cycling

Spoke Too Soon

Well I thought 2016 couldn’t get any weirder then Lance Armstrong slips into NZ. Poor Lance, he probably had no idea that Kiwis pride themselves on having an opinion on everything – but especially anything to do with the USA. I’d hedge a bet that people here know the American constitution better than the Treaty Of Waitangi.

I’ve followed cycling and triathlon since my teens and Lances career fell in step with my own timeline, although that is about as far as the connection goes. One exception, we have both ridden with Cameron Brown, legend in NZ sport and probably one of the most respected athletes in his field of Ironman. In truth I was a sucker for Lance, read the books, had the wrist band…and I vehemently defended him when people said he couldn’t have won without drugs. But I suspect I’m like many people who had to wake up and smell the EPO.

So…here’s the thing. Lance is here to do business. He is going to be in a commercial for Lion Breweries. He’s probably going to be paid a shitload of money. He’s going to ride his bike with a select group of elite riders and do a jaunt around the water front with others. Good for him, there is nothing about his trip that is remotely about putting things right with people he screwed over as a professional cheat. There are good, hard working, ethical people out there, like Stephen Swart who’s careers were absolutely destroyed by this guy.

I get that people think he has paid his dues, and we should all move on. I get that people respect his charity work. I get that Cam Brown wanted to ride with Lance and for his son to meet him, Lance should have been equally as impressed but somehow I doubt the papers in the US will devote any attention to his jaunt down under. But Cameron…dude…lets get real. Lance is a megalomaniac who sacrificed other’s lives to get where he got to, people are probably going to feel strongly about you hanging out with the guy. Putting it out there on social media and not expecting a shit storm of opinion is naive at best. No, I am not a ‘hater’ – I understand my discomfort with sociopathic behaviour. No Rick Wells – he is not an ‘axe murderer’ but he certainly slashed and burned his way to the top, no one physically died but there has been plenty of other kinds of carnage left in his slip stream. It’s not about who has a right to comment – cyclists or not – this guy stands for something more than sport now, and that is why ‘associating’ or being with Lance is never going to be outside of the past. And there are other more respected commentators who share a similar perspective.

You see, I respectfully disagree with people who say he has been punished and we should all ‘forgive’…if not forget. Natural justice is just that – there are consequences beyond sanctions imposed. To have broken trust so intentionally and without genuine remorse for such a long time and in such a grandiose and public way means Lance will have to do more than pedal a few kms, pose for photo ops and turn up when it suits him. Coz that’s the point – this is still a narcissist masquerading as the knight in shining armor, every decision he makes is what is good for him. When in reality it’s tarnished and the polished act is started to mirror only what people choose to see. Again, if people only want to see his ‘good side’ his redemption – fine, but that does not mean the damage has been repaired, and that is what I think a lot of people are calling for – but could perhaps articulate that with a little less vitriol.

The US only has room for one megalomaniac and he is sitting in the big chair. Who knows maybe there is a spot at the round table for Sir Lance Lies-a-lot in Trumps fantasy of world domination. He’s a good spinner, knows how to win at all costs. Perhaps politics is his natural calling. Although if he had to true his own political wheels, I suspect the delicate turn of nuts might not be his thing and the wobbles might give way to the odd lose spoke.

Wonder if Steve Swart got his phone call…I feel a Bieber song is appropriate here.

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Packing it in

I’ve been thinking about who comes and goes in our lives. What ‘sticking around’ looks and feels like. I suppose I’m exploring my own understanding of what draws me toward or away from things in life. I’m also interested in what generates movements and momentum in groups or how ideas gather support, take shape and gather energy and become dominant forces – not necessarily for any particular purpose but nevertheless have social and cultural effects. I was pondering this while riding to work and realised cycling was the perfect analogy (no surprises wheelie). So here’s a wee story/narrative, let’s go for a little spin.

