A good (French) idea

I’ve just go back from a couple of weeks in France and, I have to admit, those Frenchies certainly have a couple of good ideas. I’m not talking about stuff like French fries – we don’t believe that chips were their idea – they are probably Belgium’s only culinary claim to fame. And anyway, that’s not what the French call chips, they call them pommes frites. Nor am I talking about food in general, although I don’t think it’s a bad idea to have a country that’s covered wall-to-wall with vineyards. Okay, so the French do know a thing or two about wine, and cheese, a food in general.

But let’s get away from gastronomy and look at life in general. There’s the Tour de France, undisputably (in this household) the pinnacle in bicycle racing, if not the ultimate sporting spectacle in the world. But still, that’s not really what I’m talking about, when I’m talking about good ideas. It’s more about how they live, how they treat one another, and especially how they treat their cyclists.

Wide berth control

Wide berth control

The French, in spite of driving on the wrong side of the road (or the right side, as the rest of Europe would claim), have a great respect for cyclists. If they see a cyclist in the road ahead they don’t hoot and drive as close as possible to the poor victim. No, they slow down, indicate to fellow drivers that they are pulling out, and give the feller on two wheels a wide berth. And just in case Johnny Foreigner (a Brit, in this case) forgets what they should do, the French also have signs like this one, which advise how much space motorists should allow for the velocipedist. In fact, quite a few countries have similar signs, but not the United Kingdom. No, here there are no similar signs because no one is prepared to say just how much space we should give to cyclists.

The Highway Code suggests simply that the driver gives the cyclist plenty of room when passing. “Plenty of room” gives a lot of room for argument. A recent Transport Research Laboratory study found that, on average, drivers left a gap of 1.18m, significantly less than the French requirement. But that 1.18m gap is an even more significant when compared with a similar survey in 1979, when drivers left 1.79m. I suppose cars are so much bigger now than in 1979, while roads (and cyclists) are still the same size. You could argue that the drivers of modern cars don’t have the space to leave such a large gap, but the corollary argument is that, because so many vehicles are so much bigger, they should leave an even greater margin for error. Especially when you think that any error could be fatal.

That’s all that I wanted to say, really, even though there are probably lots more great ideas that the French have had. Oh yes, I can’t forget the other wonderfully bright idea that I came across – the cappuccino dessert that I had in a restaurant in Castres, near Toulouse.

Just desserts

Just desserts

This delight consisted of a small tiramisu, panna cotta, crème brûlée, espresso and a dollop of cream – the perfect get-up-and-go-out-and-party-all-night-after-a-long-day’s-ride kind of dessert. Oh, alright, I admit that it was an Italian restaurant. But the dessert was put together by a French chef.

Age + experience = wisdom? Wrong!

​I don’t know who first said that wisdom comes with age. Perhaps it was someone in the Bible. Or maybe it was Shakespeare, although I reckon he was too clever to say something like that. But whoever it was, I certainly don’t believe it, especially considering my recent cycling experience.
It all began last weekend, you see, when I went cycling in Wales with a couple of friends, something that we do from time to time. Usually we just mountainbike, but this time, for the first time, we also took road bikes. We stopped in the Midlands on Friday evening, where we had a casual ride through the Worcestershire countryside, a great leg loosener, especially for Tim, who was riding his road bike for the first time.

Nearly halfway up ... Andrew and Tim on the slow climb at Bike Park Wales

Nearly halfway up … Andrew and Tim on the slow climb at Bike Park Wales

The next day we went to Bike Park Wales, a new mtb centre near Merthyr Tydfil that we wanted to try out. The riding experience there turned out to be quite different from what we were used to: instead of cross-country with a few downhills, BPW is all about a long climb, followed by a choice of downhills, graded beginner (green), intermediate (blue), advanced (red) and expert (black). Normally I would be quite happy to ride the red routes, but on this instance (fortunately) we opted to begin on the blue, and then planned to progress to the red. The ride up to the top was aptly named Beast of Burden, a 4.6km climb to the summit (rising 180m in the first 2km). I don’t mind the long climbs – somehow, they seem to suit me. It’s like Gabriel Garcia Marquez says: “Age isn’t how old you are but how old you feel,” and I felt great on the climb.

