Saturday, 31 January 2015

Meet Amélie le Gall

Have you heard of Amélie le Gall? This pretty girl from Brittany, in North-West France, was a phenomenal athlete during the 1890s. Here she is in 1896, riding her French-made Gladiator bicycle.
In 1896, she set the women’s world record for 100 kilometres at the Aquarium, Westminster, LondonAmélie also won the Women’s World Championship road race in Paris in 1896.

Sadly, at the time, many people still did not recognise women's cycle racing as a legitimate sport. It was considered improper for women to take part.

But Amélie spent a lot of time in London, where she adopted the ‘stage name’ of Lisette (some say 'Lisette Marton') and became a celebrity. She raced on tracks, often against men. She was said to be trained in London by ‘Choppy Warburton’ – a Svengali-like notorious sporting entrepreneur, but at least this connection must have propelled her into public view. She participated in six-day races in Westminster and also in Paris. Apparently, like Mark Cavendish, she had an amazing sprint finish.

The story is that Amélie eventually retired from racing, got married and settled on a ranch in South America.
The 'Gladiator' of 1895.
I would like to find out more about this amazing French woman who did so much to establish cycle racing for women. If you have any information, please let me know.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Choosing a Bicycle for Touring

I wrote the following article more than four years ago, and about 2500 people have read it. I am re-publishing it, with some slight updates, as it obviously served a purpose.
Here’s a nice machine, the Ridgeback Expedition Touring Bicycle. I think a touring holiday on this well-equipped machine with 26-inch wheels (it currently costs about £950) would be very enjoyable.
A touring bicycle needs a frame that is strong but as light as possible. A steel frame is best in  my view, as it is robust and offers more comfort than the stiff aluminium alloy frames. Like Racing Bicycles but unlike the Classic or City Bicycle, the Tourer should have drop handlebars in order to provide a variety of hand positions over a long day. But if you have reasons to prefer straight handlebars, there are plenty of machines, such as the Dawes Mojave range, to satisfy you. Another possibility is the 'butterfly' bar (like a broken figure of 8) that is becoming fashionable and seems to offer a variety of hand positions. The wheelbase should be (for comfort) relatively long – an inch or two more than for a racing bicycle. The saddle does not have to be too racy either; comfort is the essence.

The touring bicycle should have robust wheels, shod with puncture-resistant tyres. The wheels are likely to be alloy for lightness and 26 inch or 700c in size. The tyres should be medium-width (e.g. 32mm) rather than the very narrow sizes used for racing. The bicycle certainly needs mudguards (fenders) and at least one rack for carrying panniers. There should be a triple chainset (probably made by Shimano or SRAM or Campagnolo, who all offer a wide range of mechanisms at prices ranging from reasonable to very expensive indeed). This should provide a good range of gears – specially at the lower end. You will need low gears when pedalling your load uphill or into a headwind. The bicycle needs good brakes, such as cantilever-style.

There are plenty of bicycles available designed specifically for touring. The Claud Butler Dalesman (recently discontinued) was typical.
The machine was equipped with cages for two water bottles. You will certainly need at least one of these on any touring bicycle. This bicycle seems to have been replaced in 2014 by the Claud Butler Regent, which is Shimano-equipped, with 24 gears, and Tektro brakes. This bicycle costs a little under £600:
You may choose to have a saddle-bag as well as rear panniers. Panniers on the front wheel are possible too. But I find quick-release rear panniers are all I need.

The amount of luggage you take is obviously a matter of personal preference and partly depends on whether you are staying at bed-and-breakfasts, hotels, or camping. Of course, if you’re on a very long camping tour, you could opt for a trailer, like this:
My tip is: take only what you really need. Some touring cyclists go in for ‘credit card touring’ (paying for food, accommodation and even some clothes as they go along). This cuts down on luggage.

There are some super purpose-built tourers made by such companies as Thorn and Koga. My own tourer is a Dawes Galaxy and it suits me just fine. Here we are together in September 2008, complete with all my luggage in my two quick-release panniers, touring in Holland.
By the way, bicycle catalogues these days include a strange category of machine known as the Audax. Do you want one? You can turn your Tourer into an Audax by (1) removing its luggage, luggage rack and (usually) mudguards and (2) possibly switching to narrower [23mm] tyres. You then have an Audax – a bike that is just the job for shorter-range sightseeing.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The Nutbrook Trail - a Hidden Gem

Not many people know about The Nutbrook Trail. It is a marvellous place for a peaceful half-day's cycling if you live in Nottingham or Derby. It's mid-way between the two cities and runs from Heanor to Long Eaton. It comprises ten miles of completely traffic-free riding and is a joy in all the changing seasons.
You may spot these two swans, Sven and Svetlana. They are residents of Long Eaton.
There are artistically-inspirational views.
And you avoid the thundering traffic by passing underneath it.
The Nutbrook Trail is a nostalgic reminder of our region's industrial past. Alongside its route, there once were collieries and iron-works. The building below (at Sandiacre) used to be a lace factory. Lace was a product for which Nottingham was once renowned. Now this factory has been tastefully converted into apartments. I'm glad it has not been bulldozed.
The Nutbrook Trail is based at its northern end on the former railway goods line that served the factories and the collieries. This part runs through Shipley Country Park. The southern end is the towpath of the Erewash Canal. The Trail is part of the U.K.'s National Cycle Route No. 67.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Bicycling Club Bugle Calls

Today we may find the idea amusing; but I can tell you that in the earliest days of cycling (1870 - 1890), groups of riders (many on penny farthings) formed themselves into clubs in a manner that was all rather military and went out on weekend rides into the countryside, usually with a stop at an alehouse for lunch and a drink. These clubs were led by a 'captain'; and one of the cyclists carried a bugle with which the captain's instructions could be signalled in military fashion to all members of the group. If he could play one, the captain himself might be the bugler. Here's a captain, proud with his ordinary and his bugle.
See the bugle?
Here are the calls that were used by many of the clubs. As one who can play the bugle myself, I note that the dinner call (in 6/8 time and with plenty of high Gs) would be quite hard to play after a couple of hours of strenuous cycling, though it does convey a sense of imminent pleasure!

The instruction to 'prepare for mounting' is interestingly ornate. And the order to cycle in single file is remarkably like the start of the signature tune to the old British TV comedy series Steptoe and Son!

By the way, many British cycling clubs were directed by 'Captains' right up to the 1930s.

Finally, here's another 'Spot The Bugle' test for you - from about 1880:

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Ninety-Nine Bicycles Hanging on the Wall

A reader in New Zealand sent me this picture about five years ago, so I assumed the photo was taken in that country.

However, blog-reader Francisco Almeida has informed me several years later that it's the wall of a bicycle shop in Germany and that the shop owner, Christian Petersen, decorated the exterior façade of his shop with 120 bicycles!