Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Roadsters on the Sand

Clive and His BSA
"So what on earth are you doing here?..."

In a village cafe with impressively bleak sea views, we said this to each other almost simultaneously, as if really questioning ourselves. Clive is here from New Zealand, via England, via... well, it's a story not easily summarised. Much like myself, he does not have a neatly packaged explanation for how he ended up in Northern Ireland. He is simply here. Existing in what sometimes quite overwhelmingly feels like the middle of nowhere. Floating really. Coasting. 

Clive and His BSA
To put it frankly, befriending Clive Somerville has made me question my sanity. And as I worked beside the television last night, the Secret Window playing in the background, I was reminded of why. Clive Somerville could very well be a figment of my imagination. A stress-induced hallucination, an imaginary friend to keep me company in unfamiliar lands, whatever you want to call it. Bottom line is, his realness is worrisomely implausible. Take the name, for instance. Somerville? I moved here from Somerville, Massachusetts. And "Clive"? I'm sorry, but that's a fictional name if ever there was one - a film noir character. Or, a name I might give to one of my bikes... 

Clive and His BSA
And speaking of bikes, the one he rides could have been plucked out of my imagination. A racing green BSA roadster, 1960s vintage, with Sturmey Archer hub and full chaincase - a beast he maneuvers as adeptly as if it were a BMX bike. 

Clive and His BSA
The BSA's frame has been drilled for rod brakes, yet the bike appears to have been fitted at the factory with rim brakes (which Clive fitted with Kool Stop "Vans" brake shoes - in white, to match the bike's grips). In all other ways, it is a traditional roadster. 

Clive and His BSA
Clive bought the bike (named Lady Huck) while living in England two years ago, in a vintage shop in Dorset. He describes it affectionately as having been in "nightmare" condition, rough shape with most components on the brink of failure. 

Clive and His BSA
Once he started riding it, the bike promptly began to fall apart - which in turn inspired Clive to learn how to fix it. Enter the Sheldon Brown website. Enter the classic and vintage bike forums and various blogs. Enter the world of vintage parts hunted down on ebay, wheels rebuilt by hand, hubs repacked, and cottered cranks replaced. With Lady Huck, boredom is a non-issue.

Clive and His BSA
Then there is also a matter of Clive's commute. He cycles 6.5 miles each way, from his home in Portstewart to his job in Coleraine - utilising the rural cycling highway. With my own impressions of cycling in Northern Ireland overwhelmingly positive, I sometimes wonder whether my sense of this is somehow skewed. But, having lived here for nearly a year, Clive agrees: "Cycling in NI seems really well catered for. The cycle paths are convenient, the drivers are mainly extremely courteous and friendly, the local roadies wave, the police ignores me - it's all round a nice place to ride." Of course, his co-workers nonetheless think him nuts for commuting by bike - but neither Clive nor Lady Huck are phased. 

Clive and His BSA
Though his favourite place to cycle so far has been the New Forest in England - an area he describes as so idyllic, I have difficulty picturing it. And as far as cycling in his native New Zealand, Clive describes it as great for mountain biking and BMX, but "hostile and dangerous" for commuting, roadcycling and touring in most parts of the country. This is interesting to me, as it's pretty much the feedback I get from all those who've lived in New Zealand - yet the place is rather enthusiastically promoted as an ideal bicycle touring destination. Goes to show that it's always good to talk with locals. 

Clive and His BSA
While neither Clive and I feel anything like locals here and probably never will, we've each been getting to know the area and the people, while riding our bikes and snapping photos. Meeting up a few times, we've discovered some common ground - including complicated life stories, a shared interest in film photography, and a giddy admiration for Malachi O'Doherty. We could be figments of each other's imagination, for all we know. And I suppose there is nothing wrong with that. 

Having photographed Clive on his BSA, the following night I had a dream where a group of people - all on vintage roadsters - were cycling on the sand, for miles and miles and miles as the sun slowly set. It was more than a bit surreal, but also quite doable here. Who knows, it could be a theme for a future V-CC Northern Ireland ride...

26 comments:

  1. well I like the film noir reference and surreal part and changing perspective of the pics, crikey, I'm not the only one who feels wholly dislocated then

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    1. Not to worry, I am perpetually dislocated : )

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  2. I would describe the New Forest as dreamy or to use a fancier word, atmospheric. (Of course it's quite idyllic as well but in that game it risks being beaten by the Cotswolds.)

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    1. Never been to that part of England, but looks like I might need to visit.

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  3. "impressively bleak sea views"

    love these surprising bits of your prose V

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  4. I visited Northern Ireland once, just when the "Troubles" were starting to end, and it seemed an excellent place for an American to be. Everybody speaks English, loves Americans, and the place seemed very livable without all sorts of touristy places being built up. Glad to hear it's great cycling up there, too.
    One thing that struck me was the near-absence of the excessive safety culture we have here. There was a path running along the edge of a cliff, which you could take to get to the town. Forty foot drop to the rocks and sea on one side. They'd put stones sticking up along the edge, so you could feel with your foot if you got too near (no street lights, of course).
    It seems like an excellent place to spend a summer in. But I'm not sure I'd want to move there in the winter.

