Archive for the ‘travelling’ Category

west coast freight

In leaving, portland, san fran, travelling, west coast on December 9, 2010 at 1:09 pm

The 18hr train journey to Portland doesn’t start auspiciously. After hopping onto the bus from the ferry building in downtown San Francisco and traveling across the bay bridge to Emeryville (home of Pixar) we get to the station and are informed there has been an incident with a trespasser and the train at San Luis obispo, where I’d stopped earlier in the month, on the drive up to san francisco to have coffee and cake with Alex who I’d met in Bariloche.

The train was going to be two hours late, it was already ten o’clock at night. But what can you do, I sigh and look around at the other passengers waiting to board and I pull out the very large book that I’d snagged from the hostel in Los Angeles, which I’m close to finishing and glad to be so as I have another three books in the bag which needed to be read, which I’d actually bought and needed to be read so I could lighten the load.

Amtrak trains are on two levels, seating at the top and various things on the bottom, restrooms (don’t call them toilets, it upsets the average American) baggage, spaces for decades old arcade machines, played by young children, little shops for snacks and sundries. The seats are big, but old and cranky, they don’t recline all the way back and the pillows are slow in coming and there’s no blanky but the air-conditioning is set at an acceptable level, not too hot and not too cold.

But the views out of the wide window make up for it, tall green trees, acres of land with sprinklers flicking water across them, wide lakes stretching to a partially snow capped mountain on the horizon. Verdantly green triangular hills which remind me of volcanoes slumbering, ready to erupt again. Swathes of crushed, jagged rocks, across which the tracks of our train are raised, long dark tunnels through which your ears throb and pop.

Spindly trees line the course of the journey, thick and seemingly impenetrable, stretching away into the distance that you cannot see. Dappled sunlight seeps through cascading through the carriage dancing across flesh and foam, reflecting off the metal surfaces it alights on. The tracks follow the course of rivers and creeks, occasionally we cross and recross them, the sparkling water spilling out over rocks and fallen trees, as the day slowly awakens as the unblanketed occupants awaken, the red/purple sky strip of light swollen in the darkness.

Listen to the endless requests for reservations for the dining car, the reiteration of rules and regulations, the 2nd call for those who haven’t made their way to breakfast, lunch and if there are any other untoward stops, dinner. If I had my way the voice behind the calls would be crushed like a tin can beneath the thumb of a giant.

Trains in the states are slow, lumbering beasts, freight trains as I find out in Portland, are miles long, the railway lines in fact generally belong to freight companies and freight trains have priority. And standing at a railway crossing waiting for a freight train to pass can take a very long time. Time to break out the book or portable games unit. So the train rolls slowly, the old rolling stock not making it any faster, but its fun in a honey way, you give up on your own time constraints, and desires. The train will get there when it gets there and there’s nothing you can do about it, apart from quiet your buzz and sit in your chair. Which is what I do.

Sit and watch the time pass slowly through the ever changing view offered me by the windows either side.

America feels on that grand level now, like Argentina did as I swooped along the roads on the luxury buses. Big and vast and awe-inspiring, as you wonder what it must have been like way back when, when all you had was a horse-drawn cart and weeks and weeks to travel down a non-existent trail from one part of the state to the other. Now we can move so easily across states it makes a mockery of the hard work and effort and sacrifice that others made to make it possible.

I take a couple of photo’s and wander down the length of the train, try not to think about the rumbling in my stomach and hope that Nicole is there to meet me when I get to Portland.

PS fingers crossed the bike makes it in one piece. I’m pretty sure it will, but you never know, would be just my luck to have the bike get fucked as I travel through america rather than Argentina and Brazil.

San Francisco vol2

In all about the ride, eat drink man woman, out and about, san fran, stateside, travelling, west coast on December 6, 2010 at 11:34 am

So I’m in Berkeley and its nice, got a real laid back charm, probably from it being a university town, the campus itself isn’t far from where I’m staying, right before some hills stop your forward path, all cut lawns and open space, with big old stone buildings.

Berkeley’s more constant inclines than steep ascents, and what you think is just a leisurely rise, soon turns into something a bit more teeth grinding, but the traffic is well-trained and I’m enjoying just tooling around. I get the BART into San Francisco on more than one occasion and let it whisk me into the heart of the city. And as with most buses on the west coast they come rigged with bike racks on the front which you can shove your bike onto and sit back and relax as it takes you back to the wherever you need to be.

