The Swedish Museum of Architecture

Bedazzled by bikes at the architecture museum.

The Swedish Museum of Architecture is housed in what used to be the drill hall when the island of Skeppsholmen was a naval base. When the base was decommissioned the drill hall was originally turned into the Museum of Modern Art (Moderna Museet). It was in 1998 when the Museum of Modern Art got a new modern building that the old drill hall was handed over to the Museum of Architecture.

I’d spent most of the day looking at the amazing sculptures in Millesgården, the former home of sculptor Carl Milles, and then gone straight to late-night opening at the Moderna Museet. So I was feeling pretty tired, hungry and arted-out.

But as I still had an hour before closing time and a ticket that allowed me entry into the Museum of Architecture, which is right next door, I couldn’t resist popping in.

I was glad I did and ended up staying until closing time.

The main exhibition hall had an exibition on cycling and all things bike.

IMG_8256IMG_8257I particularly liked this bamboo bike.

bamboo bike
Bamboo bicycle with frame from Ghana, 2014

The information panel pointed out that bamboo is strong, versatile, cheap and fast-growing; all attributes that make the bikes ecological, sustainable, recyclable and energy-efficient to produce. Although bamboo bikes date back to 1894, these attributes make them perfect for answering today’s issues of global climate change, poverty and unemployment.

I want a bamboo bike.

smoothie making bikeI also want a bike like this. One where I can make myself a smoothie as I cycle along.

Or maybe I can install a coffee machine instead?

bike with sidecarThis push-bike comes with a motorbike-style sidecar attached.

I’m not sure I’d want to pedal a passenger around, but if I had a bike like this I’m sure I could convert the sidecar into an office or bedroom.

military dog bikeThis is a Swedish military bike from 1950. It was used by a dog-handler who would sit his dog on the little platform.

I’m thinking it would make a great table or desk.

orange trikeAnd then there was this one. An all-enclosed trike. It’s orange, so I wouldn’t change a thing.

The exhibition wasn’t all bedazzling bikes, but had a serious and informative side too.

This diagram shows how most road planners assign usage of the road systems. It contrasts it with a much more ideal way where bikes and pedestrians come first, rather than cars.

road use planningThe information panel pointed out that although bikes used to be seen as a means of transport for the less well-off and as a way of giving access to public spaces for all classes, they are now much more likely to be seen as a social signifier identifying the middle-classes. Encouraging a cycle culture that includes all classes should be a priority for every city.

Besides the bike exbibition there was also an exhibition on the design of buildings, but it was getting late by this time and I had to rush through it.

architecture museumI did learn how the use of space in our homes has changed over the decades. No-one really has a parlour anymore for example. Also kitchens, which used to be the heart of the home, shrank in size with the advent of technology in the 1950s – the future was seen to involve the mere reheating or rehydrating of food rather than actual cooking, and the kitchens reflected this, giving more space to leisure rooms instead.

I finally left the museum and made my way, with aching feet and a rumbling belly, back to the hostel. I’d had a whole day immersed in sculpture, art and architecture.

I was knackered.

But boy, was I feeling cultured.


Bike Expert

I’m feeling a lot more confident about a future long distance cycle tour now that I’ve done this course.

… ok, so maybe I’m not a bike expert yet, but after spending the full day at the Cycle Hub in Manchester learning all about cycle maintenance I know a lot more than I did when I woke up this morning. 

As I have a old and ramshackle bike that I bought for a tenner in a charity shop, I thought it prudent to do a cycle maintenance course so I can at least have half a go at doing it up. I booked an all-day intensive cycle maintenance course with Edinburgh Bicycle Cooperative for £44. Yeah, I know, the maintenance course has cost me nearly five times what the bike cost me, but the idea is that it’ll save me money in the long run because I won’t have to keep paying someone else when it needs fixing.

The course was held in the Cycle Hub which I hadn’t even known existed. It’s situated in the basement of Piccadilly Plaza right in the city centre and is a place that provides secure parking for bikes and has showers, toilets and lockers for cyclists to use. Entry is by swipe card and there’s CCTV coverage. Prices range from £10 for either 10 individual visits or a one month pass up to £200 for an annual premium membership which includes use of the showers and a personal locker. The downside to it seemed to be the early closing times – 8pm on weekdays and 5pm on the weekend. This wouldn’t be much good for anyone wanting to go out after work or working a late shift. Apart from this it did seem impressive and maybe the times will change if there’s the demand for it. 

As I wasn’t sure how safe my bike was and certainly didn’t trust it to be reliable, I chucked it into the back of the van and drove into Manchester. As well as the Cycle Hub there’s also a car park underneath Piccadilly Plaza which has cheap(ish) all day parking on the weekend. 

I was first to arrive, but soon after I was buzzed in the other four students arrived. Their bikes all seemed a lot newer and in much better condition than mine. We hoisted our bikes onto tall stands which meant we could work on them without too much bending and contorting. (Note to self: must get one of these stands if I decide I’m going to get seriously into this bicycle maintenance malarkey.) 

