Showing posts with label holidays. Show all posts
Showing posts with label holidays. Show all posts

Sunday, April 20, 2014

To Roll Softly and Carry a Big Camera

Photographing by the Windmills
Easter weekend here is stretched into a nearly weeklong holiday of endless sunshine and gleeful business closures. It is quiet. Not in a hushed churchy way. But more in the lazy, sunbaked way of a backwater beach town in the waning days of August. The morning is so bright it could be mid-day. The sun does not set till nearly 9:00 in the evening. Friday gives way to Saturday, then Sunday, with a viscous seamlessness. This weather and this silence are disorienting, making me feel drowsy at random times of the day.

At an hour that could be early morning or could, just as easily, be high noon, I get on my bike and go. I have a route to follow, designed weeks prior in the unlikely event of just such a long lazy day of calm weather. And now I'm glad of it, because my brain is mush from the unexpected solar caresses. And my legs are mush from the too-fast ride done with a friend the day before. For the first time this year I have exposed my ankles and I feel giddy.

Backroads Toward Dungevin
Along the main road processions of caravans and trailers flow unhurriedly. Some head toward the seaside caravan park. Others toward the Gliding Club. Their parade is peppered with the occasional car, stuffed with children being driven to football games and egg hunts.

Cycling alongside them gingerly, I am accompanied by honks followed by enthusiastic hand waves from people I know (how did I manage to know so many people here?!), as the sun beats down on us all. And then I turn off the main road, and all signs of life disappear.

Rapeseed Starting to Bloom
On the narrow mountain lanes there are no church bells and no beach goers. No caravans and no carpools. There are no village shops, flaunting traditional Easter closures to capitalise on ice-cream sales. There is no weekday and no weekend. There is no sound, aside from the occasional hum of a distant tractor. There is only an eerie stillness, more noticeable now in the absence of wind.

The rapeseed fields, having blossomed all at once in the week prior, look now like a spillover of sun from the sky. The earth underneath them is scorched and cracked, showing no signs of the water that flooded it only weeks earlier.

Cricket Game in Progress
Half way up a hill I pass a cricket field, the first sign of activity for miles. As men in white move about a whim bush-framed playing field, Binevenagh Mountain looms in background with an almost ludicrous picturesqueness. I do not know the game, but from the vantage point of my bike I can see it involves at least 2 bat-like objects in use at once. I remind myself to look this up.

Just then a ball flies out of the field and lands on the road beside my wheel, and so I stop and pick it up. The man who hops over the fence to retrieve it pauses to thank me, then quizzes me about my comings and goings in the uniquely local manner that feels simultaneously like friendliness and meticulous intelligence-gathering. In the end he squeezes my shoulder and gives me his good wishes, warning me to be careful over the next, sharply winding, downhill stretch of road. I photograph the cricket game and get ready to take off. "Ride softly and carry a big camera, eh?" I hear a laughing voice behind me as I pedal away.

Backroads Toward Dungevin
Along roads like these you can ride with no end and no beginning, because they seem to have none. You can ride tired, drowsy, wobbly legged, half asleep. You can ride all day and not feel the bike or yourself as distinct from what is around you. The road rolls and you can roll along with it. You can roll fast. Or, you can roll softly and carry a big camera. And as you snap that photo you will feel that the still, sundrenched landscape will be here, rolling, with or without you in it.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Brevet-Ready

A friend said latterly to me,
"Why don't we ride the PBP?"
It's in two thousand fifteen,
we've time to train if we are keen!"

"How shall we train?" to him I say.
"Easy - we cycle every day!"
"That does sound very nice indeed.
Let us make ready and god speed!"

And so I hummed a happy song
and wondered what to bring along.
Some like a bag in front, some rear.
But which to choose, oh dear oh dear?

And then I thought, why choose at all?
I shall take both, and they'll fit all!
Some spare tubes and tires and tools,
some knitting needles and fine wools,

some notebooks, inks and fountain pens,
some fat and juicy sautéed hens,
some wine, some cheese, some clothes, some books,
a fishing rod and reel and hooks,

some Wellies and some dancing shoes,
some records, mainly jazz and blues,
some pillows, quilts and woolen socks
computers, cameras and clocks,

a loofa, soap, perfumes and lotions,
some gauze, syringes, pills and potions...
To Paris we shall ride prepared.
The unprepared have poorly fared!