Kyle from Trackasaurus Rex/Orange 20, back in LA has told me about this place out in Oakland, called Bakesale Betty’s which does the greatest fried chicken sandwich. Kyle does not stint on his praise of this sandwich and told me that I would be remiss if I didn’t try it. So come the weekend, cometh the jaunt down into Oakland, google directions, written onto a slip of paper, as I try to remember which straight road I’m supposed to ride down.

Crisply, affluent Berkeley slides into more down at heel Oakland, and the road seems to go on forever and I’m counting crossroads, trying to make sure I get the right turning. The sun for once has come out. Its been grey in Berkeley and its been getting to me, the dreariness, just sitting there in a washed out sky, it hasn’t been as warm as LA and I’ve been pondering wearing more than my regulation t-shirts and shorts.  But the sun comes out and it is glorious, pitched against a picture perfect blue sky and soft tremulous fluffy white clouds.

After a small detour round a bit of strip mall, it shouldn’t even be described as a strip mall, it’s on a junction, big car park, set of businesses arranged along the junction. It looks kind of like a smaller version of an industrial estate, just businesses backing onto a shared car park. I ride round it, and see the queue before I see Bakesale Betty’s.

Motherfucker is down the block, and it’s not just long, its two/three/four people deep. There’s a stretch of ironing boards set up as tables, which are all in use as people scoff their sandwiches, and I’m starving just looking at them.

I’m not even going to try and pretend, or extend the suspense, the sandwich was better than advertised with a lovely citrus dressing on the masses of lettuce salad that comes with. It takes a good half an hour to eat, and every bite is glorious. The cookies that I purchase at the same time are something special as well..

The Haight:

To get upto Golden Gate Bridge, I ride upto Haight Ashbury, and the drag of shops and bars and diners and restaurants along that thoroughfare is crowded whenever I make the journey. But I come to like this part of town not for that drag, but the neighbourhood that leads upto it, the lazy Bohemianism, the casual slightly sleazy charm, the record shops that spring up, specialising in funk and soul, and other things, but who cares about those. They are the quintessential record shops of your dreams, and I don’t even collect records. Quiet, crate digging affairs, with quality vintage posters and charisma by the wall load. Just being there made me want to spend money on vinyl that I would never play.

And the bars and the murals that dot the wall along that side of town just add to the feeling of creativity and social rebellion.


One morning I wake up and decide its time to go to the cinema. Toy Story 3’s been out for a while and I’m going to see it, morning screenings are cheapest and I’m donning a pair of 3d glasses in a deliriously empty cinema. It’s as if I’m a VIP and they’ve cleared the room for me.

Now some of you may know I am a big Pixar fan, from way back in the day with Luxo Jr, and Red’s Dream, and where I’m staying in Berkeley is just down the road from Pixar (obviously this is America and just down the road means an entirely new town, but what the hey). But I don’t make the pilgrimage, I’ll tell you the Roni Size fanboy moment that still fills me with embarassment another time, to explain why I don’t.

But Toy Story is a joy, and I’m enraptured immediately, just the whole coming of age thing, and the evilness of the pink bear, and the passing on from one generation the next. Just plain flawless, I’m still not sure whether they’ll ever be able to top the first dialogueless opening to UP, but there isn’t a week film in the Toy Story Trilogy and how often can you say that about a movie trilogy. toy story 3 empty cinema.

Coast road:

So to get to Golden Gate Bridge, I’m riding through Golden Gate Park, where deep in the center is a  fine art gallery/museum, a rusting hulk of deep brown metal and glass atria, with a spectacular view-point at the top of a tower, more about that later, and opposite it San Francisco’s natural history museum, this lovingly crafted steel construction, topped with a green eco roof, attempting to make sure it has a tiny, tiny carbon footprint. you ride past both of these and then take a road which curves and dips, away to the left which brings you out by the water’s edge finally. The road that winds along, though relatively not that windy, runs along the high bluff, with a drop to the blustery beach, to the left and across the road, a slice of greenery snakes along, with a bike path running its length. The further along the road you ride, the further out the green tufted dunes spread, sending a fine then heavier deposit of sand across the road. The breeze isn’t too strong and I’m not trying to pull too hard, and as usual its just nice to roll along, no particular destination in mind, just follow the road for as far as it goes. Attempting to look over the dunes to the ocean that is ever constant on my right side.

When I get to the end of the road, which takes a turn inland, at a boarded off junction, where some road works are being completed. I sit, drink some water and just watch the people walking along on the sand. It’s another grey day in San Francisco and looking out across the waves it feels like the sun’s never going to shine again.

