The Bike and Other Stories
Cycling adventures around London, New York City, and Berlin.
Geoffrey Armes
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Ascension Day
Geoffrey Armes - 2020-05-21 18:58:11+02:00

I did not ride today, but here is a story from this holiday a few years back.

Also known as Church Day, Father's Day, Men's Day, Thursday and a lone public holiday in the middle of the Berlin Working Week although the children remain off school until Monday. Meaning a crowded forest and lake hinterland to the city.

So a couple of us, it was supposed to be three but a colleague swore off citing the pressures of work (ah that wonderfully international internet respects no divinity), took off around lunchtime hoping to get a slightly longer ride in. To mark our gender indicated day. Only as it turned out my ride partner had to get back by 1600 anyway, to meet sundry diverse family obligations. So it goes with families.

A lot of the usual routes were mad crowded. Families, courting couples, Bikies, Sunday Drivers, and large groups of drunk young men swarmed every street of suburban Berlin and the forest. We got down to Wannsee and the crowds thinned considerably at Moorlake as the slopes are just too steep for most. Of course we did get blocked a couple of times by Porsches and the like cruising at a steady 20kmh. Potsdam city centre was car heavy and cyclist/walker poor, the Russian styled village of Alexandrowka the opposite, and then it was time for the rugged bike path mixed with smooth but heavily trafficked road tarmac as we climbed towards Krampnitz. Which is a lovely piece of road once you get there. Flowing and scenic. All busy with bikes but fewer cars.

At this point my ride partner, despite being time constrained suggested that we skip the coming car heavy but direct Kladowerdamm and look for the Mauerweg instead. 'Fine,' I thought, although I had a good idea what the Mauerweg would be like, 'I am not the one time constrained and would be quite glad if we did find a decently quiet alternative'. To bring us to the inevitably busy main road ahead.

A little bit of side street sprinting and asking, and we did find our way to the path, a trail for cycling that marks where the old border stood all those years. It's a mess when it comes to taking a road bike, but ideal family riding. Narrow tarmac alternates with cobbles and genuine pavé, gravel and earth marks out stretches that flow or buckle past playgrounds and ice cafes and at one point it even turns into a beach as a particular house seems to have the rights almost all the way to the water front. We chatted with cheerful people along the way, checking we were on the right route, and cheered with more than tipsy Crusty Goth styled youths as we passed through their serried ranks. All good natured. One memorable descent of decent tarmac winding through trees and blind corners emerging into green vistas looking across towards Teufelsberg and Berlin and then we we hit the main roads again, all too soon. Or not soon enough after the cruddy surfaces and narrow alleys we had just endured as time was starting to press, and we had to hammer out the last kilometres back to the city proper and a parting of ways. I elected to take the slightly longer but more familiar quiet route home as he continued on the highway. I fancied doing a bit more, but felt it was still too crowded out. Time to slouch towards home and a long recovery.

May 18th 2019
Geoffrey Armes - 2020-05-18 11:35:09+02:00

Another day in Grunewald when my legs sort of fell apart but managed to structure themselves again for the return, err, leg. The roads were busy, proper warm sun brought loads out, including serried ranks of hipsters who were heading to a rave on the normally tranquil Lindwerder island. Also, as I rounded Postfennn and Angerburgerallee I could hear the crowd roar at Olympia Stadion, the last game of the football season. Me, I kept going, solitary, churning pedals.

My Ride Partner
Geoffrey Armes - 2020-05-14 22:58:04+02:00

When he isn't yammering he is hammering. Either way I am working! The trick is to get him talking at the right time, and then on a topic you do not feel really enjoined to follow or have expertise on. For example I can zone when he is talking about his gearing or the gloves he got on ebay. Buys me precious seconds of downtime and recovery before the next effort. And as long as I am still there with him I can usually get by him, or keep him back, with a sprint – the hilltop, a traffic light threatening to red (he will always run it however far behind me he is) and the last Endspurt at Auerbach.

The weather has been a downer. Overcast, cold, damp, windy, and none of it from the tail. Grind along, check the speedo for comfort find you’ve been traveling even slower than you thought.

So it's good to have a yammerer to hand sometimes..... although I hate when I take off on a hill, leaving him far behind stranded like a beached whale, sweat pouring from my screaming legs and lungs protesting – but it is all worth it because I've dropped him but no... here he is, easing beside me again and yammering as he does so!

Oh but he can be a wheel to follow, like a magnet, up and upwards again, skulking through the almost solid wind of Brandenburg, its endless argument finally shutting everything else up as we turn and head for home again. There's a sparkle, a welcoming dance even in the car headlights above as we travel under the bridge at Auerbach, drive past the villas and soft streets of the suburbs, now pulling on a rope, the rope of home and feeling it's good that it is done.

