Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Higgins Ahoy!

For sometime, the Trois V, or more specifically, Dr Matt, has been considering the purchase of a canoe or water-going vessel of some kind to compliment its wheeled capabilities. And now, it looks like the search is over, thanks to an advertisement at the rear of John S Webber, In and Around Cape Ann: A Handbook of Gloucester, Mass., and Its Immediate Vicinity, for the Wheelman Tourist ... With ... Illustrations (Gloucester, Mass: Cape Ann Advertiser Office, 1885).
The firm sounds very promising:
This representative and successful boat factory was established in 1871 by Messrs. A. T. Gifford & I. H. Higgins, both of whom are expert and experienced boat builders. The factory is 85 feet long, 63 feet wide and three and a half stories high, and the firm also utilize five adjoining commodious buildings. During the busy season they employ fifty skilled workmen. All descriptions of boats are built with dispatch. They have had 30 years' experience, and are the original builders of the sharp sterned bottom seam, mackerel seine boats, used by all fishermen of New England and the Provinces. The firm have furnished over 150 boats to the various departments of the United States Government. They likewise built the three smallest crafts that ever crossed the Atlantic Ocean, viz.: the Centennial, Captain Johnson; Nautilus, Andrews Brothers; and the Little Western, Captains Norman and Thomas. The Little Western made the return trip and landed at Gloucester, Mass. The firm have built during the last fifteen years 3,500 boats of different kinds, and have given entire satisfaction to patrons. They were awarded medals at the London exhibition of fish and fisheries, 1883, for their unrivalled mackerel seine boat; also for their excelsior life boat. Messrs. Higgins & Gifford are both natives of Cape Cod.
More from this volume anon.

Meanwhile, Flotsnoo!
Trois V!


Sunday, 28 November 2010

Swansea: The Reunion

Apart from almost forcing an unfortunate gent coming another way on his bike into the bushes, our ride into Swansea lacked real incident. We noted the large Amazon warehouse and new developments along the bay, and Dr Doug indulged in some welcome reminiscences about previous trips to Swansea and its western shores. Meanwhile, National Cycle Route 4 decided to hide among the dockside developments. Certain of our local knowledge we headed into town to find Jon and his oil supplies.

It started to get cold. We pulled over by the sea on the far side of Swansea and wondered where Jon might be. By the beach was the message. We called. We waited. We looked at the sea and the grey clouds. Doug's leg stopped bleeding. Jon texted. He was by the beach, near the dockside developments, just after where NCR4 petered out. Back we went, and found Jon on the beach. Reunited, we lubricated, told stories of our adventures, unfurled the Colgate University flag, and I took a quick leak behind the bushes.

Now, down to business. What was the plan? Our Travelodge ('Travelodge - Camarthen' as it advertised itself) was some distance away, in fact a train ride away. And then a further pedal-powered ride to St Clears, where the motel actually was. A nine-mile ride, or slightly less if we went to a near train station (Whitland, whose name I couldn't recall, and Jon's iPhone app refused to recognise). The thought of more riding was not enticing at this point. Trains were less than frequent as well. We also had the notion of hanging out in Swansea and meeting Doug's friend added to the mix. Perhaps we should stay in Swansea.

This became the plan.

Others, however, particularly those of the golf-loving variety, had the same notion. A nearby Marriott promised berth, but when Doug and I approached the reception desk, they changed their minds. Maybe we should have sent Jon in, who had changed on his arrival earlier in the day. Other hotels proved similarly unhospitable. And I discovered it is hard to find the right form of words for asking for three beds in a hotel, a double and a single at a pinch. Hunger, train times, the sense of wearing lycra in public, and a fear that we would be spending the night under a bush began to test Trois V's mettle.

But, it takes more than a golf-fan saturated seaside town to cause Trois V to go under. At last, a spot was located, thanks to the advice given by the reception desk of the main golfing hotel. We collected Jon's bike from the station, did our best with the cobbled roads, and headed east to the edge of town and a massive, euro-funded development that looked a little uneasy in the light of the economic times.

Bikes locked, Jon grabbed the single room, and we went down to meet some of Doug's countrymen.

Flotsnoo!

Trois V!

Friday, 26 November 2010

Bike Porn Friday: TroisV Repair Shop Special!

Following La Tristesse Endura Ride that you've all been reading about haphazardly over the past few weeks, my poor Kona Zing was more than ready for a trip to my local bicycle shop for some attention.

Little did I know just how much attention.

It turns out poor Zing needed a new cassette (unsurprising) and chain (unsurprising); it also turns out, on further inspection, that it needed a new front shifter. Unfortunately, shifters come in pairs, so this wasn't exactly cheap. Also unfortunately, it took my local bicycle shop's supplier forfuckingever to get the requisite part to them. I found this a trifle irritating, though I hasten to add that I don't really blame the shop.