The ride back I make along the bike path, which is higher up than I’d at first thought and allows me a better view of the ocean and a chance to commune with and avoid fellow cyclists, and joggers. To my right, hidden previously from me by the cycle path and the greenery growing on it is a long row of two storey houses, that sit along a smaller arterial road. Each one looks like it’s been drawn by a child, sloped roof, windows and doors making a face. I wonder what its like to live so close to the sea, to smell it and feel it and hear it, but not be able to see it over the dunes. How frustrating would that be? Would it frustrate me.

I eat one of the biggest wrapped sandwiches I’ve ever ordered, several different types of meat, twisted around cheese slices, and sip on a coffee as reward for the ride I’ve just made…

tourist trap

In all about the ride, san fran, stateside, travelling on December 6, 2010 at 9:49 am

So I’ve just ridden over the golden gate bridge, and it was a bit of an anti climax, headwind all the way in, dodging other cycling and foot tourists, it’s enough to turn you into one of those pompous self-important travellers who want the whole unspoiled, no one else has ever set foot here but me types. And if I ever have to look at one of those people posed in front of landmark photos it’ll be too soon.

There are lots of photos being taken and I wonder how many photographers there are taking them.

Vista point on the Marin county side of the bridge is bustling with people, daytrippers, travellers, school trip, everyone camera in hand to record the moment.

San Francisco has been grey and windy, the microclimate here meaning that summer, as in the good weather doesn’t get here until august through October, with the June gloom which covers Coastal California extending for months. San Francisco reminds me of Wellington in that respect, windy and grey but still warm, occasionally hot when the sun peaks through.

But back to the tourists, the sightseers, and I’m one as well don’t get me wrong, but I’m reminded of Mr Smiths speech in the matrix, comparing humankind to a virus that replicates itself to the detriment of everything else around it, that is kinda what tourism does if it isn’t controlled or marshalled correctly. I rode through Fisherman’s Wharf and the tourist tat that is on sale there is the experience that I want to avoid. The codified experience that forms for the out of towner, the t-shirts, the jewellery, the experience of being somewhere confirmed and validated by the purchasing of items that explain this fact, whether you need them or not.

Being on the tourist trail, at sights which you must see when you come to town and the languages and accents that aren’t native to that space start to co-mingle. Sometimes I get the fear, an aversion to the bodies, and the swift strides, and the constant posing in front of sights for posterity’s sake. It is the cousin of that feeling I’d get on the weekends when there was stuff to do, but the thought of the crowds, the bustle, the struggle to move through was enough to keep me in the house, scouring the cupboards for something to eat and wondering whether noon was too early to be ordering in pizza.

Cycling pushed most of that away as the desire to be on the bike and owning a bag big enough to contain most of my shopping needs of a weekend, made the crush of people something easily navigable rather than born like Christs suffering.

But here I am full circle, amongst the teeming masses, wondering where they have come from, where they are all going to and when will they all leave and let me enjoy this space without them, but as always the realisation sits in the back of the mind that they are enjoying the space as well, and despite my inbuilt feelings of superiority, I have no inherent right to this space, I don’t own it, so I’ve just got to get on the bike and enjoy the ride…

San Francisco vol1

In san fran, stateside, travelling on December 6, 2010 at 9:12 am

So I’m in San Francisco, but I’m not, I’m actually in the Bay Area, and as with LA, I’m starting to realise that everywhere in America wants to be its own autonomous entity. So San Francisco is just that bit over the water, and where I’m staying on the other side of the bay bridge is Berkeley, and beside Berkeley is Oakland. More than boroughs, or counties, these places exist as little fiefdom’s/cities within cities, and don’t you dare make the mistake of calling Berkeley/San Francisco or vice versa. I thought San Francisco included them, but I’m wrong, so very wrong, the Bay Area includes them all, and only the Bay Area.

So wake up early and head into San Francisco proper to drop off the car and with the bike sitting in the back, I’m ready to take a roll round the streets of san francisco and see what this hilly town is all about.

The Bay Bridge is a suspension bridge just like the golden gate, but grey with two levels, and partway along its length it sits atop an island in the bay. The bridge is the ugly brother to the golden gate, a transport route, no footpath here, just lines and lines of traffic, but I’m liking it for some strange reason, I spend a lot of time down in the part of town where the bridge looms overhead, sitting by the water and trying to figure out when the Giants have a home stand.

