Falling in Love with Snowdonia

I’m of the opinion that a sense of adventure is the most attractive thing in a partner. So when I had the urge to drive across the country and climb the tallest mountain in Wales, I was delighted that she not only agreed to come along, but was genuinely excited by the prospect.

View from Bwlch y Moch Image © Bikingthebullet / Veloboy

View from Bwlch y Moch Image © Bikingthebullet / Veloboy

I think Snowdonia is one of the most stunning areas of natural beauty within a days drive of London. The national park was the third one established in the UK after the Peak and Lake Districts. It covers an area of over 2,000 km² in north Wales and includes all 15 peaks over 3000 ft. There are a huge number of places to stay and a multitude of outdoor activities to take part in. From walking, scrambling, climbing and bouldering to sailing, kayaking and surfing you can do pretty much anything outdoorsy that you fancy. The pubs are great, the fish and chips most welcome after a hard day being rugged and the accessibility is really good from London. The only downside is that Crib Goch is the wettest place in the UK with over 4,000 mm of rain per year, but I’m willing to overlook this little fact!

Crib Goch. Photo by DAVID ILIFF.  License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

Crib Goch. You can see the three pinnacles here. Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

Where to stay?

The Snowdon Horseshoe and the Glyderau contain some of the most varied and interesting routes in the park as they contain the majority of the highest peaks and the most technical ascents. There is plenty to tackle both as a complete novice or seasoned professional rock climber. I recommend staying in Capel Curig, Pen y pass or Pen y Gwryd as the start of all the major walks are within a few minutes drive. We stayed in the charming St Curig’s Church –  A 19th Century church deconsecrated and converted in 1998 to a B&B by its owner.

Capel Curig Church B&B Image: TripAdvisor

Capel Curig Church B&B Image: TripAdvisor

When to go?

The weather is best in June, July and August, but if you can hold out until September the crowds thin out and the prices plummet – however the weather can be much more changeable.

What to take?

Whenever you go, you must always ensure you are prepared for the worst. The weather in the mountains can change much, much faster than you can safely get down, so always pack warm clothes and waterproofs. Whilst it isn’t essential to have proper hiking boots and these walks can all be completed in trainers, it is much safer to be wearing a sturdy and comfortable pair of ankle boots with decent tread, stiffer soles and some waterproofing. Below is a brief list of things you might like to take along with you. Some of them may seem excessive, but I’ve used all of these bits of kit at least once when hiking.

  • Water – I usually carry about 2 l for a 4-6 hour hike. Take what you need, then double up to be sure. I’ve handed out water to other hikers in need and it sure did make their day.
  • Food – The best bit about hiking, make sure you pack a great lunch to enjoy at the top. Take emergency energy snacks too, like a few chocolate or muesli bars.
  • Spare food – You’ve packed your lunch, now take extra. Hopefully you won’t need it, but it’s absolutely no fun being stranded overnight in a mountain hut with no food. Been there, done that, got the hunger pangs.
  • Sunscreen – Nobody looks good with sunburn
  • OS map and compass – Learn to use them, but even if you don’t know how, someone else might and this could be the difference between getting totally lost, or saving the day.
  • GPS – Not essential but a great asset on more remote hikes.
  • Waterproofs – A lightweight, packable jacket and trousers are indispensable
  • Insulation – A warm fleece-type layer, gloves and a hat
  • Spare socks – having cold, wet feet is no fun.
  • Swiss Army style knife – Ideally with pliers and a tin/bottle opener.
  • Illumination – Torch or headlamp
  • Small first aid kit – containing plasters, antiseptic, antihistamines, painkillers, safety pins , tweezers, scissors, second skin or an equivalent and some matches and a lighter.
  • Bivvy bag or reflective blanket – These weight about 50 g, cost pennies and can save your life don’t be a hero. Get one.
You don't the kitchen sink! Image: The slow movers

You don’t the kitchen sink! Image: The slow movers

The walk

My favourite route to the summit of Snowdon is the Crib Goch Arréte traverse. I’ve done it a few times and it never gets boring because you really do have to concentrate! I had of course conveniently neglected to mention quite how challenging it is until we were already driving towards the starting point at Pen y Pass. To my relief (and amazement) she agreed to try it out.

I must stress that this route should only be attempted by EXPERIENCED MOUNTAIN WALKERS. It is rated as a VERY HARD walk and should under no circumstances be attempted by anyone without prior experience of mountain walking. The route is VERY EXPOSED with almost sheer drops to both sides of the ridge. Crib Goch has proven lethal even for experienced mountaineers, especially in wet, windy or snowy weather. Please use your common sense and arrange to do it with a guide if you are unsure of your abilities. You’ll enjoy it a lot more. Anyway, now I’ve scared you and covered my own ass here’s how to do it.

Park here, walk up there a bit, and you'll soon be on top of the world. Image: Eric Jones

Park here, walk up there a bit, and you’ll soon be on top of the world. Image: Eric Jones

Park up in Pen Y Pass opposite the YHA Hostel. Take the Pyg track north of the cafe and follow it towards Bwlch y Moch. Here you’ll notice a path snaking off to the right, whilst the Pyg track continues onwards. Take the track to the right and follow it pretty much straight up. The paved section disappears as soon as the going gets steeper. The route gets very rocky with some sections requiring a bit of scrambling. If you take your time you can see alternatives routes that are much easier than the obvious and direct scrambles. About halfway up, the really difficult stuff that briefly requires hands and feet begins and continues for a little bit, until just before the ridge.

Bwlch y Moch, where the Pyg Track diverts away from Crib Goch. Image: sdb wanderings

Bwlch y Moch, where the Pyg Track diverts away from Crib Goch. Image: sdb wanderings

Once you are on the eastern end of the ridge, you’ll (on a clear day) be able to see all the way across the three pinnacles and to the summit of Snowdon on the other side. The easiest way to tackle the ridge is slightly to the left of the crest as the right side gives a feeling of immense exposure and is not for the faint hearted. Either way, take care and move across to the highest point. From here you’ll descend via the three pinnacles. You can either use the well used route around them marked with cairns, or go up and over each pinnacle. Be careful on the final one, as a misstep from the top of the third pinnacle results in a sheer drop almost all the way down into the valley. Just sayin’.

Now its time to tackle Garnedd Ugain which should be directly ahead of you. This is only 20m lower than Snowdon, although it feels much smaller. I’d suggest stopping for lunch here, as it’s considerably less exposed than the summit at Snowdon, it’s much quieter and the view is way better.

Snowdon from Garnedd Ugain Image: sdb wanderings

Snowdon from Garnedd Ugain Image: sdb wanderings

From your lunch stop here, you should see the railway ahead and the Pyg track rising up from the valley to your left. Follow the crowds (or the path) up to the summit of Snowdon and chuck a rock on the Cairn. The visitor centre has toilets and a cafe, but I tend to avoid it. I hate transitioning from the serene natural beauty of the walk to a manmade structure and crowds at the summit. It just feels wrong. I can understand why it’s required as thousands of families take the railway, or Llanberis Path up with small children and pets everyday. Anyway, it’s there, use it if you need to!

