46% Bad – the zine

46% Bad

The 46% Bad sculpture of a drawing of a bike is accompanied by a 20-page (A5, B&W) zine. You can have a copy for £4 (includes UK postage, please contact me to arrange bulk or international orders)

The zine takes a short journey through some thoughts and observations about cycling infrastructure and other systems and frameworks that impact on us as we are mobile by bicycle (and tricycle, and…), all the time hoping that impact is something that doesn’t happen to us. Not on this ride; please not this time.

46% Bad

Working fast and intuitively with paper and pens over a long weekend has been a nice contrast to the slow processes of working with metal and hand files to make the sculpture. I’ve been increasingly interested in the potential of zines within my work and this has been a great space in which to try out a few ideas. Keeping an eye on my use of language and side-stepping the usual tropes of cyclists vs motorists has also been very good practise and hugely fascinating to observe how easy it is to fall into other people’s habits. Writing for mix of cycling/non-cycling, academic/non-academic audiences has been a good challenge all round.

Let me know what you think, as I suspect there’ll be more of this sort of thing to come.

46% Bad – making tools

A recurring theme throughout this project has been the need to make my own tools. I suspect this is something professional framebuilders find themselves doing quite a lot too, although hopefully with a bit more finesse!

Still, if it gets the job done…

Job #1: Removing bearing cups

There are a couple of places on the donor bike where there are races to hold ball bearings: the bottom bracket, where the cranks turn; and the headset, where the steering arrangement turns.

Bottom bracket cup

Bottom bracket cup

I still want these functions in the new bike I’m making, even if the pedals can’t turn without hitting the ground and the front wheel can’t turn very far before hitting the frame. This means I needed to remove the bearing cups from the frame to keep them safe whilst I was hacking the surrounding steel to bits and then welding stuff back together again.

The cups are pretty solidly wedged into their respective parts of the frame, so trying to prise them out with a screwdriver wasn’t going to work. This needed a proper tool …well, not a proper tool, as I couldn’t afford it, but at STEAMhouse I have access to other tools, so I could make my own bearing cup remover!

Cutting disc

A bit of work with the cutting disc


Cup remover

4 slits in a length of tube


Cup remover

Slightly splayed so the tube spreads out to be wider than the cup


Bearing race remover

And POP!

It took a few attempts to not overshoot, but once I got the knack it was easy to hammer out the cups.

Cup remover

You hammer on the other end of the tool and the splayed out fins catch on the edge of the cup


Removed cups

Cups removed and ready to be put somewhere safe


Job #2: Gripping tubes

I’m going to have to do a lot of filing mitres into tubes so that they fit snugly up against other tubes. Thin-walled tubes held firmly in vices doesn’t tend to go well, so I had to make some tube blocks.

Tube block halves

Tube block halves

Not a particularly tricky tool to build, just there’s so many sizes!

Tube blocks

A not quite complete set of not quite complete tube blocks

Anyway, they seem to be doing the job well.

Mitred tube

Mitred tube

Job #3: Bending stays

Here’s a reminder of the bike drawing I’m trying to make in 3D:

The bike I'm making

It’s not quite right, y’know…

That’s quite a lot of thingies that have to meet at the wheel axles.

Bicycle anatomy terminology breaks down a bit here, but I seem to have settled on calling them “stays” in a hand-waving kind of manner. Also I’ve had to make the executive decision that they will indeed go all the way to the wheel axles.

I’ve got some chunky tube to do the main bit of the frame, but I need something that comes out from that central plane, clears the width of the tyres and then joins on to the dropouts at the wheel axles. So I made a three-part jig so I could reliably replicate a suitable s-bend in some smaller diameter tube.

Stay jig

Side view: the tube is pushed up against a stop at the far right hand end, then clamped to the wall along the back edge, fitting behind the right-most pillar, which it is then bent out against.


Stay jig

Once the tube has been bent out towards the right, a plate with another pillar is slid up into position, clamped, and then the tube is bent back against it towards the left.


Stays and jig

Here you can see the three parts of the jig and two of the bent stays



Quite nice



Birds-eye view with a wheel between them

The results were quite nice, but you can see from the above photo that it takes a fair bit of space for the stays to come back in to the centre line and the thicker tube. This would mean there would only be a small length of the thicker tube and I’d lose the effect of it stopping at the edge of the tyre.

I realised that I had been led astray by how I knew bikes were made, versus how this drawing of a bike looks. I ditched the jig and have instead switched to a much more clunky approach that will be a much better conceptual fit for what I’m trying to achieve.


Stay array

An array of stays. Straight, this time.

46% Bad – the beginnings

I’ve been one of the Artists in Residence at the Birmingham School of Jewellery for the last year or so and, more recently, a member of STEAMhouse. Both these have given me the opportunity to get my hands dirty and start working with metal again. Something that I’ve been enjoying immensely!

I’m currently working on a project that has grown out of this representation of a bicycle that I spotted on a cycle path in Stourbridge:

A bike painted on a cycle path

I had to go back for a second look…

It’s nearly convincing, but when you start looking at it properly, you start to notice more and more ways in which it’s not quite right. …and then you start looking at painted bikes all over the place and you start realising more and more of them that are, well, just wrong.