The only way is down ... in a helter-skelter, rollercoaster kind of direction.

The only way is down … in a helter-skelter, rollercoaster kind of direction.

From the top we opted first for the 2.2km Sixtapod descent (there must be some history to these names, but we didn’t ask). Sixtapod, like all the descents, turned out to be a helter-skelter, rollercoaster, white-knuckle, spine-chilling bucking bronco of a ride, where we twisted through sandy berms, plunged into forest darkness to pinball between the trees, and were then spewed out onto rocky slopes that bounced us out of the saddle. Touching the brakes would have spelt certain disaster. Clearly I had forgotten the words of Charles M Schulz, that wonderful philosopher and creator of Charlie Brown: ​”Just remember, when you’re over the hill, you begin to pick up speed.” Well, all I can say that in all of my 60 years, I have never gone downhill so fast on a mountain bike. Age certainly had not given me enough wisdom to say no, because we went straight back to the top to experience the thrills of Melted Welly, Blue Belle, Sixtapod again and then Willy Waver, all of them blue routes (we didn’t dare try the red). And that, folks, was more than enough excitement for one day.
On Sunday we decided to ride from Tredegar, where we were staying, up through Abergavenny and towards the Brecon Beacons. This was to be a nice, steady-paced road ride, nothing stupid, nothing outrageous, just a pleasant Sunday ride with tea and cake halfway – the antithesis of the previous day’s mountain mayhem. That was the intention, anyway. We hadn’t thoroughly checked out our route beforehand, we just allowed Tim to follow his iPhone as we went along.

At the top of The Tumble ... it's all downhill from here.

At the top of The Tumble … it’s all downhill from here.

And that is how we landed up climbing The Tumble, a 6km climb that tops out at just over 500m above sea level, and which will serve as a mountain finish in the Tour of Britain on September 8. In A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway spoke of “the great fallacy: the widsom of old men. They do not grow wise. They grow careful.” Well, I thought that Careful was my middle name, but on that descent, nearly 4km down windy, rough-surfaced tarmac, I proved that I am neither Wise nor Careful. Of course, I blame Andrew, because he set off first and I was just trying to catch up to him. It was about when my speed topped out at 72km/h that I remembered my skinny tyres were rather worn, and I no longer had the benefit of a mountain bike’s disc brakes. It wasn’t because my back wheel began drifting on a bend that I braked, rather, it was the thought of crossing a cattle grid at full pelt. A pinch-puncture going into a hairpin bend was not an edifying thought.
Which all goes to show, as you grow older, you don’t necessarily grow wiser, or even more careful. To become wise, or even just careful, you have to grow up first. And I’m hoping to do that sometime soon.

The road to Abergavenny

The road to Abergavenny

My tragic Tour de France warm-up

pantaniThis weekend I did my pre-Tour de France warm-up. I can’t say that this is some kind of ritual, because I’ve never done it before, but who knows, rituals start with one small action, and this might just be it. Of course, I won’t actually be riding the Tour, or even following it on the road. Rather, apart from one brief live appearance as the Tour finishes Stage 3 in London, I’ll be be spending three weeks glued to the television, suffering every climb, swooping along every downhill, celebrating every stage victory through that dark shimmering window in my living room.
So, what kind of televisual warm-up does it take to prepare for the Tour? I settled on a gritty, 90-minute-long work-out that left me breathless, a little dazed, and not completely sure that I wanted to go on.
Of course, I’m referring to the documentary, Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist.
The Tour de France is a constantly evolving spectacle, a soap opera whose characters come and go, sweating and sprinting to the forefront of our consciousness, only to be be overtaken and brushed aside by pushy young upstarts. Just look at the (Sir) Brad Wiggins and (not Sir) Chris Froome episode – a tragi-comedy that has still to play to an end. Just look at the Lance (no surname needed) farrago, one of the more enduring but less endearing episodes to have coloured the peloton. Some characters have stayed the course for several years, while others have been no more than a flash in the pan – blink, and you’ve missed them, just like the peloton passing on a provincial high street.
Marco Pantani could have been one such flash. His climb to the top was meteoric – just like the way he flew up mountains, leaving his rivals fallen by the wayside. His success was brief, but his climbing prowess was so phenomenal that it made him a legend. We remember him, Icarus-like, as he flew too high, too fast, too close to the sun, and we watched his fall, which was both swift and brutal – and fatal. It was both specacular and very much a public spectacle, which was what made it so tragic.
In his own rather strange way, Pantani seems to have been a very principled person, and the subsequent shame heaped on his frail shoulders weighed so heavily that he was unable to bear the loed.
So next week, as you watch our present posse of mere mortals toiling up Holmes Firth, or Hautecam, or the Col du Tourmalet, just think of the flawed man who, bedecked in pink, flew up those slopes on the wings of angels. We will not see his like again.

