The Musical Bicycle

January 15, 2007

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Composer Sean Og is not your usual cyclist. His 17-year-old bicycle not only helps get him around Dublin but also assists in pushing out the boundaries of musical exploration.

As an improvisationist Sean Og sees musical potential for what is for the rest of us every day functional bric-a-brac. His first partnership with the bicycle was with its wheel, which he played like a harp. He did this by interspersing piano strings with the spokes and tuned them to achieve different tones. Buoyed by that success he quickly moved on to the rest of the parts. Several different types of horns were attached to the frame. On the tubing he fixed a saxophone mouthpiece and to add some percussion he began beating the frame with a drumstick mallet.

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This musical experimentation came to be called ]One-Man-Bike. This re-imagining of a bicycle as a musical toy had its first public airing at the Dublin cycle Festival last July. Sean has performed it twice since then. On each occasion the full-time musician has been somewhat taken aback by the reaction. ‘I have been playing unusual instruments for years, but the bicycle just seems to have some added attraction for people’ he says.

Asked why he makes music from a bicycle Sean replies simply ‘because I like the sound’. He says that from a bike frame it’s possible to achieve notes that are rich in texture and tone.

He amplifies the performance by feeding the sounds into a rack of electronics. He describes the effect as ‘an improvised circular groove’.

Sean Og has been playing the piano since 1987. He is a professional saxophonist, having studied at the London Guildhall School of music. He learnt composition under the Belfast composers Stephen Gardner and Rhona Guilfoyle.

When Sean is not performing solo, he plays with his own group Trihornophone. He’s also a founding member of the stomach box theatre company, for which he scored an operetta in 2005 calls a Season in Hell. Sean and his group, Trihornophone,can be heard at JJ Smith on Aungier Street on the 11th of February.

The Bicycle Photographer

January 15, 2007

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Sean Hillen’s photograph’s are not the pictures that most people would think about taking. His subjects are half eaten sandwich lying in gutters, coins abandoned by a beggar in the doorway, broken umbrellas stuffed into litter bins and the carcasses of bicycles shackled to railings by their locks.

Sean, originally from Newry, has worked as a professional photographer for over 20 years. He sees himself as both an artist and a campaigner, who happens to be a compulsive photographer. These themes are to the fore in his bicycle project.

Sean started photographing bicycles when he had a studio in Buckingham Street in 1998. Walking back and forth through that deprived area of Dublin he was struck by the large number of vandalised bikes. He decided to start taking pictures of them because as he says himself, ‘nobody else was doing it and I believe they represented some kind of a message’.

Having spent nine years taking pictures of what has amounted to thousands of photographs of smashed Dublin bikes Sean is in no doubt about what these pictures mean. He says ‘it’s a fuck you back attitude by a disenfranchised underclass’.

He believes its no coincidence that bikes and not cars are the item of property most likely to be damaged on our streets. He puts this down to mass production and its fostering of a throwaway mentality. People are no longer interested in repairing bicycles because they’re seeing as disposable and as having no value, unlike cars.

Sean’s father was a bicycle mechanic and he spent his own youth fixing the machines. Occasionally he rescues a bike from the Liffey or from one of the two canals, but it’s through his photographs that he hopes to give some renewed life to what he calls these wonders of human ingenuity.

Sean’s bicycle project has been described by some as being some of the most depressing pictures they have ever seen. This has not prevented his work from being shown at major civic occasions such as the St. Patrick’s Day Festival and being incorporated into documentaries. Sean’s work is permanently on display at his website. His work has also help to spawn galleries of broke bikes in other places.

Number of cyclists are falling in Dublin

January 6, 2007

Investment in cycling lanes has not halted the decline of cycling in Dublin. That was the finding of the latest report from the Dublin Transport Office (DTO).

The report entitled A Platform for Change, estimated that there are 3,200 cyclists in the capital. This represents a fall of one third from when the last study was conducted in 2002.

According to the DTO this figure could have been much worse. In other cities where there was not the same emphasis on spending on cycling infrastructure in the same period the reduction was even more dramatic. The decline in Limerick in that time was found to be a whopping 57%.

One of the report’s objectives was to find out why motorists were reluctant to cycle. The main reason cited was the perceived danger of cycling on congested roads. The second was laziness and the third excuse for staying behind the wheel was Dublin’s poor weather.

The report also sought to profile those who were cycling. It found that it was mainly a male activity. The age group of those most likely to engage in cycling was between 18 and 35. Traditionally cycling has been considered the poor man’s transport but the report found that the majority of cyclists came from the same socioeconomic background as motorists.

The study also listed a number of initiatives that could be taken to encourage cycling. It called for an integrated approach that would link the city’s cycling strategy into other infrastructural initiatives that were being taken to reduce traffic volumes. It favoured the reduction of the speed limit. It proposed building more high quality cycling routes equipped with their own cycling signals and a marketing campaign to encourage cycling by schoolchildren. Such a campaign it said should be rolled out in conjunction with the expansion of the city’s safe cycling route infrastructural project.

The DTO study also found that there was considerable goodwill amongst drivers towards making the city more cycling friendly. It recorded that most motorists were in favour of giving cyclists greater priority in the city centre, even if it made things more difficult for car use.

By way of conclusion the report highlighted the advantages that could accrue to Dublin if more people took to the bike. Apart from helping to improve the health of commuters and reducing congestion, cycling was found to act as a useful crime prevention measure, as it led to more eyes being on the street. It had an economic benefit by making the capital more attractive to tourists, increasing the effectiveness of public transport and reducing the need to expensive build new roads.