(Some of a) bike icon in Bristol

(Some of a) bike icon in Bristol.

A bike icon in Birmingham

An offering from National Cycle Route 5 in Birmingham.

Well, there was only one thing for it, and I’ve embarked on trying to build a 3D version of the 2D version of the 3D object.

A donor bike and the measurements of the drawing it is to become

Recursive bikes and drawings.

I found a kid’s bike on ebay that seemed like it would be about the right size to use as a starting point, and I’ve stripped it and chopped it to get at various component parts that I want to use in the final build.

A cardboard box full of bits of bike

A lesson in how many bits go into a bicycle…

Translating the rough sketch from the photo into a 1:1 scale drawing to work off

Translating the rough sketch from the photo into a 1:1 scale drawing to work off

Bike frame and angle grinder

Ready for the chop

Angle grinding action

The chop

Bits of stuff laid out in a sort of bike shape

Trying to get a feel for what the drawing might look like as an object

STEAMhouse is supporting me to improve my welding skills and, whereas it’s mostly TIG welding that I want to learn, I’ve done a bit of MIG welding before and this has been a quick and easy way of adding bits of metal to other bits of metal to make bigger bits of metal. The first component to get this treatment was the crankset: the pedals need to be on long enough cranks that they extend below where the tyres make contact with the road surface, so I had to make and integrate some extensions.

Crank extenders being welded in

Crank extenders being welded in

In the photo above you can see the difference in the original and modified crank lengths. Below is the end result.

Finished, extended cranks

Finished, extended cranks

Paint and powder coatings aren’t great when they get zapped by the heat from welding (nasty fumes) so I spent half a day peering into a sandblasting cabinet stripping things down to the steel surface.

Fork about to get blasted with sand

Fork about to get blasted with sand

I’d originally thought I might use more of the original frame in the sculpture, but I think it’s likely to just be these components and the wheels.

Sandblasted parts

Sandblasted parts: head tube, bottom bracket, crankset, fork and seatpost. (Square tin for another project I’m working on…)

So, now begins the job of cutting and fitting all the remaining parts…

Fermynwoods residency: mostly gates


Having spotted this road sign on my way to Market Harborough the other day, I mapped out a 40 mile cycle route exploring to the North of where I’m staying and of course starting out with Old Dry Lane (North).

Best laid plans and all that…

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 21.14.20

The first bit went okay: I found the South end of Old Dry Lane, and the ghost middle part of Old Dry Lane (looks like it came a cropper when the A road was built, maybe?) turned out to be a bridleway and passable by bike.




I got myself across the A6116 without incident, and found what was left of the original line on the North side.


Hmmm, bit of a dumping ground it seems.

The plan then was to keep going up the lane and then turn right and use a track to link up to Benefield Road. I started hitting signs saying ‘private road’ though. There was a ‘bridleway’ sign right next to it, but in between noticing each sign, I also managed to stop and ask a dogwalker if it was possible for me to get through if I kept going that way.

I was just following a line on my Garmin, so I couldn’t give him any useful information about where I was trying to get to, but he did suggest I back up a bit, and take the track through the woods as that would be a better surface than going straight on (which would have me going across fields).


I felt it would be in the spirit of exploration to follow his suggestion, so I got onto the track and had a nice little off-road ride through the woods. I decided I didn’t want to go as far as Weldon, so turned right and tried to rejoin onto my original planned route.

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 20.59.35

This looked good for a few minutes, but then I came to a gate with signs saying it was private access only, so I had to turn back to the A road. “No problem”, I thought, just a short stretch, then I can turn left up Benefield Road and get back onto my original route in no time.


Benefield Road goes under the A6116! I had to keep going, back to the footbridge into Brigstock for a lap of honour and then try again…


I really enjoyed the gated road coming out of Lower Benefield, however I kind of get the feeling someone else was less happy about it.


It seemed to be a road that was only reluctantly open as a right of way. The signs seemed to be saying “Well, go on then, but don’t say we didn’t warn you…”



I wimped out of doing the full 40 miles in the end – the previous night’s excitements and the earlier diversions having got the better of me. I hadn’t planned for it to be another ride on the theme of gatekeepers and permissions, nor to be another exercise in being misplaced, but I like how exploring by bicycle reveals the sorts of inconsistencies that are usually hidden to you when you’re driving a car. I also like how bikes are generally very accommodating of plans going a bit different.

I’m not sure if I’ll have time to get another ride in before I leave, but I feel my bike trips so far have shown and taught me a lot. So many unanswered questions though! I want to know about the Old Dry Hills!

Fermynwoods residency: changing gear

I’ve just started a 10 day residency at Sudborough Green LodgeFermynwoods Contemporary Art‘s rural outpost surrounded by forest and fields.

The residency is part of their associate artists programme rather than linked in to a particular commission, so I’m in the fortunate position of not having to work to a specified outcome. This is time I can use to feed my practice, and that doesn’t come along very often.

So I’m here with a handful of questions that I probably wouldn’t get much opportunity to engage with in amongst the usual hectic to-and-fro of my working week. I have questions about how the making of field notes might relate to my practice; I have questions about moving around at night; I have questions about how far my ailing knees and feet will carry me nowadays; I have questions about whether I can still draw; but mostly I get to find out what happens when I have time and space in which to follow my curiosity.

