Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Speedy and Adorable! T's Teeny Tiny Roadbike

T's Tiny Viking Roadbike
Along the Foyle bicycle path in Derry, I have grown accustomed to seeing all sorts of cyclists on all sorts of bikes. But I did a double take today, when I noticed beside me what appeared to be a perfectly normal, perfectly proportioned roadbike - only shrunken to a diminutive size. I have seen junior roadbikes before. But this one was one step smaller still, its wheels similar to those on my folding bike. And the rider was a boy whose age was almost certainly in the mid-single digits. The overall effect was like seeing a child on a Shetland pony, except a road cycling version of that. Unable to contain my delight, I complimented the fellow on his machine and asked a few questions.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Monday Mailbox: Full Finger Cycling Gloves for Warm Weather?

Full Finger Cycling Gloves for Warm Weather
I have noticed you wear full fingered cycling gloves, even in the summer. Any recommendations for a lightweight option? 
Ah yes. I love full finger cycling gloves. Even at the height of the summer heat, usually I prefer them to the more typical fingerless variety. The extra digital coverage gives me better traction on the controls than do sweaty fingers. It also keeps my hands from getting sunburnt and bitten by insects. Finally, long finger gloves protect my hands from getting scratched up when I ride (and then stop to wander about) in the woods.

And while I know I'm not the only one who likes to wear full finger cycling gloves year round, those of us who do are clearly in the minority - as there aren't a great many options on offer that are suitable for the warmer months. The few that are tend to be designed for mountain biking, which means they are usually bulky with padding and abbrasion-resistance features. But what about a plain lightweight roadcycling glove - identical to the fingerless type in every way, except - well, for the fingerless part?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

There Are "No Snakes" in Ireland. But I'm Still Holding My Breath.

Not a Snake
Cycling along a lovely mossy lane in northern Donegal a week or so ago, suddenly I saw in front of me a thing that made me do a double take and slam the brakes. Having come to a screeching halt with my tyre nearly upon it,  I regarded the stringy serpentine form - first with a sense of disbelief and triumph, then with a mixture of relief and disappointment. Upon closer inspection, it was only a long, twisted tree root. But for a glorious, terror-filled moment there, I almost thought it was...

Monday, June 22, 2015

If an E-Bike Rides in a Forest... It Can Be Unexpectedly Fabulous!

Grass Routes Kalkhoff E-Bike
Well, my friends: It has happened. As a flock of pigs makes its way over a frozen infernal landscape, I submit to you this account of my unexpected weekend adventure. The excuse I shall use, is that it all began with a car. You see, we were heading home from a long trip. And at some point I must have begun to make that barely audible howling noise which my Companion has come to recognise as "too much time in a motorised vehicle; meltdown imminent." Luckily, we were approaching the Glenveagh National Park at the time, and so a unanimous deciduous was made to stop and take a walk though its majestic lands before continuing home. Just as we pulled into the car park we noticed a herd of bicycles spread out fetchingly beside a van that seemed to be promoting their hire. Confirming this impression was the helpful sign: GrassRoutes E-Bikes. E-bikes! Oh boy. We strolled over to have a look at them - not intending to ride them at all, mind you; just curious about the construction and weight. But one thing led to another. And long story short: I have finally tried a bicycle with electric assist.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Hysteria and the Cyclist's Wardrobe

For a brief period in the early 1990s my family lived in New York City. As a pre-teen hitherto brought up in obscure central European towns, there was much I found curious about my new surroundings. But one image in particular burned into my mind's eye as iconic of the American metropolis: Ladies in skirt-suits, speed-walking to work, wearing running shoes and thick cotton socks over sheer, sometimes shimmery, pantyhose. From their manicured hands swung plastic bags containing stiletto-heeled pumps.

"A more ridiculous look I cannot imagine," my mother declared, stunned by the unchicness of it. But soon enough, she too was pounding the pavement in LA Gear high-tops and white slouchy socks, maroon power suit straining at the seams from the rigours of her sporty new gait.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Bikes for Extremely Windy Conditions? Some Suggestions to Consider

Early Claud Butler Lady Lightweight
By now you may have grown used to my occasional laments about the very strong winds in this corner of Ireland. And lest you be tempted to roll your eyes at how easily I complain about mere trifles, I am not talking about normal winds here. I'm talking wind speeds of over 20mph, with 40mph+ gusts. That's severe weather warning territory! And if you've ever tried to cycle in those conditions without the benefit of being sheltered in a group, then you know it can be next to impossible.

Cycling into a headwind of 27mph, my speed slows to a snail's pace and trips into town take twice as long as they usually do at double the effort. But the real terror is when the wind comes in from the side - especially in gusts strong enough to push me off the road or into moving traffic. During my first year here, despite braving winds more than I thought myself capable of, I still spent many days off the bike during the worst of it; it just didn't feel safe.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Beyond Mozie-ing Around: a Californian Dutch Bike Visits Ireland

Mozie Carolina
At the time of writing this review, I do not think it unfair to say that the Dutch bike craze in North America has come and gone. When the bicycles first appeared on the scene around 2008, they were a source of fascination. The concept of the Dutch bike inspired us with images of carefree, relaxed, un-athletic cycling - of bicycles that allowed the rider to sit bolt-upright, "as if in a chair," while effortlessly floating along, groceries or toddlers casually in tow. With these machines came the promise of a dignified, utilitarian and (dare I say it?) fashionable means for ordinary people to ride a bicycle for transportation without changing the way they dressed.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Taming Trees

"So, what's so weird about the Irish landscape?" asks a curious friend, in the course of yet another "I am trying to envision you there, but can't" long distance phone conversation. I had mentioned the landscape's "uniqueness" and she presses me now to elaborate. "What strikes you as the most distinctive feature?"

I consider the question seriously, closing my eyes and allowing for an image to develop in my mind's eye like a photographic print.

"Well, for starters - there's the trees."

"The trees? What about them?"

"They're all crooked. You know - twisted, bent, warped. They look like they creep and swoon and reach out for things, rather than just grow as normal trees do. "

On the other end there is silence. Then: "Hey. Are you sure you're all right over there?"

"What? Oh of course. I'm just saying. The trees..."

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Skill of Sitting Still

At the Culturlann, Derry
If you follow my social media feeds, you might have noticed I've started learning Irish this year. As someone who speaks several languages fluently and generally picks up languages easily, I was fascinated by how different Irish was from any other language I had been previously exposed to. When trying to grasp it on my own didn't work, I grabbed a friend and signed up for a class at the Culturlann (Irish arts and language center) in Derry. The semester-long weekly evening course was beyond excellent, transforming me from a complete novice not even capable of repeating the strange sounds I was hearing, to actually being able to converse with native speakers about simple everyday things. In fact, I liked the class so much, that when an intensive weekend workshop was offered at the end of the semester, I signed up. Setting off on my multimodal commute to the big city, I was looking forward to two full days of delving into the mysteries of Irish sentence construction and pronunciation.