Summit and Cafe, Snowdon Image: Patrick Mackie

Summit and Cafe, Snowdon Image: Patrick Mackie

From here, you can descend using the Llanberis Pass and take the sherpa bus back to Pen y Pass, or take the Pyg Track and follow it through the valley straight back to the start at Pen y Pass. From the GPS data I captured last time it looks like you should give yourself between 4-6 hours to do the complete walk from start to finish. If you don’t stop, you should be able to do it comfortably in under three hours – but whats the fun in that?

So, that’s the highest peak conquered. Feel free to shoot me any questions. Next time, I’ll look at the North Face of Tryfan – a much more technical scramble.

Love and Mayhem,

Veloboy x

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Vietnam. You don’t know man! You weren’t there!

I’ve been meaning to write about this trip since the day it started back on the 14th of May 2013. For various reasons I’ve not felt up to it. Perhaps the emotional upheaval that resulted from seeing such a beautiful place was a little too much. Nevertheless, months of writers block later I’m able to share with you the experience of a lifetime.

Moments later, I found a village. Image: Henry Daw

Vietnam village. Image: Henry Daw

It’s hot. Not warm, it’s actually hot. Like when you open the oven to put in your roast. The kind of hot that hits you like a freight train and sucks the air right out of you.

The sweat drips from my brow with metronomic frequency. I watch mesmerized as big, fat drop after drop falls in slow motion and hits the top tube of my bright red bike. The resulting splashes remind me of the videos I saw in chemistry class of potassium reacting with water. Briefly nothing, then a perfectly formed crown, glowing with the glare from the ever-rising sun. The splash evaporates before hitting the ground. The drops become an almost constant stream, as if a tap has been flung open and my pores are allowed to pour away every last ounce of sweat my body has to offer. Why am I not cooling down? Why is this all happening in slow motion? Why is my vision fading? What is this?

These thoughts raced through my mind about 10km into the first day of riding. Having just left Lao Cai we were riding toward Sa Pa along the Tram Ton pass. Expecting something vaguely like the Alpine passes I have come to love over the years, I was instead facing the unknown and feeling terribly unprepared.

I ground to a halt suddenly at the sound of trickling water. Resting the bike against the verge, I stumbled my way through dense vegetation to the source of the sound, an open storm drain. A hose pipe made of stockings could have supplied more water, but given the urgency of the situation, I set about soaking myself head to toe. It helped. Within seconds my vision stopped swimming, my heartbeats returned to sensible levels and for a few moments my pores could close, letting me drain my water bottle and quench my thirst.

54.9 Degrees. I'm not joking. It was HOT!

54.9 Degrees. I’m not joking. It was hot! Image © Bikingthebullet / Veloboy

Then, as quickly as I had felt the respite, the furnace hit me. Stopping was a lot worse than pedaling along. The eery stillness of the air meant there was absolutely no breeze to cool me down. There was only one thing I could do and that was get back on the bike. I looked back as I pedaled, hoping the bus would catch me. Hoping my riding partner Gary would catch me. Hoping anybody would catch me, stop me, take me off the bike and put some sense into me. I got my head down. I pedaled. I didn’t stop again until Sa Pa. I couldn’t. I was terrified of what might happen.

The view from the top of the Tram Ton pass Image © Bikingthebullet / Veloboy

The view from the top of the Tram Ton pass Image © Bikingthebullet / Veloboy

Two years prior to my desperate stop under trickle of water on the side of a mountain pass deep in the Vietnamese backroads, I was out on a ride with a colleague from the bike industry in the South of England who mentioned that he was thinking about organizing a ride across Vietnam in aid of his mother’s charity. Being the impulsive and easily persuaded person that I am, I immediately announced that this was a smashing idea and I’d “be well up for that, mate.” Despite barely knowing where Vietnam was, the weather, the roads and the culture to expect, I had thought it a brilliant idea to cycle across it. Nine months later, the plans had been prepared, route mapped, support crew recruited, a few fellow riders inspired (or duped) into participating and it was official. We were actually going to do this thing.

The charity, Newborns Vietnam was set up to provide assistance in neonatal care in South East Asia, with a specific focus on Vietnam. Working in partnership with local health and pediatric services, the bulk of their work so far has been to develop the skills of nurses to help raise the standards of care, along with the provision of basic lifesaving equipment. Our plan was to cycle from the top of Vietnam where it borders China, to Da Nang, finishing the ride with a visit the hospital where the charity was making such a difference.

So off I went. Up at silly o’clock in the morning having packed all night, late to Gatwick due to a pile up on the M25, last one on the flight, and wheels up. Three inflight movies, six whiskies, two beers, four packets of nuts and two meals later, we touched down in Hanoi. Now, I’m no stranger to landing in warm places, having visited family in Turkey annually since I can remember, I cherish the blast of warmth when the cabin doors open and you breathe that first lungful of holiday air. This wasn’t like that at all…

A real exercise in packing light. I had to get ALL my kit for two weeks and my bike under 22kg. Photo © Bikingthebullet / Veloboy

A real exercise in packing light. I had to get ALL my kit (including food) for two weeks and my bike under 22kg. Photo © Bikingthebullet / Veloboy

Out of the arrivals lounge, into the baggage reclaim and what a mess. 23 bikes arrived in dribs and drabs, hurriedly loaded onto trolleys and carted through customs, we arrived on the other side to be greeted by Suzaanna Lubran and Michael Johnston, who would be chaperoning us and making sure the trip was plain sailing.

We met our Vietnamese guides on the airport concourse, loading all the bikes and bags into a tremendously rickety looking van, whilst being bundled onto a coach with decidedly Vietnamese ergonomics. Some of the taller members of the group had to sit lengthways – probably for the best, as the passing scenery was nerve-wracking to say the least. Within moments of leaving the relative calm of the airport service road, we joined the HCM trail a “mixed use” highway. Amidst buffalos, bicycles, and countless mopeds, we were expertly maneuvered though the crowds and into Hanoi city proper, where we were whisked into the Metropole hotel. I’m not a complete stranger to nice hotels, having been on a few work trips paid for by local tourism boards keen to impress, but to transition from the dusty, almost movie-set hustle and bustle of Hanoi to the tranquil opulence of the Metropole was quite something. Whilst we received as warm a welcome as any of the other guests (no doubt paying an arm and a leg) it was surely a spectacle for the staff to cater for a group of sweaty and disheveled cyclists. Within minutes I’d located the pool and dived in.

What a pool. Image © Veloboy / Bikingthebullet

What a pool. Image © Bikingthebullet / Veloboy

Fast forward a few hours of getting sunburnt in a pool and we are out on the town, wandering about feeling like Jeremy Clarkson and the Top Gear boys on their quest to find silly gifts for loved ones back home. Amidst shops selling live tiger fish and electric eels, glorious Vietnamese bric-a-brac and musical instruments, we saw countless couples getting married and having wedding photos taken. In front of luxury hotels, parks, monuments and even random trees by the side of the road seem to be the preferred, and most legitimate places to pose when newlywed in ‘Nam.