But oh what bicycle to ride
and carry such a load in stride?
What tubing and of which fine metal
will suit me as I knit and pedal?

They say it's not about the bike,
you ought to ride the one you like.
The one that's comfortable and sturdy,
sports fenders, lights, and can get dirty.

Just then I saw her by the door
and my dilemma was no more.
Her rod brakes might not stop till Brest,
and turning does take some finesse,

her wheel rims are full of pits,
she's heavy as a trunk of grits,
she's sixty years old and rusty,
but! She stays upright when it's gusty,

and although gears she has but one,
she's oh so hardy and she's fun!
The Triumph shall roll smooth and steady.
"My friend," I shout, "I'm brevet-ready!"

Monday, March 17, 2014

Green Chariot of Derry

Just back in Northern Ireland, and I've ended up at the St. Patrick's Day Parade in Derry. It was, as they say here, legen-Derry. Har har.

It was rainy,

sunny,

carnival-like,

secular,

spectacularly crowded, yet surprisingly sober and lacking in rowdiness.

It was also not without a touch of bikeyness. Or, rather, trikeyness. One of the parade's main attractions was this marvelous old rickshaw chariot. Pine green. Double top tube. Rod brakes. Derailleur gearing. It originally hails from India, the grand forest elf astride it told me.

Bedecked in flowers, a patchwork canopy and lanterns, this thing was just gorgeous.

It attracted good will and cheer as it made its way down the city street at a parade pace of about 1mph.

Not a bad start to the week, all things considered.

Happy Monday everyone. Spring is here!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Ride Away

"Look at these cute bikes and these young ladies! Good for you girls. Good for you!"

The man was clean cut, of late middle age, and looked not unlike one of our teachers. But his expression of friendliness was too studied and strained. As he made his way to our bench in the shaded part of the park we instinctively put down our sandwiches and stiffened our postures.

"So... what are you exactly anyway?"

"Excuse me?"

"You know - Chinese, Japanese? Korean?"

"Umm..." I could see K's face twitch and turn red. She was born in Connecticut.

In the seconds of confused silence, he sat down next to us and leaned over chummily.

"Nice day!" He made a show of looking up at the sky, then glanced around furtively.

"Excuse me, but we came here to have a private talk..." I said this as friendly as possible, wile my eyes searched for passers-by.

"Hey, and what about you honey? French? You got a bit of an accent there."

I attempted a discouraging glare, but he continued.

"Polish? Knew a girl looked just like you once and she was Polish. Nice girl, very mature for her age. Strict parents though. Do you girls have strict parents?"

In the moments that followed I could almost hear the wheels turning in all three of our heads, crucial calculations taking place as the breeze tussled the leaves.

"You're quiet girls, aren't you?" he finally said. "I like that..."

In unison, K and I stood up.

"I'm Cambodian," she offered brightly, prolonging the breaking point.

We didn't run, but, leaving our lunches on the bench, moved quickly and with precision toward our bikes - rusty things propped up against a tree. Then we grabbed them, hopped on and pushed off just as the man's face contorted into an agitated snarl and he lunged after us.

"Dirty little sluts! You coupla whores!"

Safely out of reach we could still hear him yelling.

"I got a car you know! Gonna go after you all the way to your house!"

This made no sense, but nonetheless terrified us into riding circles around the neighbourhood for hours before going home. It was the summer after 8th grade and never had we been so glad to own bikes.

This was not the story I meant to come up with on Women's Day, but it popped into my head. The bicycle as escape tool. Not often talked about, but it has served that function for me and countless women I know.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Before 2014

In these last days of the year, there's been, as usual, a great deal of talk about New Year's resolutions. And after hearing some friends say their resolution was to cycle more in 2014, I finally suggested - why not now? Because I can't help but feel that the very point of a resolution is to delay this activity you are supposedly resolved to do, to find an excuse for not doing it already. As a result, this thing you put off until January becomes infused with dread and seems all the less appealing. And how sad it is that cycling should be put into such a category!

