Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Interview with a cyclist - Rowan De Bonaire, his family and their bicycles

Tell us about your favorite bike, what do you like the most about it and why is it special to you? 
1935 Raleigh Carrier Bicycle, Restored by Rowan - Singleton Fire Station - Rowan

Asking me what is my favourite bike would usually engender a decent-length book as an answer, for there are so many. We currently have, after our spring clear-out, about 26 bikes in the household, split between myself (most of them) Raven, 3 (plus half of two tandems) and our student daughter Jessika who keeps 3 here. The concise but flippant answer to your question is "My favourite bike is the one I am riding at the time". Each has its own character - even two Raleigh Superbes will feel completely different - and each its own purpose, and niche in the collection. I do prefer bikes which are versatile though, and I do play the game of "if I could only keep one" (a good insomnia cure that one). The winner of that little game is always my custom-built-for-me Bob Jackson tourer. I've had it ten years and it's been all over Europe, as well as doing commuting and shopping duty, trailer-hauling, and even a jaunt over the 'Black route' in Dalby Forest (The UK's premier Mountain biking venue, in Yorkshire). I really couldn't live without some kind of cargo bike, though. I loved my Xtracycle and regret letting it go, we currently have 3 traditional English carrier bikes, and I'm lusting after your Yuba Mundo, made worse by the fact that the UK Yuba dealer is in our town! - (

Bob Jackson Custom Super Tourist - Kirkham Abbey, N. Yorks - Rowan

How has cycling changed your life?
Cycling has been a part of my life since childhood, where I escaped life in a northern mining town for the open spaces of the Pennines with friends or alone. My first tour was a 3-week exploration of northern England at age 15. Then as usual, cars came along! there followed a career in professional Rally driving, display driving, writing about and dealing in vintage cars, until three things happened in 1994. Firstly, the classic car market had collapsed (I was getting tired of the shallow people anyway), then I happened to spot the first 'En-cycle-opedia' (published in the 90s by a York co-operative, which is where i was looking at moving to), and my eyes were met by these wonderful machines. Recumbents, load haulers, child carriers and many more. What is more, these are things I could actually have a go at building! That same day, I was walking home (WALKING for goodness sake - Me?) and spotted a 1948 Rudge bicycle in a dumpster. All these signs could not be wrong. I soon found that the folks in cycling are nicer, bikes are cheaper than cars, and you can keep lots of them in the house! I had my new obsession!
Raven, Pashley RH3 - London - Rowan

Raleigh Misty, Mixte - Raven's Bike
I soon moved to York, and joined that enclave of enthusiasts centered around the publishing house, and I became a bike messenger, and parcel delivery rider for a couple of years. I have not regretted the change for a moment since. Bicycles have brought new friendships, a sense of community and belonging, adventure, health, and so much sheer joy I cannot begin to describe. In 2004 I founded BikeRescue, and then The BikeRescue Project, a charity based in York, centered around bicycle recycling, and incorporating youth work, cycling promotion, and expanding into infrastructure projects such as The HubStation, a cycling hub and bike park. I left York in 2010, but I still offer my experience to other organizations and cities, as well as restoring vintage bikes at home.

Raven's beautiful Raleigh Misty, Mixte, - At home - Rowan
Raven had been a cyclist in younger days (we are both just over 50 now), and had also been bitten by the rally car bug - she still drove a road-rally car when we met 2 years ago. A broken neck, followed by the development of Degenerative Spinal Disorder and Degenerative Disc Disease severely limits her ability to undertake bike rides. However, Raven's fighting spirit means she will not let excruciating pain deprive her of the pleasure of shorter rides whenever she can. We both get around by bike in London and take short countryside rides, sometimes making use of our two tandems. Raven's lightweight 'mixte' Raleigh has been adapted for an upright riding position, and her other two bikes are a Pashley carrier bike (mailbike style) and a vintage roadster, just nearing completion of a full restoration. Both of these bikes are perfect for someone who needs to sit up and take car of their back.

