Riding the Unconference on a “funny little bike”

phil_thumbPhil with his trusty Brompton

Some of you may have heard that I’m going to Denmark and Germany in a few days to participate in the Cycling for Libraries Unconference: a bicycle ride from Copenhagen to Berlin.

Cycling for libraries is a politically and economically independent international unconference and a bicycle tour from Copenhagen, Denmark to Berlin, Germany. The purpose of the Cycling for Libraries mobile conference is to gather a group of 100 library professionals from all around the world together to cycle a total of approximately 650 kilometers and to discuss the strategic issues of the library field in seminars along the route.

What you might not know is that I’m going to take a folding bicycle in my luggage and ride that bicycle for the whole ride. This is a fact that surprises a lot of people when I tell them. Frankly, some people are more than surprised, they are alarmed. I guess they feel I would be jeopardizing my chances of enjoying myself if I don’t have the best bike possible. I think this is a common reaction to cycling in
Vancouver. We are conditioned to think that we have to have the best bike possible or we can’t do it.

The brompton is light, comfortable, and reliable. I’ve had it for 14 years and ridden many miles on it. It’s quite familiar. Those are all things that count more than just whether it’s the lightest, fastest, or latest style of bike.

The ride is quite flat. Its highest point is barely higher than my house which I ride to everyday. The ride is also well supported, so I don’t have to carry my luggage, and it’s well designed with easy early stages so we can all ease into it.

Essentially, there’s no reason to expect that, if I can’t do it on this bike, I can do it on some other bike. The irony is that I have a very high-quality racing bike that I ride on Sundays. It’s call a Litespeed Tuscany and is made out of light-weight titanium. It has a 10-speed rear derailleur and is a joy to ride. However, now that I’m training for distances on the Brompton, I’m timing my rides and it’s turning out that the Brompton is only about 10% slower than the Litespeed. I think I’m learning a lesson that I’ve learned before and that we all tend to forget; Riding is mostly about attitude, and only a little bit about the bike. Even though I enjoy dressing up in “Roadie” riding gear and riding my fast racy bike, I’m really only gaining a marginal advantage over suitable (but ordinary) clothes and riding a regular bike.

So, I’m sure I’m going to have great fun riding my folding bike and talking about libraries, and I won’t miss my racing bike at all.

Phil Hall

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