Archive for the ‘cycling stories’ Category

I have been fortunate enough to have done some travelling in New Zealand this year, South Island – to be more accurate, and while browsing in a back street charity shop in coastal Oamaru I came across this book called “The Impossible Ride” by Louise Sutherland.

Louise was a native of New Zealand, a registered nurse, and a lifelong cycling enthusiast and traveller.

soft cover book

She was aged in her 50s when in 1978 she took on the challenge of a lifetime, to be the first person to cycle the Tranz-Amazonica highway, and right across Brazil.

inside cover

I’d never heard of Louise previously, and was short of good reading material, so I parted with the required $4NZ ( ! ). I was pleased to later discover the author’s signature from 1990 inside the cover, which made the find even more special.

the basic story

The expression “It’s not about the bike” somehow came to mind, at least in regards to Louise’s admitted mechanical naivety, and she had to rely on the assistance of others for most mechanical help.

The bike was a blue Peugeot mixte, donated by Peugeot themselves for the journey,  having an upright riding position, with 5 derailleur gears. It looks like the kind of bike that one might ride to the local shops on !

louise & peugeot

At times Louise mentions that she would have preferred the Sturmey Archer 3-speed gears that she had always used on previous journeys, because they had never given her any trouble, unlike the derailleurs !

The bike was fitted with a front handlebar carrier and a rear pannier rack and bags whereas she was used to using a trailer on her earlier travels. From the description of some of the roads encountered, perhaps that was just as well.

The journey was solo, of around 4000km distance, from Belem, at the delta, to the Peruvian border, and there were many struggles – with the biting insects, the storms, bike falls, and the dust and mud. Small in stature, she travelled with an open heart, having her faith in humanity and the local indigenous people (mostly) confirmed, and she completed the journey, contrary to the warnings of many.

sharing a brazil nut

“I was never lonely while cycling, I always had my bicycle to talk to.” she would say. Sleeping was mostly in a hammock, wherever she could find a village, town, hut, or even two trees, and there were many off-route diversions and new found friends along the way.

My copy was the second edition of her book, the first being after the actual ride, self published after much difficulty, in 1982. The main purpose of the book was to raise enough money to buy a VW Kombi fitted out as a mobile clinic to help improve the health of the Indian people living along the Tranz-Amazonica ‘highway’, which was relatively new at the time, being without many services and mainly surfaced with dust, dirt, or mud, depending on the weather conditions.

There is a reasonable amount of information about Louise on the internet including a Wikipedia entry, and an interview by British TV on YouTube.

Sadly, for someone so full of life and determined, she suffered a brain aneurysm and died suddenly in 1994 aged 67.

Hers is a wonderful story, shining brightly among many great legends in the world of cycling.

See Ya !


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I’ve been watching and enjoying the extended SBS TV highlights of the Tour de France, as well as reading some interesting stories – in particular 2012’s “The Secret War” by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle, which is probably the most interesting of the several “Armstrong Era” insider confessions that I’ve read, mainly due to Hamilton’s lively approach and his closeness to the competitive heart of the era, having raced both with and against Armstrong.

The war of marginal gains and enhancements surely continues in the 2010s as it always has, but beyond the more recent tragedies, triumphs, deceits and lies of the formerly ‘undetectable’ EPO era, I’m now looking further back to the past in the book ” Tour de France – The Golden Age 1940s -1970s” ( teNeues).

It’s a large format book that covers the era from Robic, Coppi and Bartali (1940s post-war) to the decade of Merckx, Thevenet and Ocana ( 1970s ) via Anquetil vs. Poulidor in the 60s and lastly leading into the early Hinault years :

Ferdy Kubler, 1950

Ferdy Kubler, 1950

Anquetil vs. Poulidor 1964 - legendary !

Anquetil vs. Poulidor 1964 – legendary !

Taken mostly with large and medium format film cameras, with the majority of images in classic black and white, it offers quite a bit of insight into the men, equipment and spirit of the times thanks in part to the wonderful reproduction detail and the image quality of the originals.

Fausto Coppi, 1951

Fausto Coppi, 1951

There are few words and those are probably unnecessary, although having some background knowledge of the legendary event and its riders will definitely enhance the viewer’s enjoyment.

Jean Robic, 1948

Jean Robic, 1948

This is a book to have and hold, not one to merely view on a screen…

Roder Hassenforder, 1953

Roger Hassenforder, 1953

Happy LeTour !

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the heavenly bath-chair

the heavenly bath-chair

Road bikes are great when you’re in a hurry, but you can’t beat the experience of taking your time – when you have that time. Time that passes more slowly, and speed that seems much lower because your head is higher above the ground, looking about and taking in all the sights.

takin' it slow - i was walking it here

takin’ it slow – i was walking it here

On a road bike you are focussed on yourself a great deal more – your pace, your control, hazards coming up fast. I would  recommend all road bike riders to have a second “slow bike” to appreciate the inner-self via the outer world, as much as by physical exertion.

I feel that the bicycle market here is similar to the motorcycle market, in that the mainstream is either fast-looking racing style bikes or grippy dirt bikes (if you go to most mainstream motorbike shops). My take on this is to ask myself why we should all be like each other in our riding needs ?

Who says I have to have one or the other – I mean road bike or MTB ? Find your own niche I say …  be it new, or second hand classic, and do your own thing …

to salts bay

to salts bay

Today I rode the Gazelle for the first time in a while, and feel the better for it. No stress on the upper body and I saw all the sights !


I became a little blase the other morning on my early commute – having pre-checked my headlight to see the green “charged” light on. Didn’t worry about my spare battery …



About twenty minutes in the indicator suddenly went mostly red on a totally lightless track…

Thankfully, it took about half an hour for the battery to fully die, at which time it was getting faintly light…

hurry up, day !

hurry up, day !

some street lights

some street lights

I was given a valuable lesson – take that spare ( and consider a dynamo set ) !

dumaresq st

dumaresq st  

follow that bike !

follow that bike !

nearly there...

nearly there…

Lucky I wasn’t going home from an afternoon shift, it would have been a long one .

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It’s easy to take the ability to ride for granted, most of us have been doing it since we were kids … but for those who have not, it can be a scary experience.

nervously pushing off …

Yet given a bright autumn day on a quiet stretch of cycle path with a basic, easy to use, low geared bicycle and some patience, miracles may happen even for those who lack all confidence.

some time later

This is the department store Roadmaster bike I restored and slightly modified last year (at a very minimal cost) for just such a purpose…

dahon and roadmaster

It was an 18 speed to 6 speed down conversion, I dumped the horrid flat bars, fitted a better seat and a rack I that already had.

Next lesson is gearchanges!

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Awoke to stars, left under clouds …. racing from the dark and rain — only a couple of hardy ones on the track this morning. Light reflecting puddles in the city — I missed the worst and found the best, on a starry-cloudy morning :

harbour icon #1

harbour icon #2

the sky is falling

morning rise

shared path

into the trees

orica in grey

dreaming blur

Here’s to underwater sunlight.

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