From San Fran Bike Courier to BBC Journalist Via the Great North Road

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20th June 2021

The Spokesmen Cycling Podcast

EPISODE 276: From San Fran Bike Courier to BBC Journalist Via the Great North Road


HOST: Carlton Reid

GUEST: Steve Silk

TOPICS: The Great North Road. Coaching inns. Spitfires and warm beer. Wherries. Brexit. BBC impartiality. Beaming about Beamish. Forgetting about being a San Francisco bike courier. Chamois cream. Bonking. Norfolk Broads. Being a bloke on a bike but not being Alan Partridge. Cycling to work versus cycling for leisure.


“THE GREAT NORTH ROAD London to Edinburgh – 11 Days, 2 Wheels and 1 Ancient Highway”


Carlton Reid 0:14
Welcome to Episode 276 of the spokesmen cycling podcast. This show was recorded on Sunday 20th of June 2021.

David Bernstein 0:24
The Spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast is brought to you by Jenson USA, where you’ll always find a great selection of products at amazing prices with unparalleled customer service. For more information, just go to Hey everybody, it’s David from the Fredcast cycling podcast at I’m one of the hosts and producers of the Spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast. For shownotes links and all sorts of other information please visit our website at www.the- And now, here are the spokesmen.

Carlton Reid 1:08
Steve Silk was a San Francisco bike courier in the late 1980s which, if you don’t mind me saying so is the absolute epitome of cool, but then he forgot all about cycling as he forged a career as a BBC regional journalist. I’m Carlton Reid and it turns out I’ve got lots in common with Steve, including starting at the same university in the same year, also living and canoeing in Norfolk, and having an abiding interest in history. And it’s our shared interest in the history of that most iconic of ancient highways — the Great North Road — that brought us together for today’s episode, sponsored by Jenson USA. Steve has written a travelogue about a bicycle journey along this road, and on today’s show we discuss the book and wax lyrical about sleepy coaching inns. As he’s a BBC journalist I also asked him about the corporation’s recent forays into anti-cycling rhetoric. That was unfair of me because there are new rules on impartiality and social media that I know BBC employees have to follow but check out how Steve handled my unsubtle prods.

Carlton Reid 2:34
Steve, can we get the Alan Partridge bit out of the way immediately, because you must get this I mean, any journalist in involved in either radio or TV in Norfolk and especially Norwich is going to get that. So how do you cope with the Alan Partridge question?

Steve Silk 2:53
Oh, God, I cope with it by having had it so many times. I’ve forgotten about it. I’ve genuinely forgotten the link. And I’m actually surprised when people mention it. So yes, I guess shrugged off with a bit of a laugh. People that I’m not from Norfolk, which I think perhaps helps here. I think occasionally, some people in Norfolk, perhaps in the old days used to get a little bit offended by that. Whereas of course, the what we should actually do is is champion Alan Partridge and make the most of it and enjoy the fact that there’s a whacking great picture of him talking about our sanctuary in the Norwich Waterstones and just take him to our heart. That’s the spirit, I think

Carlton Reid 3:38
So you’ve landed in Nowich because you were from Maidenhead originally, yes?

Steve Silk 3:42
Yes. A long time ago. Yes. Yes. I landed in Norwich very accidentally. I’m a journalist. And I was working in the northeast. And suddenly a job came up in the on the evening news an awfully long time ago. And I thought that will that will get me halfway to London, which was my plan then. And so I arrived here in the mid 90s and have come and gone since. But yes, Norwich is is very much an adopted home rather than me having any proper roots here.

Carlton Reid 4:13
So we have gone in slightly different directions here in that. I went to Norwich, from Newcastle. I really kind of see you because you went to university in Newcastle and I after reading your book, I discovered you joined the University at exactly the same. Yeah, so we both landed in Newcastle University in 1986. So what did you read?

Steve Silk 4:40
I read history at Newcastle and I really enjoyed doing that. But my passion when I was at Newcastle was the student newspaper so I probably spent about twice as much time on the newspaper career as I did during my studies. And I think that was actually whilst I still obviously love history, which I hope comes across in the book. I used uni as a really good foundation for for the career that I’ve had since and I absolutely thoroughly enjoyed being my own style of cub reporter making goodness knows the most basic mistakes but doing them with from the comfort and the safety net of a student newspaper rather than a real one. But I wanted to go to Newcastle from Maidenhead. I mean, they they’re very different places, you know, Thames Valley, South, I really wanted to go up north to escaped. The minute I went to Newcastle for the first time I absolutely fell in love with the place. My daughter is a student there now. And I don’t need any excuse to go up and, you know, buy her a meal or walk on Hadrian’s Wall as we were doing this time last weekend. I still love the city and love the surrounding area. So yes, going through Newcastle and Northumberland was an undoubted highlight of my trip.

