Don’t you feel sorry for the Tour de France competitors?
Their monumental trip takes them through the ancient English woodland of the Epping Forest, picturesque French villages and medieval townships, they pedal roads which hug rivers snaking through deep rural valleys and then they climb, climb, climb on their final passage through the mountain chains of the Pyrenees and the Alps.
And what do they see? Their stunning bicycle voyage is nothing more than a whirring blur: foot to the pedal, head down, wheel to the asphalt as the road becomes not the path to a journey through France but a grey blur, whizzing by relieved only by moments of fluro flashes as cursed other cyclists overtake them.
Nothing could be further from the reality of most Newcastle cyclists where good natured bonhomie is par for the course and the slow pace of city cycling is relished. One of the great things about seeing the world by bike (especially if you are a driver as well) are all the amazing things which seem suddenly revealed, all of which are invisible when you are behind the wheel.
Urban cycling ticks all the boxes: it’s a great way to get around, the perfect combination of fun and fitness and gives you great green cred, as every cyclist is potentially taking a car off the road. And what better way to tour the West End and its surrounding neighbourhoods?
City cycling has a crew of passionate advocates and I met up with one of them, Vicki Coughlan of the great cycling blog Bicycles in Newcastle, for a West End caffeine hit and a natter about bikes. By perfect co-incidence the funkster of all bike racks was positioned right in front of us, located in Bellevue Street it’s in the shape of a large, round metal face and is, in itself, a striking piece of street art.
Vicki slid up on her red vintage Speedwell, with its front retro style basket and a stylish skirt guard. It’s a mighty good looking two-wheeler, I was even more impressed when she explained that it was her childhood bike which she had re-stored and brought back to life.
Another good looking bike rack is outside cStudio Art Gallery where guerrilla knitters have got to work adorning it with a stripey woollen jumper; the rack now has that rare combination of being cosy and functional. Over on the art walls of Beresford Lane I have only just noticed a newish graphic – black and white, spray-painted stick figures with bicycles, I like to think they give a friendly nod and wink to those using the lane, which is surely the most colourful bike path in the city.
Reality check: sadly there has been a spike in bike thefts in our city, so make sure you lock up your lovely bike, a long walk home is a horrible way to end an otherwise joyful spin around town (insert here a sad face emoticon).
My current favourite short cut through the West End is from Wickham Station to the always interesting Parry Street cul-de-sac. Down Bellevue Street, across Hunter Street, down National Park Street, a sharp right turn, through Birdwood Park, where the metal fence which has blighted one corner for some time has now been removed – hooray! – taking a moment to slow down and listen to the birds who continue to sing determinedly over the traffic noise. Remember to look left, look right and look left again girls and boys…and then it’s a sprint over the road and the nature strip to the cul-de-sac always the site of interesting and unpredictable goings-on.
Who knows what a profound effect urban cycling can have? English literary colossus H.G. Wells declared “Every time I see an adult on a bicycle I no longer despair for the future of the human race.”
Have you chosen the West End as your home or as the perfect place to run your business? Do you have a West End tale which deserves a wider audience? What inspires and infuriates you about the West End? If you have a story to tell I would love to talk to you! Here’s how to find me: firstname.lastname@example.org; 0413 250 155.