Anyway, now for the fortunate part: I have a shiny new cassette (not so shiny any more), and a shiny new chain (ditto), and new Shimano 105 shifters, which are actually a lot nicer in a couple of ways than my old Shimano 105 shifters. The cables are internally routed, which makes my bike look cleaner/classier on the front; as a result of the internal routing the "handle" part that attaches to the handlebars is a bit fatter, which makes it more comfortable/ergonomic than the older, narrower (and higher sitting) 105s. Yippee. Oh! and the mechanic replaced my old, grubby, cut-up white bartape with red! Yippee again.

Here's your lousy photograph:



Flotsnoo!
TroisV!

Today's song isn't thematically related, but I think we can all agree that it is awesome.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

(Ride) to Swansea!

Jon gave us his GPS. Matt and I exchanged glances (cf., Samuel Beckett, Watt), shrugged, and Matt put the GPS in his pocket. We followed the arrows on the signs (except for the one time when we didn't, after climbing a short hill into a weird residential neighborhood that resembled to my naive American eyes the opening credits of "Coronation Street"; a fat little girl was barreling towards us on her bicycle; she yelled, "Go right! Go right!" We went right, avoiding collision; we came to a deadend; we turned around; Matt suggested a gander at the GPS; I rolled my eyes and/or gestured rudely; we went back and continued up the hill the other way, and found another NCR4 sign.

Soon we found ourselves on an open pasture, slipping around on a muddy/gravely track. It wasn't the first, nor last, gravely track, but it was the muddiest and graveliest to this point. I followed Matt at a safe distance, keeping in his line, watching his back tire skid occasionally. I thought, "Hm, it might be a good idea to unclip my left foot, just in case I really slide." I attempted to unclip, but realized the mere action of twisting my foot while riding on what any self-respecting football pundit would call a "greasy surface" would only provide the exact force necessary to topple me; so I stayed clipped in. I watched Matt's wheel slide out again, but Matt remained upright; I thought, "Hm, I'll slow a little;" my next thought was, "Oh, I'm falling." Don't worry, Ma! This is the tumble where I land with almost comical gentleness on a bed of long grass, laughing as I tumble because I was traveling about 2 k.p.h. (I'm beginning to get the reputation for these inconsequentially slow nosedives). We decided to walk our bikes to the end of the pasture.

Soon thereafter we came to some little village/town or another--honestly, these names all completely escape me--where we discovered, opposite a gas station, Smithy's, which was a greasy spoon/sandwich cafe. Smithy's sits pretty much literally on National Cycle Route 4. Smithy himself is missing a finger or two. We ordered cheese sandwiches. Smithy instructed his son, who made them. We got cheese sandwiches. Here's a full ingredients list:

1) Bread
2) Cheese (shredded)

I suspect Smithy, had he made the sandwiches, would've included butter, and that his son, nervous on his first Saturday of work under the the old man, simply forgot that sandwiches usually come with butter as a standard feature. Whatever. We were hungry. The sandwiches were good. Smithy was very friendly.

Back onto the bikes, over a little river, and for the next stretch we were cycling on paved pathways that meandered past sheep pastures. When I say "paved", I mean, they were asphalt, and covered in sheep- and horseshit. Before too long we came along a mother riding horses with her two daughters. No idiots, we, so we slowed right down and waited until they'd seen us. We spooked the littlest horse (ridden by the littlest horsewoman) [note to self: idea for TV show: "The Littlest Horsewoman"] anyway. The Littlest Horsewoman, who was probably no more than 8 or 9 years old, tried twice to control her horse, and I was impressed with her horsewomanship, and suspected that a certain retired suomalainen upseer of my acquaintance would've been too; at this point, the Littlest Horsewoman said, "I think I'll get down now," and hopped out of the saddle and walked her horse to the side of the pathway. Smiles and thank yous bounced back and forth from mother to cyclists.

Further along this paved travelway I found myself playing chicken with a terrier that was barreling full-steam towards me. I assumed the dog would divert; suddenly it seemed that it was hellbent on taking as straight line, its tail flapping wildly, ears back, stupid look on its face; so I changed course a little and began laughing my head off as the dog continued past. A little further up, its owner looked at me and said, "Oh God, he didn't give you trouble, did he?" I assured him not at all with some friendly words and continued. Matt was further ahead, and turned to ask me what I was laughing about. I began to explain as I hit a small bridge.

And then I was on the ground with my bike on top of me.