It’s not always about the bike

This blog is mostly about bikes and cycling, but not always. In between my early cycling years (which lasted until my late teens) and when I rediscovered cycling in my mid-30s, I was a runner, and completed about 100 marathons and ultra-marathons. And the biggest of them all was the Comrades Marathon, an epic 54-mile race between Durban and Pietermaritzburg in South Africa. Every years thousands of runners take part in the event, which has become intricately interwoven into the fabric of South African running – and has become part of my family history.
comrades1Forty years ago, on May 31 1974, I ran my second official Comrades (I ran my first one unofficially two years earlier while doing my national service). For my family May 31 is significant not so much because of that race (I finished 55th, my best Comrades position, although not my best time) but because while I was running my father, Edmund, who was seconding me along with my mother and two of my sisters, died of a heart attack in Hillcrest, about 20 miles from the start. The picture here was taken on Fields Hill, which just a few miles before Hillcrest. I had no idea of what had happened and, in the age before mobile phones and constant communication, my family weren’t able to contact me for several hours. They decided that, more than anything, my father would have wanted me to finish the race, so they let me continue.
Although I was concerned about not seeing my family for such a long time, I knew that the traffic on the route was always horrendous and, in any case, the particular strains and stresses of running Comrades were foremost in my mind. In those days there was no official seconding, and because we had previously experienced traffic problems, I dragooned a friend, Glen O’Brien, to second me on a motorbike. Glen worked really hard to keep me fed and watered and, most of all, motivated as I began to tire. I also remember running for long stretches with Mickey Pretorius, a former champion boxer, who was wonderful company on the road.
My family finally caught up with me on Polly Shorts, that dreaded long hill just before the finish in Maritzburg, but it was only on the finishing line that they told me of the events that had taken place earlier.
This year two of my nieces, Kirsty McAdam and Lauren von Gogh, ran their first Comrades, a tribute to the grandfather that they never met. I wish that I had run with them, but these old bones complain too much, and so I was with them only in spirit. But I’m really pleased that they ran all the way together, finishing in 11 hours and 20 minutes. I know how hard the race is, and I can only praise them for their efforts. And my thoughts go also to all the wonderful Comrades that I have met and run with in South Africa, and who gave me such wonderful support and camaraderie when I really needed it. South Africa, for all its faults, then and now, has surely has bred the most wonderful running fraternity in the world. Kirsty, Lauren and Comrades all, I salute you.

P.S. You might have noticed in the photograph that I was wearing a black band on my right wrist, which was part of a Wits University protest against the exclusion of black runners from the race. Many of us students were abused and reviled for doing so, and the authorities were scathing about the protest, in spite of it being relatively low-key and non-confrontational. Whatever they thought, it was effective because the following year, for the first time, black runners were allowed to participate officially. Two years later women were allowed to compete too, all part of South Africa’s slow liberation.