Coming after several months of flirting with burn-out, this has all required something of a change of gear. …and giving myself permission to not to anything in particular in these first few days. There have been lie-ins and reading of good books and exploring.

When I was here last – 4 years ago – I was making the Landscape-reactive Sashes ready for deployment as part of the Corby Walking Festival. I remember spending a lot of time hunched over sewing machine and soldering iron, and I remember a lot of rain: this meant I missed out on the chance to explore my surroundings, so basic orientation has been top of my to-do list.

I started off by getting a bit lost.


I got on my bike and I started off by turning left at the junctions in the track where up until now I’ve only ever gone right.

I had my Garmin with me, showing the line of my journey thus far as an aid to figuring out where I was in relation to where I’d been …and where I needed to get back to. Fun was had relating the dotted line on the small screen to the rapidly deteriorating surface of the bridleway in front of me. No really – it was fun! I like not knowing what’s around the corner and if you’re going to have to turn back or not; that internal debate between being gung-ho and the bit that tells you enough is enough.


Gung-ho held out just long enough along a grass-covered, deep-rutted, what used-to-be-a-gravel-track for me to find myself at a high seat. No questions about what needed to be done next.


I pushed a bit further along what might optimistically be called the path, hoping to be able to link up with one of the dotted lines on my screen, but a combination of disorientation, brambles and mud made me call time on that avenue of exploration and I turned back to rejoin terra more firmer.

Rinse and repeat for about 10 miles in total.

high seat

I had half an eye on looking for suitable places to come back to at night. There were a couple of more promising looking high seats, but they were padlocked and not for public use in quite a definite manner.

Other than some purpose-built shelters, it looks like some field margins might be my best bet. Mostly however, we’re in the traditional Forestry Commission configuration of track>ditch>fence. I shall have to keep my eyes open for opportunities for getting beyond that.

Alongside my beating of the bounds, I’ve also started reading Robert Macfarlane’s “The Old Ways” and am loving it. It seemed like it was going to be a relevant read to hold back until I was here, and early indications are that it’s not going to disappoint.

As I progress with my explorations – mostly by bike, so far – I keep getting trapped between busy A-roads and byways that are probably best left to the ramblers and the horse riders. There’s not a lot in the middle, either in terms of volume/speed of traffic or of routes that link up.


I managed a 20 mile circuit yesterday that had minimal A-roads, and with my Macfarlane-primed eyes was very tuned in to noticing all the footpaths criss-crossing the landscape. I’d like to explore these more, but not sure if I’m currently rated for more than a couple of miles on foot.

I also noticed lots of churches (that or my route twisted and turned enough that I just saw the same few steeples from an array of different angles). It got me thinking about the size of a parish; about communities and the walking distances between them.

Building the Orrery

For the last 10 months or so I’ve been building the Orrery – an electromechanical device that, ultimately, is powered by someone making a journey by bike. And by someone left at home wondering how they’re getting on.

At the core of the Orrery for Landscape, Sinew and Serendipity project, the Orrery is intended as a way in to talking about themes of effort, landscape, weather, bodies, home and connectedness that perhaps get tidied away when we use tools such as online map-based trackers to follow someone’s progress.

As I embark on the phase of the project where I’m meeting up with various people to discuss the potentials wrapped up in the Orrery, I wanted to look back and retrace the journey of its making. There’s been a lot of making. In keeping with the theme of making the effort visible, here’s an overview of how the Orrery came into being…



Most of the development work was done through a residency at Wolverhampton School of Art. This gave me access to tools, knowhow and a bit of space in which to work – things you learn to value when typically you’re making stuff in your front room!


The pilot project from a few years ago had taken the form of a person-sized box with a sort of porthole at chest height that you peered through to see the components levering, spinning and glowing inside. This time around I wanted to keep the act of peering in order to look inside, but shift to a smaller form that was more reminiscent of a locket.

Not being entirely sure if this would work, I started on some maquettes out of paper and masking tape.


This showed enough promise that I decided to develop this approach further however, after some time contemplating curvy bottoms, I decided that rather than having a shape like this that would then also need a plinth with a matching curve in which to stand, I would amalgamate both aspects into the bottom half of the Orrery.

More cardboard required!




Here’s the new strategy for an all-in-one rectangular base taking shape.

By now I’ve also switched to building up the form from a series of flat sheets. This was for some very practical reasons relating to what I would actually be able to build with the resources available …but also the echo of contour lines was rather nice too.


I needed to figure out how I was going to join the layers. I couldn’t glue them because I would need access in order to instal, remove and tweak the various electrical and mechanical components that would be going inside the Orrery.

I still didn’t know exactly what these components would be, and I was struggling to visualise the layout working with this model which was about of a quarter of the size of the final thing.


More cardboard?

No. I decided to bite the bullet and make a full-size model out of MDF. I knew the final version would be made out of plywood, but couldn’t afford to pay for two lots of that if I messed up, however I figured that making a model out of cheaper MDF, would pay for itself in time saved staring at cardboard and trying to scale things up in my mind’s eye.

