Cycling Artist

Whilst working on the 'River Ure Project' my record of the river in words and pictures (see my blog here) I have travelled many hundreds of miles, but it has always irked me that far from 'green' miles, these have been diesel guzzling (the car, not me), environment polluting, motoring miles; so times they are a changin': I have converted my trusty old Marin - the old friend that carried me from Darlington to Vienna for autism - to a travelling studio. I will be a cross between Sir Bradley Wiggins and Lucian Freud: I'll be the Pedalling Painter.
Closer to nature, it is the small things that garner your attention on a bike; things that you would miss in a car, so I'm looking forward to seeing if my painting practise changes, and given the weight of all my kit, I'm looking forward to an improvement in my 'knots in cotton' legs too. The 'close to nature' thing does have its downside though: ever since I converted the bike it's been blowing a hoolie or hammering down or both, so I've yet to get out. More to follow!


27th Dec Ride

Can this be a good idea - I'm going out for a post Boxing Day day ride with a stinking cold. It's kill or cure and the way I'm feeling I don't much mind which but I can't just keep sitting around the house moping and feeling guilty at the lack of exercise and the vast food intake (well they do say feed a cold). So, I am now going to leave you and climb into lycra - these may be my last words.

Happily for me; less so for you, they turn out not, as you can see, to be my final words. I have peddled along behind my pal Alastair for twenty odd miles and though I made heavy weather of it I'm pleased to have done it. Of course it served to highlight just how far I have to go to get back to a reasonable level of fitness but it is a start. It IS a start.


Another Year

With 2014 breathing its last wheezing gasp and my fast bloating and aged body stuffed full of every type of foodstuff and drinkstuff imaginable ( I just caught a glimpse of my planet eclipsing midriff in the mirror as I returned from yet another foray to the Boxing day kitchen table) it is time to take stock, to get a grip, to take myself (if you'll forgive the phrase) in hand, and there's plenty there to grasp! Like untrodden snow (I use the simile because of tonight's weather forecast), the pristine year lays ahead of us, and it mocks us; that is to say, it mocks me.

I know the way of it you see. I will start in cold, wet and downright hellish January with the fitness level of an asthmatic MacDonalds loyalty card holder. I will labour along at the back of a peloton of two, liberally sprayed with slush and slurry, snot running down into my shoes and semi-detached blisters forming on my arse. I will lay in the bath afterwards trying to massage some feeling back into my blue and white 'Willow Pattern' toes and then immediately regret the return of sensation as it quickly turns to bleating agony. My BMI will slowly reduce to a level comparable with Peter Kay and, encouraged, I will battle on, upping the speed and mileage and as a consequence the depth of shite-crust.
By the early Spring I'll be foolish enough to get talked into the season's first sportive and by early Summer I'll almost be fit enough to ride one. Three days later, Summer will draw to a close and the long plummet to the condition in which I find myself now will begin again. There will of course, be a day when I stand atop a cat' 4 climb and I'm not sucking oxygen in through my backside but that's what it will be - a day.
On the up-side, there will be new kit to buy - shiny precious things and there will be the new Tour De Yorkshire to watch in May - the traditionally pissy-down Firkin month! So, in the end -another exciting year of cycling to look forward to - Bring it on!


Firkin Challenge 2014

From what I gather, 2014 will be the final year of the Firkin Challenge (at least as we know it). Though the weather was fine at the start, it wasn't long before things reverted to type and it began to heave down; this continued until we crossed the finish line and then the sun came out!

Start of 2014 (and final)
 Firkin Challenge


Riding With Rob Penn.

After an evening of imprudent drinking at Prima Italian Restaurant we were scheduled to put in a few miles: me, Franco Fantoni - the 'Fausto Coppi' of Ripon and Rob 'It's All About The Bike' Penn. Rob was in town to do a talk about his book and other cycling related topics which he'd delivered the previous evening and this had been followed by the aforementioned indulgences (it was Rob's fault - or Franco's, I forget which). The morning dawned bright (one might almost say, dazzling) and due to work and family commitments (or just plain bone-idleness) the proposed 'peloton' had been whittled down to just the three of us. Our route climbed out of the town and up through the undulating mixed meadow and woodland that forms the rising country towards the Dales. The air, heavy with the scent of Oilseed Rape and approaching summer, is alive with the sound of Great Tit, Chiff Chaff and Skylark, it is a glorious morning to be abike. Rob is clearly used to riding with a pair of duffers like me and Franco because at no time do I feel he is chafing at the bit to be away and we settle into a nice easy pace which is just as well as the road continues to climb for some time. As it does so the scenery changes: conifer and pine begin to replace Oak and Ash and the plaintive song of the Curlew and Oystercatcher take over from the lowland songbirds. Fifteen miles in and Franco's thoughts turn to coffee and he seems to know exactly where he's going: we turn off the road onto a conifer lined track (still climbing) and before long the trees thin, we cross a cattle grid and the bizarre sight of a field full of yurts opens up in front of us - have we cycled further than we thought and ended up in Totnes? 