We started at 10am and the course ran through till 5.30pm with about 45 minutes break for lunch. We removed tyres, wheels, brakes, gears, pedals, the chain, and a few other bits as well. We then put them all back on again. Successfully. We found out what tools we needed and, as we all had slightly different styles of bikes, we also found out different ways of doing things. At the end of the day we were each given a booklet showing step-by-step instructions for everything we’d covered. 

I’m sure I won’t remember any of it by the time I come to actually do the work on my bike, but at least I know that it’s actually quite simple and I feel confident that I will soon figure it out. The tutor also told me that I had a pretty good bike and was quite impressed when I told him I’d got it for ten quid. It just needs a bit of TLC and it’ll be as good as any posh bike out there!

Bike Maintenance Course

I’m going to learn how to maintain my bottom bracket.

Before we get on with the post here’s a musical interlude to get you in the mood.

On my list of things to do before I’m 60 I have the challenge of completing a long-distance bike ride. I have a bike – it cost me £10 from a charity shop. I even have a couple of panniers – they cost a couple of quid each from Lidl in Germany. So I’m all set to go, right? Well, not quite. I know nothing about bike maintenance and as my bike is old and cheap this could be a problem. I’ve read blogs by long distance cyclists who have experienced all kinds of problems with their top of the range bikes, so I’m sure to experience a few jitters from my super cheap bike.

With this in mind I went in search of a cycle maintenance course that would at least teach me the basics. I found this course run by Edinburgh Bicycle Cooperative. They hold various courses in various places, including an all-day intensive cycle maintenance course in Manchester for £49.

The course promises to teach:

  • Puncture repair: wheel removal, locating punctures, fixing punctures, wheel refitting.
  • Wheel truing – essential for better braking.
  • Brake adjustment for powerful, silent stopping.
  • Adjusting hub bearings for maximum life and smooth running.
  • Gear adjustment: including fitting new cables and fine tuning front and rear mechanisms.
  • Bottom bracket and headset adjustment.

I don’t even know what most of these things are, but I’ve booked and so hopefully I’ll soon not only know what they are, but will be able to transform my dilapidated ride into a spic and span, smooth-running dream machine.

Cycle panniers and computer

I’ve got the gear, now I just need to start cycling.

A quick shopping trip to Lidl in Germany yesterday resulted in my acquisition of a pair of panniers and a cycle computer. The panniers seem pretty good – I wouldn’t plan to use them for an end-to-end cycle tour of Africa, but as I’m only planning on local cycling at the moment they should be fine. It only cost €10 for the pair so I really couldn’t resist. I can’t take them in my backpack to Prague next week, so I’ll have to wait till the end of the summer to get them as then my brother can bring them in his empty suitcases.

The computer was only €3.99 and apparently does lots of whizzy things like tell me how far I’ve gone, my average speed and how many calories I’ve burnt. So it should be fun to play around with. And it’s small and light so I can take it with me when I leave here.

Cycling website

A useful website for global cycling

I’ve been googling cycling and Japan and I’ve come across this website.

It’s an English language site run by a Dutch couple who have cycled all over the world (including Japan). As well as lots of details on cycling in the different countries they’ve been to, they also have a lot general info on cycling. I’m looking forward to having the time to explore the site properly, as I’m sure it’s going to be really useful and inspiring.

Josie Dew and Japan

Getting inspired and scared with thoughts of cycling around Japan.

I’ve started reading Josie Dew’s book ‘A Ride in the Neon Sun’. As I’m toying with the idea of doing a cycle tour of Japan at some point in the future I thought it would be good for research. As none of the areas she mentions sound even remotely familiar to me (well, apart from Tokyo, that is), I’ve dug out my 1991 Lonely Planet on Japan, so I can look at the maps and do a bit of reading around. So far, both books have confirmed my fears that Japan is:

  • Extremely expensive
  • Extremely overcrowded
  • Extremely built up
  • Extremely difficult to navigate due to the incomprehensible alphabet
  • Extremely hard to have a varied and nutritionally sufficient diet whilst retaining vegetarian ideals.

They have also given me some new fears, such as:

  • Lots of horrible, long, dark, heavily polluted tunnels to cycle through whilst being covered in oily, dirty spray and risking being squashed by lorries
  • Dirty, polluted beaches
  • Very few campsites
  • Long, hot baths (I’m much more of a shower person).

All this and I’ve only just started reading the books. I’m going to have to do a LOT of preparation before I seriously think about embarking on this trip!

Other blogs and websites

Getting inspiration from other people’s websites.

There are a few websites and blogs that I monitor frequently. One is Alastair Humphreys’ website. He pushes the whole motivation thing a bit heavily at times, but he is quite inspirational and I’ve picked up a few ideas from him. When I checked out his site today he had a link to a website belonging to a Swiss couple who spent eight years cycling round the world, more than a year of which was in Japan. This section of their website seemed quite interesting as cycling in Japan is an idea that’s starting to ferment at the back of my mind. Unfortunately there wasn’t a lot of detail, but they do have some amazing photos.