I wouldn’t be cutting layers of MDF with a craft knife though. This was a job for the CNC router, and that meant drawing digital outlines of every layer so that the machine had some cutting files to work from.


A bit of jiggery pokery to get from open source software to the file format required by the router, and we were ready to start cutting.







Oh dear, the router was having all sorts of problems trying to cut out the sheets. Bits were snapping off and jamming, then, just when we thought we’d got on top of that, it started cutting things out in random places, ruining the sheets that it overlapped with. ARGH!

I didn’t get much out of the whole endeavour other than the shapes shown below. And the realisation that I’d have to reduce the thickness of all the layers by about half.


A trip to the sawmill to do some touching, feeling, squinting, imagining the future and costing up of materials:


Having confirmed what thickness the plywood came in, I tried a different approach for making the model – foamboard. The School of Art was about to close down for the holidays – Easter by this stage, I think – so I needed something I could work with at home.




With a bit of large format printing and a substantial amount of the foamboard stock from the art school’s shop (conveniently about the same thickness as the plywood), I spent some quality time with sharps and my biggest cutting mat.




Ooh! Nice! I like these moments when the tangibility of the project you’re working on takes a leap forward. I was kind of commited to it from a production point of view, but this model totally sold me on the layered approach from an aesthetic point of view – those forms just kept on giving as the light in my front room changed throughout the day.


I also got to play with it in the dark and with internal lighting. Sort of.

…And then, many photos later, it was time to start hacking into the layers and figuring out where all the other bits of stuff would go. Now I was working to full scale, I had the major advantage of being able to use the actual components.

This was particularly useful for the lid, which was to house several stepper motors. Without 3D CAD skills, the only way to figure out clearances behind the panel they would be mounted through was to try it.

Several times.



Back at the art school, I also started making some of the mechanisms that would go into the Orrery. Here’s a quick return mechanism that was particularly satisfying to make with a combination of mallet, chisel and geometry.




Quick return 2


With application of a few more tools of the trade, the location for the quick return mechanism was decided:



With application of lasers, I added this to the collection too:



I spent some time trying to make a few components out of metal, but with access to workshops getting increasingly less straightforward (assessments approaching) I had to give up on that. Here are a few things that didn’t quite make it into the build:





Bits of the chain (from my touring bike) may or may not make it into the Orrery – I’m still pondering that one.

Meanwhile, back to the wood…

Time to bite the bullet, buy a lot of plywood, and get cutting!

Nope, wait! Measure twice, cut once…

Let’s look at those cutting files really closely before sending them to the router.



Printing out the layers helped me to catch a few snags, which were dealt with and then, then, it was time to send them to the router.

This time around I was using the FabLab facilities at Enginuity in Coalbrookdale. Phil the manager there knows his onions (and his cutting tools) so we got all the bits cut out without incident (and with only one mistake that had slipped through the net earlier).




The CNC routing leaves these little tabs to hold the parts in place until cutting on the machine has finished. Then you need to have at them with a Stanley knife to pop the cut parts out of the big sheet.

And then….



… a not insignificant amount of dremmeling to get rid of the tabs.


The layers looked good stacked up on top of each other, and the cunning plan for fixing them together worked effectively too.


There was still the question of how to join the top half to the bottom half, though. Ideally I would be able to do this without the need for a prop, as that would obscure the view into the Orrery. After a lot of searching around, I found these friction hinges. I couldn’t find the ones rated for greater torque available in the UK, so it would have to be a case of fitting them, building the rest of the lid and seeing what happened.



All good so far with the first few layers fitted…

…then of course I had to take them apart again…


More sanding.


And then a lot more sanding.

Now mostly working at Umake open access workshops, I spent several days sanding down the layers to get them ready for waxing and staining. A brief interlude in all the sanding (did I mention there was a lot?) was provided courtesy of Physics and these dancing piles of dust that appeared one evening:



Meanwhile, Kim had been working hard on the Raspberry Pi end of things that would take the data coming in from Jez and Mike’s creations and set the Orrery in motion.


Then came the time when I had to make some fairly irreversible decisions about the size of the containing box that everything had to fit inside. Determining vertical height first, then bandsawing slices off the top sheet to get length and width down.



The original plan for the sides had been to use laths of plywood to keep the edge-on effect, but I had to make the call that there just wasn’t time to do this and that I would instead use sheets on their sides to make the walls of the box.


Here are the panels freshly cut to size and with fixing batons being glued into place:


…and then, some time later, the magic moment when it’s all assembled and for the first time I saw the thing that up until now had only really existed in my mind’s eye!



Phew! That was the thing that I had wanted to build!

Onwards with the waxing and staining. Again Umake came in very useful with their large workbenches.




And assembled again:


A few extra details to finish off the main structure:


Very small – but also very strong – magnets.


Some channels for wiring.


And some confidently wonky props. (As it turned out that the friction hinges weren’t strong enough on their own to support the lid.)




Here’s a photo of a milliput bird resting on some grapes.


Yeah, so, that didn’t work out so well.


Next attempt: lasers!




Keep reading to find out how they turned out :-)


What else?

