Tag Archives: community

The Velodrome (My New Spiritual Home)

Two dernys in the sunToday, while the Christian world spends their time in quiet contemplation, recognizing the events that lead up to their Saviour’s passing (and resurrection), there was a different kind of gathering taking place in South London, at a not too dissimilar spiritual realm, the Herne Hill Velodrome. For if sport was ever a reflection of someone’s beliefs then cycling ranks right up there with the likes of football, cricket and rugby.

This was my first visit to the only remaining facility still in use when the Olympics last visited London in 1948. And at 64 years of age, the velodrome still knows how to draw a crowd.

Having undergone a massive refurbishment, the track itself having been re-sealed, the public interest in track (and cycling as a whole in the UK) has noticeably increased as we head towards London 2012. Thinking that the facility very nearly went the way of the dodo was a real threat for the surrounding community in 2011. But a campaign called, Save the Herne Hill Velodrome brought it back into working order (and is in need of continual support). It only takes the purchase of smart cycling cap to show you care!

With the Good Friday Meet already underway, I arrived at around 1pm on my bike, having cycled through London from Paddington Station – just in time for the second-half of the day’s events. I love cycling through the streets of the big city, and while you have to have your wits about you at all times, the experience of riding around Hyde Park and Marble Arch on a bright, spring day is something not to be passed up. Consider what you’re missing when you head below ground to take the subway next time – there’s quite a lot to be seen!

The sight that greeted me as I walked through the archways had me feel at home in a heartbeat. Bikes, of all shapes and sizes, fixies, single-speeds and geared varieties, were all around me (I even saw Ned Boulting, struggling unlock his kid’s bike, at the end of the day!) And for good reason too because finding a place to lock up was a challenge. But as one spectator said while helping me hold my own bike to the railing above me, “there’s little risk of anything getting knicked here today,” I knew I had arrived!

Track cyclists in a bunch Now I’m not too familiar with the variety and format of many of the races, but I am learning the difference between such events like the ‘Devil takes the Hindmost’, the Scratch races and the Kierin. The Sprint events are my favourite, and so are the Devil endurance runs because each take as much brains to ride as they do physical strength.

Neovite Super Kierin Race WinnerThe meet itself was a smoothly run-affair, the commentary was spot on and the atmosphere was fantastic. With jumble sales of vintage tops and old race programmes, DVDs and books to browse through you could easily forget that there was racing to watch! But what’s even better than that is when you can spend it in the sun with friends and fellow gear-heads.

Now that’s a great #30DaysofBiking Day!

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Grind it out (#30daysofbiking)

It’s no secret that I am “mad for bikes”. As this blog grows and develops (aiming for eventual world domination) cycling will factor increasingly more into my posts.

I can’t quite pinpoint the time or place cycling first took hold of me when I was little, growing up on the Prairies of Canada, but it definitely took hold of me for good (again) two (coming up three) summers ago. It was something like a re-awakening. Besides, I had always wondered why on Earth I rode a heavy mountain bike on the straight, deadpan flat roads in the Prairies…

In 2010, I had completed a long-distance walk from London-to-Oxford, with friends, navigating the route by following the River Thames. Walking against the flow of the current felt quite apt, seeing as I trained and suffered, and got myself into the best shape I have ever been in (in recent memory), so I was grateful to be going against the flow. I blogged along the route (with the help of my iPhone) , if you’re interested. My fellow Publishing Men Together comrades and I smashed our fundraising target for a book charity that helped support literacy skills in young boys. It was after this event I bought my very first road bike.

A 2010 Specialized Allez Elite, colour red…

It was a thing of beauty, moved quick, felt light and had me feeling more and more confident in myself the more I rode the 15-miles between my workplace and home. As my time on the saddle increased and the miles in my legs grew, the bike and I became inseparable. I even gave it a nick name – The Big Red Express, and would refer to it constantly on Twitter. It still serves me well, albeit it in a slightly different form (after I got knocked by a car last Fall), but Big Red still remains and you would be hard pressed to find me without it in some way.

Which leads me nicely into the current challenge I’ve taken on: 30 Days of Biking Challenge.

Bike somewhere every day for 30 days—around the block, 20 miles to work, whatever suits you—then share your adventures online…

It’s pretty straight-forward, spend every day for the month of April, ride your bike. It doesn’t matter for how long or to where, just get out and ride!!! Cycling is beautiful in its simplicity and this challenge, created by Patrick Stephenson and Zachariah Schaap takes that mantra and lives it to the fullest extent possible.

So far, so good 3 days in. Here’s brief recap of what my first three days of my challenge looked like

Day 1 – A Local Time Trail

I couldn’t believe my luck or the weather we had this past Sunday. Having found out about a local TT taking placing and knowing a fellow member of my club was taking part, I couldn’t just sit idle and not watch. I’ve not done a TT before, but they look excruciating, and as any rider (pro or amateur) knows when it’s just you against the clock, you will dig deep and dig hard.