I’ve never really been one for staying with the pack. Going it alone is fine and I generally prefer to ride on my own. It can at times feel a little vulnerable and lonely but I’ve found ways to feel the presence of others or to become part of the wider world while travelling or training. Riding in packs gives a sense of power and presence on the road. People in cars tend to notice a big group – even if they don’t like it – it’s hard to ignore. Being in the pack affords you space so long as you play by the rules. But you can also conserve energy and stay hidden, it’s easy and being swept along without a thought of where and why we are. But it can become a trap of comfortable unconsciousness. The question is then do I want to be here and how do I get out? Getting out of a pack depends a bit on where you are located and who is around you. Sometimes it’s as small gap, a change of pace, and a signalling to others around you. Going too quickly or with sudden moves isn’t always the best even if you desperately need out. Moving to the edges or finding a break through point becomes easier if others come with you. Once free it can be a bit of a shock as the wind hits and your awareness of how closed in it had been becomes obvious. But you can also see more, and have the ability to swerve and deviate from the line and not risk pissing someone off or taking others down.

Making a break on your own is tough, but sometimes necessary and others might chase and join. Then you could be caught but a big bunch. Riding with people that want to ride at a different pace or cover different territory could see you take different routes but meet up at a later point having arrived but having very contrasting experiences. Sometimes people drop off the back, you want them to stay with you and to keep up but they just aren’t able to. There could be a chance for them to catch up on the downhill but keeping up your own momentum is also important. Packs are not inherently bad in fact, it’s fun to join the back of one from time to time but I like to know that I am still travelling somewhere I want to go. But beware of large packs and mass movements. Just because they are moving fast doesn’t mean they are going in your preferred direction. They create lots of pull, and seem to move with purpose but they don’t necessarily care about sharing space with others. In fact some packs can blow right through other smaller ones fragmenting and disorienting those riders without stopping to look over their shoulder.

I like riding out of my comfort zone, with people willing to get a bit lost, but know how to read a map and navigate. Get off the beaten track and explore some back roads from time to time. Just so long as there is coffee somewhere along the way, otherwise I will pack a sad.

Stuck in a rut? – ride it out, bail, or bunny hop

I often hear people say they are ‘stuck in a rut’ but wonder how many of them have actually experienced it in the literal sense. I know its an oft used phrase but for anyone who rides a two wheeled vehicle off road – motor or pedal powered, the actual realities of being ‘stuck in a rut’ are far more interesting.

My initiation to mountain biking was in Dunedin in the early 1990’s as a student. No suspension, just a solid steel frame with no fancy bits. Signal hill was gorse lined and ruthless with deep ruts and unforgiving corners. One crash and you were squeezing red, inflamed pustules weeks later from which would emerge long black spikes like something out of a horror movie.

But learning to ride ruts was crucial. I remember the desperation and powerlessness as my bike slid into a deep one, pedals barely staying clear of the clay either side. I lacked the skills to bunny hop out and really had no idea – I freaked out and made friends with the gorse. The more I rode ruts the more I realised that being stuck in one was part of the adventure, a bit like life.

So here are some things I learned about riding ruts in clay that might cross into some metaphorical, mystical life lesson, mantra or not. First there were times I would be able to avoid them and if I fell in one I would relax my hands because any tension would result in fighting the front wheel, causing the inevitable. Keeping my eyes up on where I wanted to go helped to shift not just my visual focus but my mental focus was ‘there’s where I want to go rather than ‘oh no, I don’t want to hit that’. Surrendering control might sound a little extreme but certainly altering and adjusting my awareness and responses to what control was going to be useful. Ensuring my weight was on my pedals, keeping relaxed and trusting those great knobbly tyres would bite when they needed to helped me negotiate my way out and avoid a later date with disinfectant and an even later one with prickle extraction.

Being stuck in a rut isn’t usually so adrenaline laden, but a rut is a rut and sometimes getting out of one is less poetic – stopping, getting off and lifting my bike out was also a tactic I used. No shame – and definitely less pain.

Stuck in one gear by choice

My new single speed bike is beautiful. I think I might be ‘bike-sexual’ and will happily declare this openly without shame.
Emmet

Meet Emmet (yes named after the Lego Movie character)
There is something pure about riding single speed. It is a bit old school but the simplicity and relationship between the machine and the body is more direct. No gears means tuning into the terrain, technique, timing and toughness.

