Posts Tagged ‘bikes’

Belles, bikes, bridges

April 10, 2010

This morning at the crack o’ dawn, the Normandy touring trio were reunited for an early morning ride through London. The challenge was to snake our way down the Thames from East to West riding across every bridge from Tower Bridge to Hammersmith. Our timing just happened to coincide with 30 days of biking which I’ve signed up to and the three of us, like them, ride our bikes. (mostly). every. friggin. day.

If you ride a bike then I’d recommend adding it to your London to-do list. Go early before the traffic on a nice summer’s morning.

Here we are:


People power

March 12, 2010

Nice message from Howies telling the Beeb what they (and their customers) think about the proposed cuts to 6 Music and the Asian Network.

The people speak. Let’s hope it has impact.

At a talk by John Elkington last night at the LSE on ‘adapting to climate change within a new economic framework’, it drove home the message to me again about who is gonna get us out/ beyond/ through this mess: US.

Sorry, not the United States, but us. People. Our voices. Our pressure on politicians. Our demands of our employers. Our actions.

Are you one the people who speaks out… and has the T-shirt?


This is my choice of message. Ride in style. Power to the pedal. Better get myself the T-shirt now.

I ♥ CT

February 1, 2010

It’s 13 years since I was last in the ‘Mother City’. And just like when you’re growing up and someone who hasn’t seen you for a long time typically says, “my, haven’t you changed”, so have I reacted to Cape Town. It’s like CT’s Big African Mama has finally kicked the city into shape. And just in time for the 2010 World Cup being hosted by South Africa!

There’s a joke that it’s called the Mother City because it takes 9 months to do anything in Cape Town. But I’d be inclined to disagree. It only took me two emails, one phone call and a visit to a shop in the city centre to find a bike I could borrow to take part in Cape Town’s Critical Mass last Friday. The guys at Fixed Gear Cape Town are doing a great job of bringing fixie culture and city cycle style to Cape Town.

I’m not sure what I expected to find on coming back here. I have hazy memories from January 1997 of the backpackers’ hangouts on Long Street, climbing Table Mountain because the cable car was out of service with a hangover (mine not the cable car’s), getting sloshed in Stellenbosch on a wine tour and being surprised by the chilly sea waters on the Atlantic coastline.

All of that is still here, although the cable car works and I’ve drunk considerably less Hunters’ Gold this trip. But there is so much more now too. A shiny new stadium built for the World Cup which Capetonians are really proud of. It hosted its first match just the other day. Lots more security and police presence. Arty suburbs aplenty with great creative spaces and lots of seriously great designers. A small but growing bike culture. A blooming green scene – the first article in Cape Town’s Time Out is all about “going green in the Mother City” citing the city’s first green shopping arcade, local organic markets and a green cab company. A retro vibe from all the vintage cars and second-hand clothing stores. And my personal favourite, a cafe culture with divine coffee, cakes and croissant. “Lekker” as the locals say.

It’s almost as though Cape Town has done a London. From a structure-less city it’s become a series of areas with their own identities, like the idea that London is really just a collection of villages each with a different vibe. There’s even an imaginary dividing line known as the ‘lentil curtain’ that separates the hippies from the townies here!

As far as I can tell in 10 days, the main areas and the character of their inhabitants are:

Observatory (or Obs) for the hippy-arty crowd

Woodstock for the eco-arty-foodie tribe

Sea Point promenade (a la Miami boulevard) for the highly-toned fitness fanatics

Camps Bay for the Riviera beach set (more St Tropez than S Africa)

Clifton for the wannabe-seen scene

Bo-Kaap around Cape Quarter for the true flag flyers of the Rainbow Nation

Long Street/ Kloof Street and Gardens for the they-think-they’re-trendy Alpha types

Kalk Bay for the literary-arty lovers


More to come about CT and its ‘capeability’ soon.