And so on this fine December 31st, upon my gentle prodding, we set off on a short photo expedition up the side of the mountain. It was a windy, but sunny and cheerful day. The ride turned out hillier than planned, but we did not complain, as fabulous vistas spread out under a perfectly clear sky as far as the eye could see. We even encountered an old acquaintance, who was happy to join us for a spell. It was one of those unexpectedly, spontaneously perfect days made all the better by being out on bikes.

Now I have done New Year's Day rides before, but never an Old Year's Day Ride. And I have to say I highly recommend it. As we cycled on this last day of 2013, we felt - on a delightfully visceral level - that we were pedaling away from 2013 and toward the blank slate of 2014.

So my message to you dear readers is… If you have time for a ride in these last hours of 2013, why not say "good bye to all that" on two wheels? Happy New Year to all and thank you for reading! I will see you again in 2014.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Let It Snow!

Well the weather outside is frightful

But the bike is so delightful!

What the heck, I'll just pedal slow

Let it snow

Let it snow

Let it snow!

Wishing you a happy holiday and some good cycling weather from the rainy, windy, snowy Northern Ireland. Thank you, as always for reading Lovely Bicycle!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

How to Start a Fire

Keeping Warm
I've always felt November to be a month of anxiety-laced anticipation. It is that slow pivot when cold gives way to freezing, when colour fades to black and white, when Autumn slips into winter. It could be a dreary winter, or it could be a gorgeous winter. It could be a winter of being stuck indoors or a winter of uninterrupted cycling. Which it will be, we do not know. The season will slowly unfold to manifest itself, and all we can do is wait - distracting ourselves with a cluster of holidays, shopping, and big meals. 

Farm Yard
Earlier this week I explained Thanksgiving and Black Friday to an Irish friend. It surprised me that I had to explain it at all, as they've grown up on American sitcoms here and at this time of year practically all the episodes are holiday-themed. But I guess it's possible to watch and enjoy American shows despite not getting all the cultural references, and so Thanksgiving was one of those fuzzy concepts until I fleshed it out with an elaborate description of what actually goes on. In return I am asked whether I miss Thanksgiving. Is it making me homesick?

Hmm is it? Well, not in an obvious sense. Having lived outside the US half my life, I skip it as often as I celebrate it, and have mixed feelings about the holiday anyway. But I do miss the role it plays in marking that November transition. Without Thanksgiving as a marker, I feel a bit lost this year - lacking in structure and a sense of flow.

Keeping Warm
There is also the question of weather. In New England I've formed a strong association between Thanksgiving time and that crisp, dry chill in the air. There is something festive about that dry chill, something comforting and uplifting, invigorating. In Northern Ireland the late Autumn cold is different. Humid and penetrating, it feels as if an army of invisible clammy tentacles slowly wrap themselves around me, creeping persistently beneath layers of wool, then tightening their hold to sap my bodyheat. That kind of cold is not festive at all; it is energy-draining and spirit-dampening. And determined not to give in, I have been fighting it with fire. 

Keeping Warm
At the risk of disappointing those who took my earlier "thatched cottage with no electricity" comment seriously, my dwellings in Northern Ireland have all had modern amenities, including central (oil) heating. However, many here agree that heating a house via fireplace or stove remains the most effective method. There is something about the dancing flame of an open fire that dries out the damp better than anything. 

In my current fireplace I can burn wood, coal and peat - or a combination of any of these. All in all, coal seems to offer the best combination of heat, cost-effectiveness and ease of procurement. Coals burn slowly and they burn extremely hot. The heat is easy to regulate by the amount you put in, and how you arrange them on the grate. And in the new place I'm about to move into, get this: The main wood/coal burning stove (pictured) plugs into the central heating system, so that the radiators and the hot water can actually be stove-powered rather than using oil. I've been tinkering with the system to figure out how it works exactly. 