My right palm and wrist hurt, but only in the way they would if they were bruised. My feet were still in the pedals, and my bike had landed entirely on top of me, so I wasn't too worried about it. I could see my knee was bleeding, but it didn't hurt outrageously, so I figured it wasn't much more than scraped. My main concern was my shoulder, which felt as though if I were to move at all suddenly, it would dislocate from its socket.

"Matt," I said. "I'm fine. I'm fine. But don't touch me. Or my bike. I'm fine. But please just don't touch anything." And eventually I felt like my shoulder wasn't going to pop out of its socket. An inspection of the little bridge revealed that the wood was covered in chicken wire to prevent this kind of slide, but there was a gaping hole in the chicken wire. I wiped the blood with an antiseptic wipe, decided I'd live, and we climbed back on the bikes.

Between here and Port Talbot, we hit the part of the trail that really called for mountain bikes; Matt had a puncture.

It was weird riding with basically no idea how far we had to go to get to Swansea. Finally we hit Port Talbot, and rode along the very edge of it, between an industrial estate and some houses. the route jogged up two blocks, then back down two blocks, to avoid going in a straight line. We came through a little parking lot and then had to go over a curb to get onto the wonderful seaside pathway. I was sick of falling off my bike at this point, so I put my foot down and gingerly went over the curb. Matt vaulted himself over his handlebars in what was easily the most spectacular and elegant, if also least injurious, tumble of the trip.

We entertained (read: fooled) ourselves with the notion that the wide and lovely seaside pathway would lead us all the way to Swansea; I phoned Rich, who lives in Mumbles, to say we'd be there within an hour. The National Cycle Route 4 then diverged and we spent most of the last stretch beside the A-road, Matt's chain/gears howling like a banshee. But we got to Swansea. And made some decisions.

Flotsnoo!
TroisV!

Friday, 19 November 2010

Bike Porn Friday: Boris's Pulsating Two Wheeled Army


So we've blogged (is that really a verb?) about the London Cycle Hire Scheme before, and I've been making great use of the Boris Bikes, especially since my bike came back from bike hopspital with a note from the mechanic saying "rims badly worn, consider replacement wheels ASAP!"

Since the whole thing is controlled by computers and electronics, there's a huge amount of real-time data around about such things as availability of bikes at the docking stations.

And someone has now animated this data so you can watch between 8:30-9:30am as all the docking stations on the outside of the hire zone (the ones near rail stations) empty and the ones in the centre of town fill up. Here's the link, with a hat-tip to the Club Mascot's Mum's Brother for sending it to us.


Click on 'start animation' for the whole mesmerising marvel.

And for those of you frustrated that this week's BPF has too few pictures, here's Bernard Hinault:

Flotsnoo!
TroisV!


Wednesday, 17 November 2010

(Train) to Swansea!

Navigating the Pontypridd gyratory system the two Doctors caught the light and hit the hill with momentum. A few yards behind I had to stop, and attacked it with a standing start.

Thus begins my entry to the world's most unbelievable excuses competition. The truth is, my legs were just empty.

I got going, and tried to keep the pedals turning. I then realised that this was a stupid plan, and decided to use the pedals to keep the cranks turning. This proved much much more difficult than I would have liked, and I was soon on the big cog, grunting and yelping, silently praying that the chain would snap and stay snapped this time.

I stopped and ate a gel. It was revolting, like someone had stirred muesli into blancmange. I drank some water. I tried again. I stopped again. I tried again. I stopped again.

The hill was particularly unforgiving as you couldn't really tell how much of it there was. Each turn and false crest promised an end to the agony and a return to the disused railway line. Each one lied. It just kept going. I walked the bike, then tried to ride again, and slowly slowly made my way up, in a combination of pathetic pedalling and pathetic pushing, interrupted by the odd blub.

It was not my best moment.

I caught up to the two doctors who were kindly waiting for me on a 'flat' bit. We discussed the situation as I ate a less disgusting brand of gel. My first option was to go back to Pontypridd and get the train to Swansea, meeting the chaps there. Doug said what sounded like there would be 'less shame in pressing on to the next town'.

I must have misheard, because what he clearly meant was that there would be less 'train' at the next town.

And he was right. More slow and rotten progress up the hill was followed by a tricky descent on wet and occasionally disintegrating road, looking at the gps and hoping there would be a town with a station soon. Eventually we reached a town that we thought was Merthyr.

"Is this Merthyr?" I asked a local.

"Yes" she lied.

It was in fact Tonyrefail, with the last syllable being particularly apt. It had no train station. We conferred. We kept going. The road forked. We stopped. Doug and Matt went right, I went straight on. Solemnly I handed Matt the gps. Less solemnly he looked at it, shrugged, and put it in his pocket.

The split.

