As croak-voiced oesophagal ashtray Ronnie Wood sang, I wish, that, I knew what I know now; when I was younger. This post is about the years 1997-1999, the years when I learned the back roads I have subsequently forgotten. The roads that extend north and south of Longridge Fell, the valley of the Ribble and its cousin, the Hodder, and the Forests of Whitewell and Bowland.
I took a bike home. Much to my Dad’s annoyance (he thinks it’s odd to carry a bike on a train, more so when it interferes with my traditional way of getting to and fro in Preston, which is to unceremoniously ask for lifts, which I dislike, or to walk, which I hadn’t time for) I took a bike. I took Hercules. Herc, whose chrome shimmered like a midnight pool, whose red shone translustrous, whose chain was taut, geared at a mahoosive 79 inches of hurt, and carried nothing superfluous about itself but for a micro LED light. Just in case I got lost. I upped the saddle about half an inch, I might yet go another half. I did the same on the other Red Bike, pushing it up a full inch and finding full flight on the rides out last week. But to Preston I took a fixed wheel.
I haven’t taken a fixed bike to Preston in four years, and it delivered. My odd feeling of non-form had seen me ride quick 40s last week in the evenings; standard two hour rides with as much climbing as I could squeeze in. I decided that I wouldn’t over-reach in Lancashire, what with a tough gear and uncertain legs. I needn’t have worried. I grilled it. My ride on Monday morning took me out, in blinding sunlight, to Hurst Green and Stonyhurst, around the Fell and across through Chipping to Beacon Fell. The following day, I rode up and over Birdy Brow, through Bashall Eaves and across to Chipping and Longridge. It was a 42 mile/ 34 mile set of rides, much lower mileages than usual. Both days, I had only a finite amount of time (although I could have easily taken an extra hour on both rides) and so I pushed it fairly hard, and took a couple of climbs I’d been sure I could handle, rather than heading over the Trough. But mostly, I stayed on safe terrain. Terrain I know from the early days of cycling.
Each and every time I cane it down the roads around Hurst Green and Bowland, I think of cycling with my Dad. As a fatso, at the age of seventeen, my Dad gifted me with a yellow and black Peugeot. I started by cycling to Grimsargh and back, some nine miles or so. I’d do this in a pair of shell suit bottoms, some nasty trainers and, initially, a lumberjack shirt. I think it’s for these reasons that whenever I see a cyclist in their everyday stuff out on the moors or the Downs, I nod and beam a smile of hello-ness; I am that cyclist, age of seventeen, scared of my own potential to be slender and quick, dressed like a plasterer on a bike designed in 1984 to be somewhat reminiscent of Robert Millar’s glory days. I was soon promoted from a Peugeot to an MBK which I loved more than anything; only now do I find it peculiar that my first road bikes were French machines. It was on the MBK that I ventured on longer rides to the Trough, Waddington and the valleys. Rides not as epic to me now as they once were. But the sensation of true adventure will never feel quite as keen as it did then, not even when I strand myself in the middle of the Massif Central and have no idea of what towns lay nearby. Back when I was eighteen or nineteen I just went off, usually with only a banana, and had a ride. No training. No self-destruction or particular need to self-harm through hill reps and drop-bar white-knuckles. I mean, I did those things. Only, I did them for the first time, just because I’d seen Jan Ullrich do them. Or Virenque. Pantani. God, real glory days. Any ride when I come home to Preston is a nostalgic ping. The fixed wheel made it interesting, but already it was a paean to a time in my life when I was unselfconsciously free of work things, people things, life things. Just things. Why would anyone wish they knew what they know now, then, when they were younger. It would have spoiled everything.
As I was drawing the moped a couple of weeks ago, I had the terrific, distinctly Prestonian verb ‘razzing’ in my head. When I was a kid, we’d go for a ‘raz round’. There isn’t a direct translation. It covers a multitude of lesser words, I guess, but none have that ideophonic resonance. It’s between going somewhere for a purpose and pointlessly going nowhere. Between somewhere and nowhere, the movement one makes, is razzing. It requires a kind of body language, a position adopted to be in a truly non-aero pose, whilst maintaining one’s poise and efficiency. I might equate it to the ‘yah’ sound that Viggo Mortenson might yell when kicking his horse into action. Indeed, one of my favourite razzing positions is that on the fixed wheel, when pushing the cadence up rapidly whilst maintaining a semi-sitting position. Not out of the saddle (not least because I haven’t currently got a bottom bracket I trust in there) but not entirely sat deep in the Brooks. I look, in my own mind, like Tonto. And sometimes, just a little, I yell “YAH! YAH!” like I’m chasing down bandits. Which, in Central London, you often are.