Another website I check regularly is that of the Walking Englishman. He really inspires me to create my own website though I know I’ll never be in his league. At the moment he’s a few weeks in to an 80 day, 1000 mile walk through Scotland and England. Most days he’s updating a blog about it. The update I read today was about the small part of the Great Glen Way he’s walking, including Neptune’s Steps and the route into Fort William. If I walk the GGW in the summer I’ll be doing it the other way round to this, but it’s still more information for me that will help me to prepare.

I do like it when the blogs and websites I look at link in to what I’m doing at the moment.

Alastair Humphreys’ website can be found here.

Verena and Luciano Lepre’s website covering their 8 year cycling voyage around the world can be found here.

The Walking Englishman can be found here and his 1000 mile walk through Britain can be found here.

Cycling Japan

Why cycling round Japan might be a good idea.

I’ve wanted to go to Japan for years. I have Japanese friends who returned to live there a few years ago and visiting them gives me even more of a reason to go to Japan. Why haven’t I gone already?

  • When I’ve had time to go on holiday I’ve been busy visiting other places instead
  • I’d like to go for long(ish) time and so haven’t had long enough holidays off work
  • It’s very expensive
  • It’s difficult to get around and really do anything without knowing the language and a lot about the culture.

So, if I’m going to get around to ticking this one off my list I have to get over these four main issues.

The first one isn’t so major. I’ll make time for it at some point. I have plenty of time to get to all the main places I want to visit before I’m 60 and still have time to visit others as well.

Now I’m a teacher I have 6 weeks holiday in the summer. Spring and autumn are meant to be the nicest times to go as I’d get to see either the blossoms or the autumn leaves. But I could cope with missing out on those as long as I got to see the country. I’m not sure if even 6 weeks would be long enough, but I may get even more time in the future if my hostel and freelancing life plans work out. So issue no.2 is fast disappearing. 

The expense is a problem I still have to really deal with. Some people say it’s not as expensive as I think especially if I’m not staying in luxury hotels. Which I definitely wouldn’t be. I recently read an article in a travel magazine about cycling round part of Japan. Now that would be a really cheap way to get about. I could camp (hopefully – I don’t know much about the camping situtation in Japan), carry lots of packets of instant noodles, and get to out of the way places without it costing me anything.

The problem with the cycling solution is I’ve never ridden really long distances before and never carried all my gear on a bike. I would like to do this though, which is why doing a long distance cycle tour is also on my list of things to do. By doing my cycle tour in Japan I could tick off 2 challenges in one go. So now, I need to think about practising and training. I bought a cycle rack for my car at Christmas so I can take my bike out to the Peak District and cycle some of the converted railway track trails. I do want to cover these as they are very scenic, but they make for boring walking. They will make a good start for my cycle training though. As I’m too busy to even get out walking or go to the gym at the moment I don’t know when this will happen, but hopefully before the summer.

The fourth issue with my going to Japan is the culture and language. I have a friend who is a Japanophile (is there a proper word for that?) and has studied the language for years. Even she had lots of difficulties when she visited. The language is written in a mix of Japanese, Western and Chinese characters. Although she knew the Japanese and Western characters, all the Chinese characters made things very hard to read. Also there are so many rules for every little thing you do. Because foreigners don’t know the etiquette it makes it very difficult to achieve even half of what a Japanese person can in the time, and there are many things you miss out on completely.

Starting my visit by staying with my Japanese friends may be a good move as I can learn a lot from them. Akiko is pretty adventurous and not your typical Japanese woman so she may even be persuaded to do a bit of travelling with me. I’ll need to learn a bit of the language, though I have no plans for that just now. I’m studying a couple of other things at the moment and need to get them out of the way before I take anything else on. I can make a start on the culture though. I’m not starting from zero as I already know quite a bit (not nearly enough, but more than your average British person). I’ve just bought The Encyclopedia of Japanese Pop Culture which is a bit out of date but still a good place to start according to the reviews on Amazon. I must also read my Josie Dew books about her cycle tours of Japan. I like her books but I’ve never got round to reading these two even though I’ve owned them for years.

And still on the cycling theme – I’ve just come back from the Netherlands which is the world’s most cycle friendly country. As I go there most years, I could do a bit cycle tour training there. There are plenty of places it would be great to cycle round for a few days and I could carry all my gear to practice. I’ve done some cycling there in the past (including this visit) so I know how easy it is. A great place to start.

So these are my Japan visiting and cycle touring plans so far. When I start writing them down like this I feel like I’m actually getting somewhere. When they are just ideas swimming around in my head it doesn’t feel like I’m actually doing anything towards my goals. But actually, they are all ticking over all the time in the back of my mind.