Keeping Warm
Getting a coal fire started is not easy - in particular when trying to do it quickly, with freezing trembling hands in the early morning. You cannot simply light a piece of coal with a match - it's like trying to set a rock on fire. Instead, you have to create conditions of extreme heat on the grate, which will set the coals aglow slowly and gradually. This is achieved by building up what looks like a little fort of sorts - layering crumpled paper, then thin dry pieces of wood, on which the coals are then placed. You light the paper, which burns quick and shallow, in turn lighting the wood, which burns slower and hotter, in turn lighting the coals which take some time to catch but, once aglow, release a heat of such depth and intensity that a small house can easily be kept warm all day with a couple of bucketfulls. Wooden logs can be added to vary the feel of the flames, which I like doing as well.

Keeping Warm
It is a dry, crisp heat that is comforting and festive in the absence of the seasonal markers I'm used to. I do not miss Thanksgiving, but I do want to wish a happy one to my US-based readers. Thank you, as always, for reading, and I hope you are finding ways to keep warm...

Keeping Warm
...with or without a fireplace!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Roses are Red ...and Welded in Steel

Welded Steel Rose, Spooky Bikes/ Chris Traverse
While I enjoy receiving flowers on special occasions, it's always a little sad when they wilt. So for our anniversary a couple of weeks ago, I asked my husband for a steel rose from Spooky Bikes. With Valentine's Day coming up, I thought I'd mention it and post some pictures. These beautiful roses will last, and they make for a lovely way to mark an occasion while supporting a local artisan. I love mine; it is even nicer in person than in pictures.

Welded Steel Rose, Spooky Bikes/ Chris Traverse
Spooky Bikes are somewhat of a cult manufacturer, making road, cyclocross and mountain bikes in Bellows Falls, Vermont. I met them at the New England Builders Ball a few months ago and had a chance to see a few of their bikes. The steel roses are a side project, welded by Chris Traverse ("...alone with my cat and my coffee making roses that will make other people smile..."). The majority of proceeds will benefit the Sunset Ranch BMX Park in Western Massachusetts, which Chris established and continues to grow. 

Welded Steel Rose, Spooky Bikes/ Chris Traverse
The roses are made of a mild steel, one petal at a time. The petals, hand-tooled leaves and braided weld-wire stem are then TIG-welded. They are available in a raw finish, or dipped in bright red acrylic paint. My rose is the red-dipped version. Only the tips of the petals are dipped in paint, still leaving sections closer to the base raw. The bare steel and the rainbow rings around the welds contrast nicely with the liquid look of the red. It is a dramatic, visually textured combination. The appearance of the flower is natural and organic, not cartoony. 

Welded Steel Rose, Spooky Bikes/ Chris Traverse
There is variation in the shape of each petal, each stem, each flower. As it ages, there will be increasing natural colour variation. The steel looks delicate, but feels rather strong.

Welded Steel Rose, Spooky Bikes/ Chris Traverse
The roses are available as single flowers ($33), vines ($85), and dozen roses bouquets ($250), in both the raw and the red-dipped finish. Order soon in you want yours to be made in time for Valentines Day. Delight your darling and support our local bicycling craftsmen. A beautiful combination. 

Says welder Chris Traverse: "The look on my friends faces when they pull into the trails to see what's new to ride is the same look on people's faces when they open up one of my roses." Chris has had an interesting history. Read his full statement here

Monday, December 31, 2012

Winter 4.0

Mixte Snow Ride
In the final weeks of 2012 my thoughts were full of everything that's happened over the past year and my dominant emotion was depletion. Two days ago I finally finished making a bicycle frame, and the experience took its toll: Getting so completely absorbed in something at which I am so completely mediocre led me to question my sanity. This train of thought then spread from framebuilding to cycling itself. My progress on the bike has not been impressive by any standard, making it both funny and ridiculous that I am so utterly into it. I also could not help but question what would happen if and when I finally move beyond the constant struggle to both understand the bicycle and master riding it. Will it no longer be absorbing? Will the excitement and wonder eventually fade?