Drop the car off, let them check for damage, pull the bike out of the back and spend ten mins, probably less building it up again. I’m deep in hotel and hostel land, and there is many a lingering look as the bike is put together. I’ve already stripped away the pipe lagging and the cable ties, and shoved the handlebars back on, so its simple enough to put on pedals, raise saddle, shove on wheels and pump up, and I’m away. 

Riding along figuring out where everything is, spending time looking at my map, I start to plot where I am , and I start to admit that I’m starting to fall for the Bay Area.

Venice Beach

In los angelenos, stateside, travelling on December 4, 2010 at 9:27 am

So after the low-key trauma that is Vegas, I head back to LA and this time I’m staying down by the coast at Venice Beach. There’s a bike rental/repair place right on the corner, so after I settle into the hostel, I’m outside building the bike up. Intent on getting on it and seeing what else is out down through the sand.

Whats down through the sand is a long winding bike path, which follows the coast, right down to beginning of the PCH, and is populated by skaters, bikers and rollerbladers. I’m enjoying the leisurely nature of the ride, nothing too fast or hectic, just turning the pedals, feeling the coastal breeze on my exposed skin and the warming sun on my shoulders.

It’s all good.

It’s not so good when I wake up the following morning to go and watch the football, Brazil get dumped out by Holland, in an ugly game they should have won, Dunga’s defensive tactics and squad selection leaving him hamstrung when the game starts to slide away from him.

I’d had to leave the bike locked up outside the front of the hostel, as the girl on reception had told me that there was  no place to lock it up inside. It’s the first time this has happened and I’m perturbed but, I’d double locked it, and hoped for the best. So on awakening I’d sneaked a peek at the lamp-post the bike was locked to and fuck yeah, it’s still there, and I’m off to the footie without a fear in my heart. It’s only when I return and have a closer look at the bike do I realise that the seat post, seat, and seat post clamp have been stolen. And its only later as I mutter to myself upstairs that I realise that I can replace everything else easily enough, but just not the good luck charm you may remember me buying in Japan. Which fucks me right off.

I really do want to put my fist through something, and the feeling only gets worse, when I inform the girl on reception about the theft, and she responds that they have access to a secure lock up inside their sister hotel just a couple of blocks down, where I could have left my bike overnight.


I calm myself, and after getting the locations of a couple of bike shops, I wheel the bike down the street to find replacement items, how difficult is it going to be? Well more difficult than I’d originally anticipated. Not so much the seat post, or the seat, which is piss easy to find, it’s the seat post clamp that takes longer, most of the rest of the day longer, especially as I have to push the bike to where I need to be. Because I’m not attempting to ride fixed with no saddle.

Most of the bikes I’ve seen out by Venice Beach have been big unwieldy beach cruisers, curved Schwinn frames and big pneumatic tyres, ugly things, hella ugly things, only good for pootling along at just above walking speed, so it’s no wonder I can’t really find a seat post clamp which is the right size for the travelling bike. I’m still confused by why someone would want to steal my seat post clamp, well why someone would steal my seat and seat post at all. Do they think it will fit their bike? Is it a ruse to make me abandon the bike so they can come back cut the chains and be off with the rest of it? Has someone done it to them and they are returning the favour? Do they think they can sell it for any sort of money?

I’m left shaking my head at this, but the deed has been done and I tramp from one bike shop to another, for the better part of the morning and early afternoon, encountering as I do so some kids on a skateboard and a fixed conversion, which has a weird sized spoked front wheel, which the kid riding it informs me is a wheelchair wheel.

You couldn’t make this shit up.

Finally I find the right sized seat post clamp and with that sorted and seat and seat post angled flat, and at the right height, I’m back in the saddle and rolling again.

The days roll along and as I ride around more I start to like Venice, it’s a bit sweet and sour, oil and water. There’s a definite divide between the beachfront and the vagrancy, down and outism, tourist wanderings and the streets further back and in, where there is a nice neighbourhood feel, kind of bohemian and middle class, it’s quite a contrast. 

I spend some time over at the skatepark down by the beach, watching the kids drop in, with their elbow and knee pads, and the adults, trying to grab some real big air, in their extra long shorts and headphones, stuck deep into their ears. And for my enjoyment their’s a couple of off the peg fixed bikes parked up as well. In my time on the west coast, Pavlovian like the sound of skateboard wheels over concrete, that chukka, chukka, chukka makes me happy. West coast and skateboards become entwined, and the sight of man on a long board leisurely rolling down the street, or a younger dude pushing energetically on a shorter board ollying on and off the kerb, brings a smile to my lips. I even spy a man who has eschewed the board altogether and just straps the trucks to his feet in a kind of minimalist rollerskate way and sidewinders along, legs scissoring to get him going.

