October cycling BHAG update

It’s starting to get dark earlier; 7:30, 7, 6:30 so that now it’s dark when I leave work, not just when I arrive. Sometimes I find cycling at night dull; there’s a flatness to the city, a literal lack of light and shade. But there are some good rides in the dark, when it’s not just the light which has receded, but life too. There are fewer cars and busses, more deserted corners and buildings empty despite having their lights blazing. Sometimes these moments of emptiness come in the strangest places: the Bloomsbury roads around the British Museum, or right outside Canon Street station in the city. If you come to these places late enough, you feel like you’ve come after humanity entirely.

From a cycling point of view, quietness means speed, and I log some fast rides home after working late, tearing home with the tyres lifting leaves in the air. One or two rides stand out in particular, when the traffic lights all line up and the smoothness of the tyres is matched by redone tarmac and the traffic is non existent, so I can really build up the momentum.

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February Cycling BHAG Update

(Meet The BHAG)

It’s starting to get warmer; I’ve discarded the winter cap from under the helmet and the big thick winter gloves are gone too. The winter riding gear I settled on in November – Rapha Merino underlayer, Berghaus t-shirt and softshell jacket combo – is starting to feel a bit too warm, particularly as I’m trying to get my time on the run home to consistently under an hour.

A great first week of the month meant I thought I might actually manage the 176 mile a month target I worked out when I first made this plan, but week two poleaxed my optimism with two punctures on two consecutive rides. The first was on a Wednesday ride in, and near the cycle shop in London Bridge. They changed the inner tube, and when I rode home on the Friday, a massive puncture – hissing like an angry snake, audible over the cars – finished the ride just as I’d finished the big hill in Greenwich. It was a long, boring walk to the station, and waiting for 20 minutes in shorts certainly soured my mood.

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Six things I have learned from cycling home

The clunk of the crank and the spin of the wheels with sun in their spokes; the way your legs move like you’re running but your feet never touch the ground. Stopped traffic, the smooth swoop of a fast corner and with it the freedom of the city.

I cycled quite a lot when I was a teenager, but stopped when I came to London – my big, heavy mountain bike was a pain to haul around and it sat mouldering at the top of the stairs before I gave it away. Ten years since my cycling heyday and I decided to get back into it, buying myself a bike through the excellent Ride 2 Work scheme.

Here are some things I’ve learned from cycling to and from work. Obviously, YMMV.

1. Don’t bother with a hybrid. The problem with hybrids is that they seem so logical – particularly if you’ve been away from cycling for a few years. If you had a bike as a teenager, it was probably a big heavy lunk of a thing made by Raleigh, and designed to be knocked around. It probably looked like a mountain bike. Problem is, if you look at mountain bikes now, well, they’re pretty much like motorbikes without the engines. Disk brakes, chunky tyres, suspension front and back, strange shaped frames – exciting stuff, but not really what you want for riding through London.

So the natural next step is a hybrid; they look like the mountain bikes of old, only on a diet. They still have the flat handle bars and a little bulk, but they’re sensible. You can ride them on and off road. It’s the best of both worlds… right?

The problem I found when researching is hybrids are invariably compromised. Some come fitted with slick tyres – so you’re not going to be able to ride off road without changing those. Then there’s the fact they’re not really that light, and don’t always come fitted with larger wheel sizes. Light bikes with big wheels go further and faster with less work from the rider.

And really, are you ever going to ride off road? I wanted a light, fast bike that I was mostly going to spend riding to and from work, or around South East London. So I bought myself a real road bike. It’s brilliant; fast, nimble and something I really look forward to riding.

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Where to get good coffee in London

Coffee With A Friend

Like most journalists, I am largely fueled by coffee – to the point that I do actually have my own cafetiere in my desk drawer at work – but getting a well made coffee in a cafe. is one of life’s great pleasures. Via the blog of Lantana, a lovely new cafe near our offices, comes this link to a map of the UK showing the best places to get good coffee. It’s particularly strong on London, listing excellent places such as Flat White (where the picture was taken), Milk Bar etc.

A post in 2 parts: Mark Rothko and Camerabag

It's very black

It's very black

Took the shot above yesterday at Tate Modern, and it’s the first one I’ve got from the iPhone’s camera that I’ve been really happy with. It’s from Tate’s excellent Mark Rothko exhibition

Part 1: Overheard at Mark Rothko
Well, I say it’s excellent, but that’s if you like Rothko. If you don’t, it’s fair to say it’s not going to change your mind about him. It’s not like there’s a secret room of photo-realistic portraits or delicate watercolours in the middle of it. Despite the fact Rothko is one of the few 20th century artists to be widely known, plenty of people there seemed annoyed, offended and upset by what they found. Best exchange I overheard was a father leading his 10 year old son through the rooms, at pace, saying:

“Right, so the last room was the purple and black series. This one is the grey and black series. You see the difference?”