Whilst wandering about, we also tried our hand, (or legs) at crossing the roads like locals. Whilst a relatively mundane activity in the western world, in Vietnam crossing the road can quite regularly give you heart stopping bursts of adrenaline. You see, the way to cross a road is to calmly step off the curb, look dead ahead and walk at a steady pace, simply allowing the traffic to flow its way around you. Stopping, panicking, making eye contact with drivers of approaching vehicles, all of these newbie mistakes are likely to get you killed.

After a brief wander, we said goodbye to the opulence of the Metropole and looked forward to the joys of the night train to Lao Cai. The Pumpkin Express as it was called, featured wobbly bunks, intermittent fluorescent lighting and a beer cart. Needless to say, the beer was cheap and we drank plenty of it.

My first night train Image © Veloboy / bikingthebullet

My first night train Image © Veloboy / bikingthebullet

Sleep wasn’t really an option. The train was noisy and bright, constantly illuminated by passing cars, mopeds and trucks and by the time we hit the jungle, the noise of nature was overwhelming, even more so than the click-click-clack-clack of the train on the track.

Eventually I passed out/dozed off, but for how long I’m not sure, as I was woken abruptly as the train stopped in at Lao Cai. We disembarked, tricky as everyone in my cabin was still a bit drunk, and our group headed toward the centre of the town, which doubles as a car park.

Tired, drunk and incredibly sweaty, we assembled our bikes under the rising sun. We readied our kit and got changed in a restaurant dining room whilst eating a paltry breakfast (about a third of a fried egg and a bread roll each) due to some easily appreciated logistical difficulties in feeding 30 foreigners at the drop of a hat in rural Vietnam.

25 bikes assembled in a car park. 0 leftover parts. Not bad!

25 bikes assembled in a car park. 0 leftover parts. Not bad! Image © Bikingthebullet / Veloboy

An hour of faff later, we’d started the ride. No real pomp and ceremony. We just got on with it. We were on our way across Vietnam on two wheels.

To be continued.

Love and Mayhem,

Veloboy x

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The drinking and dining date at The Coal Vaults

I love the Coal Vaults. It’s probably the most fun you can have in a Soho basement with all of your clothes on.

Welcome to the Coal Vaults Image: Coal Vaults

An original welcome. Image: Coal Vaults

A pal and I stumbled upon it one drunken night, drawn in by the skeleton in the doorway. Not having a clue what awaited us beneath the staircase, we wandered down and were greeted with a beaming smile by the owner.

“Sorry chaps, we don’t have space tonight, but make a reservation and we’ll be sure to make it up to you with a couple of free drinks”*

As far as rejections go, that was pretty classy. We booked for the following Friday and I’ve not looked back.

Whilst it could be argued that Soho lost its cool years ago, I think it’s now becoming the place to go in London if you ‘know a place’. Amidst the usual urbanity of chain restaurants and bars, lie some real gems. Worth a mention are the relative newcomers The Social Eating House and it’s upstairs ‘speakeasy’ The Blind Pig, House of Ho and Honest Burger. At the top of that list though, should be the Coal Vaults.

This place is fast becoming a hive for the young and painfully hip. Moody lighting, polished copper, timber, steel, exposed brickwork and slightly-too-high bar stools complete the obligatory new-and-cooler-than-cool look. For bonus cool, take a trip to the toilets to see the Queen staring up at you from the pennies glued to the floor, or take a whizz into an astronauts helmet and wash your hands in the same.

It's cosy in the vaults. Perfect for dates, or gossiping with friends.

It’s cosy in the vaults. Perfect for dates, or gossiping with friends. Image: Coal Vaults

Back to the bar itself, and whilst the food isn’t stunning, it’s different, fairly priced and exciting. I think I’ve been a bit spoiled with excellent restaurants recently, but I challenge anyone to resist the temptations of pulled rabbit with smoked black beans, sweetcorn and pineapple relish, avacado and sour cream flatbread or romeo and julieta smoked duck breast, sherry pickled rhubarb and walnut mash. The pulled rabbit was certainly an experience, and the duck breast was juicy, chewy and succulent all at the same time. The mash was a touch bland the first time I had it, but delightful the next. The chips are good, the devilled popcorn, an acquired taste too spicy for my dates. A welcome distraction from guzzling your drink they may be, but maybe best served with some toothpicks for those on a date! I haven’t tried the desserts yet but I was told by fellow diners that they don’t disappoint.

So the small plates are good, but the magic really begins when you peruse (and abuse) the drinks menu. Cocktails are genuinely inventive. I had the Marano which was served in two glasses, requiring a creative juggle to get both bits in your mouth to taste them simultaneously. Brilliant, I love novelty. The Oliver Reed, bourbon with an absinthe infused shard of caramelised sugar was delicious, and for those requiring a little more texture in their drink the Domestic Bliss hit the spot with its egg white and cinnamon rum. The house red though, was not brilliant. Stick to the cocktails and you’ll have a great time.

A magnificent bar.

A magnificent bar. Image: Coal Vaults

Overall, a cracking time and equally enjoyable in the company of friends, lovers or first dates. As you leave the bar and go on your way, you’ll have food in your belly, and a slightly smug sense that buried beneath London, you can still find some real gems.

If conversation dries up talk about

  • Naughty nights out in Soho
  • Would you strip or become an escort for the money?
  • Grotty places you’ve been

If you really love your date talk about

  • The bar you’ll install in your flat. Will it hold its own against the copper masterpiece?
  • If you started a bar, what would it do differently?
  • If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Where to go after

  • Bar Italia for a coffee
  • Princi for a digestif
  • Back to yours for a nightcap.

The vital info

Coal Vaults, 187b Wardour Street, Soho, London W1F 8ZB
Open Monday – Saturday 17:00 – 00:30
Nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road / Oxford Circus Tel: 020 7434 1550 http://coalvaults.com

Love and mayhem,

Veloboy x

*Never did get those.

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The walk down Memory Lane date at the V&A Museum of Childhood

I totally went and did it. I took a date to a museum aimed at children and it went down a treat.

See when you think of Bethnal Green, you think Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, E Pellicci and the excellent Town Hall Hotel (posts on all of these soon). The V&A Museum of Childhood sits pretty much slap bang in the middle of all these East London favourites and is an absolute treasure of a museum. Packed into its magnificent Grade II listed building are all kinds of objects related to childhood from the 1600’s onwards. It’s a great place to go on a date because quite literally every single object in there is a perfect conversation starter.

Isn't she a beauty.

Isn’t she a beauty. Image: V&A Museum of Childhood

The particular exhibit we went to see is called Confiscation Cabinets and is a curious collection of artefacts confiscated in 150 London Schools over 30 years by teacher and artist Guy Tarrant. It runs until 1 June 2014 and is a familiar and sometimes a little surprising array of forbidden objects confiscated for reasons of distraction or outright danger.