Loving the taco trucks, that appear on street corners and outside, bars and clubs late at night, Aram said I should eat as much mexican food as possible, and I’m doing my damnedest, and it is so much better than the stuff we get over in blighty. Weightier, more filling, and infinitely spicier. Each burrito, quesadilla, and taco is a drooling delight. It’s a nice contrast to the kebab shop on the corner that I’m used to, the mobility, the ability to pop up anywhere is great, the food comes to you, rather than you to it. Might see if it’s possible to import the idea into london, would save a shit load on overheads for a start..  

vegas baby, vegas

In stateside, travelling, vegas on December 3, 2010 at 12:12 pm

The Fear:

So I fly into Vegas disgruntled at the baggage charge I’ve had to pay to ferry the bike there $125, and just plain discontented with us air who are worse than sleazyjet or ryanscaire. And I’m out of sorts from the off, I’ve got tickets to go to a club Tao or lavo or some combination of the two, but I can’t summon up the enthusiasm to do anything. So I cuddle up in bed, and fall asleep to the drama’s emanating from the USA network.

I’m up early the next morning to watch the world cup, watching brazil play Portugal and it’s a crushing disappointment. And now I’ve got no excuse not to head out into the sun and see all that Vegas has to offer, and as I’m quick to learn, if it’s not gambling, it’s not much at all.

Now I’ve had a hankering for the states since I was a wee ‘un, don’t know why, too many episodes of starsky and hutch and Hawaii five o, and streets of san francisco, and growing up listening to hip hop, but I’ve always knbown about and wanted to see the good ol’ US of A. And Vegas was high on the list, so coming here and being so goddamned disappointed in it, puts a big hole in my american view.

Vegas as I walk down the strip in the heat, which makes me drip, drip and drip more sweat is just one long casino. Now I’ve gone and made the mistake of booking a hotel/casino the Stratosphere right at the end of the strip, where its a good twenty/thirty min walk down to the place where it starts to get jumping, and even though I’ve bought the bike, its tires never taste the dust of the Vegas strip. I’m footing it back and forth, and the fear rides high in my gut.

Vegas is like an even more commercialised gambling version of Miami, without the beach. Vegas is about rolling with a crew, a massive, its a party town, and right now I’m in no mood to party. I have no idea why, I have no idea how to change it, so I mope about for a while, just gaping at the immensity of the casino’s, how much space they take up, how ornate and opulent they appear in this dusty space.

The strip is long and neon flooded and every time the lights come on its like a warped wonderland, but surprisingly empty, everyone’s inside hitting the tables, or the buffets. It’s well strange walking down  the strip whatever time of day it is looking for a restaurant, and then realising that there are none on the outside, you’ve got to head deep into the bowels of the casino’s to get to the food. Walking past the long lines of slot machines, one arm bandits, then the cheap roulette and craps tables, angling left and right looking for the restaurant that is marked in your time out guide, and then when you eventually find it, being underwhelmed by it and having to do the whole rigmarole again in a different casino, another walk away down the strip.

Vegas Baby!

Why is it  when hip hop dj’s wanna get a party started they head back into the creates for the big tunes, is it that hip hop/rnb from the early 90s is better than what is being produced now? Or is it that they adjust their playlist to the age of the crowd in front of them?

I’m opting for the former, they are the musical tracks, it’s like playing funk instead of 80s soul. One funny thing is that you can always  tell the American girls because they break buckwild to all the big hip hop rnb tunes that a dj lays down, singing every verse and shaking that ass! Everyone else who is European just look decidedly uncomfortable.

I discover all the above as I spend my first night out on the strip, walking along the cooler street, as the heat radiates from the concrete.  Taking photo’s of the neon, trying to figure out why this haven of hedonism isn’t hitting the spot? I still can’t figure it, so I just suffer it, and revel in the absurdity of the fantasy that Vegas is trying to create.

Oh one last thing, you know that cliché of the old person on the oxygen, fag in hand, still shoving coins into a slot machine. It’s not a cliché, saw one in this casino off the strip as I was looking for a decent burger place. Prunelike, hunched over the gambling goblin, illuminated by its spinning wheels, shoving coin after coin down it’s gaping maw. Fag letting ash drift absently onto her lap.

