Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Inspiring examples


an amazing short documentary about women's bike workshop spaces in America. Really worth a watch!

Monday, 14 November 2011

skirt vs. bike

Our reflections on skirts and biking, earlier on in this blog, took an interesting extra development for me today when my skirt took a run-in with my bike.

The moment itself conformed to certain damaging feminine stereotypes: me, in a flowing purple skirt, carrying home lots of groceries on a bike (on a crisp autumn evening in Paris, I could go on); the only jarring aspect in the picture being my turquoise racing Bianchi (perhaps it should have been a Dutch shopper with hand-painted flowers). Slightly wobbly on my aluminium frame with a carton and pannier full of organic vegetables, tofu, bread and yoghurt saved from the bin, I was steadily making my way across the city back home. Nearly at destination, I felt a sudden whirring, smelt a burning smell and noticed a sharp break on my back wheel. In a narrow street of parked cars with cars rushing by my elbow, I pulled suddenly to a stop. Struggling to get off the frame, my front wheel lifted up with the weight of vegetables on the back and noticed I was somehow attached to the bike. Craning round, I found that the end of my skirt had become completely trapped between the rear brakes and the wheel and no amount of tugging could pull it loose; that is, without letting go of the precariously-balanced bike which was placed in a line of rushing traffic. I tried to inch forward; that didn't work either, as the rear wheel was completely blocked, and there was no chance of me lifting my frame and myself, with 30 kilos of vegetables on the rear, without toppling into the traffic. I realised my only release from this perilous situation would necessitate removing my skirt. It's November, so I had leggings on, and I awkwardly began unbuttoning my skirt and lifting up my right leg from its billowing folds while holding my loaded bike between my legs with one hand. I struggled one leg over, then released the other and stood holding my bike, pinned in by the evening rush of vehicles. I then hauled it onto the pavement, somehow or other, and grabbed the skirt with both hands, giving it an almighty tug to free it of the bike. The material was wrenched free, leaving a trail of dusty, ripped threads along the skirt, but no holes. I considered the wilted purple garment in my hands a moment, then tucked it under the bungee cord holding down a bottle of milkshake on the back. I made the rest of the journey home in leggings, vowing I'd think twice before wearing that skirt again.

I've been mulling over my discovery of possessing a bike-unfriendly skirt. What place has it in my wardrobe, despite its five years of loyal service, if it can't get on with my bike? Because my bike and I are always out together, and long purple skirt won't be coming between us.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Handsworth Bike Club – can you help?

Since the early 1980s Handsworth Bike Club has been an important part of the lives of hundreds of children growing up in the area. Fixing bikes, teaching maintenance skills, and giving kids a safe, friendly place to hang out and learn to ride for the first time. The club is a valuable part of the local community.

Sadly, a lack of volunteers is currently threatening the Bike Club’s future; there is a desperate need for individuals to come down and help out, without which the club with be forced to close. In order to help prevent this Birmingham Bike Foundry is currently seeking people interested in giving some of their time to the project.

The club has its own playground area and lockup, with tools, bikes and parts, which it operates from. Helping out will involve relatively basic repairs, passing on mechanics knowledge, helping kids to start cycling, and generally just hanging out and having fun! Opening is currently irregular but is usually on Saturdays or Sundays. The project is fully insured.

If you are interested in volunteering all you will need initially is an interest in both working with kids and cycling. Some level of maintenance skills would be beneficial, but we will be able to help you get up to scratch with your mechanics if you’re not there already.

Once we have expressions of interest we will take all potential volunteers for a Saturday at the club. After that we hope to determine who will be willing and able to offer some time volunteering (we’re not suggesting every weekend!).

If you think you might be able to help please email us using info@birminghambikefoundry.org, letting us know a bit about yourself, e.g. relevant experience, maintenance abilities, other useful skills. And please, spread the word!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Summer of cycling – what we’ve been up to

Here at Femme Pédale we’ve been enjoying the summer and taking part in all manner of rides and events …

Vélorution Universelle

In July a group of us from the UK took a trip to Paris to visit FP writer Una and take part in an absolutely amazing cycling event. Vélorution are a collective of cyclists campaigning for the use of the bicycle and on the numerous economic and political issues this opens the door to. This summer they brought together thousands of riders to reclaim the streets of Paris.

On our first day the biggest mass ended with an evening of fun and music in front of the Eiffel Tower. The next, we headed north to go swimming in the Seine and then bask on its banks. We saw some amazing bikes, met some wonderful people, and managed to survive cycling on the right hand side of the road.

