Processes of identification

As indicated previously, the conceptual base for the project I’m doing as part of my residency at Wolverhampton School of Art has shifted radically over the last few weeks. One of the results of this is that the old title – Ride – now neither seems to belong to this project, nor feels appropriate.

The project needs a new name.

The project needs a new name …and it needs one reasonably soon because I’m starting to bring in funders and collaborators and, if you’re asking people to come in on on a thing, it really helps if that thing is a named entity. Naming things is hard, though; especially things that don’t yet exist. On top of these usual difficulties, this is one of those projects where I’m building the thing to better understand the nature of the thing, so naming it now seems even more back-to-front.

Needs must, however, so I took to my virtual studio (Twitter) in order to try and find some of the right words for the as yet hazy associations I’m trying to corral and give form to.

I must have hit a good time to catch people on their lunch breaks, because what followed was a very intense hour with various concurrent conversations taking place in which several people shared references and parts of their own stories. I’ve gathered together the individual threads here.

Several days later, the images and associations that are still lingering with me include:
* Migration (of going away and coming back again, of an instinctive urge to travel, of seasonal rhythms)
* Orbiting (of having some central point about which to circle, and also of the centripetal forces that continuously nudge the orbiting body)
* The final verses of A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning, where John Donne uses the metaphor of a pair of compasses to illustrate the sense of one person remaining rooted in place, thereby allowing the moving person to accurately complete their circuit. [notes]
* “The thin warble of telemetry”
* More of a sense of what it means to be the person left behind (who the cabinet will fulfil a function for)
* And orreries as a similar form to the mechanical cabinet I’m making.

Although I had a lot of stuff coming at me in that hour, it really helped me to focus in on the things that are important to me with regards to this piece of work. (Thanks everyone!)

What I hadn’t anticipated was how this process would also help me to be able to visualise more clearly the form I want the insides of the cabinet to take. Whereas previously I had a sense of what I wanted to pull out of the data and that this bit might be communicated through a series of cams and how this bit might be converted into light etc, etc, now I’m thinking in terms of “this bit will reference constellations” and “this bit will reference a flock of birds”.

Alongside the naming process, I’ve also had to start articulating what the project is about to potential collaborators. Articulating it outside of my head. Out loud. With sentences and that.

In a phone conversation a week ago I found my articulations falling over at the point where I was trying to describe the sort of stories I might want to curate to sit alongside the sculptural element of the work. I found myself resorting to the word ‘epic’ a lot in describing some cycled journeys and fumbling around trying to express the not-so-epic cycled journeys I think I’ll want to bring into the mix to balance these. I’ve since spent some time thinking about why this was so problematic and have come to the realisation that the epic nature of the first batch of rides is not the story of them that I want to be telling.

Remember how this project is about exploring how we might have different conversations with my mechanical cabinet as the prop (compared to Strava maps or live-trackers). I think I’m coming to realise that’s partly about recognising that the big, epic rides comprise the same battles with gravity and weather and stubborn thought patterns that everyone else’s rides are made from too, just that there are more of them strung together in one trip!

[I’m very tempted to name the piece “Orrery for Bastard Hill and Headwind, but I will attempt to come up with something more poetic before that sticks!]

I don’t think I was very likely to do so before, but now I have a renewed pledge to not keep a tally of miles travelled, instead thinking more in terms of just quietly marking their passing and of the rhythms of the miles rather than the size of the cumulations or the speed of their acquisition.

So yes: quite a lot of identification having gone on over the last week, both processes having hinged off of conversations and speaking/typing things out loud. Here too, blogging about it in order to continue to coalesce those thoughts and encourage things to continue to take shape.

Maquettes and learning through doing

For the last couple of days at Wolverhampton I’ve been working through what form the cabinet might take this time around.

Last time around it was a rectangular Nikki-sized construction with a porthole through which you could peer through and see the innards moving around. Except not everyone could peer through – I was mortified when I realised a friend in a wheelchair couldn’t quite get high enough to have a look at what was going on inside.

Since then I’ve been trying to find a balancing point between accessibility and also being very attached to not wanting the cabinet to reveal all of itself too easily. I like it when you have to make a deliberate physical action to view something, bringing you out of passive viewing mode and back into a body and 3D space.


