i b i k e l o n d o n

Less than 75 days till the Tour de France comes to London, watch King of Mont Ventoux to celebrate

In less than 75 days, the Tour de France will be coming to London.  Racing down from Cambridge, through Epping Forest to the London 2012 Olympic Park, the peloton will sweep west along the course of the Thames, past the Tower of London and the London Eye, before crossing the finish line in front of Buckingham Palace. 

It's going to be a phenomenal day with the world's best racing cyclists riding on our roads, and as July approaches you can expect the excitement levels in London to build and build.

Marking the countdown milestone and kicking off proceedings, the Cinema Museum in Kennington is showing the feature length documentary King of Mont Ventoux next Thursday, the 1st May at 7.30PM.

Splicing together archive footage of the five racers who have won this infamous Tour de France stage - Eddy Merckx (1970) Jeff Bernard (1987) Marco Pantani (2000) Richard Virenque (2002) and Juanma Garate (2009) - the film uses timers, special effects and phenomenal editing skills to pit these legendary athletes against one another as if they were actually racing together today, in what turns out to be an incredibly tightly contested ride.  As well as experiencing this unprecedented race -  presented in the style of a live broadcast - the film explores the incredible evolution of competitive cycling over the past 40 years.  It's a must-see for any Tour afictionados and armchair road climbers.

The Tour de France 2014 "Grand Depart" takes place in Yorkshire, Cambridge and London over three days in July.  Full details and race routes are on the Grand Depart dedicated website, here.

"The King of Mont Ventoux" is being screened as part of the Archive Film Festival at the Cinema Museum in Kennington (near Elephant and Castle) next Thursday the 1st of May at 7.30PM, and will be followed by a Q&A with director Fons Feyearts.  Tickets are less than a tenner and available online here.

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Fixing your bike, Cuban style

Using a bicycle as a means of getting around exploded in Cuba in the 1990s during the "special period" of economic austerity following the dissolution of the USSR, which Cuba had come to rely upon.  A new film looks at the bikes still being ridden today, some twenty years later.

With no fuel available to run private automobiles, and more importantly buses, the country was at risk of grinding to a halt in 1991 (much like the Fuel Crisis of the 1970s in Europe and North America, which we've covered here before).  With food running scarce for its population, transportation became a secondary concern, leaving Cubans to find their own way about.  The consequence was a sustainable transport renaissance; car pooling, hitch hiking and walking flourished, whilst cycling rates increased massively.  Some 2 million new bicycles were distributed in Cuba during the period, with 500,000 of these made on the island itself.

A family of three ride a bike in Cuba, via Wikipedia.

But similar to our own experience with the oil crisis, Cuba's status as a cycling nirvana was short lived.  Once fuel - and cars - returned to the island's roads, the cycling levels dipped.  Now, new bikes are difficult to come by and parts for the old "special period" bicycles are not readily available, yet many Cubans still use bicycles daily and, despite the limited resources, a handful of mechanics provide a service to those who rely on their bikes in their everyday lives.

A new online short film, Havana Bikes, looks at the work of these mechanics and the way in which the multitude of different bicycles that they fix are used.  It's a beautiful shot and edited short by Kauri Multimedia, a production team specialising in multimedia storytelling, web documentaries and short films. 

Havana Bikes from Kauri Multimedia on Vimeo.

So grab yourself a cup of tea (or maybe a Mojito?), sit back, and allow yourself to be transported to Cuba for a short while.  And next time you fix a puncture by replacing the entire inner tube with a new one, spare a thought for the mechanics of Havana who are a little more adept at mending and making do...

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Introducing the Black Tie Bicycle Test: does your city pass?

I was in Amsterdam over the weekend for a family trip.  It's the first time I've been to the city as a pedestrian and not ridden a bicycle whilst I was there, and walking the streets of the Dutch capital gave me a totally different perspective.

Amsterdam cyclists of all shapes and sizes, photographed on a trip in 2012

I've always felt that your perception of a city can be influenced by the speed you travel through it, for example a driver racing along an expressway in to a city centre car park is going to have a very different experience to a cyclist gliding through the backstreets.  The human eye is incredibly selective and only uploads to your brain elements of what you can see depending on how fast you are travelling and how much time there is available to sort through the "fine detail" we are taking in.  So whilst you might notice big advertising banners when you're behind the wheel of your car, you're less likely to see the little architectural details, historical plaques and local geographic indicators that you might experience when you are on your bike.

Walking through the city allows you to experience even more, and over the weekend in Amsterdam it was the cyclists riding around me that I noticed the most.

Everyone knows that Amsterdam is a cycling city, but it is only when you stop and stand on a busy street corner and watch the scene for a while that you really begin to appreciate just how much Amsterdammers use their bikes and how much, in turn, Amsterdam as a city relies on them.  In the city centre some 62% of all journeys are made by bicycle, whilst in the wider metropolitan region 47% of all journeys were made by bicycle in 2008, up from 33% in 1991. (See the full stats on David Hembrow's engaging blog here)

With such a high level of all journeys being made on a bike there's naturally a wide range of cyclists undertaking different types of journey.  I saw small kids being ferried by cargo bike, older folk heading to the supermarket on stately upright bicycles, a few lycra-clad sports cyclists, college students riding in flocks to class, and children being taught how to ride on the city roads.  There were glorious glamazons dressed to the nines and drafting the city trams as they texted on their smartphones, pedalling along in high heels.  Businessmen with brief cases riding to client meetings.  Flustered Mums with clutches of kids flocking up and down their neighbourhood roads.  In short, every size, age and kind of cyclists perceivable were riding in an environment that safely accommodated them all.