A real trip down memory lane, it will have you recalling the bouncing balls, pea shooters, trading cards and paper planes of your youth. Whilst many artefacts are generic and mass market in nature, there are some that will have you reeling with laughter, disbelief or heartache. There is the lovingly written questionnaire “Sarah do you like me? Yes, No” with the no clearly ticked, and the note sadly confiscated before Sarah was able to answer the second question “Why?”.

There is the entire pack of playing cards painstakingly made by hand where you can just imagine the kind of rainy lunchtime detention that inspired its creation. I mean you can practically smell the fresh varnish of Autumn term in the corridors as the kids mucked in to create some entertainment for themselves.

Then there are the sinister items. If like me, your date is a bit of a bad boy or girl, you can tease out stories of a misspent youth. There is the incredibly creative glue spreader shank, the shopping trolley handle mace and the body spray flamethrower. The chilling reminder that inner city schools can be tough places is all too obvious with brandy, fags and homemade bombs amongst the items that teachers have confiscated in order to lay down the law.

When school gets hard, erin chard liqueur. Image: Gizmodo

When school gets hard, erin chard liqueur. Image: Gizmodo

What made the whole thing great for me is the subtle addition of humour into the mix by way of Guy’s cliff notes.

Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport

Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport © bikingthebullet / Veloboy

When you are done with the Confiscation Cabinets, you can wander about the main museum and see the rest of the vast collection. Whilst my date did make a very valid point when she said:

A child wouldn’t like this place as much as an adult. They won’t have seen any of these toys before and would just get bored looking at them. They’d want to get back to their games consoles.

Well, thats just the reason to go there on a date and not with a small child. I think anyone can find a few curiosities and heartwarming memories when gazing at the toys and treasures on display. Unless you grew up in a field, or a harshly strict commune, you’ll find delight in re-living the games of your childhood from Monopoly to Subbuteo, the toys and action figures of the Cabbage Patch kids to the Masters of the Universe and the rocking horses, tricyles and yo-yos of yesteryear.

If conversation dries up talk about

  • Favourite childhood toys.
  • Toys you wish you hadn’t broken.
  • Toys you wish you’d never had.
  • The trouble you got into as a child.
  • Lego or Mechano?

If you really love your date talk about

  • Which toys to get your kids.
  • How to teach kids to play fair.
  • What age they will be allowed video games.
  • Who gets to teach them how to ride a bike.

Where to go after

  • E Pellicci for brunch.
  • Beigel Bake for an evening snack.
  • Lahore Kebab House for a down to earth hunger buster.
  • Wilton’s Music Hall for live music and a pint.

The vital info

V&A Museum of Childhood, Cambridge Heath Road, London E2 9PA 
Admission free. Open daily: 10.00 – 17.45, last admission 17.30 
Nearest tube: Bethnal Green. Tel: 020 8983 5200 http://www.museumofchildhood.org.uk

Love and mayhem,

Veloboy x

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Gravity – Don’t let it get you down

I went to see yet another movie starring Sandra Bullock and left feeling slightly sick but utterly elated. Why?

This masterpiece of modern cinema gives you a ninety minute roller-coaster ride that leaves you feeling like you’ve just been for a tumble in space. Simultaneously spine-chilling and jaw-droppingly beautiful you can’t help but sit on the edge of your seat for the entire ride. You shouldn’t miss it.

Are you on the edge of your seat yet? Image: Warner Bros Pictures.

When I think of Sandra Bullock, I can’t help but think about a long and tedious list of movies that I certainly won’t miss. However, this list is punctuated by a few which were a huge part of my childhood. Speed (1994) was probably the first action movie I saw and certainly shaped the majority of my childhood games. It inspired me to build ramps and jumps for my toy cars, painstakingly recreating the timeless unfinished freeway scene. Then there was Speed 2: Cruise Control. Well, they don’t name films like that anymore do they? I still haven’t been on a cruise ship and I’m not sure I ever will. Thanks Sandra Bullock.

Of course at the time I didn’t give a damn who the actors in the films were. Only much later, when watching the Blind Side (2009) did I realise that the leading lady in Speed and Speed:2 was captivating me once again in this poignant rags-to-riches film about a homeless boy making it as an NFL player. It wasn’t the best movie I’d ever seen, but was certainly acted well enough to mean I had to choke back a tear or two. Therefore, it wasn’t surprising when Bullock was awarded both the Academy Award and Golden Globe for best actress for her performance in the Blind Side.

Since then, she’s been involved in some of middle-of-the-road projects including The Heat (2013), which thanks to a broken remote on a long haul flight, I had to endure twice. It was bad enough the first time so it’s understandable that it was with some trepidation that I took my date to the Hackney Picture House to watch Gravity.

As is usually the case when I decide to consume any kind of art, cinema or performance I hadn’t read any reviews and hadn’t even seen the trailer. All I had to go on was the frenzied excitement from friends who unanimously stated this was 3D cinema in its finest and the knowledge that the cast consisted of only two names, one of which was George Clooney. Who is awesome. Clearly. The other was Bullock, who I knew deep down had the potential to impress, but to be honest, I was expecting to hate her.

Within seconds of the curtains opening I realised I was in for a true visual feast. The great thing about this movie is that it’s not set in the future. It’s not Sci-Fi. There are no talking robots or time travel. No warp drive, no cryogenics. No. This film is very much set in the present day. It opens and sets the scene with a fairly generic space walk. The acting and cinematography immediately draw you in. Assuming you can suspend your disbelief at some of the plot back story, you feel completely captivated. This is one of those films where you don’t feel like you are simply watching, rather that you are truly experiencing.

Ok, some reviewers have lambasted the science behind the movie, but they might be missing the point. The idea here isn’t to demonstrate the technology behind space exploration. It’s not a shallow action movie, nor is a deep space fable. What it is, is perfect and engrossing cinema.

The plot is pretty cliché. I won’t go into the finer details, but the gist of it is that disaster strikes the astronauts and Bullock and Clooney are left stranded in space with no obvious route home. What ensues is an allegory about some the most difficult of human struggles, grief and finding our purpose in this vast universe. Ok, it’s a little in your face, even I was able to spot it on first viewing, but nevertheless that is what the film is about and boy, does it do it well. When a floating teardrop hits the lens after a particularly harrowing scene, you can’t help but be struck with a tsunami of emotion.

It’s not just pretty visuals that set Gravity apart. With a musical score so perfect you barely notice until it’s absent. The soundtrack shuns percussive instruments in favour of roaring the crescendo of strings and the hauntingly melodic organ punctuated by cuts to complete, deafening silence so abrupt you are physically jolted you in your seat. The soundtrack to this film is absolutely incredible.

The script, yes it could be better, and the damsel in distress aspect had me in fits of rage for a couple of days afterwards but this doesn’t detract from the fact that Bullock gave a magnificent performance, carrying almost the entire movie on her shoulders. Clooney’s role was brief but charismatic and created just the right balance between the two leads to be believable and charming.