Carlton Reid 6:03
So we’ve absolutely got tonnes in common here. It’s always amazing that we haven’t probably met and we haven’t come across each other a huge amount previously. Because at the history angle is absolutely right up my street. So I did enjoy your book with from that, that the many historical angles in there. And also, I’ve got to say the coaching it in angle I love because that’s what I love about the Great North Road is these fantastic coaching and so you didn’t stay in the ballot Stilton, which I did recently. But you did stay in the George at Stanford, is that right?

Steve Silk 6:41
No, I didn’t stay at the George at Stanford. I I, what did I do that I think I had a coffee there. I’ve been I’ve been to all these places several times. But no, I didn’t stay. I mean, one thing actually, is just the cost of them. They’re all gorgeous ends, aren’t they? And they’re, they’re probably going to cost you if you I couldn’t tell you a figure for the George but you’re probably talking a good 100 150 quid a night, and a times 10 that was slightly within the budget that had been agreed with Mr. Silk in advance. So I was taking the cheapo view that, you know, nice to pound at flat white from all of these places was wasn’t more cost effective of way of experiencing the ambience without necessarily staying the night. But one day, you know, if I did this again, and I don’t rule out during the whole bike ride again, that would be the way to go. The Golden Lion at northallerton was the one pocket coaching in that I stayed the night in and that was because I just pitched up there at lunchtime with Oh my god, this is just great. I can’t be bothered to cycle anymore. It was a Sunday there was a nice Sunday roast going. Change of plan. stay the night there. And I’m very glad I did that.

Carlton Reid 7:54
Huh. And then you mentioned again, this is the spooky yet that kind of things that we’re crossing. But I was at Beamish, just recently, the Northeast cultural museum. And I was also very much taken by the concept of the recreation of a 17th 18th century coaching in on site, which hasn’t happened. But and in your book, you mentioned this, and it’s like, Yeah, I thought that also piqued my interest that that’d be a fabulous place to stay, because you can’t stay at Beamish currently, but just to be able to go into a really yield. coaching, it would be fabulous.

Steve Silk 8:33
It really would. And the idea, because I did have a chat with one of the senior guys there, he was talking about how they would try to recreate the beer from the past and the meals in the past and they’d be somewhere in the corner. On the Northumbrian pipes. It does just it just does sound magnificent, doesn’t it? As I understand it, it’s all on hold. I’m not entirely sure what the latest situation is there. But I do think that at some point that that vision has to be created. And of course, they’ve had loads of problems, as lots of companies in museums have as far as COVID is concerned. So hopefully it’s just a case of that plan being on hold rather than being abandoned forever. I mean, Beamish let’s just say is a magnificent Museum in its own right already, isn’t it? It’s got so much it, I just love their approach to things when I was hanging around waiting to speak to someone there, which I you know, turned up with my notepad as a as a writer so to speak, rather than as a paying punter. On that occasion. There were people wringing their, you know, grandma’s old record player, or whatever it was in and their attitude is, we will take everything. We’re not going to be sniffy about what’s out there and what we decide is history and what we decide is an artefact or not. If you think it’s worth it, we’ll have it. That’s such a refreshing approach, isn’t it? I’ve got all the time in the world for Beamish. I think they’re doing a super job, I love the place.

Carlton Reid 10:02
So coaching in Great North Road, it almost has a flavour of like, kind of like a pre bit Brexit fantasy of, as I said before, like the olde England. So is there a danger that we’re kind of recreating a past that perhaps never actually existed? You know, like Spitfires, warm beer. How much of the of the writing of your book do you think is, is kind of going into that for kind of of Englishness that perhaps isn’t really true?

Steve Silk 10:40
Well, I’d argue with Englishness because this is a book that covers England and Scotland. So you’ve got to have that in mind as well. So it can be it’s a I guess it’s a British book rather than an English book. When it comes to Brexit, I’m a serving BBC journalist, so I will stay absolutely on the fence when it comes to that big and controversial issue of our times. But yes, I am. I am probably guilty of romanticising the past to some extent. And you know what I’ve got form for that a previous book that I’ve written looks at the worries of which is an ancient cargo boat of the Norfolk broads. And I can’t, myself perhaps from talking about how these guys operated in the past and perhaps having some rose tinted spectacles on there. Whereas the reality was, they were probably the HGV drivers of their day. As we’re coaching. Coach drivers. To a certain extent life was tough. safety standards were probably non existent all the rest of it. So yes, pretty much guilty as charged, Carlton.