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    1. All sorts of touristy places have now been built up and I wouldn't say there is a love of Americans as such, but it's still great.

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  5. Proportion.
    Hi Ms. V ! I am hoping all is well. So glad to see the regular posts.
    That Birmingham Small Arms ride has nice lines.

    A fellow brought a 1920ish black one to a couple of Brooklyn Velodrome Vintage Wheelmen meetings on Bleecker Street in NYC and Junior's restaurant in Brooklyn (mmmm!). Real beast with a full chaincase, black Lauterwasser-looking handlebars, a fully sprung 3 rail saddle, and kerosene lamps front and rear. It had presence. My Raleigh Sports is a toy in comparison.

    vsk

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  6. seems like a nice young man!

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  7. > "hostile and dangerous" for commuting

    Totally. Although some of us are stupid enough to do it anyway.

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    1. I live in Christchurch, NZ and its drivers are particularly malevolent towards cyclists, but yes I cycle commute every day regardless...

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  8. As you were working beside the television last night? Hm. On the basis of previous posts, I gained the impression that you were living in an unimaginably ancient and traditional thatched cottage with no electricity. Somewhere, I came across some photographs of a black iron kettle suspended over the fire, and buttered scones served with tea in a lovely china service (known to we Irish as "delf"). I acknowledge the possibility that a television set may be powered by some means other than mains electricity, such as a generator, but I confess myself to be disappointed, having pictured you as someone so in touch with "real" values that the very idea of owning or watching a television set would be anathema.

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    1. Dynamo powered. My housemate likes to watch tv, and I need to get some extra pedaling in, so why not.

      I've never really had any anti-TV values, I just can't watch it - could be a form of ADD that prevents me from paying attention to it. But it can be nice to have in the background when others are watching.

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    2. Northern Ireland was some years ahead of the Republic in having a television service. I recall that, in Dublin, people had absolutely huge antennas on their roofs to receive the BBC transmissions from the North, in the absence of a domestic service. Those antennas must have come down regularly in high winds, despite the guy wires. Then, in about 1962, Telefís Éireann started up (note the original spelling, now revised by the Irish language police). The final TÉ programme of the day was the Epilogue, a sort of spiritual pep talk delivered by a priest, followed by the national anthem. As we tend to say, God be with the days. The very idea of radio or television closing down for the night. Seems quaint now.

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    3. Interesting, I did not know that.

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  9. I had a flight instructor named Clive...

    Right up here in New Hampshire, not too far from Boston.

    Yes, real people do have that name. :-)

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  10. I'm still trying to figure out if you're fiction or non-fiction....

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  11. Sweet! I love the shot of him in front of the shop. is that a butcher shop? The paintings of the jersey cow and pigs, how precious! I'd love it. And that beach! oh beautiful.

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    1. It's a butcher shop, with a really good cafe above it. The murals here are great - here's another across the street from where that shot was taken.

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  12. As a New Zealand local, I would suggest that generalisations here are as generalisations everywhere. For fixie pixie who lived in Nelson, bike riding is limited because there are only a few roads in and out, and everything travels at 100kph on single lanes not made for bikes. For us living on Waiheke Island, with its 50 kph maximum limit and back roads to get places, it's good. Likewise in Auckland, if you pick your routes its good and getting better as bike lanes are put in. When John Key became PM, he picked a national bike route as his signature offering, and new routes are being opened regularly now. (see nzcycletrail.com).

    The big difference between NZ and the USA is the lack of a freeway system. America had a complete road network already built and then they added a whole new limited access road network that took all the anti-bike traffic off the old roads. NZ never did this, thus it has few routes between towns, and they are used by every sort of vehicle from logging trucks to farm tractors. For long-distance road riders, NZ has gaps. For commuters, it entirely depends on where you commute.

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  13. A tangent, but, after a frightening day in the hole I work its good to know about places where life is mainly about experiences and cycling

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  14. Is that your Giant? I hope you post how it compares to your beloved Seven!

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    1. I don't own a Giant. My friend does (if you're referring to this flickr set?), but that's not his bike in that photo either - just some random cafe patron's bike. Giant racing bikes are quite popular here, probably the most common roadbike you're likely to spot "in the wild."

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  15. I have a 1955 Rudge Roadster that I ride practically everywhere, especially on dirt roads and mountain bike trails. It has an AG hub in the rear. I found some screw-base LED lamps for the head and tail lights.

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  16. Describing cycling in NZ as "hostile and dangerous" makes riding here sound much worse than it really is. It's not like the streets of Auckland are menaced by angry giant squid. There is certainly plenty to complain about here, including the absence of cycling infrastructure, and the occasional aggressive driver. But we can't all live in Holland. It would get really crowded. If you want some other views of what NZ is like to ride around in, try this guy - http://aucklandbikeslob.com/. Or some other NZ cycling blog. But don't read http:/giantangrysquid.blogspot.com - it's all lies.

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