The 3D effects weren’t overpowering, instead they complemented the film’s sense of scale and realism. The fire effects were frankly rubbish, and looked like something that could have been ripped from a nineties Speed movie, but aside from that I was stunned by the beauty and detail captured by the cameras.

I think the best cinema affects you on numerous levels and urges you to re-examine it. Gravity for me, although there is none in the film, definitely has that pull. I was left awestruck and emotional, inspired and humbled by the human spirit and left wondering how on earth they filmed it all. Granted, the 3D was a little stomach churning and left me reeling with dizziness at times, but all in all, it’s a feast of modern cinema and will probably become our generations Space Odyssey.

If you still haven’t seen it, go and find the biggest, noisiest cinema you can and watch it immediately.

Verdict 9/10

Love and mayhem,

Veloboy x
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American Psycho vs. American Psycho

Let battle commence.

The trappings of wealth don't bother Mr Bateman.

The trappings of wealth don’t bother Mr Bateman. Image: Manuel Harlan via Almeida Theatre

Last week I was lucky enough to get my mitts on two tickets to see Robert Goold’s musical adaptation of the Brett Easton Ellis novel, American Psycho.

In the novel, Patrick Bateman is a high-flying 80’s Wall St. banker who whilst being a fully enrolled member of the high society, consumerist lifestyle of his peers, harbours the darker and much bloodier extra-circular pastime of brutally murdering the people around him.

The story follows Bateman as he gives us a glimpse at the consumerist culture in which he thrives. He discusses his beauty regime, his fitness program and the material accoutrements of his lifestyle, including his fine suits, shoes and artworks.

The show jumps from the tedious to the terrifying with whimsical ease, one moment we are shown Bateman and pals vainly comparing their business cards’ stock and typography. The next, Bateman commits his first murder, stabbing to death in cold blood a tramp he has declared socially superfluous in a fit of frenzied rage. We then cut to a fantastically choreographed scene of the Rich and Beautiful at their gym class, working out to perfect their ‘hard bodies.’ This was probably my favourite scene in the production. Watch it to see why.

The juxtaposition* of murder and mayhem, with yuppie cool works wonderfully on the stylised set by Es Devlin who has also designed sets for the likes of Kanye West and Jay Z’s Watch the Throne tour, and the closing ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games. The set design was minimalist yet superb, creating a beautiful vista with the use of projections and props to bring every scene to life, and transitions from scene to scene were barely noticed.

The original score by Duncan Sheik works almost too perfectly to compliment the visuals, with the highlight being the scene where Bateman and his fiancée are taking a getaway in the Hamptons. Other notable moments include one of the opening sequences where the lead female characters sing a hymn to the virtues of Armani, Chanel and Jean Paul Gaultier. Reinforcing the rampant label worship that is required in the world of Bateman and co.

Whilst being written as a social satire of the 80’s culture of excess and commoditization of the individual, the story is still very much relevant to the present day, perhaps particularly now given the media spotlight on the excesses of bankers bonuses and a heightened public awareness of the ravage consumerism that we are all a part of. Ellis claimed in an interview in 2010 with the California Chronical that he was parodying the void that exists in everybody who takes part in this consumerism, including himself:

“I have to say the same thing about Patrick Bateman. He was crazy the same way. He did not come out of me sitting down and wanting to write a grand sweeping indictment of yuppie culture. It initiated because my own isolation and alienation at a point in my life. I was living like Patrick Bateman. I was slipping into a consumerist kind of void that was supposed to give me confidence and make me feel good about myself but just made me feel worse and worse and worse about myself. That is where the tension of “American Psycho” came from. It wasn’t that I was going to make up this serial killer on Wall Street. High concept. Fantastic. It came from a much more personal place, and that’s something that I’ve only been admitting in the last year or so. I was so on the defensive because of the reaction to that book that I wasn’t able to talk about it on that level.”

The story is nothing without that cast that brings it alive, and much credit is due to Matt Smith, who I later realised was the very same Matt Smith who has been playing Doctor Who for the past year. With his chiselled jaw and ‘hard body’ he brought Bateman to life perfectly. Perhaps however, there was a little too much sympathy developing for his dark and twisted character towards the end sequence. The standout performance for me was Cassandra Compton who played Jean, Bateman’s immediately likeable, adoring secretary. Her singing was a highlight of the performance.

I found the story to be a little easier to digest on stage in contrast to the film adaptation or original book. Whilst with those mediums, the question arises as to whether Bateman really committed the murders, is fabulous deranged and imagined the whole story, or if he is simply a symbolic construct of materialist society’s madness, the stage adaptation spoon feeds the audience one of those scenarios a little too easily.

Nevertheless, this doesn’t detract one iota from the enjoyment, and I’m pleased to say Smith’s stage performance has beaten Bale’s on-screen portrayal of the American Psycho, and takes its place firmly as my favourite adaptation of the classic cult novel.

Even if you aren’t usually a fan of musicals, this is a throughly enjoyable two hours and forty minutes, aided by the fact it doesn’t feel like a classic musical in the slightest. I laughed, I cried, I got to tap my feet to Phil Collins. I loved it. Verdict 5/5.

Love and mayhem.

Veloboy x

American Psycho can be found at the Almeida Theatre, London N1 running until February 1. It’s sold out but contact box office for day tickets and returns at almeida.co.uk/020 7359 4404

* I’ve waited my entire life to use the word juxtaposition in print. Mission accomplished.

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Buying a new bike?

Looking for your first bike?  Replacing a bike you already have? 

You should read this. My sole intention here is that you, the discerning, age-of-the-internet consumer make an informed decision about your bike purchase. Hopefully after reading, you will have a much clearer idea of the criteria to bear in mind when looking for a bike. As a result, you should have a smile on your face for many years of riding having bought the right one.

So what exactly is a bike?

Not just a simple toy that your dad taught you to ride as you were growing up. Bikes are wonderful machines, promising freedom, fun and fast, efficient transportation. Bikes are made of hundreds of components which work in harmony to get the rider to their destination as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

The main parts of the bike are: Frame, fork, wheels, tyres, brakes, deraileurs, saddle, seatpost, stem, handlebar, shifters, brake levers, cables ,bottom bracket, chainset, cassette, chain etc etc…In turn these are all made of different components. The wheels for example are made of a rim, hub, spokes, nipples, washers and rim tape. The hub is made of a hub body, bearings, axle, washers, cones, cups, dustcaps, locknuts, etc

It is crucial that each part of the bike is built, assembled and set-up correctly for the smooth running of the machine as a whole. Taking the wheel as an example again, the spokes must be tensioned correctly such that the rim spins perfectly round without deviating left, right, up or down. Before this can be done, the hub must be set up such that the axle turns freely, without and “play” or wobble. For this, the bearings must be very round and the surfaces they run on clean, smooth and well lubricated with the correct grease.

Ok, so there are lots of bits on a bike, and they are all quite important.

So why not go for the £99 special that Asda or Morrison’s have in their bargain corner? Aren’t bike shops ripping you off charging £300 for a bike that you reckon you could get down at Sports Direct for £150?

