A bit like Alice in Wonderland, I emerged blinking back into the world wondering if the surrealness and madcap antics of the Grand Depart had been real and reflecting back on one of the most incredible experiences. When Yorkshire won the right to host the depart I was of course hugely excited but after going to the launch event I was worried that we would mess it up as that was a truly dreadful event. Fortunately everyone involved clearly bucked their ideas up after that and put on a truly stunning Grand Depart.
Running the Yorkshire Festival in the build up was I think key to creating such a great atmosphere as it got all sorts of creative people and enterprises doing stuff linked to the tour who may otherwise never have got involved. The result was a huge range of art and cultural activities across the region, big and small, high art to utter madcap which helped the region raise a collective eyebrow and take an interest in what was coming over the horizon. The Festival also, in my view, acted as a catalyst to all sorts of other events as communities got well and truly into the spirit of it all. The result was that countless individual acts, which on their own would have been meaningless, became part of a huge patchwork quilt of yellow, green and polka dot covering the whole of the county. A perfect example of this was the knitted yellow jersey put on the Black Prince statue in Leeds that had been knitted by 70, 80 and 90 year olds that you can read the lovely story of here.
Thursday night saw the team presentation. I did not buy a ticket for this in the arena and was pretty miffed that the organisers had taken this approach instead of the normal free show so I decided to use the money that I would have spent on a ticket for a train fare to London on the Monday. However there was no real need to go to the presentation as the teams did a presentation ride through the city centre, the huge crowds that lined the route giving a flavour of what to expect of the the next few days. Some of the riders looked a bit bemused by it all but most were smiling, acknowledging the crowds and interacting, with Ion Izagirre high fiving my daughter as he road past.
I took the Friday and Monday off work, determined to soak up the atmosphere and take in as much as I could and of course to see each of the three stages taking place in the UK. The sun had been shinning all week prior to the start but there were numerous glances at the forecasts as rain was expected on the weekend (which if it had materialised would have certainly changed the whole vibe of the event). I mooched about on the Friday, took in the Yorkshire bike show and marvelling at the vast media empire that was swinging into action and loving all the different accents I was starting to hear around town. It was fun catching up on tweets and glimpses of the teams riding around the area, included the lovely touch by Giant-Shimano who organised a tweet up ride in North Leeds. It’s amazing how the nature of social media has changed the game enabling me to catch up on all that was going on while supping on a pint of Magic Spanner at a pop up bar in the old police cells.
Saturday I wanted to see the start in Leeds, but even though I knew a lot of people would be coming into town I was still taken aback by the sheer volume of people, the whole city centre was heaving and people were standing 5 deep from about 8.30 in the morning. I was lucky in that an organisation that I know were based right on the bottom of the Headrow in a perfect spot and so I found myself hanging out of the second floor window ready for the start (see photo at the top). The crackle of noise that swept down with the riders will live with me for a long time, the riders looked pretty startled I thought by the sheer volume of people and noise that greeted the roll out.
Sunday I’d decided to head out as early as possible on the first train to Mytholmroyd and walk up Cragg Vale (the longest continuous climb in England). There was again a huge sea of people and another fantastic atmosphere as thousands of people walked and cycled up the hill chatting and smiling with the local residents who were getting set up outside their houses, parties getting started and kids selling drinks, home made buns and loom bands on the roadside. This time I managed to see the breakaway and of course the peloton sweep through treating the long drag as if it was a flat road.
London beckoned on Monday and it was strange really as after the huge party across Yorkshire I arrived in the capital to no visible sign that the tour was going to be in town. This time I headed out a little bit and was fortunate to see the two strong breakaway on their last legs before the peloton steam through at full tilt, the sprint trains getting organised. Quite incredible to see the speed at which they were riding.
After each day I watched the stage on the tele and marvelled at how brilliant it all looked. There is of course a reason that Yorkshire looked so amazingly green as we get a good chunk of rain up here but the rain held off until London, if fact the sun shone brilliantly across the weekend and Yorkshire came out to party. My abiding memory was that I’ve never seen so many people with a smile on their face and enjoying themselves. A truly memorable and magic weekend.
I’m on a quest. To fill that pure, unadulterated hour. Sandwiched between the two thick slabs of morning and afternoon. In my job I’m lucky enough to have an hour break for lunch and I’m looking for new bite-sized stuff to do.
I like the old, Victorian, philanthropic capitalists like local lad Titus Salt, the Lever brothers, Mr Cadbury, and the Rowntree family. Whilst counting their money they provided their workers with distractions, other than just combing wool, making soap or stirring chocolate.
