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night riders: biking leeds to hornsea

night riders: biking leeds to hornsea

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Something about the bicycle inspires distant thoughts; or rather, thoughts about distance. People don’t always look at a bike and think about how quickly it will get them there. They look at a bike and think, instead, about how far they can go.

In New York Lai Likun has just ticked past the four continent, 31,000 mile mark. Sprinters dream of running 100 metres as fast as they can, but Likun told the New York Times, “It’s been my dream to bicycle around the world ever since I was 6 years old.” It’s taken him five years so far, carrying a karaoke machine so he can sing for his supper. There’s no need to hurry when you’ve got the whole world to cycle over.

Meanwhile in Leeds, Chris Woodward of East Street Arts has been spending a lot of time thinking about the art of cycling as part of the Juliana’s Bike project, and like Likun, his thoughts have turned to distant horizons.

“The idea was nothing to do with art,” says Chris. “It started out with me, I just said, why don’t we just do a night ride to the coast? At the time I was thinking maybe I’d just do it on my own or whatever – but it’s now grown into a group of about ten people. So on Saturday we’re setting off at about seven in the evening and we’re cycling 85 miles to Hornsea, which is on the east coast, and then to get back home we have to cycle to Hull. 

“We estimate we’ll get there between 5 and 6 in the morning, hopefully cycling to Hornsea for sunrise.”

It might not be the whole world, but cycling from Leeds to Hornsea at night presents its own challenges, and the solutions have nudged the idea further to the edge of art.

“Me and Lotte, Anne and Andrew, between us we’ve all planned the route,” says Chris, “And we’ve gone out during daylight to test it. Last Saturday we did Howden to Hull, and we realised at one point by the River Ouse that it was just a nightmare – it was really rocky and grassy so we rerouted. And we’re going to have two supporting vehicles, one driven by Adam and one by John, so they’re going to document the event on social media, and the process.

“A few years ago I was involved in a project with a collective called Woolgather, and we did a piece called ’24 East Streets 24 Hours’, which was basically driving around the country to find 24 East Streets, and leaving a flag there, with the final and 24th one at Patrick Studios – home of East Street Arts. Throughout the whole duration we were on Twitter, Instagram and live-streaming from iPhones, back to Patrick Studios, and it was projected there but it was also on a website, so people started following on social media throughout the night. We hadn’t realised the web potential, that anyone around the world could be watching.”

That experience has gone into this weekend’s Night Ride, meaning you’ll be able to follow the ten intrepid riders across Yorkshire using the hashtag #NightRideLeeds on Instagram and Twitter.

“It’s this idea of turning durational actions like a bike ride into something else through documentation,” says Chris, “So it kind of becomes a performance. And I like duratiional things because it goes past acting. In performance art it’s conceived and people are acting, whereas with this more durational thing, you can’t act – because you’re cycling all night, you can’t then have the energy to think, ‘Oh, I need to act,’ at the same time. So it strips that away so it’s a bit more real, and documenting the process makes it quite interesting.

“So it started as a non-art thing, but then I was speaking to Dominic Heffer at Kingston Art Gallery in Hull, and he said, ‘Oh! Our artist here is opening an exhibition the day before, and it’s all about cycling.’ She’s called Giselle Bone, and she’s doing a PhD about artists in the city, focusing on cycling, with an exhibition and then three themed cycle rides looking at pylons, looking at bridges, looking at the city in different ways. I met with her last week and she’s now agreed to come and do the night ride. So after doing the coast we will then head down to Hull and our finishing end, end point will be this gallery in Hull.”

Getting to that finishing point won’t be made easier by choosing to ride at night, but from the Tour de France to Lai Likun, cyclists seem to love the extra challenges posed by endurance.

“There will be a section of the night which will be really horrible,” says Chris. “The worst part will be just before sunrise, because when you start, you’re excited, it’s still light; then everyone will start getting tired, and once it has been dark for a long time, I think just before sunrise it’ll be the lowest point. When we did ’24 East Streets’, even driving, we were all really down and thinking about skipping some of them and coming back, and then the sun came up and it lifted us all, it was amazing. So I’m expecting that to happen.

“We’ll hopefully be cycling to Hornsea for sunrise, and the plan is to chill out for a bit, maybe go for a swim – then cycle back to Hull!” 

Because a cyclist always has further to travel. Hopefully we’ll be rounding up the best images from the Night Ride and speaking to Chris again after the weekend – to make sure they made it, and to find out what a swim in the North Sea feels like after 84 miles of cycling in the dark – but don’t forget to check the #NightRideLeeds tags on Instagram and Twitter on Saturday night and Sunday morning to follow Chris and co’s progress yourself; and give Venus Dodson’s disco classic a spin while you do:

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