Welcome back! (Sorry, just practising for a future job on daytime television…)
A couple of posts back, I wrote about my visit last week to York but there was a little gap in my day. Here’s what I did in the gap…
The writing of my book has yet to bring me fame, glory or great riches (I’m back at work tomorrow morning after the long summer holidays to prove that particular point) but there has been the occasional fringe benefit and a one of those arrived in a package a few weeks ago. It was a book called Cyclorama. I had exchanged a couple of messages on Twitter with Mick Allan who is one of the co-writers of the book and we agreed to swap; he received Good Vibrations: Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie, I received Cyclorama in return. I knew that Mick was based up in York although hadn’t planned my visit to the city with him or Cyclorama in mind. However, scratching my head after refusing to pay the exorbitant charges to enter the Minster (see earlier post), it struck me that I could perhaps look him up and pay him a visit. I didn’t know what I was really looking for but I did have a postcode courtesy of the Cyclorama website. The satellite picture on my phone implied I was about to visit a large shed on a trading estate in the middle of a housing estate about a mile or so outside the centre of the city. Was Cyclorama a factory? A warehouse? It didn’t look much like a shop or a publishers from the aerial position of the satellite. But off I walked in the direction of Fulford.
Only a few minutes into my stroll along the A19 I was reassured by the sight of a colourful bicycle indicating that I turn right along the street where I was expecting to find the mysterious Cyclorama. Was ‘Get Cycling’ the same as ‘Cyclorama’? Well, I arrived at Get Cycling and it wasn’t immediately obvious that there was. What I had found was a bike shop but one where the offices attached to the bike shop seemed to be larger than the shop itself. There was also a large trailer in the small car park in front of the building emblazoned in the bright colours of Get Cycling as well as a rather strange bicycle contraption that had room for about eight people to sit. I felt like Alice arriving in Wonderland (albeit a Wonderland in a shed with a corrugated roof in the outskirts of York). Curious & curiouser…
Not convinced I had arrived at the correct destination, I wandered into the shop and looked around for clues that might give me a little more confidence. It was then that one of the assistants asked (as all shop assistants do) ‘are you OK sir?‘. My usual stock answer is ‘yes thanks, I’m just browsing’ but as there wasn’t actually that much to browse around, a more definitive answer was required. I walked up to the counter and it was then that I saw, on the desk in front of me a pile of Cycloramas. But I was still none the wiser as to the connection between location & publication.
‘Hi. Is there a connection with this place and Cyclorama?‘ I asked.
‘Yes. It’s written by Mick Allan & Jim McGurn who work here. Mick is just next door. Would you like me to find him?‘
Well of course I would and, after a few moments I was introduced to Mick Allan, the guy who I had exchanged tweets with and who I had shared books. I quickly explained who I was and we quickly fell into conversation that was about to answer most of my questions…
Cyclorama is a book all about the bicycle. It has sections about the history & culture of biking, articles written about different types of cycling (including, of course, touring), chapters dedicated to how cycling is seen in different countries around the World (from North Korea to the USA), stories about particular bikes and the people who ride them. It also packs in some useful advice about what makes a good (or bad) bike and a short plea to love your local bike shop. It doesn’t try to say everything that there is to say about cycling (is that possible in one volume?), it doesn’t include all opinions let alone all the bikes in the World, but what it does do, very well, is make you think about cycling and how it has, how it is and how it will continue to be a fundamental part of people’s lives, their communities, their dreams and, to a certain extent their eccentricities. It’s one of those books that is best not read from page 1 to (in this case) page 162 but which is left on your coffee table (as mine now is) and into which you can delve by randomly choosing an article to read. I have yet to find one that doesn’t engage some part of the cycling psyche and make you say to yourself ‘Mmm…’. The ‘1’ incidentally on the cover shown here is not there to tell you where to find page 1, it is to indicate that the book will hopefully be published annually with updates. Perhaps one day they will indeed have said all there is to be said about cycling, but I somehow doubt it.
Mick explained, as he gave me a short tour of the Get Cycling site in York that the origins of the book lay in a publication called Encycleopedia (yes that is spelt correctly) which was published annually until the late 1990s at which point the people behind it devoted their time to creating and building up Get Cycling. This little puzzle was now beginning to make sense. Get Cycling, whose workshop I was touring was set up as a community interest company that aims to promote cycling – hence the van and strange contraption in the car park outside. They tour school, work places, exhibitions, shows and the like to host cycling events where anyone can try their hand at cycling, often in non-traditional forms for example on a reclining bike, tandem or indeed the thing with lots of seats that I had seen outside.
Mick has pedigree in the cycling world; he explained how he used to work for Evans in central London and looked after the famous touring clients of the day; Bettina Selby & Josie Dew amongst others. We also lamented the state of cycling in York itself (see earlier post) which just didn’t seem to be living up to my expectations. That said, Mick did send me off in the direction of Rowntree Park which I would find just on the other side of the Ouse via the glorious Millennium Bridge which was even more gloriously car free; pedestrians and bikes only. Perhaps, after all, York was indeed making an effort when it comes to cycling.