I’ve been experimenting with a sort of locket form, trying to get a feel for what it’s like to look inside and move around to see different parts of it.

Here’s the first maquette I tried to work out what sort of angle of the top part might function best at:


It seemed like it might be somewhere along the right line, so I’ve been thinking about how this might then scale up and how it might be made out of more structural materials. Top of the list at the moment is a layered form out of plywood, but I wasn’t sure how that would work out, so back to the cardboard…




Still feeling optimistic about it!

Next stage is to work out what’s to go inside it and then scale things up accordingly.

Meanwhile, it’s now looking unlikely that I’ll be able to do the cycle ride I’d planned to use to animate the cabinet. As a result I’m having a bit of a rethink about how the cabinet might manifest as part of a final piece of work. It’s been a bit hard to let go of my original plan, but mixed in with that is also the realisation that it’s also almost certainly going to be a stronger piece of work now as a result.

The original plan was, after all, based on the pilot project I did back in 2013 and my thinking has moved on a bit since then, as have the questions I’m asking of/through my practice. With last year’s Where the Sky Widens and current R&D for Colony I began to pay closer attention to the spaces and frameworks I was making for conversation and for the sharing of stories. Of where we could get to through using the things I make.

Whereas so far in this residency I’ve been talking about how I’m interested in how having a visualisation of the effort the rider is having to put in (rather than a pin-marker on a map giving just location) changes the conversation, now things are shifting more towards me actively seeking out those conversations rather than disappearing off on my bike for a week – which would have been differently good! – but I always had the nagging feeling that that wasn’t really where the action was and that something was missing.

The thing is I’ve not worked much in this way before, so I’m having to feel my way through in much the same was as I’m doing with the maquettes to help me arrive at the physical form of the cabinet. Try something; sit with it a bit; see how I feel about it; next steps; iterate.

Land’s End

As a follow on to the previous post, this morning my mum came into the room brandishing a photo:

Lands End

A group photo of all the people on the coach tour my great grandmother Ida took in 1950.

Here she is in the dark hat on the left with two of her sisters to the right of her:

Lands End detail

The coach is branded “Smiths”. I assume it’s the same Wigan-based Smiths that went on to become Shearings through a series of mergers.

The back of the photo is stamped 7th of June and marked up as being taken by Richards Bros, photographers based in Penzance.

Travelled just over 1,000 miles

When my gran died, I inherited her postcard collection.

Tucked in amongst the postcards, we found a handwritten list of British placenames.

Quite a long list.

The list

The list

It’s the itinerary from a seven-day bus tour my great grandmother Ida took in June 1950. Departing from Northenden at 7am (presumably where she’d been staying with some of her many sisters – we’re not sure if any of them accompanied her on the tour update – we’ve got this photo), she then got a taxi into Manchester, a bus over to Wigan and then boarded a long-distance bus bound for the South West.


Some of the photos we have of my great grandmother Ida

Her journey took her down the Welsh Marches then into Devon and Cornwall, where she spent most of her week away.

I’ve plotted the places from her list onto a map:

All of the places on the list plotted on a map

All of the places on the list plotted on a map

(Did I mention it was quite a long list?)



The reason this list found its way into my gran’s postcard collection, was that Ida had bought various postcards during her tour to mark the places she’d visited: Tewkesbury Abbey; caves at Cheddar Gorge; the postbox at Land’s End…

Some of the postcards Ida bought as mementos of her trip

Some of the postcards Ida bought as mementos of her trip

I knew as soon as I found the list that one day I would re-trace the journey that Ida documented, but it’s taken 15 years for the right time to come. With the residency I’m currently doing at Wolverhampton being based around a mechanical cabinet as a device for linking observers with someone travelling by bicycle, I needed a suitable journey to undertake to provide the data to animate the cabinet’s workings. A journey that would feed the themes of effort and connection that I’m wanting to explore. That’ll be this one, then!