The irony is that I am used to having all sorts of comments and abuse hurled at me a cyclist. Some of it for just being on a bike but I don’t know that male cyclists get quite the same about of comments about the body parts making contact with the seat as women. It’s another ‘hazard’ one I’d rather not deal with but usually I’m so busy concentrating I just catch the ends of words and sentences, for example ‘*ice *ss’ or ‘**xy *ich.’

I’ve been riding Emmet for 3 days now and my whole world has turned upside down. Heads turn, men comment and not once about me. It’s ALL about the bike. I think I could actually be a fish on a bike and people would still not notice. In fact not only is Emmet complimented there is a genuine admiration and appreciation from some for the pedal power required to move up hill. This weird vibe I think could be respect, ‘I’m the Man’ now. Male roadies (lycra wearing speedy riders) usually look ‘through me’ like I’m invisible or not even in the same dimension but Emmet resonates with them in some way so they ‘see’ us together as something other than a woman on a bike. Their reactions have been refreshing, those usually serious cyclist faces break into grins, nods and finger lifts (cyclist wave). So perhaps, through Emmet, I transgender temporarily as a cyclist, I’m one of the boys.

That is how it seems after 25 years of experiencing those other comments as a woman. Kind of weird but I’m happy to ride along with it. Orange is the new black isn’t it?

Roundabout rules – anything goes!

When my home town got its first and only round about it was a thing of mystery and intrigue reminiscent of the scene in 2001 A Space Odyssey where early hominids (Australopithecines?) meet the monolith for the first time. You could almost hear the collective ‘what do we do with it?’ Followed by a desperate scrambling for copies of the road code to take in the monumental adjustment in driving habits that would ensue.

Ten years on it’s still more like a roulette wheel but I would suggest all roundabouts are the same. Navigating them on two wheels is even more precarious, oh and then we have the pedestrian crossings at exits just to make sure total chaos reigns. It is a genius combination one that human error only exacerbates. So I have an important question for you New Zealand drivers, when and how do you indicate on a roundabout? Just a reminder, the indicators are the flashy lights that tell other road users you are turning. Not sure? Take a quick look here to refresh your memory.

The result is safety is a bit of a lottery which it shouldn’t be. We also recently changed the give way rules around turning, but this had significant advertising and promotion. Most road safety campaigns are targeted at speed and drink driving and understandably given the outcomes of both are catastrophic. But there is also unnecessary carnage created by every day poor driving and understanding of basic rules, yet nothing is done to remind people. Putting something on for a week isn’t enough – that is the metaphorical equivalent of ‘blink and you’ll miss it.’

As a cyclist – I cannot read motorists minds and will position myself in the left hand lane if going straight through a roundabout. I look at the indicators as they tell me if a car is turning left so I will wait further back. I don’t want to be hit by a car and the simple act of indicating while you are waiting helps, please do it. But the rule for cyclists are open to causing both confusion and irritation from drivers. I personally do not ‘signal left’ but point straight ahead all the way through, I point to my exit and feel this is much clearer but this isn’t the rule, so technically I am also breaking the road code.

Commuting 150km a week for the last 10 years in Auckland without having an accident has little to do with luck but a lot to do with respect, awareness, care and patience, either that or I or have a tribe of guardian angels on my pay roll. But roundabouts continue to be my number one place of ‘close calls.’

I don’t know if I am right but I hope there is a ring of truth in there for everyone.

Assessing the cost of assessing

Auckland was hit by gale force winds yesterday. The remnants of cyclone Ita and the collective exhalation of thousands of teachers on the last day of term added to the perfect storm. In my wisdom I decided to brave the elements and rode my bike. Observing that there were no other two wheeled vehicles on the road should have been read as a warning but I just clutched onto my drops harder and decided this was an epic opportunity to practice extreme mindfulness. I really was about as comfortable as a fish on a bike.