Lots of epoxy glue happened at about that time. Here’s a winding drum about to be fixed to a stepper motor hub:


And here’s the full set in position:


By now the main focus was on getting all the mechanical doodads installed and working properly. There was much attaching and removing of the lid, soldering, heatshrinking, drilling, knot-tying and even a few cable ties.


The hinges got some rubber shims out of the traditional material:


The timing belt was sewn and fitted:



Some somewhat more delicate sewing was done:


And a lot of string was strung:



The image above shows the lighting strip in place too. Here it is before it got its diffuser:


The Clacker was one of the last components to get made. I’d planned to get it cut at the same time as doing all the CNC routing at Enginuity, but we couldn’t get the files to read correctly, so I ended up cutting it ‘by hand’ on the bandsaw.


It just needed a little something extra to complete, which had me scratching my head for a while but The Draw of Random Bits of Stuff came up with a winner:


The birds came out nice in the end too:



And then that was pretty much it in terms of the build…

October 2015 to July 2016: a lot of prototyping and eventually using facilities across Birmingham, and in Wolverhampton and Coalbrookdale to gain access to the tools I needed. Not too many mess-ups, and an end result I’m proud of. …except it’s not quite finished yet as we still have a lot of work to do to get the physical structure functioning in response to various data sources.

We’re (we being myself, Kim Wall, Mike Cummins and Jez Higgins) going to keep chipping away at that over the next few months, which is when I’ll also be out and about recording some conversations with different people in response to the Orrery.

Below are a few teaser shots which I hope will entice you to come and see the whole of the Orrery when it is on display in Wolverhampton Art Gallery in October – watch this space for more details closer to the time.

27879439160_5a7639674f_z  28338366510_20cbfb3233_z




Visit to Lee Cooper Cycle Frames

With a 10-day R&D residency with Coventry Transport Museum’s cycle collection just around the corner, I’ve increasingly been wondering what exactly is hiding behind the words when we nonchalantly talk about making bikes.

I’ve dabbled with a fair bit of metalwork of varying sorts in the past – ranging from non-ferrous City & Guilds style making of sweet dishes through to a summer job making gates and railings – but I didn’t really have any concept of what might be involved in making a bicycle. I sort of assumed it would include a lot of measuring (and even more filing), but beyond that *shrugs*




How do we get from this to a bicycle?

I went to the Bespoked UK handmade bicycle show in Bristol a few weeks ago which helped me start to get my eye in by properly stopping to look at what joins to what. I suspect I’m guilty of usually ‘reading’ a bike, with my brain filling in a lot of what it thinks it sees; perhaps not quite to the extent of some of these renderings, but still with a certain amount of cognitive hand-waving over some of the details.

Bespoked included a series of short Meet the Maker videos which helped to whet my appetite for finding out more about the framebuilding process and the talks I went to at the event also hinted at some of the things that framebuilders were aiming for in their work as craftspeople. Only one logical thing for me to do next: I did a bit of searching online and tracked down Lee Cooper (second link) who’s a framebuilder reasonably local to Coventry. I explained what I was curious about and he agreed to let me visit his workshop and watch him at work.

I spent a couple of hours with him today, trying to pull off a combination of staying out of the way, poking my nose into stuff and asking him questions about what he was doing and about his experiences within the industry. It was fascinating watching the processes involved with all the jigs and tools designed for very specific tasks. There was also some walloping!


Fork legs being percussively encouraged into the fork crown

I was able to recognise elements of the brazing process from welding and soldering I’ve done before, but it was also really nice to watch someone who’s been brazing for decades: where the filler rod gets placed, how hands come to rest and how everything moves around in workstands to reveal the specific area that the flame needs to reach next.


Brazing rod and shoulder

Seat lug braze

The seat lug being brazed. I spotted this rest/reinforcement hand position a few times and it spoke of well-practiced movements and familiar pauses

Bridge braze

Lee at the Very Useful workstand he uses for a lot of the brazing

Bridge Braze

The frame can be spun around in the clamp as Lee works around it with the torch, getting at it from all angles to make the braze flow around the lug

I took a load of photos whilst I was there, but here are some I’ve picked out.


The fork legs being brazed into the crown


…again with a bit of strategic hammering as the metal expands and moves




Rear triangles


This very small ruler was deployed shortly after a very hefty piece of steel square section was used to tweak the frame alignment!


A lathe and jig being used to cut a mitre. We talked about how kit like this is worth the investment when you’re making so many frames and the alternative is filing them to shape by hand…

Bridge tack

Once cut, shaped and drilled to give a blowhole, the bridge is tacked into place before being taken to the big stand for brazing (see above)

Bottom bracket lug

Bottom bracket lug

Hot bottom

Hot bottom

Many thanks to Lee for his generosity with his time and knowledge. He’s back framebuilding under his own name after a stint building for larger companies, so check out what he can do for you if you’re in the market for a handbuilt cycle frame.

R&D at Coventry Transport Museum

In amongst all the excitement about the Orrery project, I’m also one of 4 artists who have been commissioned by Coventry Transport Museum (CTM, working with QUAD Derby) to respond to their collections. Unsurprisingly, I proposed that I worked with their cycle collection, so things will be a bit bike-tastic around here for a while!