In the midst of all this brooding, it began to snow. It snowed and snowed all through the night, and the next morning I ventured outside. On a Sunday the plowing had been minimal. Side streets crunched with hard-packed snow. Grassy lots offered vast, undisturbed snowscapes. Modest city parks turned into enchanted forests. I wandered around by bike through the preternaturally white landscape. As my face began to tingle from the frost, my head cleared. Slip-sliding my way through the at once familiar and unfamiliar streets, everything began to make sense. I abandoned my attempts to take stock and draw conclusions. I stopped thinking about the past year and started looking forward to the year ahead. This is my fourth winter cycling, and yet everything feels utterly new, utterly exciting.

Happy New Year, everyone. Thank you, as always, for reading.

---
In keeping with the New Year's Eve cocktail tradition, I offer you: 

The First Snow Ride
Ethereal gin
St Germain liqueur
Lindt white chocolate
eggwhite
ice

In a cocktail shaker, mix 2 parts gin and 1 part St. Germaine over ice. Pour (hold the ice) into a cold cocktail glass. Whip 1 eggwhite until super-frothy. Finely shred white chocolate and sprinkle the flakes into the froth. Add mixture to the drink's surface. Serve and enjoy the ride!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

'Tis the Off-Season

Seaside Bicycles
The holiday rush of the city really got to us this year, and we wanted to be some place quiet. So for the days leading up to Christmas, we stayed on Cape Cod. 

And quiet it was. Turns out Provincetown has chosen this winter to repave its roads and fix its sidewalks, so basically the whole town was dug up and closed to motorised traffic. 

But despite the roadwork, many of the businesses remained open, catering to locals and to the occasional visitor. The result was the sort of insular pedestrian small-town atmosphere that has long ceased to exist under normal circumstances. People said hello to each other on the streets. The phrase "How are you?" was interpreted as a question, rather than a greeting, and detailed answers were given. Merely seeing each other walking, or cycling around the town center had created a sense of relaxed familiarity among everyone present, however temporary. 

Men on Bikes
Even in the busiest, most hectic part of summer, what I like about Provincetown is how relaxed and unaggressive it is. Bikes, pedestrians, cars. Tourists, summer people, locals. Gay, straight, undefined. Somehow, all of these categories are simply combined, without being pitted against each other. They are separated by "and" and not "versus." It's a microcosm that does not reflect the reality of life elsewhere. But at least it shows that, in theory, it's possible for people to function like this. And in the off season, with everyone squeezed into the same couple of bars and coffee shops after hours, this became all the more apparent. 

Provincetown Off-Season
Last year I mentioned noticing more incidents of aggressive and inattentive drivers over the winter holidays in Boston, and this time around it seems even worse. First it was the rush of last minute Christmas shopping. Now I guess it's the post-Christmas sales. Soon it will be New Year parties. Whatever it is, drivers on the roads just seem so impatient and angry right now. Sure, they might arrive to their holiday parties smiling, saying all the requisite niceties and exchanging beautifully wrapped gifts. But what's the point, if for entire weeks leading up to this they are filled with such stress, that rage is boiling just beneath the surface? I couldn't even feel annoyed at the woman who laid on her horn and shouted when I took too long making a left turn the other day. Obviously something other than me on my bike must have been the real cause of her anger. So I try to be extra cautious on the roads. And I try to not fall into the stress trap myself. No big plans. No pressure. No stress. That's my plan into the New Year.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Variations on Red and Green

Early Production Mercian
Growing up, red was my mother's favourite colour. And my mother was a tirelessly creative woman back then. She sewed, she knitted, she made things. Consequently I was dressed in red sweaters and coats. I slept under a red patchwork quilt. You get the idea. I did not know how to communicate my dislike for this colour. When I was 3 years old, I was gifted a red tricycle and stunned my parents by breaking into tears at the sight of it. I loved riding that trike. But when no one was looking, little by little I began trying to scrape the paint off. My parents grew concerned and eventually got rid of it. They must have thought I was eating the paint. 

As a teenager, I gravitated toward all things drab. This was the '90s grunge era, so that was easy enough. Army-navy stores, denim, plaid, combat boots. I rode a matte black bicycle then, and even peeled off its bright decals. When asked what my favourite colour was, I did not have an answer. In college I wore black. I made large charcoal drawings. I took black and white photos. 

