exploring by bike…

“Half of the people can be part right all of the time
Some of the people can be all right part of the time
But all of the people can’t be all right all of the time
I think Abraham Lincoln said that” – Bob Dylan, Talkin’ World War III Blues.

One meaning to a bit of this is that in this world if some are claiming one thing, and other people are claiming another about a certain topic, there can only be one truth on the matter; so only some of those people can be right.  I use this simply as a disclaimer to say: I am not an expert in anything. Sure, I’m studying Social Work at university, but that does not mean I’m an expert in it. Yes, I cycle alot, but that does not mean I’m an expert as such… it just means I have a little bit more experience than some, and a whole lot less experience than others.

Some people are used to discovering/exploring new cities by bike. Cycle tourists, especially ones that cycle in foreign nations, are well used to circumnavigating cities by bike. I am not. I would guess that my biggest problem is more-or-less the same as Captain Sense of Direction. This is true of walking also, and I would much rather travel with someone else for this reason (and, of course, the company). Maybe I would find navigation easier if I was on a tandem, where the stoker would help with navigation. Alas, I must ride on my own.

So far I have only had one problem cycling in Leeds, and that because my tourist map didn’t show the roads adequately – and my Leeds Cycling Map doesn’t allow for easy reference when you’re on the roadside. Fortunately I was going to the university, which is pretty well signposted.

But that’s my biggest tip: find a local bike shop (LBS) and get a cycling map, if you can. As much as I can’t seem to read the Leeds one when I’m tired and/or in a hurry and/or confused, they are very useful. They’ll help you avoid those horrifically dangerous and horrible busy roads. Just check out Frank van Ridjn speaking about cycling in Mexico. Scary! I remember cycling from Bearsden into Glasgow city centre on a weekend night (probably about 4 years ago). I knew I was on the right road, but it was getting dark, and it was a busy dual carriageway (I was on the footpath, for obvious reasons). It was taking a lot longer than I thought it should. Not knowing Glasgow’s friendlier side, I was getting pretty terrified of getting truly lost and getting myself in some bother from some locals… Fortunately I found a polis station (police, for those who don’t read Scots!), popped in (with bike: couldn’t be bothered locking it up, and besides, I was scared that it might only take about the same length of time I would be in asking for directions), and was told  that I was on the right route. phew! a proper map might have been handy then, too – not just my google map printouts.

Over the years, I’ve gained a small collection of cycling maps: edinburgh (because I’m from there), Aberdeen, Glasgow, Dundee and now Leeds. Very useful things, they are. Yet that’s not an automatic predictor of not getting lost: today I nearly found myself on a couple of dual carriage ways!

Now, obviously, when you go away to a new city, if you don’t know anyone, you have to stay somewhere.  Trying to find a bike friendly hotel can be tricky. When booking one, I phoned various hotels in Leeds. One thought that the luggage storage counted as a bike rack (and that would cost £10 a day, please!), while the hotel I actually went for, said they have space at the back where I could put it. Very safe, near the university, very helpful, and reasonable price, so I opted for them.

Whether they actually have a safe place for the bike depends on who you ask.  If you ask me, as a cyclist, I say that they do not. If you ask them, they do. If you remember (around 630 words ago) (there’s a counter at the bottom of the editor), I put a disclaimer saying that I am not an expert. But in my six-week experience of living and travelling in India, I found Indians both very keen to help, but pretty  ineffectual in delivering said help. In the words of a family friend who actually lived in India for a while, “if you want directions to the station, ask six people and triangulate the results”. So I rock up, leave my bike propped out outside, having made the risk assessment that it would be safe enough,  check-in, and ask about a place for the bike. Cue two visits to the back by the staff member, once by himself, and the other accompanied by his colleague. He knocks on my door five minutes later, and shows me to the back. I leave my lock in my room, because I wanted to see how safe it actually was before deciding whether or not to leave my bike there. He shows me the back. There is absolutely nothing that would constitute a safe place for my bike – although a chain lock might have got round a big pipe coming down the wall: not very securely, and certainly not with a d-lock. I explain this to him, possibly not very well, return to my room, and get my d-lock and key. To demonstrate how impossible it was to get the d-lock round the pipe, I give him my best shot trying to squeeze the d-lock through the back wheel and round the pipe in multiple contortions: the only possible way due to there being a shed in the way. The staff member, realising my problem, says that he will find a “solution” for my storage problem.

Again, I return to my room, leaving my bike in situ, and go online. Surely, I thought, the university, which is across the road, has bike racks. In ten minutes I found out where the nearest covered ones were, and in ten minutes I have heard nothing from staff. I go to find him, and explain that I will lock it up at the university. In reply he responds that there is a ladder at the back that I could lock bike up to!

I remind myself of one of rules of locking your bike up: never attach it to something that can be moved. I just googled “how to lock a bike” and the first article was from London Cyclists. And what was the first rule? “Always make sure you don’t attach your bike to something that can easily be broken, moved or lifted off.” I also didn’t remember even seeing a ladder. Sure enough, there was one, lying on the ground! I will be puzzling over these two staff members’ thought processes for a very long time…

Honestly, if I (a) didn’t have my wits about me, and (b) spent so much time in India dealing with such helpful ineffectiveness, I would not be chuckling away to myself! Honestly, this hotel is almost like Fawlty Towers, only not quite so faulty – just a lack of understanding about how to lock a bike up securely.

So how to find a bike-friendly hotel? No idea (told you I wasn’t an expert). Word of mouth? Some websites say that it’s bike-friendly. Otherwise, google streetview helps to see if there’s anything suitable closeby. And speak to the hotel. That said, they may be useless (as in my example). Choose a safe area, if you can (hotel reviews are good for this).  Or choose a hotel close to a university and use their racks.

That’s what I did, and bike and I will both sleep well tonight!

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About hectorshouse

I'm in my mid 20's, and my four biggest passions in life are my faith in Christ, my wife, food and cycling. I'm British, I love recording my new dishes at hectorthefoodie.wordpress.com I used to be so uninventive with food, but I've recently picked up a zest for finding new recipes and just giving it a go...
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