Geoffrey Armes - 2020-05-08 01:52:51+02:00

With the temperature hovering around freezing and a steady wind from the East, bright winter noon sun falling westwards glaring back at me on my course – I knew it wouldn't be easy. Still, work has to be done, and with the threat of more serious snow in the coming days it had to be done now. How much – as yet I didn't know, but I did understand as I passed by Auerbach that I needed to turn north and look for some hills. Traffic was up. Sunday Drivers out, of course, on a Sunday. I tried some red light running myself, with mixed results. The first time I was able to create space for an oncoming cyclist crossing Heerstr by the S Bahn, the second time at Olympia stadium was not successful, with a justifiably irate driver sounding his horn as I hurriedly pulled up metres past the line. Pace was steady, the wind friendly enough and the layers I had on maintained my inner temperature adequately. I formulated the route in my head, and resolved to work hardest when climbing, taking time off in between. Down into Grunewald then, noting that many had come come out for a Sunday stroll in the sun and that the roads were unexpectedly – after the gaunt emptiness of the overcast week days of last week... crowded. I swung right, made off towards the Angerburger and the first hillock of the day, short but brutish and rendered more complex by close passing sleepy auto-drivers and the like. I attacked, or at least shadow boxed my way up, enough that I arrived panting at the crest and was still driven on down the narrow road out, by cars behind – and my desire to show off my fitness level to the strolling pensioners in a Kiez which has the highest average age in Berlin – an age level I am swiftly joining. One down, more to go, I descended Am Postfenn into the sun again, cap brim dipped, greeting brothers and sisters doing the ascent on the opposite side of the road, and this time, swung left at the bottom. More greetings, more hustle, don't forget to pull on the bottle, are you warm enough, too warm, you're not passing anyone, nobody's passing you.... Willi! The hill! My enemy!! Out the saddle, show him today, but as ever, it's a normal climb. Coming this way it sub-divides – the first section is shallow and I attack out the saddle, as do many, the second part I sit and rev on a low gear, like, umm, Chris Froome maybe, or hopefully at least like me in control, that is not weaving all over the road, maybe upping the tempo at the end, sprinting even to catch whoever before enjoying what is one of faster descents ever found on marsh and sand foundation pancake flat Berlin. Further up and further in – I hit the bottom and again remember to knock it off a bit but maintain what I hope is a crisp and even tempo past the strolling lovers and ageing married couples, the skipping children, the lone wanderers, the abandoned to Sunday rest pipe laying building roadworks area that looms by the lake, the car park where the divers congregate in summer, and up the stiff little slopes at the end of the run by the lake, remembering to dig in a bit here, pushing down to Schwani, through the lights, the sparkling lake light spraying off the moored dinghies, hitting the climb hard and arriving at the top void of strength, pedals barely turning, free wheeling past some of Berlin's richest housing and gawking Sunday strollers, completing the circle and feeling fine, start the reverse journey home. I could feel the call of the short way – up the Krone, as yet unridden today, with plenty of fast moving asphalt and no doubt, wheels to follow or be followed by.... but now, I took the leftward direction, stayed on the Havelchaussee as I hadn't done Am Postfenn going up yet and that was a lack. Still, I felt some reluctance, and whether coincidentally or not the sun disappeared behind troubling banked clouds for a few minutes and the wind was definitively not helping at this point. Also my leg was suddenly stiffening, that had been behaving well, maybe because I had been the pacesetter and had chosen light spinning much of the way. I kept going anyway, forgot to check if the guy I'd seen fixing a puncture was still at the car park entrance, then found myself at the bottom of Willi having a miniature blow up. Speed dropped, and I was crawling at hitherto unknown slow levels, still steady, but wondering if I was due more suffering than I had bargained for. To the right the valley, ahead the road, I stuck my head down and crawled, crested, descended, the leg somehow torquing in an unpleasant way, a cramp maybe, but I resolved – made the intention - to get to the top of Am Postfenn and then climb off and stretch, wait, do whatever needed doing.... I ground out the last section, somehow the leg settled enough but I climbed off anyway and got it up on the convenient brick wall that had provided this service many times before, slugged juice gratefully and watched a little for whatever was next.

The young man cycled towards me, on an old steel bike, one hand on the bars the other clutching a small phone. Could I tell him how to get to Messe-Sud. It's the other direction I gravely informed him, about three kilometres and turn right. That wasn't so bad, he offered, and I agreed. He thanked me, and proffered his hand, and I gladly took it. Although I had no chance to remove my glove first and felt remiss that he'd had contact with the receptacle of my slime and sweat of the last hour. I hoped he hadn't noticed the damp material. Here maybe the shadow on my ride earlier, that slowing, had paid off.

I could have ridden further down that way with him but felt no need, and I'd already made my intention – my “niyat” (Arabic) as he might have said – to hustle the last kilometres before the bridge. All bets off after then.....