Don’t pity the poor cyclist …

I used to think that cycling was a pastime for poor people. You probably remember him – the cyclist would be that unfortunate chap who couldn’t afford a car. Because he needed some independent form of transport, he bought a bike, which he would ride with the pride and pretend that it was a lifestyle choice, rather than a necessity. He would pootle around to afternoon tea or a dinner party, arriving unfashionably late, trousers tucked into socks and always a bit hot and sweaty, even in the wind and the rain.
The beauty of bicycling was its economy – as youngsters, the object of saving our pocket money was to buy a bike. Once that was achieved, no more money was spent on the bike, not even a bit of lube for the chain. The only thing I remember spending money on was the occasional tube, and then only when the old one no longer had space to patch it between all the other patches.
But all that has changed. Last week I bought a couple of cycling magazines while waiting to catch a train and received almost no change from £15. I can almost hear you choke on your creamcheese bagel as you read this, but yes, £15 for two magazines. Admittedly, they were not magazines that concentrated on bicycle clips and mudguards. Instead, they featured trips over the famous cols of the Pyrenees, sportives in Sicily and lots of high-end carbon confectionary. One advertisement was for a carbon groupset costing well over £2,000. Yes, I know, that’s not even a whole bike – not even a frame or wheels – and you could buy a second-hand car, yes, a WHOLE second-hand car with four wheels, for less than that.

In the workshop ...

In the workshop …

But that is not the whole truth about the rising cost of cycling, because daily I experience the opposite end of velo-economics. I live and work in a small charity in Kent where we support people who have suffered setbacks in life and need time and space to get their lives back on track. Recently we started up a small social enterprise where we repair old bikes for our own use, or to sell on to people who cannot afford new bikes. We also have a bike repair service, and mend punctures for far less than any bicycle shop would charge.
Since the beginning of the year, when a local paper ran a small article about us, we have been given about 80 old bikes that would otherwise have landed up on the tip. Some of these bikes are old and rusted, but all, once stripped down, have some useable parts. A few of the bikes have very little wrong with them and, with a bit of cleaning, lubrication and tlc are quickly returned to a rideable condition. Most need replacement cables, brake blocks, bearings and, most expensively, tyres, but the joy of eBay gives us the ability to source these things relatively cheaply. (If you know of a ready supply of cheap tyres and tubes, please let me know.)
In the frame ... stripped down frames awaiting a bit of paint and a new life.

In the frame … stripped down frames awaiting a bit of paint and a new life.

We call our enterprise Born-Again Bikes (we are, after all, based in an old monastery) and I think we offer a service that doesn’t harm the local economy by competing with local bikes shops (apart from the puncture-repair service). Our biggest outlay was £500 for a bike mechanics course, plus about another £500 for tools and equipment, which was funded by grants.
So, with a bit of goodwill and a lot of elbow grease, and for less than half the price of a carbon groupset, we have managed to get a good number of people back on their bikes, and at no great cost to them. George Osborne, are you listening?