We are at 'The Bivouac' - a cafe, restaurant, and, it seems, some kind of holiday resort. We sit outside with a coffee and fiddle with our phones; the views are panoramic and the birds sing and all is right with the world - we may also be at the highest point of the ride! We can't linger though as Rob has an appointment in North Stainley where he is due to unveil a sculpture - something to do with TDF. There are few pleasures to compare with a long downhill on a warm spring day with all the scents of the countryside filling the senses and it is no time at all until we roll into Masham and then along to Stainley where we are met by a clamour of committee members from North Stainley's TDF group. The sculpture is draped in what appears to be someone's sitting room curtains and on a given cue, Rob whips the curtain aside with a flourish and there stands a stag, made out of bicycle parts (I don't know so don't ask). Rounds of applause and photos are taken and for some reason Franco and I are induced to be in them (see above), in fact we are royally treated and a buffet lunch has been laid on for us; it's all a bit baffling really and I have a creeping feeling that they think I'm someone famous - David Millar perhaps or even Wiggo. When it comes time to leave we are thanked profusely and of course we thank profusely in return so the parting takes some time - a kind of ballet of nods and smiles and turns and waves and then we're off - the final leg back into town a swift goodbye and back to work - Hey Ho!


Another Firkin Year!

Another Firkin Challenge is looming; it's a hundred mile ride through the Yorkshire Dales to raise money for disadvantaged children through the Wooden Spoon charity and this will be my third. It can be gruelling and the weather in previous years has not been kind - it has in fact pissed down.  I feel less well prepared this year and I'm another year older and more decrepit.  2014 is of course the year Tour de France comes to Yorkshire and to reflect that, this year's Firkin will follow much of the route to be tackled by the likes of Wiggins, Froome, Voigt et al; more hills have been added and as far as I can see the riders in my team are all faster, fitter and younger than me so why I agreed to do it I don't know. So - if you do have a shilling or two that you can spare, don't buy a lottery ticket, don't bung it on a knackered old nag, don't pour it down your gullet at the pub…….give it to the kiddies. Here



Mobile Phones

It seems that over fifty percent of the people reading this regularly or sometimes talk or text on their mobile phone whilst driving. Is this you?   IS THIS YOU?  It is not just your life you are putting at risk but mine too and that of my friends and your friends. I have many times seen what metal can do to a human body and I can assure you you wouldn't like it. I have cut them out of their cars as they screamed and sometimes they were silent.

 Never do it again.



I don't know where defeat comes from but I do know that is doesn't appear at the moment you stop peddling, or indeed in the moments leading up to it. It is born hours or perhaps even days before and it is sly and elusive - it doesn't come with a shout and a jeer but rather with a mutter, a whisper - a soft goading voice barely audible for the noise of dreams and of living. By the time the group met for a ride this morning I was already uncomfortably aware and resentful that I wouldn't be able to make it; I'd rehearsed endless failure during the night; visualising other riders riding away from me, feeling the weight of leaden legs and bursting lungs  and worst of all, staring up the near vertical hills that I knew I couldn't climb; all this, long before the first birds had chorused the day. Where did it come from this spoiler and how did it gain such credence? I suppose I may never know but I would like to be able to deal with it or at least control and minimise its effects. I set off on a ride today with a body that could do what was asked and a mind that refused to ask, so I ended up cutting short a ride that I badly needed and 'bottling out'.

This thing has happened many times before to varying degrees, most notably on a climb out of Askrigg on the 'Firkin Challenge', it's an easy climb, and it is short but inexplicably my head has said NO twice now and it has become a bete noir. I guess everyone suffers from this phenomenon at times? FUCK IT!

Where to now?

Le Tour Yorkshire

Preparations for Le Tour are in full swing: we (The Club) met the other night for drinks and then on to the cathedral to hear Graeme Obree talk with passion about his life and career. Ripon of course, is woefully ignorant of the size and scope of what is bearing down upon them and the council's response to Le Tour so far has been to conceal a very small yellow bike on the 1st floor balcony of a very large town hall:

I have managed to work with them to at least get the bike on the outside of the balcony where it can be seen, but even that was an uphill struggle, with constant mutterings about planning permission and health and safety.  

Back at the gallery our response is a little less muted:

Back on the bike

Back on the bike again after a long, looong winter break and I'm dragging my arse round the Yorkshire countryside at a snail's pace……a snail with gout…….and a Port hangover.  Friends are kind, of course: 'Wait for Steady', but there is the ever present and uncomfortable feeling that the pack might turn at any moment and savage the weakest link.

 I've been out three or four times now including a stiff forty miles or so round the Litton area with 'Fat Lad At The Back' and some cycling journo's, and the first of this year's 'club' rides - thirty miles at just over 20mph where I skulked in the middle of the peloton and never took the front.

Today is the Easter holidays and we're off to Devon for a few days, so I'm shoving the bike in the back of the car so as not to fall even further behind in my training.

Here's me last year looking fit, if a little camp.


London 100

Well I made it round the London 100 course 5:45:01 - not a particularly good time, nor particularly bad either; I think I spent a good deal of time dawdling along looking at the scenery. Then of course there was the comic moment when I scattered a bundle of twenty pound notes over the Surrey countryside as I hurtled downhill in the midst of a charging peloton…..It took a good twenty minutes of frantic running and dodging to collect them up and regain the saddle.

It was, I have to say, a brilliant experience and the chance to ride on closed roads, a rare one: particularly this year as I didn't get in! London looked magnificent and the crowds were huge and very supportive (apart from the woman who leapt out in front of us shrieking 'GO HOME' and 'GET OFF OUR ROADS'…….made us laugh anyway.