The sun has begun to stream out in force. I have a new job in London and seem to be cycling there and back with pleasant regularity, but I have not been getting out in chain-gang mode (obviously I am always a gang of one). The evenings are exhausted points, and I don’t quite have the urge to head out on Tuesdays or Wednesdays for an extra two hours. I actually just want soup and Game of Thrones at the moment, sadly. As a result, my Spring form is alright but nothing special. I can’t climb with terrifying power, not yet. On Sunday I went 52 miles in exactly 3 hours, which is promising stuff, but I was cooked when I came home. There were 1200 metres of climbing in there, which is nothing to besmirch. I took an old favourite route, almost due South from Crystal Palace. I caught the Dulwich gang after thirty five minutes (I’d missed their departure by five minutes, and I reckon that’s good catching-up skills) powered through Beddlestead Lane and down the Pilgrim’s Way to Brasted, then over Toys, around Bough Beech, up Bayley’s Hill and back down Ide Hill to a nice café. That was 35 miles of soreness in the tank.
The lack of a specific target is perhaps to blame. This time last year, contemplating the LEJOG, I had misgivings about my legs and my stamina, and worried about not coming into form. In the end, I was at the strongest I would be in 2012 as we ploughed up the country. I suspect if I were to do that ride again, I would be strong again. I think the training I do is important because I am moving, razzing around without specific targets or destinations, but also with a relative sense of purpose. Through the act of razzing, I can affix a purpose in the hazy distance and say yes, I shall be alright when I come to that.
I am probably taking the New Blue bike (Lizzie might be a name; for some reason it popped into my head on Sunday as a nice blue bike’s name) to France in the Summer, we’ll be around Carpentras, Ventoux’s there, why wouldn’t I go and have a ride (raz) up to the top? Four years ago, Ventoux was a huge target, but now it’s something I feel somewhat more relaxed about. I shouldn’t, because it’s always going to hurt. But I know it quite well, I know what to expect. Should a target be something you expect? No, I think not. There is my definition of razzing. I guess razzing up Ventoux is different from riding up, or gunning it up there. It’s souplesse + grit + base miles + joy. Oh, + nougat, + dates and + Coke. You can’t raz if you ain’t got coke.
Like other things I claim to have a fear of (flying & washing, mainly) I enjoy the doctor’s surgery visit a whole lot more than I imagine I will. It still possesses a modicum of anxiety, but not to the extent that I’ll avoid going. I used to be terrified of injections, but that was because I’d not had one in living memory at that point. After the age of fifteen, such jabs no longer mattered. I can have fillings without anaesthetic and not mind too much. These things are making us better, I figure. I won’t go to the doctor unless I have something that is beginning to trouble me. If I know it will result in being given antibiotics I’ll generally stay home and try and sleep it off - this isn’t some kind of hero-factor I have in my self-mythology, it’s because I want that shit to work when I genuinely need it. Besides, they don’t work anyway. It’s placebo, right? I’m better off eating chips and drinking hot squash.
What has become a problem is my shoulder. I had used NHS Direct to diagnose a trapped nerve or problematic rotator cuff; it’s been niggling for quite a while, and in addition to spending a higher-than-average amount of time working at my computer just lately, I have been feeling aches, niggles and soreness in my arms, wrists, shoulders and neck. My knee, too, from an over-crosslegging, tends to go weird. I am the victim of sitting down too much. Without a regular commute, it has been building up. I sit in the surgery, finish my Bartali biography and play snake until I’m called in. The doctor makes me rotate my shoulder and isolates my “arc of pain”. Diagnosis: rotator cuff. Cure: physio. Possible keyhole but let’s save that fear for another day. She also tells me swimming is good, as are rotator-friendly stretches. I employ my obsessive tendencies immediately and Google the hell out of such things. I find Livestrong (check out the guy’s FACE) provides a strong basis for all kinds of limbering up, and combine this with some yoga poses and some other website’s Top 6 Shoulder Exercises to come up with a SYSTEM. Three days later, and the shoulder is definitely less sore, and by quite some margin.