I've watched a number of Ray Mears' programmes about survival, and it always amazes me that he builds a shelter first before trying to locate public transport out of whichever idyll he has become trapped in. So my first task was to find the nearest town with a station that had trains going to Swansea. Finding the good people at National Rail Enquiries all outplaced with their work now being done by unhelpful robots (note to National Rail Enquiries: GFY), and the Trainline app confused by my attempts to spell Welsh placenames, I happened upon an elderly and very friendly chap and his almost as elderly dog, who, having established that I wasn't there for the golf, gave me directions to Pontyclun, where I would be able to catch a train to Bridgend and thence to Swansea.

The road the Pontyclun was really nice, rolling up and down through a forest. It would've been nicer without all the agony, but that's cycling.

I got to the town and asked someone where the station was, receiving the best directions I think I've ever heard: "go down this street, and turn right between the Chinese Pub and the vets." At the station I asked a kindly looking old couple whether this was the correct side for trains to Bridgend. The man turned to me and in a broad American accent said "you're asking the wrong guy, buddy".

Happily there were signs. The train gave me the opportunity to survey the damage to the drivetrain. It was looking as clean as the day the stork dropped it off on the Grey's Inn Road:


Apart from all the mud, obviously.

I eventually arrived in Swansea, disassembled the bike and locked it up. I established that unlikely every mainline station in London, Swansea's toilets did not have shower facilities, so deciding not to wait until 2013 for the redevelopment to be complete, I made the best of it and headed to the shops for bike oil ("what's the most waterproof one you sell?"), food and drink, and sat it out in Starbucks to await the two Doctors and the flying of the Colgate flag.

Flotsnoo, I suppose.

TroisV, I guess.



Saturday, 13 November 2010

Atomic Supermen

So after waiting around a month for Doug's bike, the TroisV finally reunite in the saddle for a quick jaunt down to Kent to look at a nuclear power station.

Starting in the picturesque and near-deadly village of Rye, we headed towards Dungeness on the coast, through the flatlands of the Romney Marsh along the coast back to Rye for the zippy train back to London. (And if you want to finally understand the story of the lifeboat, you can read it here).

Rain greeted us at Rye, and all our jackets failed after about ten minutes. We were soon on the flat and straight Military Road and heading out. The ride was pretty quick, but some variable surfaces eventually took their toll as Dr Matt got the first puncture of the day. Luckily we were near a farm, so we took shelter in a potato barn while Matt gave Doug's new pump its first outing.

As Matt fiddled around inside his tyre trying to find the guilty piece of flint, Dr Doug and I did some more photography. We call this one 'Next Month's Rouleur Cover':

More flatness, and then more flats, although this time the weather had improved, and Doug had no trouble finding the cause:


We pressed on again, with Doug announcing portentously "I hope we go more than ten yards without another stop".

Approximately 11 yards later, I heard a rattle and a cracking noise behind me. Slowing and fearing the worst, I turned to see Matt inspecting his back wheel. A stick had become lodged between tyre and mudguard, and the mudguard lost (eyewitness Doug provided a vivid description). Strapping the remains to his top-tube for later repair, we again set off, free from mechanicals for the rest of the day.

We did have one more stop though, as Doug wisely shouted 'wow! look at those pigs!' and we wordlessly, and as one, hit the brakes so that Matt could try and get his work into the pages of the Porcine Post.

Probably your breakfast.

Due to the increasingly inclement weather, we decided to abort the out and back to the nuclear power station (although we did espy it from a distance), and headed through Lydd, along the coast and back to Rye for pubs with no parking, a trip to Marino's fish bar, and the train home.

All in all, a fun ride that would be even funnerer in the sunshine. We shall return.

The ride was also an opportunity to launch upon an unsuspecting world our new jerseys, here modelled from the rear by Dr Matt:


Designed by Jon (using the 'design it yourself' programme on AK Apparel's website), with no small help from the junior section (excellent work, Cosmo) and ordered by Doug in the vain hope of using his connections in the Western Colonies to reduce costs, our new jerseys are, we think you'll agree, the best cycling jerseys ever worn by anyone ever. All of the TroisV, including the junior section, have one, and if AK Apparel made onesies the mascot would've had one too. We all look dashing.

We had some regrets about not putting our web address on there, so that our many admirers on rides could subsequently read tales of our derring do (and our derring don't), but I'm glad we didn't do that, as thanks to librarian extraordinaire Dr Matt, we now have a new web address!

http://www.troisv.cc will get you here from now on. Tell your friends! Marvel at its pithiness! Put it on t-shirts, keyrings, and stickers! Graffiti it on walls! (Actually, don't do that last one, but do tell your friends).

Flotsnoo!
TroisV (.cc)!





