New bike

So, I wanted a bike that was very cheap so I didn’t mind locking it up and leaving it alone in London. As great as the brompton is, it’s so valuable I’ll never leave it anywhere outside home or work and sometimes it’s useful to be able to cycle and leave the bike. So I scoured gumtree and found this old peugeot racer. Advertised as £70, got it down to £55. It just about works, but needs a lot of TLC, and a new chain, front wheel and tyres. Pretty neat though for £55!

To B or not to B(rompton)

I’ve been thinking about this a lot since I got back and have read about other cyclists setting off on their adventures.
I went on a Brompton, it’s part of the branding of the site and the tag-line. It was a fantastic ride, and very reliable apart from an issue with tyres. But there were niggling problems. Braking was tricky with rims overheating. Carrying luggage was a pain with the trailer. If there was a way to improve the brakes (I think the only way would be disc brakes) and carry all my luggage on the bike so I didn’t have the trailer, I’d have no hesitation about setting off next time on the Brompton.

But.

But I’ve seen other fully loaded touring bikes, and they look so much easier. No brake issues, no luggage difficulties. And it’s left me wondering about my choice of bike for the next trip. Decisions.

But it will probably be at least two years until next time I set off, so it’s not a decision I have to make any time soon.

Spring cycling

Well spring is here and I’ve had my first few rides of the year. Today is a gorgeous sunny day and I’m sat in Hyde park before the RGS monday night lecture starts.
It’s odd cycling again without luggage after so long riding pulling 60kg in a trailer. When I arrived in Istanbul I was in great shape and when I went out on a few rides around Istanbul without the trailer the bike would surge ahead on each pedal stroke after I was so used to putting enormous force into the pedals to keep a combined mass of over 130kg in motion. 30km plus from the golden horn to the black sea and back was a short ride.

Now after 6(!) months of lazy London living the 6km to work tires me out and each pedal stroke is hard work rather than a surge forwards. In short, I’m very out of shape.

I missed the sign-up deadline for the London to Brighton this year, but I’m going to do the double distance bikeathon and the Dunwich Dynamo. That’s a 120mile ride from London to Dunwich on the suffolk coast. Overnight, starting at 8pm. Google it for more info! Anyone want to join me?!

Aix-en-Provence – Day 3

Up about 8 for breakfast and to organise things. Everyone else gradually emerges and we miss our 9:15 planned hotel departure time by half an hour.
Look around La Ciotat which is a traditional fishing town trying to keep its heritage while attracting tourists but not losing its traditional industry. On the outskirts we look around the out of town shopping areas and the immigrant communities living in social housing.

Tass loses his bank card in an ATM that eats it and we lose an hour sorting that out. At the hotel there is a problem with payment and we lose another half hour. Now well behind schedule and we have minutes to catch 3pm bus to Cassis. Which we see pulling out of bus station as we get there. Try thinking of all sorts of plans to get to cassis including taxis (not enough in the town for all of us during the off-tourist season), boats (imagine the form filling if something went wrong) and eventually hire two minibuses.

Set off again at 5:15, then immediately one bus gets a flat tyre. Me and Tass get it changed pretty quick, but now ridiculously late. Buses have to be back in La Ciotat by 7.

Quick look around Cassis, which is a very nice seaside resort with lots of ladies carrying dogs in handbags. You know the type. Then drive to station, drop everyone off and Tass and Mike drive the buses back to La Ciotat and try to catch train from there. For once a plan works. We all end up on the same train to Marseille and get to hostel by about 8.

Now it’s 9 and we’re going out to get food and drunk. Revision will be tomorrow morning instead since we lost so much time today. I’m off to the airport at 11am tomorrow, but everyone else is staying on until the evening to see Marseille during the day.

Good fieldtrip, great group, good sights, interesting geography.

Aix-en-Provence – Day 2

Lots and lots of rain today. Started by looking around the centre of Aix at its tourist and cultural activities. Nice opera house and book museum. Also noticed how businesses in aix use the town’s name to make jokes. Orient Aixpress for instance.
Anyway, after lunch we got a minibus to go to Beureceuille, a tiny little village. Still raining and the village had two streets and no functions really. Pretty village, maybe for rich commuters to live out in the country.

Then on to Garbanne. An ancient and post industrial town. Started 4000 years ago, then had a coal mine and power station built. The mine is now closed, and the power station is mainly automatic so doesn’t employ many people. Our bus driver was very excited to tell us all about the industry, must make a change from his usual groups of tourists going to vineyards and chateaux! Garbanne is really a local town for local people. The tourist office is one room and was closed. There is an inaccessible museum that was tiny and a “Boulevard Paul Cezanne”. Apparently he visited once. But the town is trying to become part of the tourist and cultural industry of the area, but doesn’t really have a chance against the larger towns and cute villages. Maybe it should try an industrial heritage – iron bridge gorge of the provence region? Except there’s no “interesting” industry, just a coal mine and power station.

Still raining. Most people are soaked. I have an umbrella, but really not fieldtrip weather.

On to Aubagne, a town surrounded by motorways. It’s a bigger town than Garbanne with a proper tourist office and industrial parks. It’s surrounded by motorways, so obviously is a storage/distribution centre and has lots of in and out commuters to other towns and cities in the region. It feels like it has a bit more life, a bit more sustainable economic activity. On the outskirts is a historic farm open to visitors in the summer so people can see how life was long ago. Being surrounded by hills and mountains it also acts as a centre for outdoor pursuits- horse riding, climbing, mountain biking and the like. While not in the same league as Aix, Aubagne has a purpose and a role to play in the region.

On to La Ciotat where we’re spending the night and looking around tomorrow. This evening is revision session. We’ve lugged laptops and a projector with us so we can take over the lounge at the hotel and do powerpoint presentations to review the days activities. Only then can we get dinner, and might be back at the hotel by 10pm for some well earned sleep.

Aix-en-Provence – Day 1

Well since I now have the latest version of the wordpress app. for iPhone, I thought I’d see how well it works for writing long blog posts from abroad.
From the title you’ll have guessed I’m in Aix-en-Provence. It’s not a holiday, but a very serious fieldtrip for university. The students are looking at “local competitiveness, international ambitions and roles and functions” in the Aix-Marseille region. I’m a module leader, so have to be a bit in charge, but the students each have a topic they have to investigate, and are showing the rest of the group around their areas.

From my point of view, Aix is a very nice town with a lovely centre. More importantly though, there seems to be free wifi everywhere. Not provided by a big mega corporation that wants to charge for it, but just any old person not securing their networks.

I should stress to those people back home that think this is a holiday- it really isn’t. We arrived on on the plane and went straight to the hotel in Aix. Then we got on a bus to the industrial zone and looked at the different businesses and functions present and got a feel for the importance of the industrial park to the town, and the town to the region and its international ambitions. Finally we looked at the town centre and the train station to find more pieces of the jigsaw. And all this in the rain.

So really not a holiday!

Snow in London

If you’re in London, there’s a good chance you know this already: it snowed in London!  All the buses were cancelled, most of the tubes and trains weren’t working.  So I walked to work, leaving at 6:40am, and arriving at my usual time of 8am.  Along the way I took a lot of photos – click the photo below to see the rest of them.City Hall