So I started looking at that sequence of locations in more detail, wondering how it might work out as a cycling route. Not too badly, it turns out. One thing that rapidly became apparent however, was that I’m not going to be able to do the whole trip in one go. Taking just her first day though, Northenden to Bristol, works out at a decent 300 mile cycle tour and about 8 days of pedalling.

Day One of Ida's tour

Day One of Ida’s tour with purple place-markers and my cycle route starting to get filled in between them.

My planned route in blue, and a likely route Ida may have taken in cyan

My planned route in blue, and a likely A-road route Ida may have taken in cyan. Not a bad match for most of the route

I’m planning on taking camping gear with me and overnighting at campsites, so that’s influenced my route a bit, as has trying to avoid too much unpleasantness in urban areas. I’ve also afforded myself leeway to divert a bit for good bridges or other points of interest such as the Dramway – a horse and gravity powered line transporting coal from collieries north of Bristol down to the River Avon. ‘cos, y’know, if I’m going to cycle 300 miles, I’m going to make sure I savour the opportunity to see things that I’d otherwise be oblivious to if I was travelling by car.

Other diversions have also had to be put into operation. I’ve not done an awful lot of cycle touring before, but I’ve already learned that the official National Cycle Network‘s approach to routing isn’t always amenable to a fully-loaded touring bike. These two bits across fields, for example:

National Cycle Route 5

National Cycle Route 5

National Cycle Route 5

National Cycle Route 5

So, with my route largely based on some of the National Cycle Routes, but amended after checking with others’ experiences and scouring the satellite view of it all, I think I’ve pretty much got 8 days of 30-40 miles pinned down. This should be a nice balance between covering ground, being able to stop and explore stuff encountered en route, and having time to sketch and reflect.

I’ve really enjoyed the last week of poring over maps and putting together my cycling route. Hat tip to which has been an invaluable tool. It’s tempting to jump in and start doing the same for the remaining 6 days of Ida’s tour. If nothing else it’s like vicarious cycle touring pleasure whilst the weather’s wet and wintery.

Whereas I think her first day was mostly about getting to the South West, it seems she leapfrogged about a lot more once she was down in Cornwall. That first stage of translating a series of place names into a journey through the in-between places is going to be an interesting one. I suspect the terrain’s going to get a lot lumpier too!

It looks like this section of the trip’s going to happen in early June. So quite an excruciatingly long wait between now and then. I do need to build that mechanical cabinet though, and I also want to experiment with making a few modifications to my tent, so there’s plenty to be done in the meantime! First task, whilst I’m waiting to get back in the workshops: read Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust…

[Edit: me actually cycling this in June is now looking unlikely due to knees] :-(

Artist in residence at Wolverhampton School of Art – beginnings

I’m one of several artists in residence based at Wolverhampton School of Art this academic year.

My proposal was based around improving the sculptural and theoretical elements of the Ride (Birmingham – York) project I did in response to a commission from VINYL in 2013.

A few years ago I conducted a successful proof-of-concept for a project called Ride. I cycled 240 miles between Birmingham and York whilst a mechanical cabinet back in Birmingham glowed, spun, levered and whirred in response to how much effort I was having to put in on the other end.

I have a basic functioning prototype of the technology that broadcasts data from a phone (with me on the bike) back to the cabinet in near-real time, however the cabinet I used with it had workings made from foamboard and other materials that I could easily build with in my flat. Not great, sculpturally. I would like to use the residency with Wolverhampton School of Art to develop the form of the mechanical cabinet and also to refine the way in which I present and frame the project.

So, post MA and time spent thinking about sense-scapes and embodied experiences, I’m using the residency to start again from the beginning and really examine how a responsive cabinet such as this might be an interesting object/system for prompting conversations about connection, distance and effort.

Remotely watching someone travelling by bicycle often boils down to looking at a marker on an online map. Here’s the marker and map I’ve been watching in 2015: Steven Abraham’s attempt to beat the One Year Time Trail record:

Most (but not all!) of Steve's tracks Jan-Dec 2015.

Most (but not all!) of Steve’s tracks Jan-Dec 2015.