Friday, 12 November 2010

Bike Porn Friday - Betrayal Special!

A late entry tonight, almost as late as Matt and I's realisation, when sitting in the O2 watching the world premiere of the film 'Chasing Legends' that we (he) ought to have invited Doug.

We consoled ourselves with the thoughts that he doesn't really like compere for the evening Phil Liggett (um), nor has he ever expressed admiration for VIP guest Mark Cavendish (er), and his love of
amusing German cyclists is not documented (whoops).

The film itself is brilliant, following Team HTC-Columbia in the 2009 tdf, where Cav won 800million stages, the dastardly Team Garmin robbed Big George of a yellow jersey, and Jens Voigt
fell on his face (don't click if squeamish). There are loads of interviews with Tour legends past and present, some amazing footage, and a bombastic soundtrack. It also features the comic stylings of directeurs sportif Rolf Aldag and Brian Holm, who were interviewed on stage afterwards, mortified that instead of coming across as genius cycling master tacticians they, in their words, were more like "Stanley and Oliver".

The q&a afterward was very amusing, hosted by (a later we learned lubricated) Liggett, and we departed in high spirits to confess our sins to Dr Doug.

There was much wailing, gnashing of teeth, accusations of douchebaggery, and plaintive flotsnoos. Doug claimed that the whole thing left him "in a fetal ball sucking my thumb and crying", so reassured that it hadn't affected him at all, Dr Matt and I hopped on a Thames Clipper confident that the TroisV would not become two.

For Phil and Mark the celebrations seemed to have gone on long into the night, as surely only the Manx Missile would have the audacity to spray this on the front of the National Gallery for me to discover the next morning.

(Each morning I wake from slumber shouting I'm the fastest thing alive)

Unless it was Thor.


Flotsnoo!
DeuxV!


Monday, 8 November 2010

We get Surveyed


Or, 'Caerphilly to Pontypridd.'

Ah, that oil. In truth, there was some: motor engine oil, WD40 and 'bike oil'. Certain that NCN4 would wend its way past a better stopped establishment, I passed on all of them, conscious I probably had enough for another 100km, and fairly certain that we would be unable to remove the top from the 'bike oil' in any case, since none of us had scissors nor a knife. Clearly, a mistake.

Still, the first 3km or so were rather good, once we escaped the suburbs and started on the bike paths along what mostly looked like railway lines. Looking at Jon's chain, however, it became apparent that some lubrication, even ass cream, would be useful: after saying 'hello' to possibly the only cyclist we saw all week (on a De Rosa), Jon's Veloce sprang apart, with a significant crack. First thoughts: how far back to the shop that sold the 'bike oil'; would they
even have a chain. Then, I remembered that Dr Doug had a chain breaking tool, and in the time Jon decided to get a train, a repair was on the way, thanks to the magic chain link I had the foresight to bring (along with deodorant, toothpaste and some soap, unlike 66.66% of the Trois V). Soon, we were off, picking our way between the NCR4 signs and the GPS purple line. It all took about a quarter of the time of the previous day's puncture.

The route at this point was perhaps the most pleasant of the trip: a disused railway line, with all the pleasant grading that implies; some sun; and a fine combination of tree-lined paths, the occasional testing steep, but short hill and the fun of trying not to a) crash into the many gates and anti-motorbike defences and b) not slipping on the mud, gravel, or other non-roadie-friendly surfaces. Trois V began to speculate on the necessity of outfitting themselves with a fleet of CX machines, or at least 28mm tyres with knobs on them. It also gave Jon the chance to try out the non-patented TroisV Handlebar Mounted Camera, without fear of the camera drowning.


At this point, we had a brush with bureaucracy. An immigration official, disguised as a Sustrans survey person, stood guarding a gate. We wondered if he had any oil (No! Another clue that he wasn't as Sustrans as he claimed to be; he was also driving a petrol-driven machine, that wasn't a Volvo or Subaru). He wondered about Doug.

Were we on our way to work? Did we come this way often? Had we saved money by cycling along a muddy ex-railway track and staying in guest houses (No!) Where and whence were we from/to? And then the kicker: are you a EU resident, or a migrant. And what's your address?

Aha! So, the whole scheme of a national cycle network is all about catching pesky foreigners, coming over here and using our oddly designed, overly winding and poorly surfaced cycle routes. Doug, if you get a knock on the door at 3 A.M., don't answer it.

Making our escape, we continued to enjoy the path, at which point it deserted the countryside, made its way through some parks, rugby pitches and increasingly urban terrain. We were in Pontypridd.

This was challenging for two reasons. 1) GPS and NCR4 sign alignment; 2) the end of the ex-railway line, or, rather, the beginnings of a massive hill.

