we left off.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Cycling Through the Past? Fun with Retrograde Confabulation



There is an interesting phenomenon in the study of long term memory for events (i.e. "episodic memory"), whereby our present state of mind influences memories of the past. Take, for example, feelings and moods. When we're in a sad mood, we tend to remember sad memories; when in a happy mood happy memories. Moreover, should a non-mood congruent memory come to mind - For instance, someone might remind us of a happy memory when we are sad, in an attempt to cheer us up - we are likely to retroactively put a twist to the events, that will bring them in line with our current mood ("No-no, I was secretly miserable at that party!")

This phenomenon (called "mood congruence") extends to feelings toward other people. If we presently dislike a person we were once very much fond of, we might remember their actions in a sinister light, even though at the time we thought those same actions were wonderful.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Long Term Review: the Bike Friday Haul-a-Day Takes to the Hills


Despite being a fan of theirs for some time, there were many things I never knew about Bike Friday - until, deep into my two months review process, I chanced to discover them through dialogue with the Oregon-based small wheel bike manufacturer. One such piece of trivia, is that the company's co-founder, Alan Scholz, is also the inventor of the Burley Trailer. In one fell swoop, many of my questions about the Haul-a-Day's origins were answered. A trailer and a folding bike designer! No wonder he saw fit to add a cargo hauling model to Bike Friday's lineup. The development of the Haul-a-Day now seemed not only logical, but inevitable. I only marveled that it had not happened sooner.

But the specifics of this bike coming into existence are a rather interesting "it takes a village" story. In 2014 Bike Friday was approached by Shane MacRhodes, founder of Kidical Mass and local Safe Routes to School Coordinator, with the idea of making a versatile bicycle on which his instructors could lead their Safe Routes classes. The design criteria presented an interesting challenge: In addition to being well-balanced and nimble, the bike needed to be able to haul the instructor's personal gear, plus traffic cones and safety gear, with room to carry a tired child and their bike as well, if need be! Of course the bike also needed to fit a wide range of riders, as the Safe Routes instructors varied in height and weight.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Electrolytes and Migraine? An Accidental Discovery



I sometimes jokingly say that cycling has cured me of a lot of ailments. But of course that's a nice bit of magical thinking. The logical part of me has always known there was probably a complex chain of cause and effect at play, as well as some spurious correlations going on. But honestly I didn't care what was causing it exactly. It was just really, really nice to be healthy and free from chronic pains for a change. And all I knew was, this unusual state of affairs coincided with cycling entering my life. One thing that cycling has "cured" me of in this manner, has been migraines.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Of Rolling and Scrolling



There's been a new surge of talk these days about smartphone zombie-ism. In part it's the Pokemon Go thing raising a new wave of concerns. But really that has just served as a catalyst to bring up the overall ubiquity of smartphone use as a form of escapism from the physical realities of the here and now. We've all seen those bored families out on forced "quality time" excursions, where each family member is so obviously elsewhere - virtually, at least, enjoying a rich private experience on their smart phone or tablet while sitting beside each other. Couples and friends inject interest into tired hangout routines by photographing and sharing their activities on social media. In airport terminals and medical offices, boredom is removed from long wait times. Whether it's a good thing or bad, the smartphone opens escape routes, placing entire other worlds at our fingertips, offering alternative stimuli to that which is physically in front of us.

I am not out and about in cities much these days. So it was a little jolting to walk along the Belfast waterfront this overcast Sunday morning. It seemed that nearly every passer-by held a phone in front of their face. Most did not appear to be playing the Pokemon game. They looked like they were walking while checking social media pages. Walking while reading emails. Walking while scrolling through endless image streams. Clearly this was done to cope with the slow and linear nature of walking from A to B. And on this particular day, I realised just how much I could relate to the urge.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Touring Light: Some Initial Thoughts



I used to assume that the bicycle tourists I saw hauling fully loaded setups were going the full monty. That is to say - not only touring, but camping. Sleeping outdoors, preparing their own food. I expected their many pieces of luggage to contain sleeping bags, tents, cookware. It's no small task to haul around a mobile home, after all.

Then one time, I got chatting with a touring couple who had their bikes fully loaded. They were cycling along the west coast of Ireland, staying at hostels and B&Bs. Considering the enormous amount of luggage strapped to their bicycles (2 sets of panniers and a handlebar bag, each), I was surprised to hear they weren't camping, but I did not have the nerve to ask what they were carrying in all those bags. However, from that point on I began to chat more with passing cyclotourists about their setups - and was surprised to learn that, regardless of load size, only a very small portion of them were camping or preparing their own food. In fact, the way we get talking in the first place, is that usually I am asked if I know of a good hostel, or restaurant, nearby. Emboldened, I eventually asked a young couple from Belgium what was in all their bags. They showed me, and it was basically loads of clothes for different weather conditions, bulky hiking boots, cameras, extra food, electronics, a couple of books.

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Constant Cyclist



Last time I visited the Foyle Port in Derry, it was the day the Clipper Ships began to arrive. A sight to behold, these 70-foot vessels race around the world and finish their journey here every summer, strewn with colourful flags and greeted with much fanfare. It seemed only fitting that several weeks later I would greet another monumental arrival: the legendary cyclist Pamela Blalock. Since the start of July she'd been traveling around the coast of Ireland, clockwise, starting in Dublin and aiming for its northernmost point - Malin Head in County Donegal. Two thousand miles and 100,000 feet of climbing later, she had reached this goal ahead of schedule. I had intercepted her in Western Donegal some days prior, before the final stretch. And now I caught her again in Derry just after, as she paused for half a day to admire the walled city and debate between taking the train back to Dublin from Sligo versus continuing along the North Coast and just "doing the whole thing."

"Are you not even a little bit tired?!"

"Nah," she shrugs and giggles. "But I've been taking it pretty easy!"

Friday, July 29, 2016

Honest Brew: Liquid Picnic by Bike


So, I do not normally review food and drinks items. But when it came to this product from London-based Honest Brew it seemed a pity to deprive you, dear readers ...especially as they allowed me to give the stuff away!

And on that TGIF note, I introduce you to the Howler: a portable tube of craft beers, delivered to your door on request and designed to fit in your bicycle's bottle cage. Is this in jest, you ask? Not at all. This product exists. And you can read about the enthusiastic maker's philosophy here, including their thoughts on the virtues of canning craft beer.