This is an extreme case: at the time of writing, Steve has cycled 60,004 miles since January the 1st, 2015. (He’s aiming for more than 71,039 miles.) Whilst the map and the orange track lines help to give a sense of the accumulated achievement, they don’t very well communicate the blood, sweat and tears experience of cycling about 200 miles a day every day for a year. The forum threads I’ve seen seem to be characterised by speculation about routes, plans, diets etc, but when someone reports having seen Steve out on the road, the questions suddenly shift to asking about how he seems to be getting on and whether spirits are high or not.

So my starting questions include: what is lost through using the marker-on-a-map approach, and what are the affordances of a more embodied approach focusing on physical manifestations of the exertions of a rider?


I’ve been installed up in one of the studios with a table and a bit of wall space which I’m currently using to get some words down and try and get at what the key starting questions might be and what it is I actually want to make and do in order to activate these.

Here are two bits of insight that have come out of the brainstorming so far:


mini brief

That second one is a mini brief that’s emerged for the cabinet. I don’t want to make literal illustrations of heartbeat, pedalling or headwinds, but instead create a complementary sensory experience for the watcher. (I’m going to have to find new names for the different roles, too – “watcher” sounds a bit too creepy!)

Also on the to-do list is to experiment with different mechanisms I could use to make things happen in the cabinet.

I used my first day to suss out the laser cutter and made this:



It’s perilously close to being illustrative, but there may be a supporting role for a chain and sprockets somewhere!


Birmingham – York: the ride

I did it!

240 miles on a bike and 6 days’ worth of data beamed in near-real time to a reactive sculpture back in Birmingham.

The route I took between Birmingham and York

Kim Wall joined me for the second half of the journey, but for the first 2 and a half days it was just me, my bike and some camping gear, slowly making my way northwards and up and over the Peak District.

My bike as I left South West Birmingham

On my first night I was to be camping at Marchington Cliff near Uttoxeter. A not-too-shabby ride of about 55km if I had taken a direct route, however I wanted to ride along as many disused railway lines as possible as a nod to the project’s origins in response to the Duddeston Viaduct.

A detour to take in the Harborne Walkway added a bit more to the journey, mostly because I then also had to loop back down and around the city centre in order to avoid some canal towpath that would have been a bit of a ‘mare to try and ride along on a loaded bike.

Worth it though – I love how the Harborne Walkway is a hidden gem of a path, rising up above the houses in its own leafy world.

The Harborne Walkway

After negotiating the canal towpath under Spaghetti Junction and out of Birmingham, I was on to unfamiliar territories. I very much liked sweeping across Pipe Hayes Park and riding along the New Hall Valley Cycle Route.

After lunch at Sutton Park, I was soon out into the countryside proper and enjoying cycling along the lanes.

I’m not sure where this was, but it wasn’t in Birmingham

Lovely though it all was, 75 kilometres into the adventure I was very, very ready for the campsite and a chance to stop and rest. I just about got my tent pitched as the rain arrived.

Waking early the following morning, but expecting rain again by 9am, I made the most of some sunshine and got packed up as soon as I could.

Early morning sunshine in Staffordshire (click for full size version)

Tuesday was going to be the toughest day on the ride – climbing through the Peak District to get to Buxton. Here’s the elevation profile of the ride to put it into context: Monday had been a bit up and down, but Tuesday was up. A lot of up.

Elevation profile, with red vertical markers showing the split for each day

The Met Office’s radar map for rainfall showed a great big patch of intense yellow unleashing itself on the Peak District in the afternoon, so all the way to Ashbourne I was wondering if perhaps I should re-think and find an alternative means of transport rather than cycling an exposed off-road trail.

The rain was just starting as I got to Ashbourne and I thought I’d better check in with the tourist office to check on the sanity of what I was about to do, however a chat with a local outside Sainsbury’s put my mind at rest and I decided to get on with it.

The Tissington Trail was a gentle but constant pull uphill over its 13 miles. Similarly for the drizzle. I passed a few walkers and a handful of other cyclists, but for the most part I had it all to myself.

Panorama from the Tissington Trail (click for a full-sized version)

Lunch and a few fettling stops were taken whilst sheltering under bridges.