A little looping around and backtracking sorted out 1), leaving us facing 2). Doug and I pulled away, with me making Alpine comparisons, which may or may not have driven Doug to pull away from me, leading the way up the mighty Welsh peak.

All this was leading to The Split.

Flotsnoo!
TroisV!





Saturday, 6 November 2010

Yes We Have No Classic Mac

It was time to try out the Croissant, if not in anger, then in mild irritation. So, two members of the Trois V with access to working bicycles set out on a cross-town mission to seek out art and scotch eggs, one on a TFL bike hire scheme bike, the other on the steel pastry mentioned above.

First port of call was that hotbed of radical activism: Clerkenwell. Dr Matt locked his steed of steel to the iron railings of a disused public toilet, while Jon deposited his bike hire scheme bike in the appropriate computerized stand, all while being overlooked by what appeared to be a would-be suicide/smoker who felt the cold (she was sat on the first-floor window ledge, wrapped in a sleeping bag) and a gathering of Marxists outside their firmly-closed Memorial Library (one of whom Dr Matt recognized). Also in view were some gold bike frames, but we ignored these as we consulted Jon's iPhone, while Jon once again tried to simultaneously convince Dr Matt of the merits of a smartphone and locate our destination.

A few moments, and there it was: a gallery devoted to the beauty of cycling in general, and the constancy and commitment of Condor Cycles of Gray's Inn Road in particular.

And, yes, outside were some bike frames with the name of the show, 'The Art of Cycling', by James Straffon.

Inside were quite a few things that appealed, especially a large oil painting of Condor badges. The lacquered montages were also approved of, as was the collection of cycling-related razor-blades.

Deciding that a wheelset, or indeed a croissant, would be a better impulse purchase, we left before we got too smitten by anything, and headed for the second item on our hit list: the famous scotch eggs of a local pub.

The pub was just around the corner. It was as closed as the Memorial Library, so we headed to Look Mum No Hands for a couple of pies, a pair of flat whites, and a bash at the New Yorker caption competition (a Unicorn walks into a room...) More importantly, we also began to plot the autumn/winter sporting season 10/11, with initial plans for a ride from Rye next weekend.

Flotsnoo!
TroisV!





Friday, 5 November 2010

Bike Porn Friday: Fine Art Edition

One member's parents recently attended something called "ArtPrize", which although it sounds like something that happens at elementary school, is actually a really big deal (and big money) fine arts exhibition and contest that happens every year in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Anyway, included among the entrants were the following:



and:


Which proves that fine art and cycling can be compatible.

My father (hi, Dad!) provides the following commentary:

The first was called Urban Bike or something like that as I recall.

The second had a label that said:

Deluxe

Cowboy

Indian

Rocket

Bike


Flotsnoo!
TroisV!

This song is about Michigan. I probably should've used it for the Bike Porn Friday that had the photo of bikes at Holland State Park:

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Captain Haddock

So we left Annie's, and the weather had improved, slightly. It was one of those bright white skies, thick with cloud, breezy, and pregnant with rain. But we pressed on.

NCN4 is a funny onion, sometimes it meanders through beautiful countryside, sometimes it goes through mud, sometimes it goes along the corners of industrial estates, giving the rider commanding views of a fence, and a wall. It tries to be all things to all cyclists, and ends up doing none well.

However, the bit after Annie's pub was fun, lots of fast b-roads with almost zero traffic, save for the occasional souped-up Ford Focus, driven by what Dr Matt drolly referred to as 'Boyo Racers'. It was a great section, and lulled us into thinking that having arrived in Wales, NCN4 would magically be transformed into a wheelers' paradise.

Then we hit some tracks, and it was a bit muddy, but we suspected it would only be temporary. Negotiating a herd of cows, and a wrong turn through a small swamp, we were back on tarmac, but being pursued by a slow moving van. Oh good, we thought, our Bristolian traffic adviser had tracked us down. We reached a junction and the van passed, and swerved to a halt ahead of us. I calculated how swiftly I could extract my d-lock (that was pushing my saddlebag onto my mudguard, and inspiring the most awful poetry from Dr Matt), Doug went ahead to negotiate.

It turned out that the driver wasn't offended by our presence on earth, but was in fact a keen cyclist himself, and was just about the only person on the whole trip who didn't ask us if we were there for the golf. He offered advice on how to avoid a particularly muddy section of the route, which we subsequently ignored, and also asked us if we were trying to get to the transporter bridge in Newport. We had absolutely no idea what he was talking about, but nodded and smiled. It was kind of him to stop, and we wished him well.