I am going on about this, but there was a moment last week when I thought this injury could be a result of cycling, or at least, exacerbated by it. Last Saturday I went on a 3-hour speed burn (with 18mph+ average) around the Gatwick back roads and to a friend’s house for an ace lunch. I found that my shoulder had inflamed, around the same day or so. To test my theory (rather than go see a doctor) I went out on Easter Monday for a more gentle 36 miles, rolling with a bit of climbing, but nothing severe. It was not made better or worse. The experiment continued today. Having finally joined a swimming pool nearby (after sixteen years of bi-weekly swimming, more or less) I took a gentle swim on Wednesday and a slightly faster-paced, slightly longer-distance swim on Friday. I stretched before and after, I did not climb out of my bike saddle on the way there or back. So far so good.
So, today was the throw-down. HC arranged lunch with friends in Bushy Park, and I decided a 40-mile loop around Box Hill would drop me in Hampton Court at around lunch-time. HC took my trainers and some shorts so I’d be able to half-scrub-up for the festivities. I set off. I stretched my arms a lot whilst riding, and made sure I was sitting for anything uphill. Not surprisingly, I worked hard around Ranmore Common, one of my favourite parts of the Surrey Hills but absolutely crawling with cyclists. It is much better on a weekday, for losers without real jobs. I came down, gunned it through Cobham and down the Portsmouth Road, an unholy, badly surfaced murder road. Anyone who has a spanky bike, lives in South East London and has a penchant for exploring will use this road most Sundays. Like so much of riding in Surrey on a Sunday, it is busy, and none of the cyclists have any inclination to acknowledge the presence of others. I grew up cycling in Lancashire, which is the home of the cyclist’s greeting. Not a nod so much as a town-cryer-esque “HO!”. I passed the same guy twice today; once on the way up Box from the easy side, and I stopped for a pee and some water. When I passed through Westhumble some ten minutes later, I passed him again. The first time, I had said “Morning!” to which he said nothing, wearing his iPod (egregious habit) and glaring ahead. The second time, I did everything I had the first time except say “Morning!” which is to say, I closed on him, slowed a little as I passed, looked directly at him, ready to smile just in case he cracked one ( he did not) and then ground the 52 ring off and up to Ranmore. Creased in lung-spurtful climbing grit, I turned to see if he was there. He was not. Had he spoken, I would have liked chat on the climb. Who doesn’t like a chat on a climb, just for a bit? I fail to understand the lack of social interaction sometimes. It’s not friends-for-life situations, we have something immense in common - we are unified in making metal and rubber bend to our will. We defy gravity, we travel under our own speed, masters of our own navigation and bodies. We feel tremendous, mighty electric signals travel throughout our core and we look down at the legs as they push the giant ring in glorious grand circles. Just for one moment we can say “Hey!” to one another. On Bayleys Hill a couple of years ago, I was gritting my teeth into the climb and some flyweight dude, about fifty years of age, just wonderful souplesse, passed me like I was standing still, saying “hi” as he passed. I just let out the most delighted whoop that my lungs would allow. I probably shouted “chapeau” or something. That’s a stinky hill for sure, and this guy made it look like he was cycling up a pavement slope. I had no words for that. On my best day I couldn’t ride like that. Some guys make it look like fish in the sea. For everyone else, it’s just work, most of the time, with occasional slips of pure magic. Only occasionally. Let’s just say “hi” and be done with it?
I didn’t see him again. I went to Bushy Park and ate a slab of Genoa Cake. I was in a bad way. We walked around the park for a bit, my legs seized, I cycled home and fell apart in Wimbledon, dropped a C-bomb, a black banana and lurched over Streatham. It killed a decent average. I reckon I notched up 67 miles, 109km, and by some margin the biggest ride of the year. I should not have gone so far but it doesn’t matter, because I did. HC says that runners have exactly the amount of miles in their legs that they need to run the distance they run. I re-read that sentence and see that it is confusing. The distance you ride is exactly how far you could have ridden, on that occasion. Today was such a day. I have been nowhere since. Utter painful joy teeth. Done nothing but eat ever since. I have not perhaps conquered the shoulder, but I can certainly ride with it. That’s all I need.
I have not borrowed something, yet. Nor am I getting married. Yet. HC would need to be on top of some magic mountain, having run there. I would have to have reached it through the grease machine. When those two things happen, maybe then it would be properly properly true. For now, I am still married to the steel.