Super spokes

The commissions are to spend 10 days on research and development for a larger proposal that the museum may then choose to take forward later in the year. We’re being asked to “create something that will enhance the visitor experience and help to engage with new audiences for CTM”. I did a small amount of unpicking during my interview, but needless to say there’s a lot more work that I need to do before I understand exactly what the words ‘engagement’ and ‘audiences’ mean for the museum.

My residency doesn’t start properly for another couple of weeks, but finding myself in Coventry the other day with a spare hour or two I decided to do a bit of a recce to start my brain off.

It’s clear there are some interesting curatorial challenges to be worked with: I had been told during my interview that there’s an ongoing struggle to try and stop people from touching the exhibits. (I can’t deny this is hugely tempting, given the number of cranks and levers just within reach!) There are signs everywhere asking people not to touch and explaining that to do so would damage the items, however thankfully there are only a few items shielded behind a protective layer of glass and you can still peer at the details that catch your attention.


Difficult to resist turning the pedals and watching these chains in action


For when a head tube badge just doesn’t cut the mustard

You know how it is with supermarkets and museums: you often end up in sync with someone and your paths cross in every other aisle. On my visit one of the people I kept finding myself near was this man, and it was fascinating to watch how he interacted with the collection – mostly by leaning on it, it seems…

Handy man

Handy man

I’ll try and resist too much speculation (is it a territorial thing? were the descriptions too low down for him?), but it was a good reminder that whatever ‘engagement’ I propose – and let’s face it; it’s unlikey to be passive – will have to work hard to flag up what’s an acceptable mode of interaction and how this might be different from the other things in the same space.

So, back to my experience as a visitor to the museum…

[Insert caveat about not having paid attention to anything but the cycles and also having no better suggestion as to how I’d organise the museum if I were given the task.] The collections are presented chronologically and mostly with an eye on the evolution of design. There’s some historical context, but in that broad brushstroke, dry, text book kind of way: wars, rational dress reform, unemployment as a result of the collapse of the ribbon industry. My engagement with it was mostly on an intellectual level.

This bike shone out in amongst the talk of step-through frames and pneumatic tyres:


1926 Gulson Touring Bicycle

Or rather, this story shone out in amongst the talk of step-through frames and the development of pneumatic tyres:

Love story

1926 Touring Love Story

This bicycle was purchased in 1928, by a Mr S.A. Lee. In the same year he cycled to Reigate where he began a romance ith a young woman.

He then regularly travelled the 120 miles form Coventry to Reigate on this bicycle to continue the courtship.

A story about a person! (Two people!)

Apparently I said something eloquent in my interview. I’m not sure I can remember it now, but I think it was along the lines of describing my job to be “to find the hooks that help people to link stories relating to the collection to the stories within their own lives and then to use that as a springboard for engaging with the objects inside the museum”.

Something like that. The importance of stories we can relate to, anyway.

As well as my own experiences of cycling, which I expect I’ll be able to link to things within the collection, after my two-week stint helping with the research on Kat Jungnickel’s Bikes and Bloomers project, I’ve been intrigued by the idea of the back stories behind the inventors and what the details in their day-to-day lives were that led them to try and design something differently. (For Bikes and Bloomers one of the things we were interested in was a patent for a transformable cycling dress designed by Alice Bygrave, I spent some time investigating her family history and we started to discover she was surrounded by a family of watchmakers and racing cyclists. And I would love to know more about the sort of experimental tinkering that it seems she was probably surrounded by as a matter of course!

So, first declaration of intent: I’m interested in the stories a layer or two below the surface.

Second declaration of intent is all about the making.


By the 1890s the cycle trade was booming and Coventry had developed the largest bicycle industry in the world. 248 cycle manufacturers were based in Coventry, and the industry employed nearly 40,000 workers.[source]

I’m reading statements like these a lot as I do my background reading to try and get my head around how important the cycle manufacturing industry was to Coventry and how important Coventry was to the cycle manufacturing industry. There’s something niggling away at the back of my brain though (or perhaps it’s in my sculptor’s fingers) and it’s the feeling that there’s something that gets hidden behind the words and the numbers. What does it actually mean to make a single bicycle, let alone 1,369 of them?

I want to better understand the time and skill that went into making the objects on display at the museum.

Probably all this will change once I have a chance to meet with the museum staff and find out more about what it is that they want to get out of the residency, but that’s where I’m at going in and I can’t wait to get started properly!


Walking home from the museum, I spotted this in one of the subways under the ring road:



Having spent the previous few hours looking at things like this:



…my first thought was that it was obviously a cycle lane intended for use by riders of sociables, but on getting closer I think one of the bikes is probably facing in the opposite direction to the other one.

Q1: Which direction do the painted bikes near you face?
Q2: What happens when the effects of the museum leak outside and into the wider world?

Announcing ‘Orrery…’ and ‘Links & Shifts’

After what feels like a small eternity of putting things into place, I’m really excited to now be able to announce a major project that explores questions about the physical and emotional experiences of cycling (and of being the person left at home); the frictions of data visualisation; and different practices of finding-out-by-doing.

Over the coming months I’ll be building a sculptural object that responds to data generated by people as they undertake journeys by bike. I’ll then be putting it into use to explore how it might shift our relationships and awarenesses in different ways. Alongside this there’ll be an event at Birmingham Open Media with guest speakers Kat Jungnickel and Emily Chappell, and the project will be in an exhibition at Wolverhampton Art Gallery in October.