Carlton Reid 12:00
And Charles Harper, I mean, many people on here won’t have heard of him. But he’s important to me. He’s clearly important to you because of what he did. Back when he did it, as you say, there’s no biographies. You can’t find out exactly his life story. But he was a cyclist, or he became you almost became like you in that he was he became a cyclist later in life. And he did it for utilitarian reasons, because he was researching all his great road books. He didn’t just do the writing was really did all sorts of the great highways of Britain, we did from a bicycle saddle. But then of course, his books came out in later editions when murdering had taken over. So tell us a little bit about what you have gone at about this cycle. touristy became a motoring tourist.

Steve Silk 12:49
So Charles Harper is a Londoner who started as an illustrator but quickly developed a taste for writing books as well and started off by writing histories or travel logs of the shorter coaching routes out of London, mostly to the south coast. So London to Brighton, London, to Hastings, London to Portsmouth. And for that he could walk because the distances weren’t too involved. If you think I’m bad at romanticising the past, Mr. Harper really goes for it. And the interesting thing about him and I think it’s an era that we forget about now is that there was this great coaching era that lasted till 1830 1830s. And then you’ve got the the motorcar doesn’t really come along until after the First World War, in terms of becoming a mass means of transport. And in that intervening best part of a century, roads go become unfashionable, the railways takeover. So as far as Harper was concerned, he was writing a history of these roads that were in inevitable decline. And that shapes how he writes about things. And I think is why he’s so fascinating for us now, because at least in those first editions, he in no way predicted that all of these coaching ins were going to get a second wind, for example, they were saved by the motorcar a lot weren’t saved, but many were so that by the time his second edition came along, he was actually able to report that various inns had reopened. So he is, I find him fascinating. He’s very old. He’s very of his time. He’s, you can’t call him old fashioned, but he’s, he’s probably slightly curmudgeonly old so and so. He was certainly very conservative in his views, but he writes beautifully and descriptively about what he saw along that road, but Pretty much a southern English view of the world. Once he gets past about Grantham, you can feel him starting to become a bit uncomfortable. He was very critical stroke snobby have anything to do with coal mines for example.

Carlton Reid 15:17
Yes, he didn’t like coal mines did he?

Steve Silk 15:18
He really didn’t like anything that wasn’t a majestic old highway of old, anything industrial and of course, the road was still being used and certainly went through many a pit village along the way. You could almost you can almost see him recoil in horror at some of the cottages that people were living in, etc, etc. But he is a very good eye witness of that time at the start of the last century. And as well as being an eyewitness in terms of what he says his illustrations, albeit perhaps, slightly sanitised are also really valuable. And they are used now by heritage England as a resource to sort of illustrate what Britain looked like before development around town centres before bypasses, and as such, I think he’s quite an important eyewitness to history of that period of England and Scotland, basically.

Carlton Reid 16:22
Hmm. Now, in your book, you do say in in in the press release, it says that this is a route that other people could follow. But we actually if you look at the maps that this is, this is a tough route, because you have got long stretches, where it is the A1(M) is the original route, it has been built over the old Great North Road. So it would be quite difficult to follow an exact route. So even you’ve had to, you’ve had to meander haven’t you, can’t follow the whole thing from from St. Paul’s Cathedral all the way to Edinburgh, you’re life is too valuable.