Not quite. In the professional bike trade, these supermarket specials are called bike-shaped-objects. BSO’s for short.

Can you see the problem here? The forks are the wrong way round.

Can you see the problem here? The forks are the wrong way round.
Image taken from http://www.mtbe.co.uk via http://bicycleshapedobject.wordpress.com/hall-of-shame/

What is the difference between one of these cheap supermarket bikes and a quality product bought from a local bike shop?

Well, you don’t need to mortgage your children’s kidneys on the black market to buy the latest wind tunnel tested carbon rims with titanium hubs and ceramic bearings with spider-silk like spokes to have a reliable, high quality wheel. What you need is something that has been assembled by experts, with decent components. Some of the many problems I have experienced with the BSO:

  • Warped, untrue wheels with poorly adjusted hubs
  • Loose stems, loose handlebars, loose grips, loose brake levers, loose saddles, loose everything.
  • Rust. Everywhere.
  • Back to front forks, back to front seat clamps, back to front nuts and bolts.
  • Flimsy plastic components which really should be metal. Brake levers, gear shifters, brake cantilevers. How are you supposed to stop when the brake lever bends when you squeeze it?
  • Poorly routed cables, too long, too short, wrapped around the handlebar, wrapped around the stem.
  • Flexible deraileur cages, too flimsy to move the chain.
  • Non-replaceable deraileur hangers – writing off a frame after a minor accident.
  • Misthreaded, loose cranks.
  • De-threaded cranks with pedals falling off.

The list goes on. In fact I’m grimacing as each example comes to me. How do these kind of bikes feel to ride? Well, the truth is, terrible. The gear shifting is like playing the lottery. The brakes are unresponsive, uneven and unreliable, the steering feels like a losing battle, the bike is heavy, clunky, makes all the wrong noises and this one is a pet hate of mine, the whole thing smells like a fishing dock due to the cheap rubber used in the tyres. It is a lingering smell that is simply repulsive.

How can the BSO be priced so low?

The retailer selling it to you has to make a profit. The manufacturer selling it to the retailer has to make a profit too. This means on a £99 bike, the manufacturing cost was likely to be around £20 if not less. How can you make hundreds of components and assemble them into a safe, ridable bike for £20? By using the lowest grade materials, the cheapest manufacturing methods and the cheapest labour you can find. You stick the whole thing into a cardboard box and save a little bit more by not employing qualified bicycle mechanics to assemble, inspect and test them prior to delivery to the cyclist-to-be.

You really do get what you pay for, and if you pay £20 for a heap of parts put together into something that is shaped like a bike, well you’ve got a BSO right there. How long will it last? Maybe a year if you are lucky. More likely a couple of rides, before you

  1. Break it
  2. Hate it
  3. Decide you need help making it work properly and visit a proper bike shop

Ok so I convinced you that there is a lack of quality in a cheaper bike.

What about the environmental impact?

That BSO was made in China, transported over in a shipping container and ended up in its new home with you. When it inevitably breaks beyond economical repair, it will go into landfill – and you might buy another. This is madness.

A decent quality bike, though perhaps made in China or the Far East, could last forever with regular maintenance. It really pains me when customers come into my shop and say “I could buy a new bike for the price of repairing this one”. Yes, you probably could, and yes you’d have a shiny new bike for a short period of time. But will it be as good as the bike you already have? More importantly why undo all the good you are doing by being on a bike by discarding a perfectly good bicycle for landfill just because you can buy a BSO for the same money as annual maintenance. What kind of era do we live in where the bicycle, the greenest, most efficient form of transport ever conceived has become a disposable commodity which is a source of pollution?

How much does a good quality bike cost?

At the time of writing the most affordable bike I sell is £270. This is a great quality aluminum frame with decent components. With regular maintenance this bike can last for life. It has a lifetime warranty on the frame, and is relatively lightweight and a pleasure to ride. How much does this cost in real terms? Well the living weekly wage outside London is £298, or £342 in London which means the bike costs much less than the typical living wage. A BSO might cost you £100 and last a year. This bike could easily last 10 years, costing you £27 a year. Ok it’s maybe it is £170 more expensive to purchase at first than the BSO at your local supermarket, but comes ready built by an expert bike mechanic, from a shop staffed by friendly experts which you can easily go to if you have any problems (unlike with internet purchases), it has a free one-week tune up and a six-week service and you’ll be guided and informed on how it works and how to keep it working sweet. Funnily enough, the shop you buy it from will make a profit, and so will the manufacturer. But the person profiting most will be you. You’ll have a bought a bike that saves you hundreds of pounds a year in transportation costs, gym memberships and most importantly, gets you out of the traffic and makes you part of a greener, cleaner, healthier future for all of us. Pat yourself on the back, because if you choose to buy a good quality bike, you’ll be doing a wonderful thing. One last point. Please don’t buy ANYTHING with suspension or full-suspension under £300. I could write a whole new article about why this is a bad idea. Happy riding!

Love and mayhem,

Veloboy x

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Mastering Manliness – Climbing

I was the kind of toddler that climbed things. Odd things like washing machines, dining tables, wardrobes and shelves. I climbed them, then fell off. Often onto my head.

Naturally, see rock, climb rock.

Naturally, see rock, climb rock. © bikingthebullet / Veloboy

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that later in my life climbing much bigger things like 30m climbing walls seemed like a sensible idea. Fall on your head enough, and these unavoidably dangerous things look remarkably less stupid.

As with everything off the wall in my life, the obsession with rock climbing came from peer pressure. An Aussie mate who single-handedly redefines ‘brick shithouse’ followed in the footsteps of a mutual friend, the Climber in going to the Castle Climbing Centre, dragging me with him. I didn’t really know what to expect, but it was go climbing, or go to work, so I agreed, naturally.

Fortunately, I was part of the ‘Geckos’ children’s climbing club at the Castle for a few months during my primary years, so had done some basic training of the safety skills required to climb. Whilst only a hazy memory, these skills came flooding back when I resumed climbing with the Aussie and the Climber.

At the Centre, we hired our gear, and got down to business. Slacking off in the middle of the working week, to piss about with your mates is one of the finest feelings, and doing it in an adrenaline rich environment is even better. Before long, we were giddy with childish enthusiasm for climbing up, then belaying each other down fast enough to need new pants.

What struck me immediately was the physical effort I was exerting to get up the wall, or even just hold myself in position. Whilst Aussie had the kind of build that laughs at physical exertion, with my weedy form, I was struggling. The Climber had been doing it for years and was barely exhibiting a twinge after two hours. This huge physical challenge would later become the catalyst for my obsession with the sport.

Whilst Aussie could rely on his close to seven foot frame to reach pretty much anything on the wall, and Climber had years of honed skill, for me, getting up the wall was as much about self belief as it was about being able to grip the holds which seemed to constantly be two inches too far to reach. There was an immense pleasure in contorting my limbs into the right position to be able to grab the next piece of the puzzle.

