One-wheeled fun at the Bristol Cycle Festival

The first Bristol Cycle Festival finished a few weeks ago, but I’ve only just managed to scrape enough time together to write about what a great time I had at most of the events I attended, and to sort through the photos I took.

As usual, click on any image for the full-size version, and be prepared for a long read.

11 September

While I was involved in cycling activity on the first day, it wasn’t actually part of the festival, nor was it even in Bristol. Instead, the Severn Wheelers unicycle hockey team was playing in a tournament in Cardiff. I’d been thinking a few weeks previously that we ought to host a tournament ourselves as part of the festival when the Cardiff team announced theirs. That was disappointing on the one hand, as we wouldn’t be part of the festival, and would miss out on all the other stuff which was happening in Bristol on the same day. On the other hand, it meant that I didn’t have to organise anything myself. Thanks very much to Liam for organising this one; it was a great day, with lots of closely fought matches. Severn Wheelers didn’t do very well, only managing to beat the scratch team. We did draw with the EMUs though, and our overall goal difference just kept us out of last place in the final rankings. I’m currently in the middle of organising a tournament in Bristol in November or December, and I can only hope it runs as smoothly as this one did.

Turn around, quick! Cycle chic, but is this really the best time to wear a skirt? Going for goal Can anyone see the ball?

Unicycle hockey, what a great sport!

12 September

Back in Bristol for the next day, some of the hockey team went to the bike polo tournament in Dame Emily Park. We’d been invited along by the BS3 team, who had organised the event, but we weren’t allowed to actually enter the tournament, as the game’s regulations call for two wheels per rider, and mallets rather than hockey sticks. However, we did play a few friendly matches against some of the competing teams, which was an interesting experience for us, and probably for them, too. Our first game was against the team who eventually won the tournament, who despite seeming anxious about injuring us at first, soon settled in to prove that they were better than us at their own game. I can see why a lot of the experienced polo players wear helmets, which almost no hockey players do – I was nearly smacked in the face by mallets several times during the day. Unicycle hockey is theoretically a non-contact sport, whereas bike polo almost seems to encourage argy-bargy; it was all pretty good natured though, and there were actually fewer injuries than on yesterday’s outing.

Goal keeping seems a lot more static than in unicycle hockeyThe goals obviously aren't wide enoughShoot!

The winning team, Whispers (not in blue), showing how it's done

but is it one mallet per bike, or one per rider?

One rider per wheel, just as it should be

We weren’t the only ones there with non-standard equipment though, as someone else had brought a tandem along. Like us, they weren’t playing in the tournament proper, which was probably a good thing, especially as it was unclear whether they counted as one or two players. Both riders were carrying mallets, but there were three bikes in total on their team.

No devil sticks, though

A mixture of home made mallets

Even that wasn’t the end of it though, as it seems to be quite common for polo players to make their own mallets. They are constructed from quite a variety of materials, with handles pinched from ski poles, golf clubs and walking sticks, amongst other things.

The day ended with a ludicrously generous prize-giving ceremony, with the top two teams earning custom hoodies for each member, plus a bunch of spot prizes for man of the match, longest distance travelled, and best trick. Finally, there was a track stand competition to use up the last prize, in which the rules got progressively harder as riders stubbornly refused to be eliminated by falling off: one hand, no hands, and eventually no feet.

Only one hand No hands No feet!

Track stand competition

16 September

Into Queen’s Square on Thursday evening for Bert’s Bike Orienteering. Each entrant was given a map with questions marked at various points, and we had an hour to find as many answers as possible, with the furthest questions earnings the most points. I had my usual trouble with maps, taking some time to get used to the scale, so I wasted a fair bit of time finding the answer to my second question, repeatedly riding past the funeral directors on Acramans Road, whose name I was trying to determine (Thomas Davis). A few questions later, I went too far up Windmill Hill, not realising that it was a dead end, then spent quite a long time at the entrance to Victoria Park, trying to work out whether it was the one indicated by the question about the maker of the gate. It wasn’t, but on arriving at the correct gate, I discovered that they were both made by Fearns Truck Bodies. I was further delayed by dithering around the RSPCA clinic, trying to figure out which building was next to it. If I’d only approached from the other direction, I’d had realised much quicker that it was the Bristol Dogs Home. I finally used the riverside cyclepath I’ve seen signs for and had been meaning to try for a while now, which took me towards Julie’s Cafe, the name of which answered another question. I was starting to run out of time, and couldn’t really afford the delay while I repeatedly missed seeing the environmental award on Valentine Bridge, but figured I could just about answer one last question before heading back, and the extra 5 points gained would offset the penalty point per minute late I’d earn. Even better, I realised that I already knew that the statue on the corner was of a fireman before getting there, so I saved another minute by not actually riding past it, and got back to Queen’s Square only 5 minutes late, so that answer only just broke even in the end. The full route I took is available online, so you can see how higgledy piggledy it really was.

Look what I won!