I just know that I ♥ the city whose tourism slogan is “Live it. Love it.” Exactly my motto.

Love in the teenies

December 27, 2009

I’ve noticed lots of ‘love’ messages around recently. Maybe it’s a Christmas thing. This picture is of Carnaby Street’s Christmas decorations. But I’ve also seen ads asking us to love our office (Clerkenwell), love your bank (Earls Court) and there’s the great Waltham Forest ‘heart’ recycling campaign designed by my friend Emily Wilkinson while at Futerra.

According to The Sunday Times ‘love’ is going to be a big theme of the teenies (the follower of the noughties). At number 18 in their 50 trends for the coming decade they pronounce that ‘Love is the new happiness’. They say: “this isn’t about smug, coupled-up bliss – more a big-hearted approach to work, money, family, community, even politics.” Sounds good to me.

As you may have gathered from this blog, I love my bike. This Christmas I haven’t been able to ride for various reasons including icy conditions and the fact that rail-replacement buses and bikes don’t mix. Instead I’ve been seeking mental escapism.

For my older brother’s Christmas present I bought him the latest issue of The Ride journal which I secretly wanted for myself but figured that three days at his would give me ample time to flick through it. Recommended it by a friend and old colleague Dave, a wise city cyclist, I’ve really enjoyed reading every issue so far. The articles are just the right length, the visuals beautiful, the stories inspiring, the contributors passionate people who happen to ride bikes, and the content varied enough that every kind of rider will find something for them.

I found myself identifying most with an article titled ‘The Chase’ written by Tammy Thorne from Toronto who is the editor-in-chief of a bike magazine called Dandyhorse. She describes her love of two wheels…

“I love that I am responsible for my actions and myself. I love that my method of transportation is responsible to the environment we all share, and does minimal harm to an already damaged earth. I love that it keeps traffic flowing. I love that it keeps me fit and sun-dappled. I love the speed and freedom.

I really love all the stops I can make on my way home. I can fill up my pannier and basket with groceries from the market, return library books, pick up dry-cleaning and maybe a bottle of wine for later, and a fresh homemade loaf of bread. I love that I can detour and chase a fixie boy who thinks he’s faster than me. I love that I meet new people and talk to old friends on my commute every day. I love that sometimes I am late for work because of it.

I’ll keep chasing through the city to improve safety on the streets, especially at the intersections and underpasses. But I’ll also chase fast boys on bikes, cold beers in parks and my imagination, to make this city a better, more beautiful and more bike-friendly place…

I love riding my bike. And I love the chase.”

I can’t put it any better. I love all of it too. Bring on love in 2010. May bikes become the new happiness.

Selling the sizzle of cycling

December 16, 2009

Today’s not the best day to write a post about the joys of cycling when we’ve had sleety snow in London and every rider in town has probably arrived at their destination with a wet bottom. More soggy than sizzle. Rain on that BBQ. But bear (bare?) with me.

Over the course of COP15 things have got a bit miserable, like the weather. Demonstrations. Arrests. Leaked documents. Mistrust. Power struggles. And there’s more to come now the world’s leaders are arriving. We haven’t heard much positivity. The Ecotopia event sounds like a rare light. The idea of positive visions is addressed by Futerra’s new report Sell the Sizzle which challenges communicators with where’s the sizzle? Where are our visions of a positive, exciting, desirable future? The ‘sizzle’ concept is that heaven sells better than hell. So why do we keep flogging hellish visions of climate apocalypse in the hope people will get it and change their behaviours and save the planet? The mouth-watering smells and the stomach-rumble inducing sounds of the sausage sizzling over the coals sells far better than a cold, limp lump of uncooked meat-of-sorts.

Take this analogy to the bicycle. And I speak from my point of view, but the kick comes from the ride, the wind in your hair, the adrenalin of weaving in and out of traffic, racing off the lights, getting to places faster, door-to-door and avoiding public transport. The feelings from riding are more than the sum of the bike parts. Not to say I didn’t carefully choose every part of my bike, I did and I love it. But the sizzle is in the ride and not the metal. The metal is the facilitator.