Steve Silk 17:04
Yes, you cannot go on the A1(M) by law, you would not want to go on the a one not m out of choice. You are able to go through town centres and the approaches in and out of lots of town centres that were the Great North Road in the old days. And there are plenty of other short segments that if your dog good enough with your research, you can find. But in another way, I wouldn’t describe it as a difficult route. In that I find that when these new cycling, projects, trails, etc, are set up quite often, they’re really challenging in terms of gradient. What I’ve done, I am not a hardcore cyclist. I am a cyclist who likes to go from A to B to C to D rather than round in a circle. Because I just like the sense of adventure. But I don’t necessarily want to do 3000 feet of ascent a day, I want to have a coffee, I want to have a nice lunch in the market square. And if there’s a stuffy old museum that no one else is in in the afternoon, I’ll stop off there for an afternoon for an hour as well. So I’m the sort of guy that doesn’t want things to be really tough in terms of the cycling, I just want to see see a bit of this country. So there’s different senses of what difficult means aren’t there? I do in my mind’s eye. I do wonder if we really could create a great North road cycling route that would roughly do what I did. ironing out some of the mistakes. But I guess that’s probably pie in the sky at the moment. There’s one there’s one place where this really got me as I was cycling off on the approach to Stilton in Cambridgeshire, Stilton has a high street that is now marooned from the a one m next to it so that you have to approach Stilton from the north then go south to go down. It’s magnificent High Street. With the bell, that’s one of my certainly in my top five great coaching into the entire route. I would love instead that on that approach right from the south, they just put a bridge across the a one there, and then we as cyclists could enjoy that as it was meant to be. And I’m sure that would be a massive use to local people as well. So yes, I’m asking for the moon and I’m wanting the government to invest in a bridge here or an underpass there. I guess it’s not gonna happen is it but I think that it would be I think there is so much enjoyment to be had from whipping through this 400 mile stretch of England and Scotland without having To be a hard core, lycra clad cyclist, you could just do it relatively gently, with a bit of help.

Carlton Reid 20:08
Because it’s the opposite a very, very historic journey and yet most cycleways, most kind of like guided cycle routes in the UK do tend to be honest, I’m generalising massively here but do tend to be East West West East rather than, you know, north south. There’s very little that actually does follow. See, you couldn’t get the Sustrans Great North Road route, in effect. So you’re saying that could potentially be something that could help?

Steve Silk 20:37
I Yes, I think so. Because I loved it. And I, I quite liked the idea of connecting up various unfashionable parts of the country, as well. And I think I was coming at it from the point of view of i’d recently done 100 mile bike ride around Norfolk the first time I’d done one of those. And I was thinking, right, what’s next, but I would never do Land’s End to john o’Groats, that just that the whole or around that just just isn’t me. Whereas the idea of doing London to Edinburgh is sort of nicely pitched in the middle there with the added advantage of two great cities at either end. So I just think it’s got something going for it. Yeah, I would love to see that happen. Even if it didn’t even if it took 20 years. Certainly what was happening and I could see in front of my very eyes was that I think even if I’d done this trip 10 years ago, there would have been fewer psychopaths. I was to some extent I planned it by I never need an excuse to buy maps. So I’d planned what I could, but to another to other other parts. I was having to make it up as I went along. And quite often there was a what looked like quite a recent psychopath in quite a useful place. So Britain is undoubtedly getting more bike friendly. year by year, almost month by month, isn’t it?

Carlton Reid 21:59
Well, on the on the Barnet bypass, which is, you know, South Mimms, basically the service station there. There’s a stretch of the old day one as the Barnet bypass, did take over there. And that’s a stretch of road that has been as you say marooned it’s no longer part of the motorway at all, obviously. And that’s the 1930s cycleway right next to it. And this is your big passion, isn’t it? Right I haven’t seen that. Yeah, fantastic. Yeah. So I’ve just got I’ve now discovered that just literally just about a month ago and went to have a look when I went and did my migraine over and then I so you took a bicycle I actually took a car which is which is crazy thing for me to do, which is cheating. Face it exactly. As you don’t even know the hills are there because you’ve got a sports car to do it. But I took I asked Morgan to supply me a car and wonderfully they did so I put a Brompton in a passenger seat and took a Morgan and didn’t much of the same journey as you but obviously had a much, much easier time of it. But then when I was driving along the a one where it’s not a one end, there’s lots of bits that I’m looking at. I know that I kind of probably see cycleways 1930 cycleways, where they perhaps don’t even exist. But I did see lots of bits that looked in a period. So they they did put an awful lot of cycleways down next to the a one. So I don’t think anybody would want to cycle on those bits. But technically, there are lots of bits of the road which you could probably connect up and you could create a route and then it’d be a historic route and it wouldn’t be Land’s End to john o’Groats. You’re right. It’ll be this historic north, south or South North route, which which is, clearly the reason you’ve written the book is because that’s incredibly historic. And we’re ignoring that by doing these routes that are meandering, but not quite as important. Absolutely.