My prize

I only managed to answer 8 of the 33 questions, which despite getting them all correct, was only enough to beat a couple of the other players. However, as well as the male, female and under-16 categories, there was also one in which my single wheel was the only entrant, so I did manage to win a T-shirt for the highest scoring fixie. After the prizes were handed out, we headed off to Biblos on Stokes Croft, where we were treated to a marvellous repast totally out of proportion with the miniscule payment it cost us. Bert is friends with the owner, so we did get a lot of free starters and desserts, but I find it hard to see how they stay in business even at the prices on the menu.

18 September

Saturday morning was Bristol Cycling Campaign‘s Big Bike Treasure Hunt. This was quite like Tuesday’s orienteering, but a lot more family friendly; only ten questions, the route actually marked on the map, including directions, and no time limit. My map scale issues again meant that I had some slight navigational problems at a couple of junctions (see my GPS trail), but this was a much more relaxed affair than the orienteering. Since it took place in the middle of the day, it also afforded a much better opportunity to actually look at those areas of Bristol along the way which I hadn’t previously visited. All participants took prizes home: “Better by Bike” branded mugs, pencils and rulers, plus something from the lucky dip. I initially drew a bike lock, but I already have two, and the organisers kindly let me draw again. So now I have a brand new bell for my unicycle, and the interesting challenge of mounting it in a useful position.

After the treasure hunt, I headed off to igfest which this year took place as part of the cycle festival, so a lot of the games were bike-based. Unfortunately for me, they were also very popular, and places were almost all taken by the time I got there. There were still a couple of slots left for jousting though, so I signed up for that and prepared to hang around like a lemon until it started. However, a couple of people on the list for Dog Tag didn’t turn up, so I managed to grab one of their places.

Dog Tag is a mutual assassination game, in which the last standing killer is the winner. “Kills” are achieved by waving a wooden spoon at the victim while shouting “spoon!”, but can be warded off merely by looking away from the spoon. There are also rules about who you’re allowed to assassinate, so it doesn’t just devolve into a free for all. Despite getting off to a good start, killing my first two targets very early on, I missed the looking away rule at the briefing, so fell at the first attempt on my life. Still, I managed to place third out of eight, which I think is pretty good considering that I only had half as many wheels as the other players.

Back at St Nick’s, I watched the end of the Uncivil War game, the preparation for which had been going on for much of the day. This hadconsisted of teams building forts from cardboard boxes, which were now arranged in the four “corners” of a chalk circle arena in the middle of the street. The war itself had the combatants trying to destroy each others’ forts by hurling water balloons at them. A large crowd had gathered around the arena, and a lot of them got quite wet as the fight wore on, but the weather was surprisingly good for the time of year, so no-one minded too much.

Ready ...Set ...Go!
Chaos ...melee ...and laughter

Uncivil War - fought with cardboard and water

Finally it was time for the event I’d actually signed up for, Geoff’s Jousting. To keep things fair, everyone was riding very small bikes designed for children, so the benefit of my previous experience with unicycle jousting was somewhat nullified. I haven’t seriously ridden a bike for several years, and these battered specimens didn’t make things any easier; we were riding on quite rough grass with our knees in our faces, and two of the four bikes were stuck in top gear. None of that bears any resemblance to my normal riding conditions: riding on smooth roads in a vertical, almost standing, position, using a very low gear. However, as the old adage goes, it does seem to be impossible to forget how to ride a bike, no matter how unsuitable, and I’d arrived early enough to get a bit of practice just riding before the jousting started.

It’s also worth mentioning the lances we were using, as they had quite a bearing on working out who won each tilt. With the unicycle jousting, the aim had been to knock the opponent off his mount, so the lances were pretty solid, with a large padded buffer at the end. In this event, the lances were very long and bendy, and each tilt started by covering the soft wide “pointy” ends of the lances with a generous helping of paint. It would have been pretty hard to knock anyone off their bike with these unwieldy implements, but at the speed we were wobbling along at, splashing paint on the chest of your opponent was relatively straightforward. We all wore painter’s coveralls to protect our clothes, and each team of jousters had two fancy sets of armour with big targets on the chests, so that while one pair were tilting at each other, the previous pair’s armour could be passed on to the next’s. To make things even more exciting, the first pair of jousters were riding tall bikes, which made for quite a spectacle.

Practice rideCharge!Unwieldy lances

Jousting on tall bikes

I was the last member of my team (Thunder Munchers) to tilt, and when it came to my turn, we were one point down against the Red Dragons. This made me a bit nervous, as it meant that it came down to me whether we lost out of hand, or made it through to a tie-breaker final. I was quite fortunate though, as the last player on the other team seemed to have a lot of trouble getting used to riding his tiny bike over rough ground while trying to wave a lance in my direction. I’d had the benefit of my pre-tilting practice, so I just about managed to get a splotch of paint on him as we wobbled slowly past each other. The three passes all went much the same way, as though we both got more confident with each pass, I somehow managed to wave my lance closer to him than his to me.