The awful accidents and vulnerability of riders on the roads doesn’t help win over new converts. My friend Bev works in the intensive care unit of a South London hospital where the latest woman to die in London this year in a bike accident was transferred before she very sadly died. Bev didn’t see her, but her friend did, and what I heard about her injuries was horrific. No wonder Bev, a very new cyclist, has been put off. There’s no sizzle in danger.

There are also the constant antagonisms between vehicles and riders, pedestrians and riders, and old and new riders. The last category I find the most upsetting. Where’s the solidarity? There’s definite sizzle in solidarity.

A recent Sunday Times feature on cycle rage asked if ‘cyclists should be give the red light’. Okay, so some cyclists are a little crazy and ride dangerously but so do drivers and they do far more harm to other people. But articles like this don’t really help sell the sizzle of cycling.

What does sizzle for a certain target audience is this music video featuring a critical mass of very cool looking cyclists. It won’t make cycling mainstream, but it’s a beautifully shot film and it’s a long way from the ‘Evansisation’ of cycling. There’s an interesting blog from Copenhaganize about it. I quote from the post: “Don’t we – the writer and reader of these words – sometimes secretly feel as though we are the cycling Kings and Queens of Promise?” Yes we do and let’s sell that sizzle!


November 21, 2009

This last week I’ve been grounded. My wheels, or more specifically my knees, have been out of action since I took a tumble off my not so trusty stead last Sunday. No-one else and no moving vehicles were involved. Just wheel, curb, knees, tarmac. *Ouch*

Other than the swelling, bruising and challenges negotiating stairs, the most inconvenient and annoying thing is getting about town sans velo. I’ve realised I’m totally lost, consistently late and lethargic without my bike. Walking is SO slow. Buses never come. Tubes are packed. Eurgh. The only, extremely small benefit I can see is being able to dress in the mornings without a cursory thought of ‘will I be able to cycle in this?’. Then I realised that most of my clothes can be fashioned for freewheeling freedom.

Drawing by Emily Wilkinson, a very lovely birthday present.

Other bike related presents included a new bling bell, a beautifully illustrated book about global fixed-gear bike culture inspiring lots of ‘I want one of them’ comments and a cleverly hand-crafted and dead stylish Cath Kidston-esque reflective sash inspired by cycle fashion pictures on The Guardian website which my friend and fellow bike-belle Erica made.

Now all I need to do is to get back in the saddle.

Who am I? A blog about identity

October 26, 2009

It's never too late 3

In true blog dialogue style and having been pipped to the post (literally!) by the creator of my identity, the talented Emily, here are my thoughts and responses to Emily’s blog post and my lovely new ‘g’.

I’ve always had lots of nicknames – it comes with the territory of having a 3 syllabled first name. I’m also slightly obsessed by my name or anything with my name on it and possess a large golden G acquired one drunken night many moons ago at university to prove the level of my fixation. That’s another story.

I’m definitely a ‘g’. Pre-teen I was known at home as ‘little G’ being the littlest of 3. Then there was the name George which came from playing the tomboy in Enid Blyton’s Famous Five in a school play and which kinda stuck. But there’s also girl-in-control, the G-ster or G-Meister. We were known as G squared when I worked for a Ghanaian charity with a girl called Georgie. There’s my German alter ego Georg. My larger than life persona Porge (every Georgina is cursed by the nursery rhyme). And the not-to-be-messed-with G-force. But never Georgie or Gina.

If I start on my surname the list gets longer. Combes. Combester. Combie. Coombo. Single O Combes. Combsie. Miss C.

Then the totally random Rose, Miss Hilary and Pinks.