So seel below what I saw of Vegas, which to be honest isn’t that much…

fast friday

In all about the ride, los angelenos, stateside, travelling on December 2, 2010 at 2:14 pm

The boys at Orange 20, tell me about the fast Friday heat that is happening out at a velodrome in Encino. After listening to their instructions about the best way to get there. Writing them down obviously. On the Sunday that it happens I’m grabbing the metro and a bus, which might as well be a metro, for all of its straight line no interaction with other road users course. I shove my bike into the rack on front and sit watching the destinations tick away.

I’ve got to say I do love the bike racks on the front of the buses here. LA is a spread out kinda town, and the buses make it slightly more manageable, for those journeys that are too fucking far you can just dump the bike on the front of the bus and sit back and let the bus take you there. Only problem is that you can only fit three bikes on the racks.

After getting off the bus at my stop, its a leisurely roll through the park, over a  bridge, and then along a dusty track until I get to the velodrome, down a road and behind some fencing. As I roll up and have a quick chat with the organisers a couple of guys from DVS, its pretty quiet. I tell them who I am and they fill me in on whats happening, all the qualifying rounds around the country, leading to one big shootout, for a big amount of cash.

I sit down in the stands take off my shoes and watch the riders roll in, in dribs and drabs. There are some of the guys from Orange 20 so I walk over to the center of the velodrome and have a quick chat with them. Its all very laid back and west coast, seemingly no stress or pressure at all. Even thought there’s a large cash prize at the end for the winner. Whats interesting is the small group of fixed/freestyle riders who are going to be involved in a competition at the same time as the racing which brings together two steadfastly different “scenes” which I’m thinking even as I watch it wouldn’t happen over in london, just a bit too much generational divide to overcome maybe.

My thoughts about the laidback nature of the competition are buried as more riders turn up and their track weaponry unveiled and tweaked for the coming races. Stiff alu dolans, and tubular wheelsets mounted, gearings swapped over and game faces applied. It got serious in a hurry. And as the races start, there are some seriously quick people on track, the rumble of a group of riders flashing past is intoxicating and I’m smiling from ear to ear. This reminds me that I have a track bike for a reason and come next summer I’m going to be doing the same as these boys at Herne Hill whenever I can. I’m going to grit my teeth get down on the drops and push as hard as I can, jump onto a man’s wheel and let him pull me round even as the velocity ratchets up, try and keep pace, until I make that break for the line.

But for now I watch these californians race, the exertion etched in their faces as they slowly spin round on the wind down, cheats heaving, sweat dripping, all raced out, until the next heat, semi, final.

I had a good time, and came out of it with a free t-shirt and a bit of track fix, which I didn’t think I’d get since I’d be missing the track days back home, but it was nice to see how the other side race and compete, even if I couldn’t get on the track and race with them.

critical mass west coast style

In all about the ride, los angelenos, travelling, west coast on December 2, 2010 at 1:27 pm

People are starting to arrive, the trix boys are first, pulling wheelies and keo spins, the crowd as it grows seems to me to be defiantly young. Fixed, single speed is for the young, the flexible, most of the kids are rocking conversions with one piece cranks and rattlecan paintjobs, or a sprawl of stickers. More people come, rocking gears, old school racers, new school racers, girls on mountain bikes. There’s a man with a booming voice from channel 4 news whose interviewing cyclists and the police. He’s older, grey hair, a badly fitting suit, and a female cameraman whose eyes dart over the crowd looking for cutaways and nice shots to fill the spaces of the interviews.

There aren’t many of us when Newsman arrives and he asks me for an interview, I politely decline, then change my mind, as much as I don’t like being in front of camera, having worked in TV for as long as I have, I’m generally not down with being edited and shortened and soundbites cut out of longer responses. But what the hey, I’m on the otherside of the world, whose going to see it that I know. So I answer his fairly mundane questions, the sort of questions that non cyclists generally ask, about danger and risk, and why you want to ride in the first place. All I’m trying to tell him, that riding a bike brings me joy, and I wouldn’t be taking a bike around the world with me if I didn’t. And in all honesty the traffic in LA isn’t that bad, the roads, now thats another matter, but the traffic, nah..

Did I not tell you about the police this is the first mass with police outriders, there are fifteen/twenty of them standing waiting for the mass to start. More people turn up, on bikeboom, a local cycling website, the ride was down as between 6-8, and I mistakenly thought that was the time of the ride, but as I sit here and more and more cyclists appear I realise that actually this is the meet window and the ride will start after 8.