The photo doesn’t really do the view justice, but it was a great feeling when the trail emerged from under the tree cover and I found myself up on top of the hills

That night I stayed at the house of a friend’s parents, making full use of the drying facilities, curry supper and maps. Lots of maps.

Applying local knowledge, A-Z, road atlas, Ordnance Survey and various online tools to re-think the route

After the Tissington Trail I’d joined the High Peak Trail before then having to use main roads coming into Buxton. Unhappy about using these roads again (too many large, fast quarry lorries), and with much help from my hosts, I changed my plans for the following day and, instead of exiting Buxton via the High Peak Trail, on Wednesday I took the Monsal Trail instead.

The Monsal Trail alongside the River Wye near Blackwell Mill

The River Wye was looking gorgeous with the sun nice and warm. Not that that helped much a bit further on once the trail started carving its way through the rock…

Sunny + shady

The trail goes along the Wye valley, except for when it goes in the Wye valley

I stopped and started a bit to take photos and peer over the edge every so often, although I have to say that being on foot would probably have given me a greater appreciation of the viaducts which I didn’t really get to see properly.

After leaving the Monsal Trail at Great Longstone I was back onto lanes and gradually working my way out of the valley. Hard work, but a mere warm-up for the hill up out of Baslow. That was 20 minutes of hard grind! Once at the top though, it felt like I was on top of the world! As noted; this is the sort of place where rivers are born.

Looking back, up on Ramsley Moor

I had a reminder of this in the form of a rainbow that appeared to my left, but fortunately I stayed on the sunny side and had a speedy freewheeling descent into Chesterfield with my speed rarely dipping below 30 kph.

(click for larger version)

Once in Chesterfield I met up with Kim and we set off along the canal and various other incarnations of the Trans Pennine Trail. I was very impressed with the TPT and indeed we were enjoying blatting along it so much that we over-shot where we were supposed to leave it to head out towards Worksop and that night’s campsite.

Thursday’s ride was a shortish one of about 56km, a bit of a slog along rainy, busy roads into Doncaster and then a brighter final leg with a tail wind into the flatlands of the Vale of York.

Friday was my first experience of the Vale proper. Mostly this seems to consist of viewing power stations from a variety of angles without them getting noticeably closer at any point…

Lots of open space and Drax, or Eggbororough, or…

Conveniently, the Trans Pennine Trail ran from right near our campsite all the way into York, so this was a very pleasant day’s riding along quiet lanes and other interesting bits and pieces.

Breighton Airfield. (Click for a larger version …and a better view of the distant power station…)

And the power stations; always the power stations.

When we got to Pluto, I knew we weren’t too far from York.

This grey and gold field was the point where I felt I had finally made it to York:

But we officially marked our arrival with a photo on the Millennium Bridge before making our way to our host’s house and a well-earned bath. Oh, and a gig. *zonk*


That then just left Saturday morning to provide the pedalling to wrap up the sculpture’s official run. With a local guide and no camping gear whatsoever, we headed out into the lanes South West of York and had a very pleasant few hours that, by chance and careful planning, ended up at The Blacksmiths Arms in Naburn.

It’s been one of those epic efforts and journeys into the unknown that’s needed looking at the lines on the map and all the photos to really begin to take in how much ground was covered and how many new things encountered. There were a few times when I was considering bailing, but on the whole there was some very nice riding and I’m very, very chuffed at what I managed to achieve.

Thanks to everyone who helped me on my way!

Birmingham – York : the route

So, in an hour or two’s time I’ll set off on a 200+ mile journey to cycle from Birmingham to York.

Birmingham to York, via a slightly lumpy bit

This project has its roots in the Duddeston Viaduct stretch of railway-line-that-never-quite-was, and so my route to York has been designed to incorporate several disused railway lines…

(click through to go to the images’ sources on Flickr)

Day 0

Ride (Birmingham - York)

As part of the launch event, I invited people to accompany my on a ride to Longbridge.

Bournville College’s new campus is on the site of the old Rover car factory. I’ll possibly be part of a programme of artist residencies taking place in the area later in the year, and as part of our initial discussions I heard about the railway line that used to service the plant.

