Monday, June 18, 2007

Holyhead, Wales

Friends: There was much to like, if not celebrate, at the National Cycle Collection Museum in Llandrindad Wells, Wales, but nothing more than its location. It is housed in what was known as the "Automobile Palace," formerly a giant dealership and showroom for that four-wheeled monster of doom whose time is rapidly coming to a close. Just as one civilization is built on the ruins of another, so here too.

The museum was established ten years ago when three collectors of all things bicycle combined their holdings to share them with the public. One of the collectors is the grandson of the man who built the Automobile Palace, Tom Norton. Norton started out in bicycles, opening a shop in in 1899 in Llandrindad Wells, but he shortly succumbed to greed, forsaking the bicycle for the automobile and its seeming riches. He sold the first Model T Ford in Wales in 1909. But he didn't entirely forsake the bicycle, as he held on to many of the bikes and parts from his early days in the business, which can now be seen at the museum.

There are some 250 bikes on display, making this the most significant bicycle museum in Great Britain The museum also includes a vast array of bicycle memorabilia and components--signs, photos, posters, and a wide variety of lights and bells from cycling's infancy. Special tributes were given to Dunlap, inventor of the pneumatic tube, and Raleigh. There was tribute as
well to The Milk Race, the English national bicycle race, a mini-version of the Tour de France. There were also the usual oddities that never caught on, such as the Simpson Lever Chain from
1895, a five-wheeled Pentacycle from 1882 with wicker baskets fore and aft used by English postal workers for a spell and a 1935 Triumph Molle recumbent with a steering wheel rather than handlebars.

There were no videos nor much of an interest in making it a Hall-of-Fame for English cycling. There was barely mention of Simpson, Boardman, O'Bree or Kelly. Nor was there much on the 850-mile Land's End to John O'Groats cycle route from one end of Britain in Cornwall to the other in Scotland that has captured the imagination of cyclists from the beginning, both
racers and tourers. Nor was any recognition given to H. G. Wells and his considerable writings celebrating the bicycle. Maybe all this will come in time as the museum matures from a hobby to a true commitment.

There was no doubting the thoroughness and passion to the cause championed by the Centre for Alternative Technology--saving the earth. It was fifty miles up the road just beyond Machynlleth on the southern fringe of Snowdonia National Park. The Centre was founded in 1974 by a group of idealistic hippies and determined environmentalists on a seven acre abandoned slate quarry. Their initial goal was to establish a self-sustaining community. Over the years it has grown into a world-renowned advocating agency of wind, solar, and water energy. It had a wide variety of displays demonstrating how to harness renewable energies, construct energy efficient buildings, and how to live reasonably in concert with the environment, rather than destroying it. It has grown into one of the premier tourist attractions in Wales. It also offers dozens of two to five day courses ranging from Building With Hemp and Lime to making your Own Biodiesel. Its offers degrees in environmentalism through its affiliation with the University of East London.

Its too bad Al Gore didn't include a visit to this place in his movie, but its message would no doubt have been too hard for him to swallow. Among its exhibits was the "Treadmill of Happiness" that urges those upon it to "work more, buy more, earn more, need more" with
the promise that "happiness is just around the corner." There was a bamboo couch for those in need of "Retail Therapy," advising them against the "quick fix that cheers you up briefly but leaves you with yet more stuff that you don't need cluttering up your home." It asked, "Are the fruits of past shopping trips lurking unworn in your wardrobe? What's more valuable to you--memories or material things." It concluded with the advice to spend one's money doing
things with friends and traveling and going to the cinema.

A repeated message was not to buy things you don't need, to think before you buy, and to recycle things you don't need--"sell it, share it, swap it, donate it, don't just dump it." Reduce/Reuse/Recycle should be everyone's mantra, and in that order.

There were multiple exhibits on "Mad Car Disease," preaching that the car has us on the road to ruin. They didn't fully demand that people dump their cars in the nearest quarry, but strongly advocated car-sharing, rather than car-owning, to reduce the numbers of cars on the road. It cited the figure that the world's population of six billion people own 551 million cars with 44 million new cars bought each year.

A tee pee structure with a pile of car tires in the middle formed "The Vicious Circle of Car Dependency." One could walk round and round reading the message, "People drive because they think the roads are too dangerous to cycle, this means more traffic, which makes the roads more dangerous, so fewer people want to cycle." Throughout the seven acres there were messages to eat less meat, not to leave the water running while you brush your teeth, to buy from farmer's markets, to compost, but it emphasized that it is in the area of transport that people have the
biggest opportunity to reduce the damage they are doing to the planet, lessening their ecological
footprint, and with the added benefit that bicycling is good for one's health, as cyclists have a fitness of someone ten years younger.

People who bike to the Centre are given a reduced ticket, but unfortunately it was a flat rate and not relative to the distance one had cycled, as I biked over 2,000 miles from Paris to get there. It is less than three weeks now to the Tour to France and my conditioning is just about where it needs to be. Craig helped to accelerate it a bit with his fast pace, at least in the early part of our days together. And the steep, steep hills of Wales have topped it off. Grades of 15% and more have not been unusual My legs were strong enough for them, but all the climbing exhausted me more than I thought when I slept solid from 9:30 to 8:30 after one hard day. Now its on to Ireland. My ferry leaves in less than two hours.

Later, George

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