Hung on the redundant bike hooks in our hallway (installed originally to hold an actual bike; more often, it holds a finger puppet, spare keys to a neighbour’s flat, two old knackered tyres and occasional wheelsets) is the Columbus. There’s a story here. Of course there is.
Four weeks ago, I went to Brick Lane and bought some stainless steel forks. I brought them home, checked the fork crown and found it was JIS. Rather than dremel or ream it to fit ISO (this is a boring part of the story) I decided to take them back. They offered up a refund (begrudgingly, thinking I was a freak for refusing to dremel or ream the crown to fit the Campagnolo headset race I had) which would only be issued as store credit. I had presupposed that this might occur, and used the fork fund to immediately “buy” a Nitto front rack. I would normally link to this objet d’art, however, that would also show how much such things cost. It wasn’t £100, let’s say. It was hand-made, let’s say. Never mind that a single steel rack cost more than my darling red frame and forks on eBay a couple of years ago. It wouldn’t be worth arguing.
ANYWAY. Because those forks had been intended for the Black bike (a bike I never ever get along with) and I could no longer be bothered owning a bike that possessed ceremonial duties as a bicycle but nothing much else, it came to pass that I decided to get something else. Something old. One issue I’ve had with the Black bike is that I had it powder coated a few years ago, rode it aggressively for a summer or so, and then it passed into a mythical place; our back room. I look longingly at it, knowing it’s oversized and feels spongy when I ride it. And I always get backache if I ride more than about 40 miles on him. No, I think I’ll have a change. I pick up a blue, unnamed, 1979 used piece of old-fashioned steel. It’s a Belgian frame, Columbus, cast lugged affair. Looks old, still shines, has personality. It’s the bike I need, even if it isn’t the bike I necessarily want most of all. The problem is, bikes I really covet, I cannot ride. I just don’t like the experience.
I once read about a fight between two film-makers being forced to work on Star Trek movie; one wanted to crash the Enterprise and the other said it couldn’t and shouldn’t be done. The first guy had flown helicopters in Vietnam and argued that once one of those things crashed, you simply climbed out, brushed yourself down and found another. The second guy had flown planes in the Second World War and felt pure attachment to the machinery. It wasn’t just a piece of metal.
My bikes aren’t just machinery, they are precious. But I need to feel able to leave them against walls, ignore the tiny blemishes to the chrome, the dings of age in the top tube. If nothing structural is wrong with them then they are aces. The paint comes up a treat and the chrome looks beautiful after a go with the brasso. The other night, I found myself looking at NOS Campag seatposts on eBay. Shiny things, new, precious things. No. No. No. I went out to the storeroom and dug out an old Condor post. I used some wet-dry sandpaper and steel wool, gave it a kind-of matt polish and bunged it into the Blue seat-tube. Done. I need a new triple-mech since I’ve decided to run it three-ringed; it’s Rocinante’s old gruppo. Best thing I ever did on this build: I bought a Shimano Ultegra trip-der instead of Campag. Pure doucherama. It means I’ll love it more.
SO; the need list. I LOVE this about a new build.
1. Drill front forks - they aren’t recessed and I’ll need to visit Roberts in Croydon to get them to do a decent job.
2. Respace Red Wheel Bling. 130 down to 126. Easy, I think.
3. Deconstruct Black bike. An afternoon of joy right there. Getting the downtube shifters off is always hideous fun.
4. Enamel paint. Blue and silver mixed should approximate the hue, then I’ll be toothpicking the paint chips with the bastard paint combo. True patina.
5. Name. Unknown, although I am reading a book on Bartali and Gino seems the right moniker. Also, I like man names for bikes. I’m not about the girl names for a bike. It’s a homoerotic past-time, why shouldn’t they be called Hercules, Dave and Gino? Sounds like a good time to me.
Roads full of mud slush and I am Hampstening it around the ski-slopic Skid Hill and up onto Botley Hill, and I am about three metres out from the roadside. Each time I pass a gate in the endless hedgerow, I’m picked up and pushed out a little further by the onslaught of a sleet-driven wind. It’s ace. It’s pure winter-riding. Previous years of my life have seen the removal of the base layer toward the end of March, the reintroduction of the 3/4 pedal pushers and the loss of the overshoes. Not today. Winter has not given up the ghost. If anything, it has redoubled its efforts.