No wonder a girl can get confused. I like to think each name embodies a different me. A bit like my bikes (Pashley, folding and single speed) representing different parts of my personality. In co-creating my freelance identity with Emily, an illustrator-designer-writer, we started to look at these different sides of me, my passions, beliefs and what Emily would call my ‘essence’ (definitely chilli flavoured).

The brainstorming process involved mind-maps to muse on like this:

Brand G

Reflection on quick illustrations Emily’s done for me in the past, including ‘The island of George’ which represents boundaries:

the island of george

Choosing photos I’ve taken that reflect my personality, passions and places I’ve been. See some card pics here and below. The shoes – Malaysian jungle rubber footwear – seem to be the most popular.


And picking my favourite quotes which I’ve talked about in a recent post.

From all of this, the best part of the creative process was being given the chance to co-design a way of representing me, what I do, what I like and how I go about doing what I like. It was all about me!

As another George said, It is never too late to be what you might have been. Now I’ve got my identity I feel like I’ve got a much better chance of being what I want to be.

All all thanks to Emily. For fabulous illustrations and co-created identities, Emily can be contacted on

Bikes rule OK!

October 8, 2009

On account of National poetry day, I just wrote this:

I ride my bike all over town
Cos it feels good, not for some eco-crown
Bridges at night are definitely the best
Lights of the city not put to rest
Bumper to bumper, 2 wheels needn’t care
Weaving between them, we cyclists dare
To race the traffic, we nearly always win
See you later drivers, you’ll see us grin
Brompton, Pashley, single speed, fixed
We’re in this together, undeniably mixed
Day-glo, in heels, courier kit or city suit
Anything goes for the daily commute
Feeling left out, then join our gang
Saddle up safely and come down to hang
With our critical mass, it’s fun to play
Come rain or shine, bikes rule ok!

I ride my bike all over town

Cos it feels good, not for some eco-crown.

Bridges at night are definitely the best

Lights of the city not put to rest.

Bumper to bumper, 2 wheels needn’t care

Weaving between them, we cyclists dare

To race the traffic, we nearly always win

See you later drivers, you’ll see us grin.

Brompton, Pashley, single speed, fixed

We’re in this together, undeniably mixed.

Day-glo, in heels, courier kit or city suit

Anything goes for the daily commute.

Feeling left out, then join our gang

Saddle up safely and come down to hang

With our critical mass, it’s fun to play

Come rain or shine, bikes rule ok!

new wheels 2

The School of George

September 14, 2009

I’ve tweeted this before but it deserves more than a 140 character mention. I totally agree with Caroline Brimmer – the Programme Director of The School of Life – on her pedalling thoughts. She writes…

‘The saddle is one of the very best places from which to contemplate the world. As Robert M Pirsig, author of the infamous Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, said “In a car you’re always in a compartment…You’re a passive observer. On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re in the scene, not just watching it. The sense of presence is overwhelming.”’

It’s not surprising then that The School of Life offers a Philosophy by Bicycle day trip. 20 miles to cover the whole of Western philosophy. That’s speedy Sartre, rapid Rousseau and hasty Hobbes!

On my recent holiday – 2 wheels, trois belles, 230 miles – there was a lot of time for philosophical contemplation between crepe breaks, chain fixing pit stops (I only properly learnt how to use the gears of the bike I borrowed on our 4th day!) and cursing those unexpected Norman ‘monts’ and that ferocious coastal ‘vent’.


I found myself thinking about the conversations I’ve had with friends recently about their own informal rules/ quotes/ film and song lyrics/ sayings that they live by. Typically, in that initially surprising but probably subliminally determined way, at the same time as talking about it I came across articles in the media (a supplement about how to be happy in the Saturday Guardian), was recommended books on the topic (like Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis) and was introduced to organisations including The School of Life with its ‘ideas to live by’. I’m intrigued by their MOT of your mind service although I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to test it out!