Kronan - York, U.K. - Jessika de Bargest

I do most of my bicycle maintenance in my kitchen (with my limited skills), where's the oddest place you've ever done bicycle maintenance or mechanics?

Orbit tandem & Bob trailer, Rowan and Jessika 1300 mile trip - Cornwall - Rowan
As far as maintenance is concerned, I'm not really in a position to speak to a novice on this, having as we do a well-equipped bicycle workshop out back. However, I have changed a bottom bracket on an Alpine pass in Slovenia (yes, I did have a spare with me, as I was hoping to make it to Ljubljana on the failing one). Serviced a tandem on Fistral Beach in Newquay, Cornwall, as this was the turn-round point in a ride round England with Jessika. I tried to fix a broken fork on a Moulton in France, but gave up and walked to a village, where there was a 'Brocante' sale. I bought a Dilecta 'porteur' bike, and a gorgeous 1953 Peugeot, with a Goeland for spares, for 25 euros! My V.W. camper-van was rather full for the rest of the holiday!
Oh, there was also the episode of fishing a dumped bike out of a Dutch canal, and getting it going on the street, in the dark, in order to ride it back to the hotel.

1985 Claude Butler Canyon - Heslington Hall, University of York - Rowan
I rely heavily on the advice of more experienced riders, what would be your first piece of advice for someone hoping to start cycling?
My advice to new cyclists would be 'don't be put off, don't be scared'. nothing is nearly so bad when you actually start doing it, as your mind tells you it will be when you're looking out of the window plucking up the courage. the rain always looks worse from indoors, hills are always steeper in your imagination, and drivers really DON'T want to kill anyone if they can help it, let alone damage their precious paintwork! When you are riding, and you feel tired, the headwind pushes you back, and you just feel like a failure at this cycling lark, do remember that every cyclist on the road is feeling the same.
Jessika and Scarlett, Pashley Picador - York - Rowan
Never, EVER let the macho-boy-racers intimidate you with their silly clothes and impractical bikes. They won't show it, but behind their alien glasses, under their silly pointy headgear, they are suffering as much as you, and are probably looking at you thinking 'if she can ride that old thing, in that coat and jumper, how come I'm so tired on my wonderbike in my lycra?'
Then there will be all the other days, the sunshine, the tailwinds, the 'cool bike!' shouted across the road, and you will realize you are a member of a community, the brother-and-sister-hood of the wheel! Hail and Welcome!

Do you have any cycling goals or aspirations for the coming year?

So what of our plans? At the moment, family care commitments are keeping us fairly grounded, but in the medium-term, our major plan is to sell-up, and go live a nomadic lifestyle with our pack of rescued dogs, either on our boat or in an RV. This is a lifestyle where bikes will play a crucial part of our everyday living. As we travel to new places and find a base, the bikes will be our sole means of exploring each new part of the world. We aim to spend at least a decade traveling like this, and it will be interesting to watch how the rest of the world copes with peak oil, climate change and the impending collapse of capitalism, while we tread as lightly as we can, with the clicking of our freewheels for company!
Pashley Pronto, Rowan moving house - N. Yorkshire - Rowan

Where can we hear more about your journey?

We have been toying with the idea of a blog for some time, as cycling is only one of our interests, alongside dog rescue and rehabilitation, green lifestyle, pagan ways, ancient and modern social history etc. In the meantime, you can keep abreast of our bicycle collection, and our adventures with them, on our flickr biking site;


  1. I really enjoyed this-it's like looking in a magazine and seeing interviews with "real" people. Good read,my friend :)

    The Disabled Cyclist

    1. Hello TDC- So glad you liked it! I of course can't take the credit for it, Rowan was fantastic!

  2. Nice article! Thanks Lindsay for posting it.

    1. Hello David- so glad you enjoyed it! Cheers


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