Thursday, November 27, 2014

Not Just the Stuff of Memories

Out on bikes side by side with a friend, it was one of those late Autumn mornings, simultaneously freezing and piercingly sunny. The air smelled strongly of dry hay from the farms and dry leaves from the forest, then more softly - like the basenotes of a perfume - of seawater and peat fires. Smoke rose in ringlets over houses at the base of the mountain and was carried up over the ridge to mingle with the streaming sunlight. Wind blew in playful, uneven gusts as the road ahead shone blue with the sky reflected in its glistening wetness from the previous night's rains. My eyes were tearing, my nose was running, the skin on my face was tingling. I was swallowing cold air - my mouth frozen in the shape of a silent "aaawh!" from the sheer sensual pleasure of it all.

From the other side of the road, my friend was smiling and saying something to me, but the words dissolved in the hum of the wind, in the noise of a passing tractor.

"What's that?" I shouted.

More sound that I couldn't make out, then laughter. The hiss of tires on a wet road.


He pulled up beside me now, bumping my handlebars and shaking his head. "I said, you look happy!"

"Oh! Yeah?..."

"Yeah!"  Laughter. Sunlight. Laughter.

"Well, I am!"

And as I said it, I knew all at once that it was true. Not only that, but I knew that it had been all right to admit it, to say it out loud just like that. This was not a fragile, fluttering sort of feeling that manifested itself fleetingly and dissolved as soon as it was acknowledged or noticed. No, this was a thing that had shape, solidity. Biding its time and feeding itself on scraps of emotion, it had now taken root, deep in my chest and in my gut, its branches spreading through my very limbs, its blossoms tingling in my fingertips. Like a resilient weed, it had thrived despite everything that went on around it. It was dense, stubborn, persistent. It wanted to live.

What a thing to realise on a sunny morning bike ride.

Earlier, with another friend I'd had a conversation about this very thing: the experience of happiness. She had wondered whether happiness could be felt, in the moment, at all. Her theory was that - unlike misery, which we're keenly aware of while it's happening - happiness is something only experienced retrospectively, in memories. We will think back to a time in our lives, or to a specific event, relationship, moment, and realise "I was happy then." But how often are we aware of this state while we are actually in it? Do we ever truly feel that we are happy here and now?

A year ago, I would have shrugged my shoulders, been unable to answer. But today, my answer is yes. There's no formula, no clear connection even between cause and effect. Yet it can happen. And as I think about all that's happened over this year past, it is that which I am most thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving and thank you for reading!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Inosculation in the Framebuilders Forest: Mike Flanigan Joins Seven Cycles

Seven Pioneer
Much has been written about the amazing Boston framebuilders family tree - in particular, of the legacy left behind by the Somerville-based Fat Chance and Merlin. A good portion of the New England builders we know and love today can trace their roots to one of these storied manufacturers. That includes Seven Cycles and ANT, which were founded by former Merlin and Fat Chance employees, respectively. Now it seems that a merging of these lineages will take place. Last week, Mike Flanigan announced that he will be closing ANT and joining Seven as a full time welder.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Sew Far, Sew Good

Coleraine Sewing Culture
I don't know what it was that inspired me to do something so out of character as joining a workshop. The scheduling! The commitment! Not to mention the other people... 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Made It!

Aghanloo Green

Hello there, dear readers! It looks like I've made it over to the new site. Welcome, and thank you for your patience with the blackout, especially as I know it was wreaking havoc on RSS feeds.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Chasing Beauty

Oftentimes when I post pictures of places I cycle through, people will comment on how beautiful the landscape is and how inspiring it must be to ride there. I got these reactions when I wrote the blog from New England, as well as (for those who remember the earlier years) from Austria. And I get them even more so now that I live in Ireland.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Giving Space

Cyclists Over the Striped Bridge
After a 7 year absence from the driver's seat, I found myself in one again as I practiced my rusty motoring skills on the narrow winding roads of Northern Ireland. I still have no plans to buy a car here. But I want to be able to operate one when called upon. Skills, after all, are useful things, and I never intended to let my ability to drive atrophy. But alas, time passed and atrophy it did - so that this time around it felt as if I were learning to drive from scratch.

Some of the novelty had to do with the left-handed traffic flow here. I did not expect for this to be problematic, as I have no trouble at all switching into left-hand mode when riding my bicycle. What I didn't anticipate was the difference in the visuo-spatial experience of operating a right-hand drive car. It seems that over the years I drove in the past, my brain must have grown accustomed to relying on certain markers on the road in relation to the contours of the car's front end in determining my road position.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

If Bicycles Grew on Trees...

Roger Williams Park Botanical Center
Imagine for a moment that, after drooling over images of beautiful bikes of an evening, as is your custom, you fall into a deep slumber and begin to dream. And in this dream, you are walking though a lush, beautiful forest. Exotic in its flora, this is not any forest you are familiar with. All manner of palms and giant ferns thrive in its humid depths, as flowering vines curl and twist overhead, their blossoms releasing bittersweet musks.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Turning Heads (and Headtubes!) On a 19th Century Rudge

1892 Rudge
In the realm of collecting old things, a distinction is generally made between the vintage and the antique - the latter typically defined as being over 100 years old. When it comes to bicycles, my interest in this category has been limited to detached historical curiosity at best. It’s not that I don’t appreciate early two-wheeled machines. But oftentimes they are just too far removed from the bicycle as we know it today, for them to register in my brain as bikes and excite me on the same tactile, visceral level.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Unexpected Autumn

Aghanloo Church of Ireland Graveyard
Last year I was away from Northern Ireland for most of October. And as far as Autumn scenery, I'd assumed I wasn't missing much. From having lived in England in my 20s, I remember this time of the year being rather bland. As summer came to an end, at some point the leaves would start to change from green to a sad yellowish brown, promptly shriveling in the process and disappearing altogether soon after. I assumed it'd be more or less the same over here and did not harbour expectations of remarkable foliage. But oh how wrong I was! 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Is Uneven Pannier Load Problematic?

When I ride a pannier-laden commuter bike, it is not uncommon for one side to be bulging while the other sits nearly empty. This is not because I can't be bothered to distribute the weight evenly, but because one of the panniers houses my enormous photo/laptop bag and I don't always have anything to put on the other side to compensate. I've cycled with this type of uneven rear load pretty much the entire time I've owned bicycles with rear racks. In the past, I've usually had a briefcase-type pannier clipped to one side of the rack, with nothing on the other, which is really no different from having unevenly loaded double panniers. But it's when I switched to the latter system that observers really began to notice. Over the past month in particular, I've received quite a few questions and concerned comments about the issue! These tend to fall into one of two categories: (1) Does the weight not pull to the side and cause handling issues? and (2) Isn't the uneven load bad for the bicycle frame?