Newport was where the industrial estate aspect of NCN4 came to the fore. We wound our way under grimy bridges and past disused warehouses and new build light industrial sheds. Then we found the transporter bridge. Looming in the sky, four giant pylons over a river. The purple line said we had to cross, but there seemed to be no way to do so, and then the cables on the pylons juddered into life.

We looked across the, and a pontoon, festooned in bunting, suspended in mid-air, floated across towards us. The miracle of Newport. The transporter bridge.

We were all impressed, delighted even, but Doug and I were mostly grateful for shelter and a seat. Dr Matt, however, was a bit more excited, and skipped gaily around the bridge photographing everything, while the bridge operator gave us a look which clearly asked 'is he soft in the head or something?' We smiled reassuringly, and soon the captain was joining in with Matt's hijinks, and took this piece of hardcore dragon action.



More industrial estate followed, and then the swamp that the kindly van driver had warned us about. It started off as a reasonable well packed track, then it went across a field, then through several lakes, and then into the woods. Here the track simply became mud, and our pace slowed to a crawl. We didn't trust each others' lines, and strung ourselves out along the path, trying to find a way to make progress and stay upright. There was little talk, and much concentration, but an odd thing happened - we started to really enjoy it. I knew from the sounds that my bike was making that there was barely any oil left on the drivetrain, the forks and frame were covered in mud, but I suddenly felt really, really happy and proud. Happy that I was upright, proud that my bike was handling this crap. The two, not flying at the moment, doctors clearly felt the same. This was slow, muddy, but fun. In fact, they used to run cyclocross races on this part of the NCN:




Back on road, we continued towards Caerphilly, our chains gleaming after their mudbaths. In a town that might have been Machen, I knew the rest of the trip would be difficult for me. The hill was, in Dr Doug's words, no joke. In my words it was effing steep, and totally unnecessary - a typical NCN diversion to try and avoid any possible interaction with other road users, and it hurt. Luckily Doug, with his engine built on years of sub five-minute miles as a distance runner, and Dr Matt, with his 29 tooth cog, had disappeared up the hill and didn't have to suffer my pathetic squeaks and grunts as I refused to give up. But as I crested the hill I knew that giving up was in my future, my legs had gone, and I doubted that Caerphilly would have the necessary amounts of pasta to enable recovery.

We arrived in Caerphilly at sunset, and tried to match the poorly printed map with the poorly rendered GPS. There was a summit held where the NCN intersected with the on-ramp to Caerphilly's B&Q. We decided to head for the
castle, seeing as how it's the second largest one in the UK, and recce from there. Turns out that sunset is the perfect moment to view the castle, but not the perfect moment to remember to photograph it.

But we didn't have time to hang around, we had a b&b to get to and another pub to find. We asked a local for directions. I say we, but I wasn't really listening, too busy eyeing up his bottle of coke. 'Golly that looks tasty' I thought. Happily the Trois V patented adult behaviour rota meant that the others were on the case, and we were soon into the Caerphilly gyratory system, heading for our beds.

We arrived at the front door and took a look at ourselves.

We were brown.

We knocked on the front door hoping to be shown where the back door was and not shown the door altogether. Business is business though, and sure enough we were soon in the back yard, peeling our sodden luggage off our bikes, and fiddling with our brakes in the soft, forgiving light of the cateye.

Suddenly, a voice other than the owner's was heard:

"Hello!"

We turned round. A small redheaded boy was sticking his head out of the kitchen door.

"Hello, I'm [name redacted to protect the innocent]. What are you doing?"

We explained ourselves, and offered names, but none of it really sank in. We kept getting the same questions.

Over. And. Over. Again.

Doug spotted a Thomas the Tank Engine flag in the garden, and tried a stirring rendition of the Emily song from the same programme. I puzzled as to why Matt wasn't the one singing 'there's no-one quite like Emily', and the small boy ignored Doug. Then he said that he had a bike too. We asked what sort. He said it was one with a puncture. His mum said she didn't know how to fix it.

Pennies dropped for the TroisV, wherever dad was, he didn't seem to be here, and the obsession with the three 'men' in the backyard was likely because there wasn't much in the way of male role model in the house.

The TroisV are nothing if not chivalrous, and since we were stocked to the gills with tools, we (I) said that we could fix it. This was a mistake. Not the offer, but the offer then, because the idea became lodged in the kid's head and would not be moved.