The return to Flanders

Last weekend I returned to Belgium for my second ride of the Ronde van Vlaanderen (for non-cyclists and English-speaking non-Continentals, that’s the Tour of Flanders). I do love visiting to Belgium. I mean, who wouldn’t, what with those thousands of Trappist beers  to try and, of course, the frites. And even chocolate, if that’s what takes your fancy. And, of course, endless cycle paths (none of which says “Cyclists dismount”).
But there’s one thing I just don’t get about the Belgians (perhaps it’s just the Flemish), and that is their penchant for weird and not so wonderful garden decorations: think garden gnomes, let them grown and remove all colour, then place them in tableau about your garden. Think of giant red rabbits, blue elephants. Think Smurfs … oh, perhaps that explains it. Maybe there’s something about the mushrooms that they eat. Anyhow, during the ride I saw one elderly couple that sitting on a bench outside their house, watching the cyclists passing by. Alongside them was an almost identical couple, half life-sized and cast in concrete, like some kind of mini-me memorial. And I don’t think they were dead yet. Spooky.
The Flemish hills are a bit like their garden ornaments – undersized, but with some dreadful element added. The Flemish call them “berge”, which I thought translated to mountains. But they certainly aren’t the Alps or Pyrenees. Perhaps the North Downs, but shorter. What makes them challenging are the gradient and, in many cases, the cobbles. If you want to loosen every tooth in your head and every bolt on your bike, just ride down one of these “berge” at speed.
Four years ago, when I first rode the RVV, as it is commonly known, it finished in a nonentity town called Ninove, but since then the ride has centred on Oudenaarde, the Flemish capital of cycling. Once again I opted to ride the medium distance: 135km starting and finishing in Oudenaarde (plus a 20km warm-up from our campsite in Munkzwalm). Last time it was cold and wet, making the cobbled climbs particularly slippery and treacherous. This time the weather was perfect: slightly cool and overcast, with almost no wind. I started out easy, planning to take my time and enjoy the day  – if it took all day. And if I had to push on the hills, then so be it. So what had previously been quite a tough ride turned out to be no more than a pleasant jaunt. What is more, I didn’t need to push up the hills – well, not until someone fell off in front of me halfway up the Koppenberg, which forced everyone around me to a halt. On the rest of the hills and the cobbles I just took  my own sweet, but slightly laboured time, and it was only on the final climb, the short but brutal Paterberg, that I finally capitulated and pushed over the summit. So, apart from one puncture at the 100km mark, it was a great ride.
cancelleraA big part of the fun of being at the Tour of Flanders is to watch the professionals toil over the same hills the following day. My son Matt and I went into Oudenaarde on Sunday where we saw the peloton fly though on their way to the berge. For the next few hours we became ensconced in the town square, sampling the local brew and watching the race on big screens. A few hours later, back in a bar in Munkzwalm, we cheered as we watched Fabian Cancellera outwit and outsprint three Belgians to take the honours. And we cheered even louder when Cancellera confirmed that I’m not the only one who believes that beer is the perfect post-ride potion. Moments after dismounting, and live on television, Cancellera was handed a bottle of beer, unopened. Like the old pro that he is, he popped the cap off by smacking it on the chair next to him, and downed the beer in one go. Cheers Fabian, I’ll drink to that!

Riding into a storm, of sorts

It’s not easy being British if you can’t complain about the weather, and so just recently, with all the rain we’ve had, we’ve finally had a lot to complain about. But in the end it all gets a bit much, doesn’t it? Just look at the soaking that we’ve had so far this year: in Kent, where I do most of my cycling, it’s rained four or five times more than the seasonal average, so it’s been especially difficult to get out for a ride. Commuters in London have had no choice but to get on their bikes over the past few days – that’s what a strike on the Underground system does. For the rest of us, though, we’ve just had to hide indoors and look up to the skies, longing for a break in the clouds.

And so while professional cyclists head for the sunshine of the Tour Down Under, or the desert sands of Qatar, Dubai and Oman, the rest of us are stuck in this perpetual cycle of rain that has us wondering if we should switch from bicycles to pedalos.
Last week I looked at my calendar and was horrified to see it was just two weeks to my first sportive of the year. I don’t have water wings on my bike, or a winter base in Mallorca or Nice, so there’s only one solution: get out the old turbo-trainer.

That is much easier said than done. First I have to find the machine at the back of the shed, then I must convince the wife of the necessity of clearing a space in the spare bedroom. After that I must set it all up, find the heart-rate monitor, install a computer on the spare bike, find a cover for the floor so that I don’t sweat on the carpet. This all takes far longer than I intended to ride for.

But finally everything is set up. Outside the wind is howling and the rain beats against the windows. Inside it is all snug as I plug myself into my iPod and set off at random for my stationery ride. First off is the sound of The Doors. A bit bizarrely, but probably quite apt, I find myself pedalling along to Riders on the Storm. Ah well, I’ll just have to put my head down and ride it out.