Sometime in my twenties I saw a weathered old bicycle locked up to a farm gate by the river. It was a lady's bike in the signature English shade of bottle green, and the weak East Anglia sunlight was hitting it just so. The enamel paint had a special quality to it that made it resemble an aged candy wrapper. I saw it and I knew right away that I liked it. As an adult, it was a thrill to learn that I had a favourite colour after all. I began to experiment, to chase after the perfect green. Somewhere between sage, chartreuse and olive, this ideal shade existed and was waiting for me. 

After that I relaxed about colour. Blues and lilacs began to sneak their way into my surroundings, mingling nicely with the greens. Accents of pinks and reds appeared.

A couple of summers ago, I was staying in Vienna and looking to buy a vintage racing bike to bring home. A friend found me the perfect one and took me to see it. It was a bright red Moser. I remembered the trike of my childhood and laughed. "I love the bike, but I hate red." I got the Moser anyway and rode it for two years. It wasn't just red, but an unusual shade of strawberry with a subtle golden sheen to it. Everyone complimented the colour, protesting when I revealed my plan to eventually repaint the frame. "But the red is great, and it's so you!" Soon I began to receive red articles of clothing as gifts. I remembered how, as a child, I hated being known as the girl in the red coat, the girl on the red trike. But now it just struck me as funny. I still dislike red, but I guess I no longer think that's important.

I talk to lots of people about their fantasy bikes, or bikes they are nostalgic for, or bikes that simply stick in their memory for some reason. Red bikes and green bikes are mentioned more than any other kind. The colours play an important role in the story, but for reasons the story teller cannot clearly express. They will just keep repeating that it was a red bike, or a green bike, stressing the colour as if this information is pertinent to how special the bike was. It's not always a straightforward, cohesive story, just like mine is not. I suspect a lot is left out, possibly the most relevant parts. Of course we could break it down to the basics. Colour, motion, emotion. Excitement, tranquility. Stop, go. Red bikes, green bikes. But who wants to see it like that.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Big Bike, Tiny Tree

On a rare day off for us both we decided to catch up on some errands, including getting a tree. So we pedaled over to a local tree place. Now that I have this big cargo bike on loan, I toyed with the idea of a real, full sized pine. I imagined the fun of lugging it home. Also, in my crazy little fantasy world, I pictured everyone arriving to the tree place by bike - a procession of longtails, bakfietsen and porteurs transporting all manner of prickly greenery, the length of Somerville Avenue filled with the scent of pine. Naturally a brass band played in the background. 

Then we got to the tree place. And gosh, I don't know, it was so sad. Our lonely bikes surrounded by SUVs in the parking lot. All the cut-down trees stacked up against a rusty fence. There was no way they would all get bought in time for the holidays.  

We hung out for a bit. The place was like a small, dead miniature pine forest amidst an urban landscape. 

Xtra Holiday Errands
Finally, we did the same thing we did last year: bought a small potted pine. It doesn't look very impressive, but on the plus side it will live... maybe.

Xtra Holiday Errands
Which brings me to a dark confession: You see, last year I killed one of these little trees. I didn't mean to! My plan was to remove the decorations after the holidays and keep the tree in the house year-round, to be decorated again the following year. But the tree failed to thrive in our apartment and eventually dried up. This time I will read up on replanting, and hopefully this one will survive. A bicycle ride to the forest is in this little tree's future...

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To: a 1946 Griffon & Howle Rando-Broom

Griffon & Howl Rando Broom
Well, dear readers, it's that time of the year again: the Somerville-Salem 30K. Every Halloween, 13 metaphysically gifted women (we do not use the "w" word anymore) from the Greater Boston area are invited to participate in this historic paceline-style flight from Prospect Hill Tower in Somerville, MA to the Olde Burying Point Cemetery in Salem to conduct the annual New England Air Transportation Alternatives (NEATA) meeting. Invitations are sent just days before the event, and no one knows how the selection process works. Imagine what an honor it was to be invited! With mere days to prepare, I rushed about seeking a suitable flying broom. My own broom, I am ashamed to admit, was woefully inadequate: cheap flimsy plastic thing with nylon bristles, and no accessories to speak of. While sufficient for a quick flight around the block once in a blue moon, it was not the right broom for the Somerville-Salem 30K. I asked around, but no one had anything suitable to lend. Custom broom-makers had year-long wait lists. Finally, I heard from a friend deep in the woods of Virginia (you might know him from the comments here as Spindizzy): He had something for me and would mail it straight away.