The winter is all about death, see. Blossom has come out in the backwaters of the Downs, today they hang low under the crushing weight of snow and frozen raindrops. Unloved blossom. I have yet to see a real daffodil, and only the lightness at 7am and 6pm proves that it is not, in fact, still December. Today was the day Christmas Day should’ve been - whitened rooftops, cold winds and an undying need to go out, just to tell your core parts that by going out you are going against the evolutionary makeup. I went out. Nobody else did, it seemed. I saw some tyre tracks, three sets, on the Nower, perhaps one of my most favourite names for a road in those parts (Force Green Lane still wins, I think). The tyre tracks were rare in the snow-sleet-mud essence that stunk up the back roads. I took the fixed wheel out again; I knew it’d be a short burst (36 miles as it goes) and that I’d be best to make it hurt in such a small circuit. I think I’m going to feel better when I get some warmth on my back and some dryness in the roads; for months (and it is approaching SIX whole months now) it has been dark, grimy and hardly suitable for pleasant Sunday riding. Do I mind this? No, of course not. Winters make the summer. I would be nothing in June, July and August if I didn’t make such fundamental escapades in the face of crapness.
I pushed Hercules up the 14% bits of Brasted. I know that I’ve made this climb before on the fixed gear, but the utter lack of traction and a desire to keep the chain, the BB and the rear wheel in a state of working momentum meant I caved in to adult sensibilities. I felt quite romantic pushing upwards, cleats struggling for traction as much as the Gators had. I clambered back on, hammered it around the backs to Biggin Hill and felt two wanknuts slip by without a hello, a nod, or any kind of acknowledgement. There are schools of thought here, but if you’re passing someone, I always think you should make some kind of interaction, even if it’s the gritted-teeth ‘alright’ nod. These guys came past, pulled in, drilled on. I think the fixed gear smacks of a kind of arrogant couldn’t-give-a-shit-ness that even my usual ret-conned steel bikes lack; it says “I’m here, on a shit day, on one tough-bastard gear. I haven’t freewheeled since God knows when, I am moving quickly enough, I am smiling, and your overtaking me proves nothing.” Not to mention the sight of your 11 speed cassette and compact gearing. Whenever I’ve been out on the gears and I’ve seen a Velonaut giving it hell for leather on the fixed gear, I’ve shuffled alongside and had a discussion. Because I absolutely love them. They are the hardmen of the winter (sorry ladies, but it is always men, in very much the same way that barefoot runners and freeclimbers tend to be, with some Getty Image-esque exceptions) and want only one thing - a cursory acknowledgement. It generally leads to a feeling of squeamish guilt that you have x number of gears at your disposal. These clowns make you feel inadequate. They are the most efficient, paradoxically inefficient things on the road. They are asking for trouble. And they rock like bastards. My favourite mode of conversations are these:
1. What gearing are you running? (Just the phrase gearing tied to the verb running gets me a little hot under the collar.)
2. Your knees must be shredded.. (Again, the verb shredded, which connotes Fenders, Telecasters, Iron Maiden and sauerkraut, all of which are AS BEAUTIFUL AS ME ON MY SINGLE GEAR OF CHRIST) ..to which the answer is always “No. They’re made of Vibranium.”
3. Is that single speed? (This, as well as the question above, were both put to me by a three-minute partner on the route home today. Of course, I could barely answer “No, it’s fixed” without scoffing at how amazing I was/ unobservant said inquirer was.)
4. How are the hills on that thing? (But for the sneaky walk up Brasted, I conquered 640m of Kent on Herc today. Only a few climbs really make you get off, and those are climbs I’d struggle to climb on anything geared over a 42 x 25.)
I don’t demand conversation. I do like people nodding hello when they overtake you. If you’re overtaking and can’t say hello, it doesn’t mean you’re being rude (you probably are), it means that you’re working so hard to ride at overtaking pace that you physically are incapable of saying anything. My secret: be nice. You ride alongside someone for a minute or two, chew the fat, and save up a little fuel to pull away, saying “have a good ride” as you do. Shit, that’s arrogant too. Shit. I am such a douchebag. Hipster-looking douchebag on your nobhead fixed-gear bike, what a TOSSER. That’s what they say when they’ve overtaken you, ridden a few hundred metres ahead and finally get their breath back. Cyclists. All of us, bunch of Sunday morning dickheads.