Steve Silk 24:01
But what I’d add to that is that if they’re if the alternative to doing a mile two miles directly alongside but safely alongside the current a one if the alternative to that was a massive meander that took you 10 miles out of your way, because there simply isn’t an alternative, then I’d be happy to do that. And and indeed, I did do that on one or two parts during the book. So I think as a means of just connecting somewhere safe to somewhere else safe, that where there was some sort of separation between you and the traffic, I think that would work perfectly well. So and of course, your 1930s cycleways are them, which I haven’t heard of until you brought them to my attention are themselves historic, aren’t they? So you could argue that’s, that’s actually adding to the history of the Great North Road. It’s it’s a 1930 slice of history. They’re just waiting to be rediscovered.

Carlton Reid 24:54
Hmm, there’s a slice up in Durham which I know you. I’m reckoning you must have diverged. away from the road at this point, cuz you in your book you went actually went into Durham where of course, yes, the Great North Road, obviously the a one of the 1920s didn’t go there. But there’s one stretch, which is actually the original 1930 cycleway that though I first discovered and first realised was what was going on here. And that just outside at Durham, and there’s a beautiful one mile stretch of former a worn it used to be a service station. They’re called Cock of the north. Yes, I know. Exactly. Yes. They’re talking the North pub there either anymore. And that was just a housing estate now. That’s right. Yeah. I haven’t got a copy of the North housing estate. But that would net that that cycle way that was put in on the Great North Road back in 1937. probably didn’t get a great deal of use back then. But we’ll get used now because it’s it has it anyway, where we’re diverting away from your book a bit here. So the book is out in in July July the eighth is that writes correctly. Summersdale is the publishing house. I’ve got a pre publication, uncorrected book proof here in front of me so I read it all yesterday. And I’ll tell you why I read it yesterday, I had my second job. Yesterday, I had other things to do I was going to be doing. But I was feeling a bit under the weather. And I just sat down in the kitchen with my dog and just read the whole thing from from from start to finish so so in one sitting so I immensely enjoyed your book and people who get to see it get to read it in on July the eighth will will enjoy it to that end the book. I think you’ve come across, either deliberately, or, or maybe not deliberately as somebody who’s almost a beginner cyclist because you’re making like rookie mistakes like you’re like you’re not eating correctly. So you’re talking about the cyclists bonk, you’re talking about going into a bike shop at one point, and having to get emergency Shammi cream, for instance, again, like another rookie mistake, yet, as you said, You’ve done 100 mile rides in Norfolk. And now I want you to tell away from the book, I would now want you to tell me about your your student days when you were in effect a hardcore cyclist because you were on Mission and Sixth in San Francisco. Delivering packages as a bicycle messenger in the most romantic place. You could possibly be a bike messenger in the 1980s and pop maybe London or New York and San Francisco just a wonderful place to do it. So you are hardcore cyclist?

Steve Silk 27:46
Well, you say that and It does sound really cool now doesn’t it? But I didn’t. I genuinely didn’t see it like that at the time. And I didn’t see that I was going there to be a cyclist. It was a couple of other mates from Newcastle uni we we ditched in the day job that was at some sort of summer camp, we’d got our visas and we thought right sorted. Let’s take a car across America. So we were just being classic students with us with three or four months of summer in front of us. And we did one of those driveway things where you drive a car from east to west for someone who’s moving. And then we just all three of us pitched up in San Francisco. And by complete luck, not because I was this hardcore bike geezer at all. I ended up as a cyclist as a cycle messenger, delivering what we would now call JPEGs, or emails. And it was it was fantastic. And I’ve never been fitter in all my life. But I see what you’re saying. You’re saying, well, how’s this guy who had this seemingly really cool job knows all about cycling? How’s he making rookie errors all these years later? Well, one, it was just one hell of a summer summer. Two, I then forgot about cycling. I can’t explain or justify this for about 20 years, until picking up a bike again. I don’t know how old I was 45 or something. And it’s only in the last 10 years that I’ve just started messing about on a bike again. And even when you do that, and I go out we religiously four or five, six of us go out on a Saturday morning here in my village in Norfolk. Even then we’re only just having a laugh. I’m not someone who’s ever been part of a of a cycling club. Yes, there’s a bit of lycra now because you end up with it, don’t you but I’ve never done anything more serious. So those rookie errors aren’t Let me tell you absolutely genuine there is no there is no there is no way that I’ve exaggerated that all these things happen because I was just Learning as I went

Carlton Reid 30:02
and that bike shop very kindly to to smother it upstairs. It was a room that was just basically an open room. It didn’t sound as though they said go to the toilet or just upstairs in this bike shop.