These forward looking individuals knew that work wasn’t the be-all and end-all. The well-being of employees was on the agenda. Maybe it wasn’t just altruism, maybe they got more work out of a more content work force.
And those Victorian types were all for setting up societies to discuss big matters and learn more about each other and the world. From now on I’ll devote more of my lunchtimes to see what this city can offer its workers around noon.
So far I’ve been digging some mindfulness at the local Buddhist temple. Taken piano lessons again after a break of 20 years. I’ve got on my bike and cycled down river to see leaping Salmon. Discovered a lecture about magic lanterns (basically the demonic precursor to PowerPoint ). Went hunting for the grave of Pablo Fanque, Victorian circus impresario, whose name is immortalised in the Beatles song, Being For the Benefit of Mr Kite. The other week I attended a gathering of local philosophers in a pub to talk about Truth. So instead of window shopping and eating a pasty at the desk I’m going to look for lunchtime enlightenment through exploratory meanderings, lectures, travel, eating and leisure. And be back in an hour.
I’m a cyclist but I’m also a pedestrian, driver and passenger (car, bus, plane, train, ferry) but I don’t define myself by any of these modes of transportation in particular as there is something that combines them all – I’m a human being. There is a problem however in that some cyclists and drivers seem to have forgotten that the people they are sharing the space with are in fact other human beings and instead see them as bloody cyclists or bloody van drivers etc. As we are all human beings we are all connected, the person driving that van might be driving important medical supplies to a hospital where the cyclist is the surgeon about to use those supplies in a life saving operation for the daughter of the lady in the mini who has got up a bit too late and has not had time to do her make up so is putting it on at the lights. If via our interactions we could see each other as human beings I’m convinced that the world (and the roads I ride on in particular) would be a safer place.
You see I’m not a cyclist, I’m a son, father, brother, lover – I’m all of these things and so are you and all of us. If I could ask for one thing as I ride it would be that, simply to be seen as a human being.
When I ride my bikes I’m doing one of two things – getting from A to B for some reason (usually to or from work) or having some fun – sometimes I even have fun riding from A to B, but at no time am I trying to inconvenience or cause anyone else a problem. A couple of weeks ago on my way into work the cyclist in front of me ended up under a car that hadn’t seen him. I don’t know if he survived but I fear that he didn’t. He was going to work but will probably never get that opportunity again. How will his family feel and how will that driver wailing by the side of the road ever recover? All sorts of hopes and fears flashed through my head as I struggled to hold back my own tears while cycling on to work. We are humans we are all connected.
These thoughts and others occurred to me again when I went to see the Bicyclism exhibition at Leeds Museum which celebrates the human side of cycling. Yes some people put lycra on to ride their bikes, they are still human beings, other people of all ages, colours, shapes and sizes ride all sorts of bikes for all sorts of reasons. The exhibition celebrates this with a mixture of portraits of Leeds people and their bikes taken by Casey Orr together with a collection of self portraits of Leeds people and there bikes across the ages that you can also view via the online gallery. The exhibition is also supported by a lovely Bicyclism newspaper featuring pictures, quotes and a lovely essay on bikes and cycling by Boff Whalley.
The strange thing for me looking round the exhibition was that the theme of connectivity came through as I knew some of the people whose pictures have been taken, some actually but some just through seeing them ride their bikes. The pink beardy guy at the top rides on my commute route and boy can he ride, he’s so smooth and effortlessly quick and he regularly flies past me. The other thing that struck me was how similar all this was to an idea I’ve been mulling in my head called Leeds Rides – getting people in Leeds to photograph themselves riding and uploading to a gallery or using twitter and tagging everything #LeedsRides my idea was that it would help to show the breadth of people who ride in the city and by implication would show the connectivity that exists and most importantly – We Are All Human
Photo Credit: All photos by Casey Orr
Graffiti is I completely appreciate a controversial art form (and there will some who will not view it as art but simple vandalism) but for me there has always been a place outside of the organised art spaces for other creativity to break out. When I was in Malaga recently as well as visiting some fantastic galleries I couldn’t help but notice, and be blown away, by the graffiti that was all around the area I was staying in. At first I just noticed the odd piece but then began to realise there was more and more of it. I loved the piece at the top, an unknown artist painting on a Jackson Pollock. Look at the pot of paint which contains his Pollock paint, I couldn’t help but smile at this.