It was exhausting on every level. I’d used every ounce of concentration, skill, sense and bit of luck to get there in one piece. Walking into work looking at the faces of my colleagues the fatigue and weariness matched mine, although they were somewhat dryer. As students began arriving, they too had ‘done’ stamped clearly across their glazed eyes. It’s only the end of the first term!

I occupy a role in education that affords me some distance from the classroom and allows me to have conversations with young people about how they are making sense of life, including learning. I’ve done my time teaching – it was more learning than teaching if I’m honest and rolled sideways as I became aware of the rumbling avalanche of NCEA and the ‘A’ word – Assessment.

Jump in a time machine back to the 80’s (if you dare) – and New Zealand was experimenting with a combination of exams and internal assessment. Generally however the number of assessments we sat were minimal. Stress wasn’t something any of us really had a concept of except for a very short intense period before end of year exams. Teachers were able to do what they do best, inspire, provoke curiosity, play, create, respond spontaneously, and had TIME to explore content with students.

Before you reach into your memory of High School and pull out the ‘worst teacher’ story – because we ALL have one, this is about structural changes that I feel have come thick and fast and something has to give. There is a cost to both students and teachers. Both have been left scrambling through curriculum content, pushed along by looming deadlines, re-assessment opportunities, evidence gathering and perpetual feedback and progress reports.

When people scoff at youth (let alone teachers!) being stressed at school and are from my generation or older, I resist sarcasm or derision – but not always successfully. The relentless assessment regime over 3 years IS hard on everyone and the carnage is what I see on an increasing level. What is that? Significant anxiety, not just test nerves, but paralytic and overwhelming anxiety. Professional burn out and loss of passion and en-joyment of teaching. Intense pressure to be ‘perfect’ and work harder, longer and to keep ‘raising the bar.’ I’m not saying we shouldn’t aim high but for some reason we have come to believe that more is better and if you say ‘no’ that this indicates some level of failure, or incompetence.

Squeezing more and more out of people is doing nothing to improve the quality of education. That storm yesterday reminded me of the internal struggles I see teachers and students grappling with daily. Fierce winds of change, coming in gusts and catching you off guard on a slippery winding road where the difference between gaining and losing traction is delicate and requires huge reserves of strength at all levels of being.

Insurers measure damage in monetary value. I suggest the cost of the current level of assessment in education is incalculable because it is invisible or worse, desirable. They say if you are caught in an avalanche to ditch the heavy gear, hold onto something, start swimming. Ideally and this is perhaps unrealistic but hey – this is just me writing my thoughts, I would say ‘ditch most assessment’ hold onto authentic and creative teaching and learning, and swim for leisure not for your life.

Bring back bike sheds

It doesn’t matter if no-one rides a bike to school anymore, schools need bike sheds. If you are nodding your head while reading this then you are probably are of a generation where the ‘bike sheds’ is code for other things.

Some of the best and worst bits of learning happened at the bike sheds. People tried stuff for the first time, talked about stuff, planned things and some of us actually parked our bikes there. The conversations and activities that took place you hoped you weren’t caught for (although…parking your bike isn’t exactly ‘bad ass’). It was an exciting place where risks were taken.

Some of those risks involved gossiping and talking about others. After emerging from the sheds the unspoken rule was not to speak about it. Eventually the conversation would move on to something or someone else, the outcomes and power of the spoken word dissolved and was replaced with other things. This is in stark contrast to the online generation.

When there is talk about things being ‘worse’ I think what could be happening is an unfamiliarity with the context and the effects on the meaning and intensity of expression via social media and the digital age. You can go back to a conversation, add to it, exaggerate, share, create images add pictures – so the story grows a life of its own. Then of course the audience grows and all within a few minutes! The personal and private has become a public performance for popularity.

Back at the bike sheds, about the only thing written was the odd scratched love note, insults were generic – occasionally personal but were painted over, or obscured by more angsting. Getting ‘caught’ was a real possibility and that awareness was an invisible safety bubble as the fear told you instinctively that ‘if you had to talk about this behind the bike sheds you probably shouldn’t be talking about it.’

I’m hoping riding to school will make a come back for many reasons including the building of sheds. Bring on the next generation of shenanigans!