Steve Silk 30:19
Oh, do we have to do this bit but yes, it’s a very small lovely lovely bike shop in in a one in a yard in Darlington upstairs will sort of have more of the area sort of semi storeroom feel to it. And yes, I, I applied my new purchase up there. And I instantly benefited please let’s move on before there’s any more detail about that for your poor listeners.

Carlton Reid 30:49
Well, it’s gonna be cute because if people are gonna be buying this book aren’t gonna be hardcore sign because I’m assuming it’s more of a travelogue. That general interest is going to people you don’t have to be a cyclist to buy this book is what I’m trying to say. And

Steve Silk 31:04
coming at it. Yeah, the bike just happens to be the best method of exploring this road.

Carlton Reid 31:11
Yes. So people are going to find that they’re gonna find this incredibly funny, because this is an alien world. To most people like me reading this book about you put what and you put it where I didn’t know this. So those are kind of anecdotes that jumped out at me, because I find this completely normal, but other people are going to go. What? I’ve never heard of this stuff before.

Steve Silk 31:39
I guess so I guess and the other thing you just mentioned on is the word bonking which we must explain to non cyclists means when you absolutely run out of energy and you almost collapse on the roadside, which is what happened to me just north of Grantham. That’s the other one where I it wasn’t that I hadn’t heard of that I heard had heard of it as a concept that cyclists run out of fuel. It’s just that I was learning as I went on exactly how much fuel I need to keep going. And I use the word fuel advisedly, it doesn’t become food anymore, does it? I have just come back three mates and myself from doing three gruelling days in Mid Wales on the trans Cambrian way on a guided route with a group called MTB, whales who are magnificent By the way, and I’ve learned my lesson from from the Great North Road. And all the time going up these ridiculously steep mountains and hillsides in Wales, I was just eating flapjack I didn’t want to eat flapjack I wasn’t even hungry. But I knew that if I didn’t eat stuff now, I was really going to suffer in an hour and a half’s time. So from that point of view, I have I have learned since but yes, that’s something that you do need to know about, don’t you but I guess even if you’ve heard of the concept, you don’t know exactly how much fuel you as an individual will need. If it’s day four, when you’ve done 55 miles the previous day, and decent manages the previous two as well.

Carlton Reid 33:15
Hmm. Now I noted before that when we mentioned the nasty B word, or maybe the lovely B word depending on your your point of view, it didn’t really get into politics because of your, your your BBC employment. But if you don’t mind and and then let’s see how far we how far I can push you here. The BBC does get a lot of stick at the moment for introducing what in effect are anti cycling topics and that can be local, and it can be national, it can be on, you know, mainstream, you know, radio programmes where they’ve mentioned stuff, which does tend to buy into the concept of you know, Britain not being that much of a a positive cycling nation. So what kind of feedback have you had from your colleagues about the fact that you are I’m using air quotes here, a MAMIL?

Steve Silk 34:18
I would say that my colleagues just know that Steve’s a cyclist they know that if he’s come back off a week away it’ll be a good thing to say. Where have you been on your bike then Steve that that’s that’s the level of it there’s no opposition to it. There’s nothing that’s particularly pro it’s just a thing they know that that this this I do. I still think that steering clear the BBC as ice will consistently throughout this interview. I still think that Britain is getting better. I live on the outskirts of Norwich. Norwich has introduced a lot of wew cycling paraphernalia just over the recent two or three years or so, I think we’re definitely moving in the right direction. But I am gonna because it is the day job and because I have to be really, really careful when it comes to any of the politics around that I’m afraid you’re not going to tempt me at all.

Carlton Reid 35:17
I understand that I’m going to carry on, I’m going to try on, I’m going to I’m going to poke you. And it’s not because at the end, this is what I want to talk about this and not your book. But just It is interesting, because the whole cultural woke agenda, or anti woke agenda does very often use cycling as as a as a as something to really, really go out because it does go some people. So you in lycra, benign. Me in Lycra, benign. A granny on a bike, benign. And yet the mainstream media does seem to recognise that by mentioning the word cyclist, it does. You know, it does touch a lot of buttons. And that’s not a BBC thing. That’s a mainstream media thing. So what can you do, if anything to combat that, if you even want to combat that?