Alf Engers
Geoffrey Armes - 2020-05-01 01:17:38+02:00

A Tuesday evening in the 1970s, dark, and I'm coming back from a gathering, high on good feeling. I've also got a rhythm going, hurtling through the curves, but I'm aware of the car behind me, and I can feel his interest. Fuck it, I'm going so well, he can wait. I'm staying in the middle, holding my pace. Another day I might have slipped in left a bit, necessitating a slight drop in speed, giving him the room to go through. I'm on a good day though, gonna keep that for now. There's a passing space up ahead, near the Three Tuns pub where Bowie used to do his thing, anyway. Sure enough, as I get there and the road widens, the engine revs behind and I can almost feel the foot on the accelerator. I'm waiting, and yes, he comes up and the passenger window opens. Here we go. I'm anticipating the abuse, perhaps flob or ejected object. South London, on a bike at 2200, what else do you expect. I brace. It wouldn't be the first time, for example when I was spat on at the Old Kent Road.

“Hey, you're flying like Alf Engers” he roars in full on approval, and then the car is gone, up the High Street, towards Penge. I shiver, although a warm glow courses around my being, and it's not all sweat from the effort. I've just been paid one of the biggest compliments possible in the bike world in GB at that time. Alf Engers, the King, Time Trial record holder, a being of supernatural strength and stamina, crushing all comers on his drilled out filed down feather light steed. Me in the same sentence?

Geoffrey Armes - 2020-04-30 17:02:14+02:00

Powered up all the little hills and stuff today. Wasn't going well in general, a lot of wind, but the slopes seemed there for the taking. Paying the price now.

Geoffrey Armes - 2020-04-25 22:07:46+02:00

Like most cyclists I think, I see my routes as modular... they consist of various sections I can piece together in various orders in order to achieve various aims. For example, I want hills, or I need distance or to avoid traffic. This also means, at least sometimes, now that I know these roads well, I can go on instinct, feeling the state of the road ahead vis a vis my own needs and purposes. You know, if I need elevation I head to Schaeferberg or Angerburger, or to spin and cover distance I return via eBay, if I want all of it I go around the Lake via Krampnitz, maybe returning via Willi. Etc.

I often read books that way. But then, I rarely read fiction.

Sometimes though, it is important to cleave to an intention made back in the house. Once on the road ideas and wishes pull.... turn this way, stay out longer, make it shorter, sprint on the hills, freewheel down... but where is or was the conscious decision? Made at home an hour ago, or now, received in the moment with the clarity only a road warrior can have? I drifted from what this para is supposed to be about – honouring intention. Whether it was a favourable feeling or not to complete a certain circuit is secondary – what mattered was a consistency of purpose. Make a decision, any of those roads will bring you forward. Then best to stick with it.

The Other Side of the Lake
Geoffrey Armes - 2020-04-25 22:05:06+02:00

I was out cycling round the other side of the lake today, being beaten up by Ben who it must be noted, is actually training for an event. When I could look up, the sun and water and farmsteads and pasture land was indeed, beautiful, but the road was… hard.

Crested The Rise
Geoffrey Armes - 2020-04-20 23:00:40+02:00

I crested this particular rise on the border line of London, facing south, for the first time. The land exploded, a copious spread of yellow, green, the lane like the old straight track shimmering with the call of the scudding clouds on the blue sky at the horizon. My chest also exploded, whether from exertion or from resonating with the beauty, it didn't matter. The bike pulled me forward, sure with intention.

The First Ride after a Stroke.
Geoffrey Armes - 2020-04-19 22:06:07+02:00

As soon as possible, maybe days after being allowed home, I took the road bike downstairs, and slung a leg over the saddle. With care and caution I mounted and balanced – at last I knew I could still do it. I turned the steed to the right, slipped up the pavement towards the bike path by the main road, head into the wind. But I wasn’t riding yet, no, patience was required, and weary already I dropped down the drag of the closest side street, changed a few gears, pedalled 500 metres, passed the small playground closest to our house where our children had played many summers and shakily took myself home, sneaking the bike up the stairs back to its seemingly now undisturbed position. Later though, I came clean and messaged my wife that I had done this.

I couldn't stand the rehab. I was given a week or two later – board games, ball games, waiting between tests and events.... the gym was good, made so by flirtatious and helpful assistants who recognised my wish to do it right and to move as soon as possible... but, after a week I made some excuse and took the afternoon off. I felt like a patient there, and I refused to become that. It was all around me – broken misconnected bodies and brains, I did what I could to help, conversations here and there but I was too fragile myself. I was in danger of going down.

The weather was clear, if Berlin grey and I turned once again to the bike path. This time I was going to Schwani. I'd packed the phone, the bonk rations, the emergency repair kit. This was for real.

I don't remember much about the detail of this ride except I felt solid. Unlike the day after my release when I'd insisted on walking home from the doctor's surgery. Then the world had narrowed to a tunnel, one step following another, only one pace whether crossing a road or navigating the busy high street, up the hill, past the mosque, the Russian church, home, to slump grateful and triumphantly knackered at the kitchen table.

Today I was on earth, the forest passed me, the autobahn and railway slipped and flowed away to the left. So far so good. I remembered the little slope at Schwani, got up it no problem, already half way home as I turned and steadily if slow and alone pushed back over the long missed Krone.

I posted note of my success on social media, and was chastised for going alone by a couple of sensible friends. They had a point. But I had to do it, my will was to get back. For the family if not myself.