Monkeying around on bikes

Tea brand PG Tips no longer uses real chimps in its UK TV advertising, preferring an actor and a glove puppet. Back in the 1970s, use of chimps was fairgame (see ‘disclaimer’ below) and one of the most famous ads was this one of the monkey Tour de France.

It features a cycling chimp crashing behind a car and then saying to a tea-pouring mademoiselle, ‘Can you ride tandem?’

Thanks to the non-pc wonders of Japanese TV and YouTube, there’s a whole load of apes-on-bikes videos. Most feature orangutans showboating with training wheels. Pah! Are there no videos of primates going ape on drop-bar road bikes?

Sure there are. Check out the bikes in this clip, the monkey bikes even have racks. These monkeys could commute to work. My next project? The Bike to Circus Book.

There are some more speedy simians in this video. It’s a race between a bloke on a unicycle and some flat-bar monkeys.

Use of primates in TV advertising or for the amusement of a TV programme’s audience is wrong. Primate experts say it’s cruel to the animals concerned. Experts also say such imagery harms the cause of primates in the wild.

Schools Minister gets on his bike

Children, Schools and Families Minister, Kevin Brennan MP today visited my kids’ school on the first day of Bike to School Week.

St. Catherine’s RC Primary School of Newcastle upon Tyne has just 240 pupils but up to 30 kids attend my Go Ride and unicycling clubs. And St Cat’s is the first location outside of America to have been provided with cycle parking hoops by Kryptonite.

Kevin Brennan MP visits St Cats26
Mr Brennan opened this new cycle parking facility and then watched pupils getting cycle training for riding on roads – Bikeability training – as well as racing, Go Ride coaching. He also met teachers who have bought bicycles on the Government’s Cycle to Work salary sacrifice scheme. The visit was rounded off with a demonstration of unicycling by the school’s one wheeled wonders. I could be mistaken but I don’t know of any other primary school in the country to have a unicycling club.

Here are a bunch of pix from today (see, the sun shines on the righteous):

Bikeability bike checking:
Kevin Brennan MP visits St Cats7

Bikeability training by Cycling Solutions Ltd.:
Kevin Brennan MP visits St Cats19

Press photographers getting unicycling shots:
Kevin Brennan MP visits St Cats22

Unicycling flicks:
Kevin Brennan MP visits St Cats54

Kevin Brennan MP has a go on British Cycling’s Go Ride cycle coaching course:
Kevin Brennan MP visits St Cats47

British Cycling’s Go Ride regional manager Jon Bateman explains Go Ride to the Minister:
Kevin Brennan MP visits St Cats38

The full Flickr set can be found here. There was one shot I didn’t get: the Minister on a unicycle. The local press photographers got the shot, but I was propping up Mr Brennan at the time and didn’t feel it appropriate – or safe – to let go and grab my camera.

Ride the Lobster and other unicycling stuff

I run a Go Ride cycling session on Friday afternoons at my children’s primary school. This has been in hibernation over the winter. However, there’s a nice warm gym handy so I thought I’d make use of it.

I created a school unicycling club. With a bit of cash from the local authority’s sport budget I bought six unicycles from and advertised lessons via a school newsletter. At this point I still couldn’t unicycle myself. I knew I’d have to learn quickly, though, because 20 percent of the kids wanted to attend my lessons!

I bought a how-to book and dusted down the unicycle I’ve owned for ages but never mastered. A few hours of hopelessness later I was hooked and just about able to wobble far enough to call myself a unicyclist.

It doesn’t half tax your leg muscles. It’s not the balance that topples me now, it’s the lactic acid burn.

With Coach Carlton now semi-proficient at one wheeling I was let loose on the kids (I’ve split them up into groups, there were too many to have in one session).

I was lucky. Two German girls were already long-in-the-tooth ‘einradders’. Instead of falling off in front of the kids – not a good look for a coach – I could point to Angela and Julia.

“Look. That’s how it’s done. Now, copy them.”

It’s pretty tough to teach unicycling. It’s very much a self-taught discipline. I put the kids up against a wall, show them how to keep steady by pushing their body weight all through one leg, teach them the difference between vertical and horizontal pedal planes and then leave them to work the rest out for themselves.

OK, it may be a little more advanced than this, but not much. After week three, I now have three kids who have cracked the technique and I can feel that the rest are getting close.

I love the fact that, in Japan, unicycling is compulsory in one school year. Unicycling teaches balance, coordination, and discipline. It’s not just for clowns any more.

These are two of the biggest unicycling vids on YouTube having been watched 750,000+ times each.

You think alley cat racing vids are rad? Watch it done on a large-wheel unicycle (and watch it until the end…):

The Manhattan unicycling vid is from Balance Productions of Canada. This micro video production crew, deft at Glidecam shots through traffic, produces DVDs on extreme unicycling.

Filmmaker Brian MacKenzie of Balance Productions says “unicycling is where skateboarding and mountain biking were.”

The crew is currently organising Ride The Lobster, an 800km unicycle stage race to be held 16-20th June 2008 in Nova Scotia, Canada.

“This race is the first of it’s kind, anywhere,” says MacKenzie.

Unicycling is certainly getting itself about. Mountain unicycling will be on display in Moab, Utah, next week. The 9th Annual Moab MUni Fest will be held March 28th to 30th. It will feature trials, demonstrations, and trail rides of some of Moab’s most famous terrain, including the Slickrock Bike Trail and Moab Rim Trail.