The Ras

January 6, 2007

Having won the Tour of France , the Tour of Italy and the World championship all in the one-year, Stephen Roche was asked what was it like to have equalled the achievement of the great Eddy Marckx. The Dubliner responded that Marckx had never won the Ras.

Roche was of course being humorous, but his comments nonetheless emphasized the regard that Irish cyclists have for their own version of the Tour de France.

The Ras has pushed off from outside the GPO for the past 54 years. It rolls back into the Capital after eight days . By then many of it 2000 participants have fallen prey to its 1000 km route that traverses the country in search of the most arduous terrain that Ireland has to offer.

Today the Ross enjoys the status of an elite international cycling race. Over half of the field comes from the United States, the Continent and Britain. In 1953, the first Ras, had 52 cyclists taking part.

In its early years the drama the race attracted had more to do with the Republican sympathies of the participants than the action of the race itself. The custom of flying the tricolour at the head of the race once led to a pitched battle after crossing the border with the RUC. A more serious tussle for racing had happened a number of years earlier. That was a dispute with the international cycling governing body, which wanted to impose on Irish cycling a 26 County structure. Rejecting what they saw as a partitioning policy Irish cyclists found themselves banned from international competition. With nowhere else to race a number of prominent cyclists got together and established what would become the Ross.

In the early 70s Irish cycling repaired its bridges with the international body. What followed was later to be described as the golden age of cycling in Ireland. From the mid-70s new dynasties began to emerge, names like the McQuade’s, McCormick’s and Kimmage’s began to dominate the Ras. It wasn’t long before Roche and Kelly also started to pop up at home and finally internationally.

The early Ross was not bereft of its superstars. Glenn Mangan had a promising career cycling in France in the 50s, but owing to his links with Irish cycling he was excluded from the international scene. The same fate befell Shea O’Hanlon. The Ras became the only outlet for men like them to make a mark. O’Hanlon won the event four times, a record that still stands. Besides having an unequalled 24 stage wins, he is one of just two men to lead the race from start to finish.

The most bizarre, if not legendary, cyclist in Ras history was a farm labourer from County Kerry. Mike Murphy, Known as the Iron Man, he financed his dream of cycling in the 1958 Ross by building a layer in the woods to save on paying rent. His preparations for the race did not stop at unconventional sleeping arrangements. His diet, as can be seen in the quote below – taken from an interview he did with radio Kerry, had some unusual ingredients.

‘My diet consisted of grated carrots, raw eggs, turnips, spuds, honey, juice extracted from the stems of nettles, goats milk and cow’s blood’.

Murphy cycled in the Ras that year for the first and only time. Leading the race on the second day his bike broke. Murphy rejoined the action on the bike he snatched from a farmer who was hunting sheep and amazingly managed to regain the yellow jersey by the of end of the day. On another day his crashed and broke his collarbone but kept going. The extraordinary Kerryman strapped to his bicycle rode into Dublin the winner of that year’s tour. Murphy immigrated to Britain some months later, he was not to see the Ras again until last year.

Sean Kelly

January 6, 2007

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He is Ireland’s most successful cyclist, ever. Regretfully in his own country he is often remembered as the one that didn’t win the Tour. Few cyclist, including Tour de France winners , can match the record of Sean Kelly.

The farmer’s son from Carrick-on-Suir County Tipperary is fourth in cycling’s Hall of Fame for classic race wins. His 22 victories have only been surpassed by the 29 of both Bernard Hinault and Jacques Anquetil. The person that leads the classic rankings is not surprisingly the legendary Eddy Marckx, who won 50 classic races.

The classics are the top one-day road races of the cycling calendar. Many of these date back to the 19 century and the five most prestigious are known as ‘The Monuments’. Kelly won a total of nine.

Some of the races became nothing more than his own personal property, the Paris Nice Classic he won seven times, a record that still stands. However other wins had to be groundout by grim determination. Paris Roubaix, which he won twice, was fought out on both occasions in atrocious weather conditions on cobblestone roads.

By the end of his career Kenny had bagged all the Classics, but one. The one that got away, three times, was the tour of Flanders. On each occasion he came in second.

In all the Irishmen notched up a phenomenal 193 wins. In 1984 alone he won 33 races. His racing schedule started in March and finished in October and it became his style to open and close the season with a victory.

It’s not surprising that Kelly attracted his own fair share of mythology. One story has its origins in his fabled sprint finishes. The rule that outlawed head butting, as riders jostled for position nearing the finish line, the story goes, was instituted to deal with Kelly’s competitive streak.

What is not disputed is the esteem, those who know about cycling, have for the Irishman. In bars in the Basque country the picture of Miguel Indurain always hangs in pride of place. In the photograph jammed into the frame there is always invariably a picture of Sean Kelly.

He is remembered as the hard man of cycling. That reputation was earned more because of his work rate and endurance than aggression. His 1992 race in the tour of Milan San Remo has entered cycling lore. By that time most believed that Kelly was past his prime, and having raced professionally for 14 years he probably was . The race favourite that day was Argentin. He looked to have an unassailable lead at 10 km to go. That’s when Kelly broke from the chasing group and descended down the precipice known as the Poggia Pass with what can only be described as wanton disregard for his safety. He caught Argentin on the straight and then overtook him a kilometre from the finish, making it his second win of the Classic.

Kelly retired the same year. Today his involvement in cycling is more charitable than competitive. Blazing Saddles, a charity for the blind, is an organization he’s been connected with for over 10 years. His other cycling pursuits comprised of commentating on Eurosport and as the manager of Sean Kelly cycling team, based in Belgium.