Griffon & Howl Touring Broom
When I received and opened the package, I could hardly believe my eyes: an original 1946 Griffon & Howle randonneuring broom. Spindizzy had just finished restoring it for a customer, to whose mother - a Ms. Yeumadeen Platchen - the broom had originally belonged. When the customer heard that I had been invited to the Somerville-Salem 30K she offered to loan it out for the flight. What luck! You see, Griffon & Howle were the constructeurs of flying brooms, back in the days when fine craftsmanship and attention to detail truly mattered. They used only the finest wooden tubing, the lightest metal fittings, the softest, most aerodynamic bristles. But more importantly, they fabricated all components and accessories in a manner that truly integrated with the broom itself. To hold a Griffon & Howle is to hold a masterpiece. To fly a Griffon & Howle is a privilege that few experience.

Griffon & Howl Touring Broom
The Griffon & Howle's bristles are organic handbound straw, sourced from the Balkans. Importantly, the rear rack is welded onto the base of the broom, rather than attached via p-clamps or braze-ons. Not only does this provide considerable weight savings, but it is more durable, stable, aerodynamic and elegant. This rack will not shake loose mid-flight. And it looks like it belongs on the broom; it is not an afterthought. 

Griffon & Howl Touring Broom
The main part of the handle is constructed out of standard diameter, thin wall wooden tubing, which has been scientifically proven to provide just the right amount of flex for a responsive in-flight feel. The hand-crafted aluminum potion bottle-holder was painstakingly designed to minimise vibrations. Naturally, the potion bottle itself had to be custom made out of military-grade resistanium, as the potion tends to burn through metal and plastic commercially-available bidons

Griffon & Howl Touring Broom
The cork stopper and shellacked twine complete the look.

Griffon & Howl Touring Broom
Unlike today's flashy custom builders, the constructeurs abstained from affixing heavy metal badges onto their brooms. Instead, they simply carved their initials and the broom's serial number into the tip of the handle directly underneath the bell.

Griffon & Howl Touring Broom
And while the brass bell may look ordinary enough to the untrained eye, each one was handmade to emit a ring of a signature frequency. The art of this technique has unfortunately been all but lost. 

Griffon & Howl Touring Broom
The grip area of the handle is wrapped in twine, woven out of the rarest, most durable silken fibres available. While it is popular today to wrap broom handles in cork tape, this really developed as a result of the rarity of the silken fibres, as well as poor fit. Ideally, the gripping area should be firm to the touch, yet not so firm as to cause callouses. Notice the pinky hook at the bottom of the gripping area, designed to keep the hands in place.

Griffon & Howl Touring Broom
The quick release feature makes the broom suitable for travel and transportation in ordinary-sized packages and suitcases - an invaluable feature in today's high security travel climate. Note that, unfortunately, the skewer is a modern replica replacement. The original fitting was damaged when an attempt to steal this broom was made at a rest stop during the 1954 Liege-Sofia-Liege brevet. 

Griffon & Howl Touring Broom
With a twist of the quick-release lever, the broom quickly disassembles. Mounted to the inside of the upper section is a Dragon's kydneystone, the purpose of which I am not at liberty to describe here - though some readers will know. The star-shaped cutout on the lower section is a Griffon & Howle identifier. 

Holding the broom in my hands, the first thing I noticed was how well-balanced it was. Despite the welded rear rack of considerable size, it was not bottom-heavy but balanced in the center. The technique of the old masters was impeccable. The broom was also remarkably light - more so than the modern plastic and nylon creations so many misguidedly use today.