His mum tried the distraction of letting him show us to our rooms, and he took great pleasure in telling us that the last living thing to have slept in there was a dog. We speculated that the smell of a dog would be infinitely preferable to what would linger in the air after we'd spent the night in the room. We settled in, and started to removing stinking and sodden kit, but not before we followed the advice of Jens Voigt - "when you check into a hotel, always check the TV works, that way you unpack while watching TV". Wise words from Jens, but we couldn't find the remote. Then we realised we were standing on it, the world's largest remote control:



Having obtained low-quality entertainment, we established a shower rota and entertained ourselves by reading the labels in our Rapha kit. I came back from my shower to find our redheaded friend in the room with the others. He was demanding a bicycle repair. Doug was desperately trying to explain that it was too dark. Only the intervention of his mum could pry him away from us, and we legged it to the pub to consume the most half-arsed nachos we've ever seen.

The next morning, we headed to breakfast to face the barrage of 'are you here for the golf?' questions from our fellow guests.

At the table next to us were two fellow diners, a retired couple who had emigrated to Texas and were returning to Wales. Their opening gambit was about the golf, I'm sure, but they also asked if we were part of a club. Blushes, all look at plates. Trois V, we are not worthy of your name. Using his world-class social skills, Dr Matt enquired why they were visiting, and did they come over often. They didn't get over all that much, but were visiting family while they all still could... i.e., everyone was dropping off their perch. This conversational Momenti Mori being done with, Doug discovered that the wife was from Germany. I left unvoiced the speculation that they had met in some sort of POW/nurse or liberator/grateful Fräulein situation, and listened to her ask Doug a series of questions to test his claim to be able to sprechen Deutsch. Unfortunately all of her questions could be answered 'Ja', and you didn't need to be any sort of linguist to detect that the woman was becoming very doubtful of Doug's claims. So he turned it on with the "Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen" and Matt and I concentrated on absorbing protein.

Doug went to pay a visit, and Matt and I were left undefended as the sound of Fireman Sam concluding filtered through from the other room, and a ginger head appeared around the side of the door.

Small boy: "Fix my bike now!"
Mum: "That is not very polite!"
Small boy: "Excuse me! Fix my bike now!"

The TroisV, as well as being chivalrous, also know when they are beaten, and so we quickly repaired to our room, packed, and headed downstairs to fix the puncture.

Although there were plenty of spanners around, there were none that were made of metal, so we had to fix the tube in situ.



It was pretty obvious where the hole was, and Dr Matt's instasticky puncture patches did the trick nicely, and soon our new chum was dodging traffic in the carpark and getting ready to go bowling later that day, having firmly turned down the opportunity to visit Barry Island.

Our work in Caerphilly done, we headed west, whistling 43% of the theme tune to the Magnificent Seven, and stopping for Matt to reveal himself as history's greatest oil snob. A climb out of Caerphilly was next, and how dearly we would wish that he'd bought whatever oil they were selling.

Next up, broken chains and statistical significance.

Flotsnoo!
TroisV!





Monday, 1 November 2010

Annie's Pub

Ah... Annie's Pub...

I don't remember what Annie's pub was actually called (turns out it was "The Coach and Horses"), nor do I remember where it was (someplace in Wales), but we'd been riding/repairing/swearing in the rain and had managed to cross the Severn Bridge (one of our members pumped his fist at each and every American flag waving from it [it was only halfway across that it occurred to him that they were there in honor of the Ryder Cup]) and were beginning to realize that National Cycle Route 4 is not built for speed; we were also wet and cold. In a rare moment of first day agreement, we all decided to look for a lunch pub in the village we were approaching.

And it had one!

Dr. Matt stepped on a dog's tail while Jon and Doug parked the bikes under a convenient gutter that would overflow in a matter of minutes. The woman behind the bar was friendly and started making the coffees more or less before we'd even gotten in the door. Pies and sandwiches and chips and (for some) pints of cola were ordered. We eschewed the dining area in favor of the drinking side of the back room, thinking that our stink/wet/filth might be better off sequestered. The observant among us noticed the posters advertising the upcoming Halloween party, which offered punters the chance to "come and party with Annie and her crew." They also noticed the notices announcing Annie's retirement from landladying the pub, due to the takeover by a new owners (or, more likely, "ownership group," but I suspect Annie is too tactful to call this particular spade a spade); it was a touching notice that read, even to the passing cyclist, as genuine and heartfelt; I for one missed Annie just reading it. During our lunch, a manager who clearly represented the new owners came in for a meeting with Annie. I did not like her pink jacket. I did not like that she turned down the friendly offer of a tea or coffee from the barmaid; I especially did not like that her mere presence made the barmaid a bit nervous. I have a bad feeling about the direction that VERY NICE pub, run by VERY NICE PEOPLE will be taking in the not-too-distant-future.

It wasn't raining quite as hard when we left, but my God, the two guys who'd had pints of cola drove me crazy for the next hour with their hyperactiveovercaffeinated gibberish.

Next installment: our red-headed stepchild.

TroisV!
Flotsnoo!