You often hear how Mums on bikes are the canaries in the coal mine of a successful cycling culture, or that seeing older folk riding is a sure sign that you're doing things right.  But one cyclist that I saw in Amsterdam over the weekend is, I think, the new yard stick that all cities should be measuring their cycling progress with.

On Saturday evening all of Amsterdam was bathed in the glow of golden spring light.  It had been a warm day and the streets were packed with people out enjoying the sunshine.  I set off for dinner and as I turned on to Utrechtsestraat, there cycling slowly and extremely gently up the road was a young man in full formal evening wear; a smart black tuxedo and shiny patent leather shoes.

As any man who has worn a tuxedo knows, they can be exceptionally uncomfortable.  The jet black material traps the heat and makes you prone to overheating, the collar is invariably always too tight and seems to constrict your throat, whilst the primary purpose of a cummerbund appears to be to ride up your tummy.  In short, the most unsuitable cycling apparel you could think of.

But of course one dresses for the destination, not the journey, and if you're going to a black tie event in Amsterdam the chances are you'll be going by bicycle.  You'll be riding extremely slowly, extremely carefully and without rushing at any point, but you'll be riding none the less.  In short, you'll be riding in a sort of magnified and exaggerated style of all those cyclists who are considered key indicators of a successful cycling culture; women, older people and children.  Steady, gently, and very, very slowly. (Of course you could rush and race to your event but you'd be a mess when you got there)

In London I often feel I get a bit sweaty when I'm cycling on especially busy roads, and for a long time I thought I was just unfit.  It took me a long time to realise however that this is not the sweat of exertion but the sweat of anxiety.  I'm not sure how I would feel riding around the Elephant & Castle or Bow roundabout on an upright bike in an evening suit, and maybe that's where London is going wrong?

So when it comes to measuring how good your city is as a place to ride a bike, there's only one key performance indicator to use going forward.  Whether or not your city will accommodate the style of riding needed to successfully cycle in a tuxedo or not is the perfect sign of just what kind of cycling culture you have on your hands.  I'm calling it the Black Tie Bicycle Test.  From now on every city around the world should be asking if cyclists are being asked to keep up with traffic and ride like a motorised vehicle, or if they have the sort of environment where you can successful cycle in a tuxedo.

In London I think we've got a long way to go yet, but in Amsterdam nobody would even think twice about doing it.  The Black Tie Bicycle Test; how does your home town do?

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Friday throwback: the 100 year old bike race line up

With spare inner tubes slung across their chests and bobble hats at the ready (note the lack of non-compulsory helmets back then) these Australian cyclists are lining up for a great day's racing in Goulborn, New South Wales.  It's the start of the Goulborn to Sydney Dunlop Road Race, and this photograph was taken in the 1930s.  I love the small crowd assembled in the background to see the race off, including the official starter clutching his flag wearing what appears to be a pith helmet and plus fours...

Remarkably the 100th edition of the Goulborn to Sydney should have been run last year, but concerns about road safety by professional teams meant the event was canned.  Whether the race will return in 2014 remains to be seen.  This article on Cycling Tips has some great links and photographs, and a full history of this fascinating event and its recent demise.

This week's Friday Throwback features a photograph from the State Library of New South Wales archives and is one in a continuing series here on ibikelondon exploring old and interesting cycling photos on the Flickr Commons.

Have a great weekend, enjoy your ride, and why not connect with ibikelondon online?  Catch up with all our latest posts on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @markbikeslondon

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SPIN London rolls in to town this weekend

I'm just checking in with a brief blog post to let you all know that SPIN London - London's alternative bicycle show - rolls back in to town at the Truman Brewery on Brick Lane this weekend.

Because everyone should consider buying a neon hot pink bike with no brakes at least once in their life... (Photo via BikeBiz)

If the super slick offering of the larger, shinier London Bike Show (held at Excel in February) is not quite your cup of tea,  SPIN promises to have something that will rouse your interest.

Shifting from last year's focus on frame builders, 2014's event has been re-positioned to encompass all things "cycling culture".  There's still an extensive frame builders exhibition space, but in addition there's a host of bicycle accoutrement specialists like Brooks Saddles, IBIKELDN and Milltag.  You can also check out some interesting innovations where safety and security meet style; exhibitors HipLock have created a wearable bike lock whilst Hovding, the Scandinavian inflatable bicycle helmet creators will also be there.

The Handlebards in action.  My kingdom for a horse bike! (Photo via the Handlebards website)

In addition to all this there are bars, food stalls, talks, coffee, cyclist's yoga classes, DJs and even a Shakespeare play acted out on bikes by a rolling troop of actors wittily named The Handlebards (yes you did just read that right!) so there's something for everyone, whatever your cycling interest.

If you really want to make a day of it, our friends at IBIKELDN apparel are running one of their fun and friendly bike rides around town, ending at the event in the afternoon.  Meet Victoria Park Pavilion Cafe on Saturday 29th March at 11AM.  Dress super.

Spin LDN: The Urban Cycle Show is on March 28-30, Old Truman Brewery, 15 Hanbury Place, E1 6QR. Tickets are £10 on the door or cheaper in advance if booked online here. Follow @spinLDN

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