Listening to conversations it seems that people are expecting upwards of two hundred people, do we get that many at mass in London? More/less. The mass isn’t for me in London, to slow, too many people, too much anti car, eco rhetoric. So many different ideologies stuffed into the bulging sock that is critical mass, a bike ride to raise the profile of cycling, which nowadays only seems to be there to provide group dutch courage to those who have issues with cars and drivers and an arena to vent spleen on them.

My attention is diverted by a chubby red headed policeman having a go on a tall bike, cheers and whistles ring out. After riding round in a stately circle he safely dismounts.

I take a quick walk round, the amount of people feels like four hundred to five hundred. As we ride we stretch down the long boulevards taking up the road to the horizon. With this many people I thought the pace would be slow, but it’s not, it’s consistently swift, think a bridges ride without the sprints from every light or over the bridges, it’s nice I can stretch the legs, feel like I’m putting in the miles, just sitting in the saddle turning the pedals, pushing uphill, spinning downhill.

The rides full of all sorts of bikes, there’s a couple with a full suspension tandem mountain bike. Lots of fixed conversions, a dolan track champion, a tt lo pro, some kids on bikes a size or two too big for them, seatpost pushed all the way down and their crotch is still banging the top tube when they get out of the saddle to hoof it. The group is big and the police provide a loud and efficient outriding unit, blocking off traffic and allowing us to jump reds with impunity. But the young riders are restless, constantly crossing into oncoming traffic, rushing the kerb and skidding like a babies nappy. The level of group riding competence and awareness is all over the shop and i’m just looking out for number one, keeping my mouth closed and my eyes open.

There are several accidents which I don’t see, but I do see the aftermath, bodies lying on the floor, bikes twisted and bent. The most serious is supposedly the result of a hit and run. I rubberneck as the train passes by and then I’m heading off to some new part of Los Angeles. We ride far and wide, through Beverly hills, passing big shiny bright malls, bars with the friday night crowd outside dressed up as if they were going to a wedding. Everywhere we go, whoops and yells follow, horns are tooted and ulations chorus from throats, hands raised high. For tonight we are superstars, as we roll down Hollywood boulevard, the flashes going off are capturing our image, rather than the latest starlet, shouts of “what is this? What are you doing?” are flung at us. But no one replies “having fun” for that is what we are doing, riding our bikes, a cycling anaconda, weaving left and right, buoyed with the joy of cycling with others, even if most of them are a danger to themselves and anyone else around them.

We stop at a big park, the grove i think it’s called, the first rest stop of the night, we are splayed across two sidewalks, the road and the parkland verges. Drivers lean on their horns in annoyance as the police hold them back.

As we ride, I squeeze myself to the front, making up ground on those who choose our course. Not wanting to be stranded in a splinter group at the back and having to figure out exactly where I am after the disorientating journey i’ve been on. So I stick doggedly with the front, threading myself through the riders around me, the talkers and the skidders, the sprinters and the no handed merchants. We pass streets that I know and have ridden down, but these roads look different, I am at strange ends of them, in different parts of town, western av, Melrose, wilshire, hollywood.

The police disappear for a while, and we are left free to choose our own course with no police interference, it seems there is some jurisdictional politics going on and the police won’t follow us into this part of town. I have a quick chat with a young guy on a tall bike, who rides serenely alongside me, yelling at others in front of him as the river of bikes becomes an accordion being pushed together, as everytime we slow and come to a halt he has to make preparations to leap down. I ride with an older english pilot, in his fifties, who carries a loud hailer and uses the crispness of his english accent to yell “wanker” at some of the younger riders. He is witty and articulate and we share the road for a pace before a sprint starts and there is confusion over which way we should be going, the peloton splits and loudhailer manb goes straight ahead and I plunge to my left to head with the main pack.

We roll on and on through the night and I wonder whether it will ever stop, whether the ride continues till its last rider pedalling. But eventually we pull over into a carpark of a strip mall in a part of town that i recognise. And I bail, because I can see this ride going on for a long time and my map only stretches so far…


In los angelenos, stateside, travelling on December 2, 2010 at 12:27 pm

So after getting a phone call from the good people at swrve, I head to downtown LA to go and meet the people behind the cycling clothes that I enjoy wearing so much. Cycling clothes that don’t make me seem too much of a cyclist when off the bike, but when on the bike make it a pleasure to ride, just enough pockets in the right places, and cut just so, to make it a pleasure to ride in. And when the temperature dips as it has now in ye olde london town, and the snow starts to fall, my milwaukee hoodie keeps me toasty and warm, and dry, well dry enough until I wash it another couple of times to get back the water repellence it used to have…

Can you tell I’m a fan.