Griffon & Howl Touring Broom
Having examined the broom extensively and marveled at its craftsmanship, it was time to commence my training for the 30k. With only three days left before the event, my plan was to complete a brief 5k flight around Somerville that evening, followed by a more challenging 10k around Boston the following day. After that I would rest before the Somerville-Salem 30K. As I prepared for my training flight, the first step was, naturally, to find a dark corner of the forest, assume the Chant Position, partake of the potion with which my bottle was filled, and utter the relevant Spell. I was amazed at how intuitive this part of the process was with the Griffon & Howle. The broom triangulated with the forest floor perfectly, allowing the Spirits to enter it just so. While my plastic broom required over an hour of chanting to be adequately prepped, the Griffon & Howle took a mere 2 minutes.  

Griffon & Howl Touring Broom
Next, I gently stepped over the broom whilst holding the gripping area and utilising the pinkie hook, and aimed my gaze at the skies, toward the Secret Constellation. Not having done Kundalini Yoga for Broom Flight in some time, my postures were rusty and I was worried that my skills had deteriorated. However, less than a minute into holding the posture I felt the broom begin to levitate. It was working already. 

Griffon & Howl Touring Broom
A well-balanced broom straightens itself out as it levitates, so that eventually it floats parallel to the forest floor. It is then up to the operator to control the angle. There is debate as to which angle is ideal to start with at take-off and maintain during flight, but in the era of Griffon & Howle brooms it was generally believed that a low-trail configuration provided the best handling.

Griffon & Howl Touring Broom
As I prepared to take off, one thing I noticed was that the broom had an unusually short handlebase by current standards. Most likely it was made for a more petite flyer than myself. The operator is meant to occupy the space between the rear rack and the potion bottle (in broom flying jargon, this space is referred to as the perch), and on the Griffon & Howle it was barely long enough to contain me. Were I commissioning a similar broom for myself, I would ask for an extra 2cm or so of perch length.

Griffon & Howl Rando Broom
As an aside on proper positioning: In the media today, we are inundated with fake and ridiculous imagery depicting women perching on brooms in ways that are not only inefficient, but downright unsafe for flight. The position shown here is the only correct one for paceline flying (the transportational position is considerably more upright, but requires a broom that balances differently). It is also important to understand that any images you might see that appear to depict metaphysically gifted women engaged in actual broom flight are fake: We are not legally permitted to capture this activity on film or digitally. To ensure that this rule is adhered to, a masking agent is incorporated into the Flying Spell that prevents photo and video equipment from recording the operator in flight. As the broom and operator take off, they remain visible to the human eye of bystanders, but cannot be captured by recording equipment of any kind. And so this is the last image I am able to leave you with prior to take-off. 

I can hardly describe my impressions of the 5k maiden voyage without getting emotional. Put simply, I had not known until now what I had been missing all these years of awkward, uninspired flights on cheap and ill-fitting brooms. The Griffon & Howle soared joyously though the skies. Responsive to my movements, it steered intuitively and soaked up air turbulence effortlessly. My heart skipped a beat, as I felt that this broom truly planed. 

Griffon & Howl Rando Broom
For the 10k training flight the next day (yes, I ventured out during Hurricane Sandy!), I added a pannier and wore a raincoat. The pannier was just the right width for the rear rack and there was no heel strike during take-off. The wonderful feel of the flight remained as I remembered it. The fit and the handling were so perfect that, put simply, the broom "disappeared" beneath me. And this, as Griffon & Howle were famous for opining, is the very definition of a well-made flying broom.

After a day of rest, I feel well prepared for the Somerville-Salem 30k this evening and am very much looking forward to the New England Air Transportation Alternatives (NEATA) meeting. I really can't thank Spindizzy and his customer enough for loaning me the Griffon & Howle and for allowing me to document it here for my readers. While I recognise that this is a bicycle blog and not a broom blog, I can't help but feel there might be some common ground here.

Griffon & Howl Rando Broom
For anyone interested, Spindizzy (aka Jon Gehman) does offer complete broom restoration services, as well as custom bicycle racks and other cool and weird accesssories. The full set of pictures of the original 1946 Griffon & Howle randonneuring broom can be viewed here. Happy Halloween everyone!