Day 1

260/i365 Tunnel

On my first day I’ll be cycling up the Harborne Walkway, the remnants of the Harborne Railway.

Day 2

The Tissington Trail in Derbyshire

On Tuesday I’ll be joined by Kim Wall and we’ll cycle up the Tissington Trail to Buxton in the Peak District.

Day 3

High Peak Trail, Derbyshire

Wednesday: The High Peak Trail. Fortunately in the downward direction!

Later in the day we’ll also ride along the Silverhill Trail. [some images here]

Days 4 & 5

The Fisher of Dreams Sculpture on TPT Naburn Marina on River Ouse - Cropped

Here our route goes along the Trans Pennine Trail in places, including the rather marvellous sounding scale model of the solar system.


We’ll mostly be camping en route, so this is the sort of load I’ll be carrying:

Ride (Birmingham - York)

I’m not sure how much it weighs, but suffice to say I can’t lift the back wheel when my bike’s loaded up like this! I’m hoping I don’t encounter too many awkward gates along the trails…


Ride (Birmingham - York)

Ride (Birmingham - York)

As I cycle, I’ll be transmitting data connected to the effort I’m making to the sculpture that’s currently on display at Bournville College. 30 minutes behind me, the sculpture will react to my speed, bearing, altitude, time spent journeying and total distance travelled. There’s also an indicator for the accuracy of the GPS signal the data is derived from. Spend some time with the sculpture and see what connections you make…

Ride (Birmingham - York)

Launch event ride to Longbridge

As part of the launch event for Ride (Birmingham – York) on Saturday the 14th of September, I will be cycling between Cannon Hill Park and the Bournville College campus at Longbridge.

As I cycle I will be collecting data and sending it to a sculpture in Bournville College. This data will then be ‘played back’ by the sculpture during the main launch event.

If you would like to join me on this leisurely 7 mile ride, read on…

The Logistics

The ride will be led by BikeRight! West Midlands who are very kindly supporting the event as part of the Smart Network, Smarter Choices project

All are welcome – we’ll go at the pace of the slowest rider and there will be people making sure no-one gets left behind.

Meet near the bandstand in Cannon Hill Park for 9:30am. Click on the image above to view on Open Street Map. There will be Park Run happening at the same time, so please ensure you give yourself plenty of time and please be mindful of the other people using the park.

You must be riding a road-worthy cycle in order to join the ride, as well as taking responsibility for the safety of yourself and others around you (through considerate behaviour and following the rules of the road).

BikeRight! staff will be near the bandstand from 9am in order to give your bike a quick safety check in case there is anything you are unsure about. If you do not have access to a roadworthy machine, BikeRight! have a limited number of bikes they can lend people for the ride. If you would like to borrow one of these, it must be agreed in advance – send an email to with ‘Nikki Pugh Led Ride’ in the subject.

Please make sure you have a lock to secure your cycle whilst you are inside the college.

There will not be an organised ride back from the event at Longbridge, so please make your own plans for returning home (especially important if you have borrowed a bike to get there!). There is a train station very close to the college or you can re-trace the route back to Cannon Hill Park.

There is free car-parking at Cannon Hill Park, or it is on National Cycle Route number 5 if you are cycling over from the city centre.

The Route

We will follow National Cycle Route 5 along the River Rea to Stirchley and then through Kings Norton and Northfield.

The route is about 7 miles long and mostly off-road on shared paths.
There is also a short section along a canal towpath.

The surface is not always great, and may not be suitable for road bikes with skinny tyres.

A gpx file of the route is available for download here, or you can view it on BikeHike here.

That’s it!

Let me know if you have any queries and I’ll do my best to answer them.

In short though, it’ll be a relaxed ride along a quiet route that all are welcome to take part in. If you’d rather not take part in the ride that’s fine – we’ll see you at Bournville College and you’ll still be allowed some cake!

Ride (Birmingham – York)

During the week beginning the 16th of September I will be cycling over 200 miles to York as part of my new project Ride (Birmingham – York), a commission by VINYL. (Related blog posts.)

As I cycle, I will transmit data back to a sculpture being exhibited in the foyer of Bournville College. In turn, this sculpture will change shape, colour and movement in response to the data in order to convey something of the effort being exerted on the other end.