With a prompt start at 9am, the riders left in 1-minute intervals racing the “Long Hanborough Hilly“. 23.7 miles in total, and three laps of the circuit. With 21 riders, of all shapes and sizes I considered doing it myself but not having dressed appropriately, I decided to ride the course backwards, picking out good spots to watch the riders bend around the curves and “grind it out” up the hillsides. It certainly gave me the taste for TTs in the future, so with the idea of shedding more weight, a new bike (or two…a time trial bike would be great) and improved technique I may just be on the starting line by the end of this season!

What ended up did taking place was a lot of shouting and cheering on my part, at times I was the only spectator because at 9am in the morning, with a chilly start to boot, you won’t find many spectators (save the volunteer Marshalls) standing on the roadside. But each rider had a smile on their face as they zipped by. If that isn’t a masking of pain, I don’t know what is, but with a reverse circuit under my belt and a few pictures snapped that brought Day 1 to a close.

Zappi cyclist climbing up White Hill

 

Rider bends into Coombe Corner

Day 2 – Not your average ride

Yesterday (Monday) was a dress-up day on my bike instead of the usual dressing into my regular cycling kit. I still managed to strap on my cycling shoes, but because I had a pretty important meeting to keep I wanted to be ready as best I could (and not arrive to the meeting tired and sweaty). Stuffing my trousers into my socks I made quite the sight as I cycled the 3.5mi to my local train station to catch my train into the city so that I could make my appointment. Again, it doesn’t matter the distance you covered, or what you wear, so long as you are on your bike it’s a win for you. A win for the planted and just maybe someone else will decide cycling is for them after seeing such a ridiculous sight.

Cycling shoes, smart suit and purple socks

Day 3 – Bike by Bus

Today (Tuesday), I had to collect Big Red Express after a late night in Oxford watching a local theatre company’s production of The Odyssey. In an effort to minimize the weight of my packed bag, I zipped up and pulled on the bib shorts and rode the bus to the train to collect my bike. Funny looks galore, which are always entertaining. I love to wonder how people may be thinking of me dressed up in my garb, or potentially judging me for doing so. It’s entertaining because I don’t really care and like to have fun with it at all costs.

The way I see it, I’ll do whatever I can to get on my bike and ride. Stay tuned for further updates over the next month, I can’t promise one a day, but I’ll do my best!

Meanwhile, as Luka Bloom says “get up on yer’ bike (and pedal on!)

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For the city I used to live in (Oxford)

A curious thing happened yesterday, it wasn’t planned nor expected, which I typically like, but all the same, I found myself speaking up for a city I no longer live in.

When I first came to England five years ago, I had no plan in mind (much less an idea of where I would settle), but Oxford turned out to be the place where I landed. Situated in the central-south-east of the country, this city grew to be my home – but not without its share of (continued) growth. Moving house four times, spending an average of a year-and-a-half (sometimes less) in several different areas of the city, I’ve come to appreciate Oxford’s offerings, the variety of people I’ve met and the activities I get to do within it.

I notice that wherever I am, whatever I do, and who I get to know to along the way, I am loyal to the city, cause or people I surround myself with for that particular amount of time. Oxford happens to be one of those places. As well-known as it is for its beautiful buildings, winding rivers , legendary dreaming spires, pristine college quads (and the awesome amount of privilege and power the university gives and holds), rarely do visitors see the parts of the city that lie outside of what I’ll call the “tourist zone”.

These are the areas where the real heart of the city exist, you might think the heart is typically at the centre of whatever body it is part of, but outside the bubble that is the university and its presence in the centre of the city, there is much, I believe that exists outside the centre than within. And it’s taken my moving away from the city to get clear on that. I’m not that far away at all these days, only 10 miles to the west of Oxford, and I still visit it often, but I actively create intentions for what I want from my time while there, because eventually I have to get home to my new community, tucked quietly away in the Cotswolds.

I want to share a recent conversation I got involved in online (that I hope my friend won’t mind, and I’ve taken the step of removing the names), but our recent meet-up, on a Saturday afternoon prompted my comment on his Facebook page:

With all that said and the varying experiences Oxford holds for a great number of people, the city has grown on me, or I have grown to be at peace with it. Where I once didn’t really have much feeling towards it, I now see it for what it is (and always has been). A community.

And where people get that feeling varies greatly and it matters greatly to me . I don’t have any plans to scurry away from Oxford (or England) for that matter, but I urge anyone who visits the city to venture beyond the open-top bus tours, colleges and museums. Walk down Cowley Road, the student-centric corridor, but where the flavours, language and smells of many ethnic cultures collide; or travel up the hill to the local shops in Headington with its narrow passages off the London Road and quiet pubs that make you feel as much a part of the countryside, as they do a bustling city; and Iffley Village with its quick access to the riverside.

These are all areas I’ve lived in one time or another, and each part contains a little bit of my own story for me.

What might they hold for you?

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