I don’t like to begin too much with a quote from Shakespeare, not least when I haven’t had to look it up but have it committed to memory. Unless one is either Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart or a nerfherder, (arguably, Stewart is a nerfherder), then one should not be able to reach for a quote from the Stratfordian unless it’s one of the top ten. Hamlet, perhaps a Macbeth or a Henry V. R + J, obviously. But this gem is from Much Ado About Nothing, not the most quotable of his plays; it goes ” ..become the argument of his own scorn..” and comes in the middle of a monologue about love and all that. Well, I once had to ‘do’ that monologue in GCSE Drama, partly because I did (and still do) think that Branagh was the supremest human being in the luvvie planet. The actual planet, in fact. But even though I’d said the line it didn’t mean I understood it.
If I understand it at all, then I should become the argument of my own scorn on days like this. I left my bike pump in a church hall yesterday afternoon and had to go collect it - someone had picked it up, and I went to their house in Clapham to collect it. Even though I felt awful on Saturday night (in bed by 10, no less) and not particularly brilliant this wet Sunday morning. Real wet, wet in the concrete and the bones and the creases and the seams. I took out Hercules, fixed, pedals and cleats, water tucked in the rear pocket of the waterproof. Absolutely un-carbon-racery. I picked up the pump, howled through Wandsworth and Putney and entered Richmond Park.
Reader, I only went to RP for the first time in April 2012. And until today, I had never completed a full circuit; I’ve only ever used the momentum of Cancellara corner to generate enough pace to get through to Kingston gate, much like the Enterprise does in Star Trek IV to go backward in time (which I might have seen around the same time as I learned lines for aforementioned monologue). Today, I hit the park running, directly into a rain-lashed headwind. I stormed anticlockwise around the first lap, slightly quicker for the second and then made a turn at the entrance roundabout and made a third lap clockwise. The hills were a bit stinky, my being on a 78 inch gear meaning I had to gurn up, stretch the KMC chain to breaking point and sweat through my gloves, but I did alright. In fact, I did rather brilliantly. I managed to turn over about 18.5 as an average, and I wasn’t going all-out. I was sick, and I put the best of what I had into the laps. When I came out and headed home, I was cooked by Putney, defeated by Tooting and crying as I clambered over the hill to home.
Laps, though. As HC pointed out, I don’t like to retrace my steps at the best of times. Loops suit me perfectly, even the occasional lasso, but constantly viewing the same scenes, the same faces, the same potholes..it’s not what I love. And now, to become the argument of my own scorn, I suspect I’ll start going back, start timing those laps, and God help me, possibly even buy some tri-bars.
Not that I was ever out of the habit of getting up at 7.45 on Sundays, eating, chain-lubing and Velonauting, it seems that I have not christened 2013 with quite the regularity or intent of winters past. However, I am mostly sure that this is not true; I am not pushing myself to high levels of pain, nor am I resting up and taking it easy, I am merely motoring along, taking on a smidgen more than I can take, and coming home on the borderline between upright and exhausted. Today, I cleaned the chainrings with brasso and made sure the whole drivetrain had a spangle before putting it to bed, and then curling up in a ball for two hours until late afternoon.
It’s Mothering Sunday, I forgot to send a card to my mum; I end up sending a text from the Downs to say HMD and I’ll speak to you later. I guess the priority this morning was getting up to the Downs. Isn’t it always? I took the Danger WILL ROBINSON way out of town, always empty of cyclists, always a weirdly urban joy. I climbed Woldingham in a not-too-high gear (no plaquing as yet, but it’ll come) and dropped down to the ‘22. I caned it along for a couple of miles, cut across the Haxted road, accidentally peed on my shoes because of the headwind, and took the Four Elms road to Toys. Up until this point I had seen only one other bike, a mint green and black Colnago being punished by a big man on the Crowhurst road. As I approached Four Elms, I saw the tell-tale signs; the hi-vis vests, the orange arrows and the numbers on handlebars. Race; no. A sportive. Namely, the VO2.
I used to feel pretty anti-sportive, but that’s because this blog, and my attitude in general, is one of anti-social behaviour. However, it isn’t fair to say that I am anti-sportive; I think they exist for very good reason, mainly to give cyclists regular targets. Somehow, probably through an emotionally gruelling set of work-ethic-inductions as a kid, I have high willpower, particularly when it comes to not-being-fat. The genetic strand of both sets of parents’ families is one of mild- to vast-chubster. I am genetically predisposed - nay - destined to be fat. That I maintain any kind of regularity in my waist size is down to an utter fear of becoming what I was at the age of sixteen - MAHOOSIVE. This means that going out on the bike is a testament to staying healthy, staying at the height of what I consider to be fitness. And that is anything over 17mph over 50 miles. 18s in summer, and the occasional 19s when it gets to high August. The more climbing I put in, the better I feel. If I can walk around a car boot sale in the afternoon, all the better.