The sculpture will be on show at the Bournville College campus in Longbridge [B31 2AJ] between the 16th and 21st of September.
Entrance is free, just introduce yourself at the front desk for a visitor’s pass.

Monday – Thursday 10:30am – 9:30pm
Friday 10:30am – 4:30pm
Saturday 10:30am – 12:30pm

Launch event:

To mark the beginning of the exhibition, there will be a launch event 10:30am-12:30pm at Bournville College on Saturday the 14th of September. Do join us for cake and a special preview of the the automaton that will be echoing Nikki’s journey to York.

On the morning of the launch event, Nikki will be cycling from Cannon Hill Park to the college campus at Longbridge. Data from this ride will be ‘played back’ via the sculpture during the launch event.

If you would like to accompany me for the leisurely 7 mile bike ride between Cannon Hill Park and the College’s campus in Longbridge, please see this page for more details.


Ride (Birmingham – York) has been commissioned by VINYL and supported using public funding by Arts Council England.

In addition to this, the project would not have been possible without the generosity and support of many different people. In particular, I would like to thank:

  • Jez Higgins and Mike Cummins for building the mobile app and database system that power the sculpture.
  • Garmin Europe Ltd for the donation of a GPS device and mapping to use for navigation whilst on the ride.
  • BikeRight! West Midlands for supporting the ride for the launch event.
  • Bournville College for hosting the sculpture.
  • Kim Wall for accompanying me on the ride to York, and all the many people in various cycling groups and fora who have one way or another helped me to do this.

Ride: Hardware, Software and Wetware testing

Last week I had the opportunity to join some friends on part of a cycling tour in Wales.

The tracks from the cycling I did. (Click through for a larger version.)

I wasn’t able to make all of it, but I thought the bit I could do would be a very good opportunity to test out a few things for my upcoming project Ride (Birmingham – York), in which I will be cycling and camping my way via a 200-or-so-mile route to York whilst live-streaming data back to a reactive sculpture here in Birmingham.

Fully Loaded (and mostly waterproofed)

The Welsh trip was my first proper experience of bikepacking. I’m please to report that, bar a few broken spokes and a comedy last-minute puncture, my bike and camping kit held up to the weather and geography. There was plenty of both!

My first day took us over the mountains above Corris. It was cloudy and very steep…

Above Corris

Above Corris

Above Corris

Linking back to the Ride project, I also got to sample some more cycle paths along former railway lines (also alongside current ones).

These were altogether more civilised gradients!

Old railway line to Barmouth

Bridge at Barmouth

Bridge at Barmouth

Pont Briwet

Porthmadog Cob

Railway path

So, I now know I mostly have knees, cycling kit and camping kit up to the task.

Next time however, I might forgo the toad in my tent…

Tent toad

More of my photos from the trip are in this Flickr set.

Many thanks to Peter, Kim, Megan and Wendy for an excellent few days, good cycling and plenty of cake.

Back in Birmingham I’ve been working with programmers Jez Higgins and Mike Cummins to put together an Android app and a database system to power the reactive sculpture. The idea is that the sculpture will change colour/shape/speed in response to the amount of effort going on at the other end with me journeying on my bike.

The Welsh tour was also a chance to test the app software under serious conditions similar to what it will have to perform under next month. I’m a big fan of testing, and this was a brilliant way of highlighting further improvements and modifications that needed to be made.

We’ve since tackled a bunch of those and, along with a databasing session with Mike yesterday, I’m happy to be able to report that we now have the following chain all working together:

Me on my bike -> app on my phone on my bike -> online database -> Arduino -> blinkenlights and other physical outputs.

My next task is to develop the physical outputs and construct the sculpture.


The ride to York, and therefore the time during which the sculpture will be active, will probably start on the 16th of September and continue until the 22nd.

The sculpture will, all being well, be housed at the new Longbridge campus of Bournville College and I’m toying with a gentle bike ride down the off-road cycle path from Cannon Hill Park to Longbridge as part of a launch event on Saturday the 14th.

Watch this space for more information as it gets confirmed…

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