I came across skulls, lizards, rats, random bits and pieces, some small and some huge taking up the entire side of buildings. Lots os the shops that had shutters down in the evening had taken up the graffiti theme and had their business spray painted on the shutters. Check out the cheeky barber. After I’d been in the city a couple of days I was walking back to the hotel when I looked up and saw this incredible Raven like bird on the side of a building out of which flew a host of smaller birds flying across the neighbouring wall. I was completely transfixed by this, totally amazing. Whilst I’m sure some people will disagree with this, for me this graffiti art added a real flavour to the city and there was some amazing talent on display.
I make no apologies that at the moment this blog is having it’s fair share of bike related posts because as well as my riding and the Tour hitting town in a little over a week’s time there are literally stacks of art and cultural bike related events happening using the tour as a catalyst – there are 48 events in Leeds over the next week alone. Alongside the headline Yorkshire Festival stuff there are all sorts of other smaller events taking place. This is never going to happen again here so I’m determined to make the most of it.
Tonight I went along to Bike Story by 509Arts which was an outside show featuring bike stories, our bike stories. People have been submitting their memories and stories and these were then brought to life by the three actors into a one hour show of history, nostalgia, memories and humour celebrating how bikes have been intertwined in our lives even if you may now no longer ride one. Most of us can remember learning to ride a bike, those first wobbly moments of freedom with parent or older sibling puffing along beside you encouraging you to keep pedalling while you shouted at them to keep holding on.
This heartfelt moment was of course replayed beautifully but there were many others, from an aid worker borrowing a local kids bike to set a strava king of the mountain time in a war zone, a lonely single man riding around on his tandem after a breakup of his relationship which had initial started after their bikes had been locked to each others, someone who’d lost 16 stone through cycling and wondered if he could ride 100 miles to his girlfriends house, the first British man to complete the Tour de France, bumps and scrapes, a fatality, charging down hills and puffing up them, Christmas presents, Birthday presents, hand me downs were all played out as a revolving patchwork of bikes and memories.
These stories were intertwined with our own which we’d been asked to scribble down and hand in before the show started and I found myself transported back to my early wobbles as one of the older kids in the village had been tasked with getting me riding for ‘Bob a Job Week’ . I feel very fortunate in that as I cycle most days I’m constantly refreshing the memory bank with new stories some of which, like Monday’s ride, link me straight back through time to my younger self.
All that life is was on display tonight, our hopes and dreams, fears and failures, loves and losses but all told with heartfelt whimsy from the saddle and the moral of the bike story – just keep pedalling.
When I was a kid I used to get in from school and if not going out playing footy or some other sport I’d go for a ride on my bike, this was pre mountain bike days and the whole bmx scene passed my little village by so I’d go out on my ‘racer’ or road bike as they are now know. I had no particular specialist equipment and just rode my bike on a ten mile loop round the lanes. I might if I could remember put a puncture kit in my pocket but that was it, can’t ever remember even putting a water bottle in the cage. Of course this approach changed for longer excursions but for the after school ride it was just get on the bike and go for a ride.
Nowadays I seem to find myself packing as if I’m going on a major expedition when I go out and sometimes the logistics of getting a ride sorted can itself feel like planning a journey to some far flung region of the globe. I am particularly bad and stuff all sorts into my backpack, just in case, even though I don’t know how to use half of the stuff that’s in there. To this end I’ve gone to a much smaller pack to restrict what I can take but still seem to carry a lot.
Tonight I decided to ride like I was a kid again, an hour loop on trails as opposed to roads near my house. The bike may be different but the approach was the same. I packed nothing, no backpack, no water, no tools, no pump, no kit. Just mobile (didn’t have them of course when I was a kid) and some cash in case I stopped at a pub. It felt incredibly liberating and of course if I did have a mechanical I was never more than a couple of miles from the house. I know this is not the approach to take really but tonight it felt right and I remembered what it was like to be 15 and free.
The cracking ever changing exhibitions at Leeds Gallery has this week seen the gallery go all things bike for their Cyclism show which brings together a collection of design, graphics, film, bikes, photography in a delightful mix of art and design centred around the bike. There is some delightful work that has been produced for the exhibition (all of which is available to buy) together with some great cycling jerseys and bikes hanging down from the roof. I’m not a huge fan of the whole fixie scene but I must admit the Colnago is a fantastic looking machine that I’d happily enjoy learning how to master riding fixed on. There is also some beautiful old footage that you can sit down and watch with a coffee from Cafe 164 next door. Whether you like bikes, bike art or just great graphics pop down, the exhibition runs through till the end of July.