Read on to find out more…

Orrery for Landscape, Sinew and Serendipity

An alternative approach to visualising long cycle journeys: what happens when you shift from thinking about markers on a map to an awareness of the changing rhythms of effort and terrain?

Trackleaders mapping of the ridersin the Transcontinental Race, 2015

Trackleaders mapping of the riders in the Transcontinental Race, 2015

The Orrery is intended as a device for exploring how our conversations and connectedness change when we have a moving sculptural object constantly communicating progress rather than us occasionally clicking to refresh a map on a webpage. It’s there as a prop for thinking with and also as a physical thing made out of stuff that can be lived with and related to over time. Not an answer, but a tool for asking questions.

Although driven by what’s effectively the same GPS data that services such as Trackleaders (above) and other platforms use, rather than utilising this to give precise location and to draw lines on a map the Orrery gives no information as to the whereabouts of the person you’re tracking. Instead the Orrery uses cams, cranks, pulleys and changing light levels to give cues for envisioning if they are experiencing a grinding uphill slog, the simple pleasure of a tailwind or the liminality of cycling into the dawn.

The Orrery reacts to data as the miles pass by, muscles contract, views are revealed, strangers encountered and trains of thought dance. How on earth do you begin to convey some sort of essence of that to someone on the other end of an internet connection? Should you?

Accompanying the Orrery will be recorded conversations with a selection of people who have either undertaken significant [there’s a chewy word – more on this later!] journeys or been the person remaining at home wondering how they’re getting on. I’m aiming to record about six conversations in total, here are the ones that have been planned so far:

Hannah Nicklin

"Standing in cool morning air, being kept warm by my mum and brother." Hannah waiting for the start of the Outlaw triathlon.

“Standing in cool morning air, being kept warm by my mum and brother.” Hannah waiting for the start of the Outaw triathlon.

Theatre maker, poet, game designer, producer and sometime academic, Hannah Nicklin is interested in community storytelling and the spaces between ‘what is’ and ‘what if’ where new thinking happens. Last year this involved training for an ironman triathlon whilst making theatre based on that experience and the stories weaving through and around it.

Our conversation starts with my experience of anxiously hitting refresh on the triathlon’s results webpage, waiting for an indication of whether or not she had made it across the finishing line.

Together we’ll return to the 112 mile cycling section of the course and retrace in situ the highs and lows Hannah encountered during the race a year earlier.

Hannah’s performance Equations for a Moving Body will be showing in Edinburgh during August – follow Hannah to find out more details as they’re released.

Tina Tylen

Tina and Kajsa

Tina and Kajsa

Tina Tylen’s daughter Kajsa is currently attempting to beat the women’s year cycling record by cycling more than 29,603 miles before the end of 2016.

Tina uses an online tracking service several times daily to check in on Kajsa’s progress. At the time of writing, Kajsa’s tracker is showing 16,127 km (10,021 miles) ridden since the start of the year.

What is it like to simultaneously structure every day for a whole year around a journey made 77 years ago and your daughter who is out there in the wind and rain right now? As we watch the accumulation of lines showing all the roads ridden, amongst all the armchair analysis of average speeds and breaking records, is it worth reminding ourselves that the tracker is also a convenient tool for knowing when to have dinner and a hot bath ready?

Kajsa’s challenge runs throughout 2016. You can follow her progress tracker-style or catch up on scone reviews, headwinds and weary legs with the video diary.

Emily Chappell

Emily and her father

Emily and her father

Adventure cyclist and writer Emily Chappell has toured across continents, fatbiked across snow and ice, and raced across Europe. She recently published a book about her time as a cycle courier in London and regularly writes for the Guardian’s Bike Blog.

What are the common threads woven through these experiences of cycling and what of these are captured by the spreadsheets compiled by her father? What are the pressures that come from knowing your location is being precisely tracked and what are the frustrations of not quite having enough information to know how someone far away but important to you is getting on?

Emily will be competing in the Transcontinental Race in August, there’ll no doubt be a map full of markers for you to follow along with…

… or you can come to …

Links & Shifts

21st August at Birmingham Open Media
Doors open 2:30 for a 3pm start
Link for tickets: https://linksandshifts.eventbrite.co.uk

At this event I’ll be joined by Kat Jungnickel and Emily Chappell for an exploration of understanding-through-doing; questions around sensescapes; our relationships to place; the affordances of bodies and technology in motion; and how we tell the stories of the physical, emotional and intellectual journeys we go on.


Sociologist Kat Jungnickel has been researching the social, political and material challenges to the freedom of movement experienced by Victorian women. The resulting research – Bikes and Bloomers – has at its core the making and wearing of a collection of transformable cycling garments patented at the time.

Emily will be recently-returned from racing something of the order of 3,800 km (2,360 miles) between Muur van Geraardsbergen (Belgium) and Çanakkale (Turkey). Join us for the post-race stream of consciousness where memories start to be shaped into stories, links are made and the process of reflection gathers momentum.

Places for Links & Shifts will be limited, so if you want to find out about ticketing when the time comes make sure you’re either signed up on my mailing list or following me on Twitter, @nikkipugh.