In close second:

(Man, looking at a massive canvas that’s absolutely covered in paint) “Well, it’s not really painting, is it?”

Part 2: The Camerabag iPhone app
You do get some interesting people at exhibitions. Families with babies that literally look like they’ve just come out of the hospital, perplexed French tourists and people who appear to have dressed solely to look like cliched art fans. It all makes for great photos, but unfortunately you have to contend with the gallery guards and the no photography rule. This meant the SLR was out, and the iPhone was in. I’ve written about the iPhone’s camera before, and as it’s not brilliant, I’ve tried out a few apps to see if they could improve it. By far the best has been one called Camerabag; it’s cheap, regularly updated (most of the bugs have now gone) and allows you to apply a series of filters to pictures you take with the camera. The idea is that the filters mimic certain camera styles – Lomo, Polaroid, monochrome etc – and it’s easy to use, and as you can see from the picture I took at Tate, allows you to get a bit more out of your phone pics. Well worth the £1.79 cost. For more, check out the Camerabag Flickr group.

Previously on the Wired Jester:
Art: Visiting Tate Britain’s Holbein exhibition.

From the ‘what-were-they-thinking-department’: The Chair ‘O Bears!

Today I had to visit Harrods to buy some presents for relatives and friends I’ll soon be visiting overseas (don’t ask me why, but they all want Harrods tote bags); while there, I spotted this monstrosity – an oversized armchair made from minced up teddy bears.

Children walking past it were both fascinated and shocked. This is not surprising given that it looks like someone’s taken several armfuls of cuddly bears, chucked them in a rubbish compactor, mashed them up good and proper, and then stretched their furry little pelts over a threateningly large chair.

More pics of the monstrous Chair ‘O Bears after the jump.

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Sleeping & Dreaming

What Are You Doing Up There?

Sunday: Went to see the Sleeping & Dreaming show at the Wellcome Collection on Euston Road. The entrance, complete with austere-posh cafe by Peyton and Byrne, is open and airy in a way that recalls the Great Court at the British Museum, but the overall effect is overall, nearer, newer, far less grand. Same goes for the gallery space itself: it’s not as crowded as other London museums seem to be at weekends, and the exhibition itself strikes a good balance between curios and context, and serious and silly. Well worth a look, especially as it’s free to get in.

Being a tourist at home

Stopping at St Paul's
Each issue of Custom PC is produced on a four week schedule, however, because of Easter and Christmas, every now and then we end up making a magazine in less time – these “three weeker” issues are always a bit mental, but the upside is that they create a few five week ones – and it’s the perfect time to take a bit of holiday. As a result, I’ve got all next week off, but since the Jesteress still has to go to work, I’m going to try being a tourist in my own city. So what’s on the agenda?

1. Going to see St. Paul’s. I ended up on a bus going past there a few days ago, and remembered I’ve never been inside. Time to set that straight.

2. The Hogarth show at Tate Britain. London’s big museums put on some fantastic shows, but they do tend to get very crowded, so seeing one while everyone else is at work will be fun. According to one of the freebie papers, there’s also a show at the Haunch of Venison by French artist Philippe Parreno; it contains video of a Victorian automaton, which I’d love to see.

3. Lots of reading. David Mitchell’s latest, Black Swan Green, has just come out in paperback, and I’ve also got Don Quixote on the go, plus a pile of other bits and pieces, including Michael’s Frayn’s The Human Touch, and one on the history of language entitled Empires of the Word.

4. Some more photography with my D40. According to the BBC Weather forecast, it’s going to be nice and sunny all week…

A Spring Day In London

The Thames, from Waterloo Bridge

I’m currently spending my weekends house hunting, and roving far and wide in search of prey. Criss crossing the capital, I realised on Sundays, you can park on Waterloo bridge, so stopped the car and grabbed this shot of the Thames and the city.

Pecha Kucha

How on earth/how in hell do you get tickets to Pecha Kucha in London? Twice in the last month I’ve had the e-mail come through, gone straight to the site to buy tickets only to find they’re all gone already. Very frustrating, because it looks really inspiring.Not that I think I’ll ever be invited to do a presentation at PK, but the Delicious Pecha Kucha presentation creator is still a very cool little toy. Give it your Delicious user name and it will create a PK presentation using your last 20 links. Explaining it to yourself is an interesting challenge – can a bunch of links that only have their place in time tying them together be made into a coherent presentation?

[link via Jean Snow]