Try and spot us in the video!

Dunwich Dynamo

The originally large contingent of us taking part in the Dunwich Dynamo was tragically cut short by the tyrannies of illness, work, and medical degrees, so a few weekends ago it was myself and the two Bike Foundry boys who left London at 8.30pm for a long night.

The Dynamo is around 120 miles from London to the coast, overnight. Not gonna lie, there were some less than fun moments. The multiple punctures, missing the half way stop point because we failed to see it, circa 110 miles thinking I’d lost everyone and sitting at the bottom of a hill eating chocolate because there was no way I was getting up it otherwise.

In spite of all this, definitely an incredible experience. Riding in the dark

for so long with nothing but hundreds of bike lights, the moon, bats, and the odd town, completely abandoned. Extremely surreal. The relief when the sun started to rise was intense, just to be able to see properly again seemed amazing! We finally reached the beach at 5.30am after nine hours of riding, flying the flag for step-through town bikes and fixies in a sea of lycra and roadies.

I have to say a big thanks to the boys for, y’know, just being cycling comrades, and to Southwark Cyclists, the group responsible for the Dynamo taking place.

In other news, we have been getting ready for the forthcoming Birmingham Bike Foundry shop (more on this very soon!), taking part in very sweaty Nottingham to Birmingham rides, building new bikes (soexcitedsoexcitedsoexcited), Critical Mass-ing…it’s business as usual in Birmingham.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Going the distance

Last Saturday, a group of Femme Pédalers and friends set off on a 75 mile jaunt from Birmingham to Oxford. For some of us, this was a relaxing amble in the countryside, and others (ahem, me) quite a long way to go in one day; all of us had a great time. I'm pretty new to cycling distances of more than about 30 miles in one go, and have learned some pretty useful lessons this summer about how to stay happy on long rides. Here's what I've gathered, along with some photos of our day out.
  • Make sure your bike's ready to go; it doesn't need to be super expensive or have lots of bells and whistles so long as it's in good condition. Our friend Jane did 35 miles of the ride with us on a stylish but heavy old three-speed Raleigh, which goes to show that it's not what's between your legs, but what you do with it that counts. Before you leave, do a quick M-check, making sure that everything's in good working order and well oiled, and pump your tires up.
  • Get a backpack or pannier, and make sure you've got a pump and spare inner tube (tool-wise, a decent multi-tool might also come in handy), a waterproof, a a jumper, and a small first aid kit.
  • Plan a route: I like ordinance survey maps, the Sustrans site, and the Cyclestreets journey planner, but a standard road atlas will do the trick. If you stick to country back roads, you'll be able to enjoy joyous car-free miles. Stay flexible, and don't mind too much about getting lost. It's also useful to note if there are train stations at various points, in case you need an escape route.
  • Get ready! Have a decent meal and limit your alcohol intake the night before setting out and try and get a good night's sleep. A couple of Saturday's riders came out on three hours sleep, and didn't seem to appreciate the early start as much as some of us did.
  • Get dressed! Comfy clothes and trainers, with no flowing, loose bits that can get caught in chains and brakes are best; pay special attention to make sure that there's nothing that will cause discomfort to your bum and crotch a few miles down the line (see Nan's useful post on the subject), and at least consider padded shorts.
  • Get fed! Don't eat loads just before or during the ride- it'll make you sluggish and crampy. Make sure you've got lots of small snacks which release energy slowly; bananas, nuts, oatcakes and so on. Flapjacks are always a hot favorite.
  • Drink. Make sure you're carrying enough water, and remember to stay hydrated.
  • Choose a pace that suits you, and that you can maintain. If you need to get off and walk on hills, do it.
  • Enjoy yourself. Stop off at interesting places (half way, we hit Hook Norton brewery, found out how they make some of our favorite beer, and had a tasting session) and see new bits of countryside. Don't stress if you get wet, muddy, or lost; you'll make it home in the end, and the hot shower will be that little bit more pleasurable.

Friday, 3 June 2011

DIY Bike worshops in Canada

During a visit to Montreal and Toronto in January-February of this year, I took the opportunity to visit some of the various well-established bicycle coops and projects dotted around both cities. This was such an inspiring experience from the point of view of someone interested in setting up similar projects in Europe that I’d like to share some of the things I saw and advice I heard.


