Sorry not to have posted for a while. Hermit life and limited computer use mean that I’ve been using all my battery hours for work’s paperwork. But I should be in contact more often since today I’ve found a way of posting from my phone. How’s it looking?
Monthly Archives: November 2012
My week of breaking the Fixie Gear rules, by riding around on a rusty 2nd hand Mountain Bike:
At the start of 2012, I challenged myself to go car free for a year and travel by Fixed Gear bicycle instead. I’ve always had one bike at a time, and I’d think of having more than one as a bit over the top. Many people don’t think this way. In fact, I read a website that stated that the correct number of bikes to own is S minus 1 (where S stands for “single” and is equivalent to the number of bikes that would cause your spouse to throw you out).
But more and more I’ve been needing a spare bike for times when my main one has a puncture and I don’t have time to fix it, or it’s off being repaired etc. Last week my main bike was off having it’s frame changed by Magic Mike, so I needed a spare bike.
BTW: this is not a post about my new bike frame. I’ll save that for later.
I thought to myself “Do I get a rubbish roadbike from gumtree, or a recycling center, or try to throw together another Fixie as cheaply as possible?” I certainly wouldn’t want a Mountain Bike. I’ve disliked them ever since I was 11 and went off to Halfords with my folks to get my first ever roadbike (it would also be my first ever brand new bike). Somehow, although we went in to get a roadbike, we came out with a MTB! How did this happen?
I always regretted it, especially when I realised over the years that everything that sales assistant had said wasn’t true. I think my mother, more than anything else was taken in by the notion that I could use cyclepaths with it and wouldn’t have to use the road. What a lie – I could have used cyclepaths with a roadbike. It also isn’t true that straight handlebars with bullhorns are a substitute for drop handlebars, or that cheap front-fork suspension is a good idea. Honestly I don’t understand why I was sold an off-road bike when I mainly wanted to ride on roads, cyclepaths and occasionally pretty tame grass.Cheap, rusty mountain bikes are the plague of devon cycle paths. If someone’s got one, pity them, but don’t get too close or you might catch one yourself.
I’d never buy a MTB for road use ever again…
So anyway, last week I acquired (guess what) a rusty 2nd hand mountain bike!
It was what I could get hold of at the Car Boot Sale for £20. When I first got the tires inflated and the chain oiled I thought to myself ‘this isn’t so bad’. The gears actually shift sometimes and it didn’t feel terrible when I rode it up the street and back.
Then I rode it to work, and remembered why I don’t ride cheap 2nd hand bikes anymore.
A while ago I wrote a post that contained a guide to getting up and cycling on a minimum budget. The idea was to show how it could be done; bike, helmet, waterproofs and all, for less than £100.
I take it back.
After last week, I really wouldn’t recommend the budget option. As a teenager I’d ride to school, then college on a cheap MTB that my dad and I picked up from the dump. I re-discovered how unpleasant it can be to scrape along on something all crunchy that doesn’t quite fit and that keeps going wrong. I’d forgotten how wet you can get without mudguards, even if it hasn’t rained for hours it it’s just that there’s still a thin film of water on the road. Then your bike becomes an upwards-rain-machine.
Ok, I was quite unlucky with my Car Boot Sale MTB. The front brakes didn’t work, and couldn’t be adjusted because they were too rusty. Likewise the saddle wouldn’t move, so it was too low and I had to ride like a frog (like a frog, riding a camel, riding a cactus). The back inner tube was punctured in several places. I’d got bored after I’d fixed 3 and decided that if it made it to work half inflated, I’d buy a new inner tube. I told The Bike Shed that I must have done something wrong in a previous life, and as a result I’ve got to ride this bike for a few days. I got the inner tube, changed it after work and then found out that my MTB-only hand pump didn’t actually pump at all.
Finally a helpful cycling stranger stopped and pumped up my tire. As I bid them farewell and set off home I pulled on the rear breaks and they locked shut, stopping the bike moving at all. Like the front brakes they were too rusty to be adjusted, so I unhooked them. Now I had no breaks. I’d just heard a story this week about a friend of a friend who tore his ear off on a wire fence in a crash which happened when the brakes on his bike failed (he subsequently also found out that his birthday was the same as that of Van Gogh). Fortunately I know how to push my shoe against the back tire to stop, and the journey home was fine.
So my point is this: every day people are having this horrible experience of riding a worn out, badly made mountain bike, and getting entirely put off cycling as a result. This is a great tragedy to me, because it’s putting people off a form of transport/leisure/fitness that’s they might otherwise enjoy and that’s good for the planet too.
