Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Elephant in the City

Meeting up with a friend in Derry for lunch yesterday, I was struck by the number of cyclists out and about. On the path by the river especially, they whizzed past us with merry abandon - a blur of fluttering garments and large wicker baskets... Wait, what! Wicker baskets?

While cycling in Derry has certainly been on the rise for these past few years, it hadn't quite normalised to the point of everyday clothes and full-on wicker basket mode last time I checked. So what bikes exactly were these? When yet another mystery rider went by, I turned to face the path and recognised it immediately: an Elephant Bike!

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Abandoned Abandon

The plan was fairly modest: to cycle from Derry city to the village of Gortahork in Donegal. On paper the route is not an especially difficult one: less than 60 miles, with 3,000ft of climbing. So what has been holding me back from making the trip all this time, even as I would sigh wistfully at the thought of doing it "soon"?

The region itself is daunting. With mountain-framed swathes of bogland and nowhere to shelter for miles and miles, Western Donegal is a harsh, temperamental place, that makes rural County Derry feel tame and cuddly by comparison. I've cycled lots in the area since moving here and know it fairly well by now. But most of the rides I do are loops, or figure 8s, or various other shapes that keep me close enough to home at any given moment. If only psychologically, a 60 mile trip in a straight line would feel quite different.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016


In the company of other cyclists, I am often struck by the words we use to describe our sense of fitness and general state of being on the bike. Because it is really quite seldom that we simply say we are feeling good, or tired, or out of shape, and leave it at that. There is a special vocabulary to describe how we feel on the bike and the words are evocative, even delicious.

Monday, May 16, 2016

What Have I Done?

Italian Mystery Frame

I am not sure how to describe what has happened. It progressed so quickly you see. And it came rather out of the blue.

After nearly 3 years you might think that you more or less know someone. And I (thought that I) knew my husband to have a healthily moderate interest in bicycles. He would join me on rides. He would chat to me about bicycle construction and history. But there was a limit to his attention and commitment to the topic. He wasn’t “bicycle-mad,” as they call my type here. And that, I thought, was probably a good thing.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Staying Upright

We are having a hot spell here. A peculiar hot spell that's accompanied by 15-18mph winds, but a hot spell nonetheless. The sun is blazing tirelessly and the 20C temperature feels more like 40. The wind does not mitigate the heat. It's a hot wind. Hot and dry, like a blast from a hairdryer. I am running about with bare legs, bare arms, bare feet, slathering sun screen, drinking pints of water.

Outside the freshly plowed fields turn dusty. The sea grass begins to look bleached. The whin and apple blossoms release their scents in frantic bursts. It is March and April and May all at once, in the course of a week.

In the slanting afternoon light, the farm yard is littered with snoozing barn cats, their furry bodies slack and trembling with pleasure on the hot concrete. I understand them completely. The sun makes me overly relaxed, sleepy. And the countryside scents are mind-altering. It is difficult to work. The cats have the right idea.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Any 650B Cyclists in Ireland? No, Seriously!

So... I've received some 650B tyres to test. And by some, I mean like a gazillion. Some knobby, some smooth, all pretty wide. I am a little overwhelmed and would love it if someone helped me out here! Any local (as defined by your willingness to travel to Donegal or Derry) cyclists around who ride 650B and want to party? We can try the tyres, compare our impressions, and then you keep the demo samples.

If this sounds like a fun day out, drop me a line at filigreevelo[at]yahoo[com] - subject line "tyred." Look forward to hearing from you!

Edited to add: OMG there are not only 650B cyclists, but Rivendell owners in Ireland - and I'm going to meet them! Thank you, internet. Others, please feel free to contact me still. I will update this once we have too many testers.

Edited again:  I am no longer looking for more testers. However, please stay tuned for an announcement on the blog about an upcoming 650B meetup!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Wheel Sensations

Since I wrote about the Bike Friday Haul-a-Day, one question I've been asked about it privately is whether it "rides like a small wheeled bike." As a some time Brompton owner, this is a question I'm by now accustomed to. The implication here is, that small wheels feel inherently different (and less nice) to ride than what are presumably "standard" wheels. And so the question is whether the bicycle manages to somehow disguise or compensate for its small-wheelness through other design elements so that it rides like a "normal" bike.

Now, the reason this way of conceptualising things is problematic for me, is that I do not really feel small wheels to be a special, less-nice category of wheels to begin with. Further, I realise that I generally do not have a fixed idea of a "standard" bicycle wheel size. For me, it's more like there is a continuum of acceptable sizes - ranging from, say, 16" to 28" - and I honestly cannot say that I have a firm preference along this continuum.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Rapide Transit

One day several months ago I met a man astride a beautiful vintage roadbike. It was the colour that first made me notice it - similar to Bianchi's celeste, but metallic and with a bit more green in it. But what really piqued my interest was the unusual lugwork. A quick visual survey of the frame revealed a Raleigh headbadge, a Reynolds 531 decal, and Campagnolo downtube shifters. "That is a beautiful bike!" I said to the owner. We chatted and I took some snaps before we parted ways.

Some time later, we ran into each other again and he said he was looking to sell the bike: "It's too small for me you see, and I have lots of others." "It's too big for me," I said. "But I know someone for whom it's just right." The bike, I knew by now, was not exactly valuable. And I could see a small dent in the top tube. But the price was right and I decided to risk it. Notes were exchanged. Then I dragged the bicycle home and waited with bated breath till my loved one returned from work.

Monday, May 2, 2016

A Haul-a-Day in Ireland

A little while ago I wrote a post recalling with fondness the Xtracycle Radish I once owned and noting the many potential uses for cargo bikes. I speculated that in addition to machines optimised for transporting children and super-heavy-duty items in an urban setting, there was also a market for a nimbler, lighter type of cargo bike optimised for distance and terrain. Shortly after this, and to my great amazement, I was contacted by the folks at Bike Friday. They had recently introduced a bicycle designed to do exactly what I was describing. And they wondered how it would perform in the challenging landscape of rural Ireland. With stunning swiftness, they were able to arrange for a demo model to be sent here for a visit. And before I knew what hit me, I found myself face to face with a cargo bike of a most unusual sort.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Cork: For Weight Savings and Performance!

After a lapse of several years, I have recently gone back to using wine corks as bar-end plugs on my roadbikes. Straight away I began to get compliments. What lovely, quaint, old fashioned things those are! Perfect for a vintage racer. But actually, they're perfect for pretty much any bicycle with drop bars. Far more perfect than any other option I've tried so far.