Update: tickets will be available from https://linksandshifts.eventbrite.co.uk

Moving forward

There are so many people behind the scenes helping to make this project happen. Lists are a bit inadequate at properly expressing gratitude, but here’s one anyway. Thank you!

Wolverhampton School of Art – A residency there has enabled me to do a lot of the prototyping for the Orrery. Time, space and tools for developing ideas are immensely valuable.
Arts Council England – Who have awarded me a grant that will enable production of the Orrery, recording of the conversations and some of the events linked to the project.
Mike Cummins – Chief data-wrangler, stoking the code that turns data into Orrery fuel.
Kim Wall – Making sure the Orrery can talk to the databases and keep all the spinny things spinning.
Jez Higgins – Who coded the phone app we use for live tracking of journeys.
Birmingham Open Media – Providing venue and support for the Links & Shifts event.
People of the internet – Everyone who has riffed with me on various trains of thought that have fed into and shaped this project.
Also of course Hannah, Tina, Emily and Kat who took a punt on this project whilst it was still very much in its nascent stages.

The exhibition at Wolverhampton Art Gallery will be open between the 1st and the 9th of October, so get those dates and the 21st of August into your diaries, stand by for more information and consider this an invitation for conversation in the meantime.

A Road Trip for Longbridge (cycle version)

The ford across the River Rea

Saturday 17th of May, 11am-4:00ish, free

What is it?

Radical psychoanalysts; a medieval corn mill; a stairless Paradise; and more hairdressing salons than you can shake a freshly-cut daffodil at.

A Road Trip for Longbridge starts and finishes with the regeneration works on Longbridge Lane but in between goes on a journey to a variety of locations in Hollymoor, Frankley, Rubery and Rednal that pose questions about ideas – and ideals – about the places we want to live in.

Part guided tour and part guided conversation, it is an invitation for you to share your stories about your experiences of community and the changes in the area.

Booking is not entirely necessary, but there’s a sign-up form here which would help Cycle South Brum immensely.

Where/when does it start and finish?

The tour starts and finishes at Austin Park – behind the new Bournville College building on Longbridge Lane. Go into the shared space area as if you were going to Sainsbury’s, then turn right in front of the hotel and pub. We’ll be the ones with the bikes in the corner!

Meeting point for the main ride at Austin Park

Please make sure you’re ready for a prompt 11am start. There are loos in the nearby Sainsbury’s supermarket if you need them beforehand.

There will also be a feeder ride for people who would prefer to start from Northfield. Meet Cycle South Brum at the multi use games area in the middle of Victoria Common. This group will leave at 10:30, so please make sure you are there and ready to depart by then.

Feeder ride from Northfield meets in the middle of Victoria Common for a prompt 10:30 departure

Is it far? Is it fast? Will I be able to keep up?

The route is about 10 miles long in total, but there are several stopping points, so you’ll not need to cycle more than a few miles at a time.

We’ll go at the pace of the slowest rider, waiting for everyone to catch up after uphill sections etc. We’ll also have a ‘Tail End Charlie’ whose job it will be to stay at the back of the group and make sure no-one gets left behind.

If you find you need to walk up a hill, that’s totally fine.

Will we be cycling on busy roads?

Yes. Although some of our route is on off-road cycle paths and National Cycle Route 5, the majority of the tour will be along roads – sometimes busy ones.

Because of this the tour is not suitable for children or for very novice riders. You don’t have to be a pro road racer with all the kit, but we do request that everyone taking part should be comfortable cycling on the road in amongst other traffic.

Will we stop for lunch? Do I need to bring anything with me?

There’ll be a lunch and toilet break at the Hollymoor Centre café. Please bring a lock so you can leave your bike outside and some money.

It would also be wise to bring some water to drink as we’re cycling around and of course clothing etc suitable to the weather (waterproof layers or sun protection, depending on which way it goes!).

There’s a chance for another loo break later in the day at Rubery.

Can I borrow a bike?

Cycle South Brum have a few cycles available for hire. You will need to arrange this with them in advance.

Will the tour still take place if it’s raining?

Yes …up to a point. If it’s drizzly we’ll still ride. If the weather’s shockingly bad we’ve pencilled in the next Saturday (24th of May) as a Plan B. Cancellation notices will be posted here.

I really want to take part, but I can’t do the bike ride. Is there an alternative?

Yes! We’re also running a minibus version of the Road Trip on Saturday the 26th of April. Places are limited, so you need to sign up here.
No, sorry, all the places for the minibus version have been taken!

I have another question!

Use the contact form and we’ll do our best to help.


Go get yourself signed up!


This event is supported by Cycle South Brum. Check out their website for information about bike hire, events and training.


These events are part of Longbridge Public Art Public (LPAP) conceived by EC Arts for and on behalf of Bournville College. For more information visit www.lpap.co.uk.

Copyright and permissions:

General blog contents released under a Creative Commons by-nc-sa license. Artworks and other projects copyright Nicola Pugh 2003-2024, all rights reserved.
If in doubt, ask.
The theme used on this WordPress-powered site started off life as Modern Clix, by Rodrigo Galindez.

RSS Feed.