My advice to everyone (whether you want it or not) is this: get a half decent bike if you want to start cycling, not the cheapest 2nd hand bike you can find. They are NOT enjoyable to ride and won’t make you feel motivated to keep on riding. Spending a bit more money if you have it will pay off in the end, as you feel more inclined to cycle instead of taking the bus/car. When I wake up in the morning, I look forward to riding my Fixie to work because I know it’s gonna feel like flying there, spending every minute of the journey thinking ‘hey, I’m floating on air!’
As some of you may know, I live in a Yurt. Actually, it’s a 12 ft Ger, but no-one knows what a “Ger” is, so I tell people it’s a Yurt (they are both quite similar, wood framed, canvas dwellings).
It’s got two sheepskin rugs, and a woodburner. I’m still using the candles I got from the car boot sale as my only source of lighting. It’s so damp that my stuff goes moldy and I have to keep anything electrical and most of my instruments in the main house to stop them from perishing. I’ve got a 5litre water bottle and a camping stove. The temperature drops to between 6-8 degrees C at night, but that’s ok because, as I mentioned before, I have two sheepskin rugs. Fortunately I’m also addicted to knitting so ROLL ON WINTER!
A few weeks before I moved in (in August) I had posted an advert on Facebook looking for somewhere to pitch my yurt. It was called “Ever Wanted Your Own Hermit?”. Some very wonderful people answered the ad, and so here I am under canvas. Straight after I found my pitch, you may have noticed that I deleted the advert, and all references to the Yurt. Why? Well… at first I didn’t want there to be any evidence of my Yurt dwelling online.
“Why not?!?!” you ask. “After all, everyone seems very interested and is always asking about your alternative way of life, wanting to visit the new yurt, see pictures etc. Why don’t you post in your weblog about it?”
Well, there were a few reasons I’ve held fire:
Firstly, although my yurt-dwelling is legal, the way I’m doing it (I’ve checked extensively), I do worry that I might get grief about it anyway, or that the laws might change, so I haven’t wanted to publish my lifestyle on the internet.
Secondly, I’d worry about security, so for that reason I’m not going to give my specific location. Let’s just say I’m somewhere in the Exeter area.
I have thought long and hard about whether or not to write about my Yurt dwelling on this weblog and finally, I’ve decided: YES.
I have changed my mind for one very important reason: I never would have been able to realise my dream of living in a yurt if it weren’t for OTHER PEOPLE’S WEBLOGS.
Reading the writings of those who are living alternative lifestyles has been invaluable research for me on my quest, and I’d like to give something back by writing about my way of life.
In the past year, on my path to a more basic form of transport and a more basic form of living, I’ve read, re-read and learned so much from the following people’s words:
- The Original Ditch Monkey: A guy who lived in the woods for a year without a tent to raise money for the woodland trust. http://www.webarchive.org.uk/wayback/archive/20060714120000/http://ditchmonkey.blogspot.com/index.html
- Igor Kovse: An obsessive ultralight cycletourist who will tell you everything you need to know about travelling ultralight. http://ultralightcycling.blogspot.co.uk/
- Richard the Piano Tuner: A 30year old man who lives in london as a permanent cycle tourer. He is technically homeless, but I tend to think of him more as “houseless” – someone who chooses to live outside in a bivi bag, whilst keeping one foot in the normal world by having a full time job. http://www.piano-tuning.co.uk/blog/
- The late great Sheldon Brown has provided the ultimate website on Fixed Gear Cycling (now maintained by his widow, Harriet Fell). http://sheldonbrown.com/fixed/index.html
- Mark has chosen to live without money (in a caravan, cycling everywhere and collecting firewood on his bike, a bit like myself but much more hardcore). http://www.justfortheloveofit.org/blog
- The “Living Car Free” section of Bike Forums http://www.bikeforums.net/forumdisplay.php/226-Living-Car-Free
- Jay Shafer lives in a minimal Tiny House, and sells people plans to builg their own. http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/
Another reason I was apprehensive about Yurt-posting is that this was meant to be a Cycleblog, not a Yurtblog. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that this doesn’t really matter. For me, the simplicity of Fixed Gear Cycling fits perfectly with the ethos of simple off-grid yurt living. My cycling journey has certainly led me to this place, so actually it IS relevant after all.
Perhaps I should change the name of it to “Zen and the Art of Fixed Gear” or something, to convey my lifestyle commitment to using no more than you need.
Do you need more gears on your bike?
Do you need a house and a mortgage?
These are important questions for me, because in my experience, having anything I don’t need just gets in the way of living, loving and happiness. I firmly believe that too many people worry about lack, when they should be worrying about excess. I think the Dali Lama says some sort of relevant thing in a book I’ve got, but I can’t find it right now.
Anyway, more coming on the Yurt soon, including pictures and inside tips.