Downtown LA despite the skyscrapers, plethora of hotels and rooftop bars, feels distinctly deserted, and on street level the amount of bodegas, discount stores and multitude of boarded up shopfronts give it an air of dilapidation and destitution, it reminds me of Dalston and Hackney before the creeping gentrification took hold, when no one with any sense used to rock through there apart from the ones that lived there. But as I look around downtown la, I’m not sure where the people live here…

After a couple of wrong turns and a leisurely roll through town, I finally find the building their based in, about twelve, maybe fourteen storeys high, lovely old fifties/sixties thing, cornices, and pale brickwork around the windows, roll the bike into the lobby, let the large lift take me upstairs and then out along a corridor to their offices.

When the door is opened and I’m invited in by Matt, I’m surprised as I lay my bike down alongside his commuter that their office/workspace is also their workshop, one side of the large open space, which is divided by a run of shelving units which hold boxes and boxes of clothes, all labelled by design and size, opens out into a factory space where a run of sewing machines and fabric lie waiting for the staff to come in and start producing the goods.

 Matt tells me later that this is great since they can prototype clothes quickly, and if changes are required can turn those changes into finished clothes almost immediately. It also means that anyone in the who knows them can get their clothes customised within a day or two. I take this on board and when at the end of my visit I sort through their assembled clothing ranges – you didn’t think I would come all this way and not buy anything did you? – I take them up on their offer and have some of them tailored more exactly to me.

I spend a pleasant couple of hours in the company of Matt and Muriel as Matt talks me through the thinking behind Swrve and I just talk about cycling, travelling, riding apparel and the tour de france. Its lovely to know that the people who make the cycling clothes that I love to wear are as passionate about cycling as I am, and just want to make the best, most comfortable product out there. It is also good that the cosrt of said product doesn’t move past a point that most cyclists are comfortable paying.

Being in Swrve’s offices and talking to Matt about cycling, decisions to cycle, cycling heroes, cycling apparel, cycling in la, cycling, cycling, cycling, reminded me how much I do love cyclists, and made the sticker that I have on my rear wheel make me smile even more “everyone on two wheels is a friend”  because we know what its like to be the fragile one on the road, the exhiliaration of riding hard along anb emnpty road, or, dicing with traffic as it crawls along, and we fly past. The connection between yourself and that inanimate machine that you power and how in that connection, it becomes more than the sum of its parts, how in the end if you ride enough, you merge, and cycling becomes an extension of movement, as easy and unconscious as walking, talking, breathing, eating. 

So I bid my fare thee wells to Matt and Muriel and got just a little bit lost and out of breath as the darkness approached trying to make my way back uptown to west hollywood. Knowing that soon  I would have some more Swrve apparel to roll around town in..

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orange 20

In all about the ride, bike, los angelenos, stateside, travelling on November 19, 2010 at 4:25 pm

Been in Hollywood for a couple of days and decide I need to find some bike shops, hopefully where the staff aren’t dicks, and a friend who I met in Brazil has told me about Orange 20 which isn’t that far away from where I’m staying.

So ride down to it, across the bumpy, cracked tarmacadam, with the large buses, and cars strangely enough giving me quite a wide berth, and discover that the guy who does trackosaurus Rex, who was super cool and was arranging for me to go and have a look at swrve’s (cycling clothing manufacturer) office space, runs the shop, or is one of the bods who runs the shop.

Orange 20 is a cool not so little store that is down on Heliotrope, opposite the bike kitchen, which was closed when I was down there, but I’m going to go back as I hear they have a very good bike map of Los Angeles and at this point in time that is what I really need.

Orange 20 felt like a bigger version of Brixton cycles, cool staff willing to answer your questions without any attitude, interesting selection of bikes and bits, obviously more track than geared, young men coming in with their bikes to be repaired or buy parts, or just joke and laugh with the staff. It’s good to be back amongst bikes and bike people.

Grabbed a couple of t-shirts, some caps, and hung out for a little while. They also let me know about a track day for Fast Friday which was happening out in Encino, on the weekend, and the critical mass that was happening on the friday. All in all, I had a lovely time there, and was well fucking stoked to have found it.