At the end of our session, with hands trembling and muscles screaming in agony, I felt a great sense of achievement. I’d only been climbing for a day and had forced my mind and body to overcome its limitations and do something new, exciting and rewarding. The dopamine rush was exquisite. I couldn’t wait to go back.

My intention with this series is to share the training process I applied to be able to climb to 7a grade standard within six months of starting to climb regularly. I’ll look at the gear, the techniques, the training, the recovery, nutrition and mentality I applied on my journey, and hopefully help you reach your goals too. In the next part, I’ll discuss the basic gear and safety requirements.

Love and mayhem,

Veloboy x

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Mastering Manliness – Motorcycling

There are a few things in life that for me define manliness. A non exhaustive list would include: flying planes, driving trains, riding motorcycles, shooting guns, catching fish, building things, chatting up all the women, doing sports, getting hurt doing sports, climbing things, cycling up and down things really fast, getting muddy and drinking lots and lots of beer.

Fortunately for me, I’ve had the chance to sample a lot of these and I’d like to share with you my experience of riding motorcycles.

Triumph Street Triple. Useful for pizza deliveries too. © bikingthebullet / Veloboy

It started in the early part of 2010. The days were long, and the weather unseasonably warm. A friend had bought a Vespa with the intention of riding to work, and during one of our rambling, drunken chats, he mentioned that it was a really quick, really fun and really cheap way of getting about. I’d been fantasising again about buying myself a wholly inappropriate car, but he persuaded me to at least try to ride a motorised two-wheeler.

Having looked up the rules and regulations governing the use of engines connected to wheels by 21-year-old lunatics, I discovered that I would be limited to a 125cc Motorbike after doing a one day course called the CBT. The CBT (compulsory basic training) teaches you the essential skills and techniques required to safely handle a powered two-wheeler on our public roads. It assumes a basic knowledge of the highway code, along with an understanding of the various aspects of riding motorcycles, such as personal protective equipment and basic maintenance tasks. It is a fairly cheap (about £120 in London) way of becoming competent and legal enough to start your riding career.

You can select to do the course on an automatic scooter (the easy way) and when you have the certificate, you are still entitled to ride a manual bike. Alternatively, you can do the course on a manual bike (the hard way), and still ride whatever you like afterwards. Naturally, being an overconfident cock, I did it all on a manual bike, having never swung a leg over a motorcycle before. It was challenging getting to grips with using a clutch lever, brake lever, foot brake lever, gear lever, and throttle all at the same time as checking mirrors, balancing a huge, heavy and uncomfortable helmet on your head, and wearing unwieldy gloves and shoes. However, I picked it up, and by the afternoon I had ridden my way to a shiny certificate with my name on it.

The next day, elated at my newfound skill, I went to the only motorcycle shop I knew of and test rode a couple of bikes. Being 21, and of the stubborn disposition that I want the best of everything it was a bit of a let down. Turns out there are only really two big contenders on the market in the 125cc category of sports bikes. Honda make one, and Yamaha make another. I sat on the Honda and immediately decided it was too small, too light and too uncool. The Yamaha felt a lot bigger, heavier and looked almost exactly the same as the big boy bikes at the other end of the showroom. The only giveaways were the thinner tyres and smaller brake discs. I thought I should at least give it a go. I thought 125cc could pack plenty of power and serve as a good starting point.

Riding the bike away from the dealership, I felt a pang of remorse at how I’d bagged the test ride based on a load of bollocks about how I’d been riding for ages. As I stalled it twice, right outside the door, I thought they’d be sure to be onto me and decide to take their shiny and expensive bike back into the showroom and banish me forever. However, I finally got it going and rode off down the road. Never one to stick too strictly to the rules, I used my local knowledge to take it down a road with very little traffic, street furniture or other traffic calming measures in place. Cracked open the throttle for the first time, expecting mechanical orgasm to hit me like a truck. Instead, all that happened was an impotent burble from the exhaust and a slow, steady acceleration up to about 45mph. From there, the engine whined like a banshee and eventually got me going at 60mph.

This wasn’t going to cut it. I continued riding for a while, vainly checking my reflection in shop windows before returning to the dealership and handing back the keys. I had to think about it.

In the end, my business and personal life took over, and I had put the motorcycling dream to one side for a while. Reading up about the options for riding bigger bikes, I was limited to either riding a restricted bike for two years having done all the tests, or waiting until I was 24, and doing a bunch of tests and having direct access to anything I wanted. Of course, my friends and family thought I should get a 125cc, ride it for a while, lose interest before killing myself and stop the motorcycling completely. I on the other hand, thought nothing of waiting another couple of birthdays and trying again.

Fast forward to 2013 and I’d just gotten back from Vietnam, where I hired a motorcycle and rode around the countryside like a raving lunatic with the needle bouncing off the limiter wearing nothing but a pair of flip-flops and swimming trunks. I thought to myself.

“Motorcycling is fun. Motorcycling is freedom. Motorcycling must be part of my life all the time. Not just on holiday”

The day I landed, I had looked up the nearest training centres, and booked my first batch of training. Within a few weeks, I’d already refreshed my CBT (they expire every two years), passed my theory test and was ready for my course. I invested fully in it this time, buying the best helmet I could afford, along with gloves, boots and a jacket. I had all the gear, and no idea. It was wonderful.

In my industry, I’m regarded as an expert (by nature of my position, not because I actually know anything) My field of work relies on our clients being cliquey, following trends, becoming desperate to one-up each other and comparing the size of their dicks. I don’t really partake in the dick swinging because I run the show, and somewhat guide the trends. With motorcycling however, I suddenly found I was in a whole new members club. One where I knew absolutely nothing, nobody owed me any favours, and I was free to be a complete newbie again. It was with childish glee that I started frequenting all my local motorcycle dealers, trying on the gear, learning about the bikes, comparing stats, reading reviews, joining forums and immersing myself in the culture.

I quickly learnt about the hierarchies of this new club I was desperate to join. I couldn’t possibly ride a scooter. They weren’t cool enough. I couldn’t ride a sports bike. They were too boy-racer. I wasn’t ever going to ride a tourer, as I am too scrawny to lift them off the side-stand. A Harley would send all the wrong messages. I could have a cafe racer, but I didn’t know a thing about motorcycles really, and a classic 1970’s bike was going to need a lot of loving. I guess that left me with a naked bike. I rationalised it by thinking I’d probably drop the fucking thing a million times, and didn’t want to pay for expensive pieces of plastic fairing each time it happened. They also looked really cool, went really fast and were within my price range of  <£ ridiculously expensive.

So naturally, the rational thing to do was to walk into Metropolis and buy the first thing I wanted. This happened to be a Ducati Monster 796. However, the salesman was a bit of a c*** and seemed to think I was joking when I wanted to buy one and basically shrugged off my gamely advances. I was however, quickly and charmingly accosted by the Triumph salesman, who told me about the virtues of the Street Triple. This is Triumph’s contender for the naked bike category, and frankly, it is the best in class. It’s won best bike of this, that or the other, since about…well, since it was conceived. One thing led to another, and I’d paid a hefty deposit before leaving that day.