With these timely prompts, recent musings over my freelance offering, and mile upon mile of thoughts from the saddle I’ve come up with a few rules of my own. I’m not sure if they make me cry or cringe, but they’re an articulation of my values/ beliefs/ motivations/ whatever, that I’ve illustrated by some of my favourite quotes/ sayings/ advice.

So, here goes…

1. Give it a go

The hardest part of doing anything is making the decision to do it — My brother

He who dares wins — Del Boy Trotter

2. Be an individual

In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different — Coco Chanel

3. Keep calm and carry on

Worry pretends to be necessary but serves no useful purpose – Eckhart Tolle

Never worry about anything you can’t change — Michael Caine

4. Live it and love it

Dance like no-one is watching — Mark Twain

5. What’s the rush?

Wisely and slow, they stumble that run fast — Friar Lawrence, Romeo and Juliet

6.  Trust your instinct

Instinct is there for a reason — My friend Emily

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so — Shakespeare

7. Believe

Influence can be made, inspiration and passion can’t — Brains on Fire

Lloyd: The least you could do is level with me. What are my chances?

Mary: Not good.

Lloyd: You mean like one out of a hundred?

Mary: More like one out of a million.

Lloyd: So you’re tellin’ me there’s a chance.

Jim Carrey (Lloyd) in Dumb and Dumber

8. Less is more

Listen more than you speak, read more than you write — Anon

9. Great just isn’t good enough

What’s the point of competing if you’re not out to win — My other brother

10 Keep it short (and simple)

Brevity is the sister of talent — Anton Chekhov (via Andy Maslen, copy writer)

And if I’m allowed an 11th, it’d be two wheels good.

Mobile messaging

August 3, 2009

For 2 years now it’s been all about the bike to get me from A-B. Speedily, enjoyably and stylishly. And I’m part of a growing movement of girls and guys “who wouldn’t be seen dead in lycra shorts“. But it’s not just about what you wear to ride in, it’s just as important how you ‘dress’ your wheels.

Bike decoration is big, and seems to be only getting hotter. If you’ve got a message why not say it on your spokes, bare it on your basket, or front it from your frame. When you ain’t got a bumper or rear window to sticker, you’ve gotta get creative.

Damien Hirst has done it for Lance Armstrong’s Tour de France wheels. Whether you like it or not, it’s definitely a statement piece of art.


Image from Marketwire.

The courier crew on their single speed and fixies ride with all sorts woven through their spokes. In recent days I’ve spent a lot of time staring at people’s wheels trying not to topple off my bike in the process.

I’ve seen a kind of knitted effect. Wool wound round between two spokes to form a wedge of colour. When the same is done on the opposing spokes and the wheel is spinning it creates a lovely kaleidoscope effect.

All over sticker jobs seems to be in too. I guess personalised plastering of paint work isn’t so desirable to the old tea leafs.

Snapshot 2009-08-03 17-58-04

I’ve seen nice messages around. Ride on Ride free. No oil. Or one I found on Flickr attached to a bike basket: Friends don’t let friends drink Starbucks.

Snapshot 2009-08-03 17-58-34

And I’ve met all sorts. The friendly white van man on Critical Mass last Friday who wanted to experience life on the road from the other side of the windscreen. He was loving it.

And the bike polo boys battling in the first European Hardcourt Bike Polo Championships in Borough last weekend. With team names like Malice, FFF (Fabulous French F*ckers), BAD and Malletforce, they make themselves out to be pretty hard. And they are. Balancing, skidding, tearing up the tarmac as they race for the ball with collisions aplenty. But when they’re done they throw their trusty steads to the ground and give each other and their opponents ecstatically congratulatory bear hugs. So even though the covers over their spokes are part statement, part protection, part team identification, their message seems to be a friendly one. Get on a bike. Ride free and fair. Give it some mallet. Enjoy.


So if you’ve got yourself a set of self-powered wheels maybe consider what’s your mobile message and how you’ll be showing it off.