Steve Silk 36:14
I do agree with you that many’s the time when I’ve had conversations, even with my relatives, and they’re bemoaning the fact that they’ve been delayed by all of 20 seconds, because there was a group of four cyclists in front of them on the B road, and I’m saying yes, well, that could have been me. And for goodness sake, you know, I’m Scott just as much right to the road as anyone else. So you’re dead, right, that there’s still a lot of opposition, I within the last two or three months, I’ve had a situation where I gently with my right hand, just said, with an up and down movement asked someone to slow down as they sped past me. And the response was absolute foul mouth abuse by a driver who got out reverse came back looking for trouble. And that can be absolutely terrifying. And completely over the top. So you’re dead, right? It’s still absolutely out there, isn’t it? what we do as a group with the with the guys that I go out with every Saturday is we’re obsequiously pleasant, and thankful to every single motorist who even gives us the time of day. And we shout and we smile to every single passing dog walker, and we try to be personal ambassadors for it. I mean, we shouldn’t have to, should we but that’s the stage I think we’re at that I go out of my way every stage to look. Motorists in the eye smile, be humans show that I am a human being and I’m just having a nice time on my bike. That’s my personal approach. And that I have to say works quite well. On the on the streets of Norfolk. It’s probably slightly more tricky in a big city.

Carlton Reid 38:09
And do you think that this book which doesn’t mention cycling in the title, it doesn’t really even make it big style into the into the subhead, it’s just as two wheels? Do you think that potentially has a mollifying effect, in that it’s a travelogue? You just happen to be on a bicycle? And people might just devis a slightly just think it’s a bike, it’s a normal thing to do? Or do you think it’s, it’s still seen as a quite a bizarre thing to be doing?

Steve Silk 38:38
I hadn’t thought of that at all. So what that’s really interesting, and the one thing I’d say about the cover of the book is that it features a bloke who is me on a bike, it’s an artist’s impression. So it is clear that it’s a cycling book from the, the, it might not be in the actual words, but it’s clearly there in the in the cover. I hadn’t seen it as playing any kind of ambassadorial role, perhaps because I’m not quite so feel myself on the on the front line of changing opinions and any kind of culture war that’s out there against cyclists which I I think you’re much more aware of than I am but if it did, well magnificent and I suppose I can see the logic of your point of view in that I am I am far from being hardcore in anything i’m i’m open about my limitations out as a cyclist and open about the mistakes that I make. So yes, from that point of view, perhaps I don’t feel like I’m from a from a different planet, which I think is sometimes the impression that you get certainly the the guy on this Norfolk street that was effing and blinding me a few weeks ago and just made it clear that he thought we were all just a completely alien. He was a considerably less articulate in his use of words than that. But yes, it can have a small impact. Fantastic.

Carlton Reid 40:08
See hidden Riverside Norwich to go back to one of your other books where were you where you’re in effect you’re a canoeist. You’re an “ist” there there’s no conflict there. Because if you’re you’ve got a canoe you’re not gonna be holding up anybody apart from maybe, Oh, I didn’t know you could

Steve Silk 40:29
you could be conflict with anglers land landowners can be very, very fussy about it. And my view on that is that if you’re on the water you you You’re okay that I don’t think is the precise legal position everywhere and and I always do my best to to obey the laws of trespass although it can be complicated and difficult and you can stray into unintentionally into difficult areas. So no, they can always can get some can get some grief too.

Carlton Reid 41:01
I did I did even when I said that I thought I shouldn’t have said that because I before I became a cyclist and I am that is very much that is. I was a canoeist. So I actually sold to get my first bike which I bought in Norwich in a bike shop was no longer there. I sold my canoe so I did an awful lot of canoeing on the Norfolk broads as many whitewater rapids as I could get in Norfolk, which wasn’t that much. So I started as a canoe is doing an awful lot of this stuff that you’ve probably done in your in your book, sort of like a hidden river seidner it’s I’ve done tonnes of canoeing in Norwich, it is a wonderful place to do it, but yes, you’re right. I’ve never forgotten it. I’ve now blanked out all of that conflict that was there I was I was it was almost like a full history that I’ve created for myself on the the blissful canoeing when there was an enormous amount of conflict and you’re right there’s tonnes of trespass conflict with canoeing twos, and it wasn’t a very good analogy at all I do apologise but

Steve Silk 41:56
but look, you’re you’re it’s really interesting because you you are defining yourself as an investor. Again, I hadn’t seen that before. I don’t think I’ve ever seen myself as either a canoeist or a cyclist I am just a bloke who does those things rather than defining myself as them so there’s a subtle difference there isn’t there this weekend I’m I want to go out my canoe because that’s the nice way to get out and explore the countryside and switch off from work next week. It might be a bike the following week, it might be a you know 12 mile walk or something so yes, I guess I’m not pigeon holing myself if that’s the right term labelling myself quite as you say it but I hadn’t even seen the difference till you described it like