I guess I see sportives as a representation of having goals. I don’t really have them, not in that respect. I don’t feel like I should aim for something like 120km around the Ashdown, because for a start, I’d have to take a train to Sevenoaks for the start, otherwise I’d be cycling 200k all in. Which, if I was a true badass, I probably would do. If it was August. So I’d rather just go in the opposite direction to the sportives and see what’s going on. Thus, climbing Toys (and I went over nicely, with a grimace-cum-smile-growl) from the 15% bastard-angle, I saw a lot of these punks coming the other way. I love the string-out of a sportive - the linear sinew men at the front, puncheurs a little way back, the husbands-and-wives a little closer to the lanterne rouge end. Truth is, I don’t know where I’d sit. These things always end up being a race (hell, I cycle on my own and it still ends up being a race against my own obsessive tendencies) and they can often lead to accidents - Toys is a particular blackspot, and if you don’t use the brakes, you’ll be required to Tron it around some of those bends.
So I headed home, aimed for the steep punish of Westerham. As I approached, I saw the bad signs - Police had closed the road. approached the nearest officer; she told me what I already could see from the wrecked carbon bike lying nearby - cyclist down. She didn’t elaborate, but I suspect either some errant car had attempted to overtake the bike, already travelling at about 50mph, and misjudged oncoming traffic. Or perhaps a car had misjudged both and pulled out of Pilgrims’ Way, catapulting the cyclist into oblivion. I was amazed to find he’d survived this, a helicopter having rushed him into London to have his head repaired. It sounds critical, but that’s better than the Reaper, right? Some kid in Bristol last week didn’t get up from a car accident, leading to all the usual questions, finger-pointing and lack of answers. It’s safe enough, safe as it can be, given that it’s a cocktail of individuals and speed. But it does shake you a little to see a closed road and the remnants of something which was, minutes earlier, soaring into the landscape, wholesome unity of mechanical componentry and human being. I hope that he recovers and isn’t too terrified to come back again.
Tivoli, Dasset, Crown Point, Chapel, Elder and Gipsy.
Not codewords for some obscure CIA meeting. Not desert checkpoints, nor air pockets above Edwards. Not even Shipping Areas. These are roads around our flat. It is the route of a mile or less, with a bit of climb, a bit of drop and a bit of sprint. The point, ostensibly, is to tighten the sprocket with man-force so that I can tighten the lockring when I get back. As well as to see how the saddle and seat post feel above the chainset. As well as to ensure that the bottom bracket is tight, the chainline is decent and the power transmits. I’ve ridden every single element of this bicycle before; it is Hercules and she remains my golden cherub, my immense thing. A new 25c Gatorskin on a new wheel, that is all that remains untested. But no matter - it is still Yeagering.
So it turns out to be fine. Okay, a mile is no great test patch. I’ll run her down to Balham later on perhaps, since HC has given me a shopping list for cauliflower fritters. Whatevs. The Yeagering is like the first few miles - on a wheelbuilding site, I once read that the first test is a mile to crunch in the wheel. The second test is ten miles or so, and then a quick check in the jig to make sure the wheel’s in true. The third is a hundred miles (not all at once, I hope) upon which the wheel should be set. So I should, in a week or so, be full-Yeager. This will include some dastardly Park Lane / Hyde Park Cycle Path testing, a true scene of powerful sprinting. Some South Cirque tomorrow, perhaps the glory of Exhibition Road in the morning drizzle (and I shall of course be carrying WD40 to clean the machine once I arrive at Paddington).
I cycled on Sunday, just a 50, and it was tough going. Just a little viral, and a niggle in the shoulder that I undoubtedly should go and see a quack about. I’m still putting in miles, I’ve decided to pick up a new frame and renovate it for the summer. Blue. Columbus. Why not? But for now, life is busy, work is a constant, and the Yeagering is all that matters. Fingers crossed there’ll be no inexplicable squeaks. God, I hate them (obviously, I love them too).