Cycle culture is vibrant in this city which boasts several thriving bike courrier companies, N. America’s first city bike rental scheme (they take them away in the winter to stop them getting buried in the snow) and around ten DIY bike co-ops. In the car park of Concordia University in downtown Montreal, there is a hidden-away but thriving hub of not-for-profit bike repair. Like many places in the city, it has a dual identity: Right to Ride or La Voie Libre, and is a project partly funded by the university. It opens its doors every evening during the week and longer hours on weekends.


Ontario’s biggest city is also a hub for the not-for-profit bike sector, and while there I was able to visit one well-established co-op and one which is just starting up.

Bike Pirates were running their women and transsexual Sunday workshop session when I called in. The spacious and well-ordered interior of their workshop nonetheless manages to feel homely, with plenty of posters, slogans and artwork on the walls, as well as a cosy kitchen at the back. Colour-coded tool boards surround the half a dozen work stands, with useful hand-painted displays about various aspects of bike mechanics placed here and there. Cup of tea in hand, I put a few questions to Ainsley about how the project was run. Once again, it relies entirely on volunteers and at the minute there are only two of them, dividing up the week’s shifts between them. The project makes enough money to buy parts and pay the rent – that’s it. Opening hours and attendance are drastically reduced in winter, but not everyone is put off by the snow and ice: the much anticipated yearly I-cycle was scheduled for the following weekend, where hundreds come to watch intrepid cyclists do laps of an ice rink on wheels. Bike Pirates is part of a lively cycle culture and lifestyle in the city; it’s not just about fixing bikes, but also riding them, growing things and eating together (they have a communal garden and often cook for everyone at the workshop sessions).

An organic outgrowth of Bike Pirates, Bike Sauce spent a few years in the pipeline and moved into new premises – a former funeral home in East Toronto – last Spring. Once again, the space is well laid out, with plenty of room for work stands and tools sensibly placed and labelled all around the room. Anibal, one of the founders, was happy to down tools and explain the technicalities of setting up the project over a cup of coffee. Making it clear from the beginning to local bike shops that you’re not competition is really important, he says. As he pointed out, the DIY sector is not taking money away from bike shops, which make most of their money from sales of new bikes and repairs for those who are not interested in learning about fixing their own bike. Setting up a good relationship with local bike shops from the beginning is vital – they achieved this by going round to introduce themselves, with a business card explaining briefly what they’re doing. This way bike shops know who you are and what you do, plus they have your number on hand, so will happily pass you on unwanted parts rather than dump them. Bike Sauce began advertising themselves and gathering parts and tools long before they actually had a dedicated workspace: they stocked things and worked out of a member’s garage in the meantime. Anibal is wary of government grants and from the beginning wanted Bike Sauce to be able to generate the cash it needs for survival through its own activities, rather than growing complacent (and being accountable to the city or the government) on grant funding. This seems to be working, though the real test will be the bike sales in Spring, which is just around the corner. If you come in to repair your bike, rather than paying a yearly membership or a flat rate for a session, Bike Sauce ask for a donation each time you come in: as much or as little as you can afford. Your time is also valuable: you could volunteer at a repair session or come to a bike build, where salvaged bikes are repaired for sale.

Even with such a proliferation of not-for-profit bike projects in Montréal and Toronto, cycle culture remains marginal in Canada as is the rest of the world. In some ways this is a blessing: it allows for the creation of vibrant sub-cultures based around a common marginalised passion and it allows cyclists to remain radical, outside the establishment, to question the status quo. Even if Bike Sauce could have benefitted from funding, Anibal was against it, preferring to remain free, not wanting to be bought. In a world still so dominated by the capitalist ethic, it is nigh-on impossible to set up a successful project whilst remaining outside the money-making rat race. These projects exist, yet they struggle; they are barnacles [1] on the great sick ship of capitalism. Some projects rely on outside organisations for survival; Right to Ride needs Concordia University’s space, funding and goodwill. Others like Bike Sauce, have deliberately chosen to remain outside this. The not-for-profit bike repair movement will never interest investors; but it is a growing force questioning the values by which we judge societal worth. When everything else grinds to a halt, one thing is for sure; bicycle wheels will still be turning.

[1] Alternative use of term ‘Barnacles’: the Bike Pirates’ term for people who turn up expecting help to fix their bike, sucking energy and not putting much back into the project

Monday, 16 May 2011

The fling was flung, here are the pictures!

Big thanks to everyone who came on the Spring Fling ride, and nice one to Fin for the pictures.We had a really great day and we hope all you did too. Dare I say it, best FP ride yet?

As always, send us any ideas for rides, and watch this space for the next event...