Carlton Reid 42:40
the I’m very guilty obviously in my line of work I’ve pigeon holed myself, but then other people will will absolutely pigeonhole me which is probably one of the reasons why I did the Great North Road not on a bicycle like you did it, but in a Morgan so that when I do get attacked, I do get attacked on social media from from, from motorists who are like hardcore, then I can say, Well, look, you know that I’m not this this this pigeonhole person on a bicycle only, I also use the form of transport you love to. So that kind of, you know, trying to not get pigeonholed is probably a good thing.

Steve Silk 43:26
And, and did it work with the Morgan?

Carlton Reid 43:29
so far on social media, I haven’t really been attacked. But I was dallying in actually changing my profile on Twitter and all sorts to just me and a Morgan just to see if it confuses people. Because obviously, I am known as being ultra, ultra ultra cycle ist. And I am I can’t get away from that fact. But that doesn’t mean to say, I can’t enjoy other forms of transport, too. And that is that we do get pigeonholed. And people make assumptions about people that aren’t always correct.

Steve Silk 44:09
Yes, absolutely. And it’s only you know, a part of your life. You’re on this one was transport and that form of transport. No, I quite agree. I have to say I, I only dabble in the the paddling pool, end of, of Twitter. But I’ve never had any bad experiences, which is, I guess, given that I’ve got a little cycling emoji there. And I all I talk about is great North Road and a bit of cycling. I have to say I’ve been mercifully free of that, and long may that continue. Hmm.

Carlton Reid 44:41
So let me just say that. So say, we know you’ve been to San Francisco, which is hardcore. But we know that you went to a bike shop to put on chamois cream when you should have been having a rotten beginning. So that’s a rookie error. So we know there’s these two very different aspects of your cyclist life. But do you do use a bicycle in any other part of your life apart from going touring? So for instance, you live in about 12 miles out of Norwich would you cycle to work for instance?

Steve Silk 45:18
I have cycled to work, but I don’t do it routinely and I probably should do. I think if I lived well,

Carlton Reid 45:27
not too bad, Steve. Sorry. 12 miles is not too bad. It’s you know, it’s

Steve Silk 45:34
no, it’s not it’s perfectly doable. It’s perfectly doable. I think what I probably am moving towards is cycling to sorry, driving towards the outskirts of Norwich and then having some kind of fold up bike that I would then do the last two or three miles on I everyone’s got an excuse haven’t laid but I quite often don’t finish my working day till half past seven at night. So for much of the year that means coming home 12 miles in the dark, which I don’t quite fancy every day but hey, look, maybe that’s a pathetic excuse. I haven’t I normally as you say I am a leisure cyclist but with chucking in the odd cycle to work journey in there as well. Hmm.

Carlton Reid 46:20
We’ll see. But it’s been absolutely fascinating talking to you. I’m sure we could reminisce about our Norfolk and Newcastle backgrounds until the cows came home. But let’s find out a bit more about your book. So if you can give us a website for the book give us your Twitter handle and and your publisher’s details. So let’s let’s get all that stuff on on tape.

Steve Silk 46:45
Yes, so the best thing as far as the book is concerned is to go via the summerdale website or at some as Dale on Twitter. I have a personal website that is great North Road dot info. But Twitter is the best way to keep in touch with what I’m about. And my handle for that is @greatnorthroad2. The book comes out with Summersdale on July the eighth and it will be available in a lot of the book shops up and down the 400 mile length a one as well as all the other usual places.

Carlton Reid 47:25
Thank you very much and can I ask who was @greatnorthroad1 or who was @greatNorthRoad on Twitter?

Steve Silk 47:30
Someone who’s who’s 15 followers and has only posted about twice and it’s very frustrating that that’s I haven’t got it off him or her maybe I should try harder and do a do a deal there maybe often a couple of copies of the book and maybe I could we could swap handles

Carlton Reid 47:48
Thanks to Steve Silk there and thanks to you for listening to the Spokesmen Cycling Podcast. Show notes and more can be found on It’s the start of the Tour de France next week and you’ll soon hear some Grand Boucle Bonne mottes from the Spokesmen regulars but meanwhile get out there and ride.

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