So I kind of had a dilemma on my hands. Basically, I’d committed to buying a very, very nice motorcycle, but hadn’t passed my tests, couldn’t insure it and couldn’t legally ride it. I called the training school and pleaded for an earlier course. However, it wasn’t possible, so I ended up booking myself in on a couple of days training with another place, booking my tests and going rain man on the internet in the meantime, trying to absorb every last piece of motorcycling knowledge available. I think I’d seen every “how to ride a motorcycle” YouTube video in existence. Twice.

To get my full, unrestricted licence, I had to the the Direct Access course. This means a theory test, module one and module two tests in addition to holding a valid CBT.

Learning to ride bigger bikes was a little bit tricky. Most forum users and motorcycling “experts” seem to recommend you learn on whatever the school give you, then buy something genteel and well mannered when you “graduate” and use that for a while to get used to riding and handling a big machine. I did my training on a Yamaha XJ6. About 60hp 180kg, its a naked bike that has enough power to scare the shit out of you, but enough steering lock and low end smoothness in its fuel injected engine to flatter a beginner. I found the thing bloody impossible to ride at slow speeds, and a downright liability to ride quickly. I smacked my balls on the tank when I tried to accelerate over a hill at 40mph, and I dropped it on my leg trying to ride figure of eights in a car park.

Eventually, I got the hang of it, and passed my module one on the first attempt in the pouring rain. Module one is a bunch of controlled exercise that assess your ability to handle the bike at low speeds, and also to ride in a precise manner at speeds of 32 mph. They also make you push the bike manually, which is something you do an awful lot when parking around town, so it makes sense. Plus, I find it bloody difficult!

Having passed the Module one, all I had to do was ride the bike around town for an hour with an instructor following me for Module two. This was the part I was most confident in, as having held my drivers licence for years, with a couple of advance training days more recently in which I was told my driving was still passable, I was happy I wouldn’t do anything too retarded in the test. I drove down to the area of the test centre in the car and downloaded their preferred test routes onto my navigator. For the best part of all night I drove around memorising the junctions and roundabouts in a bid to be prepared.

On the day of my final test, I rode down there with the instructor and had another ride around the routes. Back to the test centre, 15 minutes of nervous waiting, and my name was called. I was being tested first. The examiner seemed completely uninterested in what he was doing. As he asked me to read a number plate, show/tell a couple of things on the bike, and answer some of his questions, he looked positively bored shitless. It didn’t do too much to calm my nerves, but I stuck with it anyway.

Riding out the centre, I took great care not to fail by doing something silly, instead, taking the first opportunity to overtake something and get the fuck away from the boring moody guy mumbling in my earpiece. He then decided he’d initiate the independent riding section of the test, since he could no longer see me. He told me to follow signs to somewhere nearby. I’m not sure if he even followed me, as I rode there, pretty much how I ride today.  Like a loon. Eventually I saw him in the mirrors and toned it down again. Unleashing the bad boy motorcyclist had helped me relax, and the day was becoming enjoyable once again. I noticed as we turned into a side road that he’d fallen asleep and left his indicator on, creating a hazard for other road users. As this would be an immediate fail for me, I stupidly thought it would be a sensible idea to let him know his oversight. The moment I gestured, he switched it off. We finished the test and I thought nothing of it. Seemed like a nice ride, didn’t do anything too stupid.

He got off his bike at the test centre without saying a word, and marched straight into the debrief room, making me wait outside in fits of anxiety for a whole 10 minutes. Eventually, he called me in, and without so much as a smirk on his face, said “I’m really sorry, but you got two minors.” It took a split second for this to register in my reptile brain, but I realised that was a pass. I was delighted, and blubbered my thanks in between bursts of giggling that would make a teenage girl long for a straight razor. He explained that removing my hand from the bars to gesture to him was a loss of control, and that overtaking police bikes before immediately turning left in front of them, was probably a bad idea. Aside from that, my riding was good, safe and confident and he was happy giving me a pass to go wild. Ace. As I waited around for the other chap to do his test, I sorted the insurance out for the Triumph, so I could ride it home.

The girlfriend met me at Metropolis as I’d promised to get her a helmet that afternoon (she was also learning to ride) and she was a bit surprised when I pointed out the bike with my name on it. She politely declined to get on the back for my first ride, so I sorted the paperwork out with the ever charming sales rep, got on it, and rode it home.

I can probably say I’ve never been so scared in my life. The parting words of the sales rep were “just don’t open the throttle past 5k rpm until you get used to the bike, otherwise you’ll end up like those guys did” as he pointed to a pile of broken bikes in the corner of the lot. “Yup, thanks guy, for warning me now, after I’ve handed you all of my money and it’s far too late!” I rode home like a geriatric driver, barely pushing 30mph, and braking 300m too early, for everything. Within the final few hundred meters, I’d gained enough confidence to open the throttle about 20%. The resulting explosion of engine noise, air intake, exhaust note and joyous gut wrenching acceleration was absolutely incredible. I don’t think I stopped smiling for a week, from that single flick of the wrist alone. Once I finally made it home, I picked up the missus, and we went for a joyride up to Alexandra Palace. What has happened since then?

You’ll just have to wait and see.

Love and mayhem,

Veloboy x

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Spinning my wheels

I’ve got a problem. I love bicycles. I guess it’s not really a problem, but more of a passion. I’ll start again. I’ve got a passion. It’s for the fusion of man and machine. It’s for the perfect harmony of peddling. It’s for the freedom of two wheels. It’s for the wind in my hair. 

Things of beauty, bicycles.

Things of beauty, bicycles. © bikingthebullet / Veloboy

I’ve been cycling ever since I was given a shiny red bmx at the age of…three? four? We’ll stick with four. On and off, years and years, riding around the park and local streets, getting into a little trouble, but mostly just enjoying the motion, the freedom and beauty of the machine.

That shiny red bmx was replaced with a prized Trek mountain bike, ridden across Epping Forest and Trent Country Park more times than I can keep count. Then it was a Specialized, then a Marin. Then I got interested in other things, and the bikes came and went, often stolen with alarming frequency, to the detriment of my parents bank balances. Nevertheless, they persevered with providing a bicycle that would work for me. To them, the idea of me riding a bicycle was healthy and wholesome.

Fast forward a decade from this nostalgic reminiscing (I apologise) and I’m sitting on my very first road bike. I’m marvelling at its beauty, it’s lack of weight, its skinny tyres and strange shapes. As I familiarise myself with the functions of its components, there is only one thought that runs through my mind. “How fast can I make it go?”

I take it out on a spin around the block, and end up riding it up and down Highbury Hill as many times as I can before my lungs feel like they are going to explode. “I’ll take it, I love it!” I proudly declare to my mother. And that was that. A love affair between man and machine sprung at toddlerdom and cemented in adolescence. It’s now ten years to the day, and with the purchase of my first road bike, my Mother seems to have unwittingly unleashed a passion that would define my twenties, and thus shaping my life. We’ll see how its going. Stay Tuned.

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