Being cheered on by the team

Mini bike jousting

While I was out tilting, the rest of my team were discussing who should play in the tie-breaker, should there be one. I was quite surprised to discover that they had picked me, based mostly on the fact that I didn’t seem to have collected any red paint at all, whereas it had been quite a job to clean the armour between all of the previous rounds. I think this was largely down to luck, but I was happy to represent my team in the final. The Dragons fielded a more confident jouster this time than the one I had already faced, and I didn’t come out of the final nearly as clean. I did manage to get quite a lot of paint on my opponent though, so it came down to an audience vote for who had done the most damage. They had a hard time deciding until we turned around, whereupon the difference became much clearer. I had somehow managed to splash my opponent’s back quite convincingly on the final pass, and the vote finally came down in favour of Thunder Munchers. I guess my previous jousting championship had been useful after all.

19 September

Milling about
Getting into line
Interesting contraptions
Everyone ride the dinosaur!
Dafft costumesHey, they look like me!

Mustering before the carnival

Sunday was the day of the carnival, which saw a whole bunch of cyclists riding all manner of weird and wonderful contraptions while dressed in a variety of outlandish costumes. My own costime was pretty ridiculous, having been slapped together in a hurry the night before. It was basically a bright green long dress made out of hockey bibs pinned together. I picked this to match my hockey stick, which I was carrying to have something to lean on during the inevitable pauses and delays. My stick is wrapped in green tape, and the bibs are green, so it seemed like a natural combination to me, though my better half didn’t agree. I was taking part on my own, but managed to find a troupe whose costumes were almost a match for mine, and who were quite happy to let me ride with them. The Spokes Bicycle Dancers, are an all-female group from Manchester, but temporarily relaxed their membership rules for me and another honorary member for the carnival.

After a long time milling around in Queen’s Square, we finally set off behind our police marshalls, for a slow ride around the city centre. There was music, dancing, laughing and talking as we wended our way slowly through the streets. The drivers who we blocked along the way seemed mostly sympathetic, and were at least entertained for their trouble. Sadly, I only had time to take part in the parade part of the carnival, so I missed The Spokes competing against local troupe Les Velobici, as well as all the live music and other entertainments on offer. I spent the afternoon instead losing badly at Dominion.

Me and The SpokesRainbow riders

After the carnival parade

21 September

The festival poet, David Johnson, was touring some of Bristol’s bike shops on Tuesday, reciting his cycling-inspired poetry. I went to see him at Mud Dock at lunchtime, and was apparently the only person there who had deliberately turned up to see him (not counting his small entourage). After waiting a while in the shop for a larger audience, we moved up to the café, where there were a few more people willing to listen. Sadly, after a couple of poems, the café staff told us to leave, as we were in their way. This seemed a bit over-officious to me, as the place wasn’t exactly packed, and most of the people who might have been slightly inconvenienced seemed happy enough to hear the poetry. However, the bike shop and the café are two separate businesses, and the café staff didn’t know that they were going to be invaded by a very small band of wandering minstrel. Having been thus ejected, we went back downstairs to the bike shop for the remaining two poems. A couple of passers through stopped to listen, increasing the audience by one or two hundred percent (they didn’t both hear both poems). Without all the delays and forced migrations, or if the recitation had been a bit longer, I’d have been happy to report this as a worthwhile lunchtime diversion, but the extra faffing about almost outweighed the value of the poetry for me.

In the evening I went to the Bristol & Bath Perl Mongers monthly social meeting at The Bell. I’d chosen this venue mostly on the basis of the name, in order to tie in with the cycle festival, but it’s also nice place to talk and drink which we’ve been to before. Of course, while picking a suitable venue for the October meeting, I noticed that there’s actually a pub in Bristol called The Penny Farthing, which would have been a better choice, at least as far as the name goes.

24 September


Getting ready

Another regular event taking place during the festival was the Critical Mass ride. I’ve been curious about taking part in Critical Mass for a while, but haven’t really been sure about exactly what its aims are, or whether it was worth turning up if there weren’t going to be enough people to make it safe. My worries weren’t really allayed on this ride: none of the participants seemed to have a clear idea of the point of the ride, and there were certainly no attempts to make it known to anyone else. This meant that we were basically having another carnival parade, but this time without quite so many outlandish contraptions (just the dinosaur) and no police escort.

Kinda fun, but what was the point?

Pointless blockage

I’m assuming that some of the riders had an agenda beyond pissing off lots of drivers in Bristol, but if they don’t know why they’re being held up, it’s a completely pointless gesture. Although it was kind of exciting being an urban warrior, I felt like I was risking my safety for no good reason. It was basically a lot more obstructive than constructive.

So that was how I spent my time at the festival. Overall, I had a great time, despite a couple of events being more interesting than enjoyable. Assuming that this becomes a regular occurrence, I’m really looking forward to the next one!

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