Even cyclists are rude sometimes

Bicycle-Sign-freefotoI was pedalling along quite pleasantly on my Sunday morning ride when I got around to thinking, as occasionally I do. Everything was good with the world, everyone seemed to be behaving, apart from the weather, and even the passing motorists seemed to be almost benign. As my legs propelled me onward and upward, so my thoughts turned towards that eternal, vexing question of why there’s such a big divide between the two tribes that use our roads. Why do motorists and cyclists seem to hate each other? Why can’t they quietly co-exist, sharing the roads in love and peace and harmony? Such thoughts tumbled through my mind as I pottered over the potholes, and slowly, in the distance, an answer began to appear.
As the cogs in my brain engaged a higher gear, it became clear that this fight is not at all a battle between motorists and cyclists. If you think about it, most people who ride a bike also drive a car, although the corollary does not necessarily apply. The two tribes are not those who ride bikes and those who drive cars; rather, the tribes are those who care for others, and those who care only for themselves. Basically, it comes down to a question of manners.
When I am out on the road, whether on a bike or in a car, I like to feel comfortable and happy, and I’d like others to feel the same. Having good manners and showing consideration for others should make everyone happy. If, by being nice to another road user, I lighten their mood or bring a smile to their face, my work for the day is done, and I feel glad. Of course, that is no more than a utopian notion – I too get peeved when others are rude and unthoughtful, and when they fail to acknowledge little niceties I fume with fury.
This all reminds me of someone I worked with recently – let’s call him Benny, for argument’s sake (because, for sure, there were a lot of arguments). I think that generally I’m quite an easy person to get along with, but Benny and I just didn’t see eye to eye. Fair enough, you might say, not everyone gets on with everyone else, that’s just the way of the world. Benny professed (quite loudly and very proudly) to be a Christian, but to me he was just rude, intrusive, and unable to show common courtesy. On these issues we clashed often. After one such run-in Benny stalked off and talked about it to one of the nuns who live in the abbey next door to us. (Those nuns are the most wonderful, wise and patient people that I have ever known, but that’s another story for another time.) Benny told Sister X about our argument and she asked him: “Why don’t you just apologise?”
Benny replied: “Me apologise? But that would be humbling myself.”
Sister X said: “But isn’t that what Christians do?”
I don’t know how Benny responsed, but clearly humility, which was once a virtue, has now become almost a dirty word. And that is the problem with our modern world – many of us have a skewed image of our self worth. Showing humility doesn’t mean having to grovel or demean yourself, it just means having a proper sense of your self-worth, and a proper regard for those around us.
Anyhow, Benny never did apologise and, truth be told, I couldn’t care less. All I hope is that I – and you – never run into him when we’re out on the road, no matter whether he’s in a car or on a bike. You see, it’s not about the bike or car, it’s all about the person who’s driving.

Safety: a life and death issue

Guest post by MIKE EVANS: Should cycle training be compulsory?

Another cyclist was involved in a fatal accident on London’s roads today, the sixth person die in the capital in two weeks. His death will undoubtedly lead to more criticism of the safety of London’s cyclist as well as proposals laid out by Boris Johnson for London’s cycle superhighways. With Road Safety Week, an initiative by the charity Brake, taking place this week there will be much speculation on how to make Britain’s roads safer.
The majority of media speculation on the issue has focused on whether or not helmets should be compulsory for cyclists and while there are strong arguments on both sides regarding this, it doesn’t address the root of the problem. Similarly, often in cases such as this there are calls for large-scale changes to infrastructure to make UK cities more cycle friendly. However, the sheer cost and time needed to implement these changes mean that it’s just not feasible at the current time. So what’s the solution?
In my opinion, the first stage to addressing the problem would be to invest in compulsory cycle training for all those that were able. This would be a necessity before you were able to take your driving test and, just as those who want drive an HGV need to pass a regular driving test first, those who want to pass their driving test would have to complete a compulsory cycling test.
Undoubtedly, this would still be a significant investment but it would be a great deal less than the cost of investment in infrastructure. Current government proposals amount to around £77 million for cycling investment across the UK and this won’t even begin to address the root of the problem – that  many people have no idea what it’s like to be a vulnerable road user.
In a survey conducted by the cycle training group Bikeability, 90 per cent of respondents chose “improved road awareness” as the main benefit from cycle training. Many drivers have never had experience cycling in traffic and so cannot possibly understand what it’s like. At the same time, there are many cyclists – particularly in London where cycling is a more common form of commute – that don’t have a proper understanding of the highway code and how to cycle on busy roads. This is not to say that the tragedies of those that have died in London this month is down to poor cycle training, far from it.
It is about doing everything we can to ensure that all road users have a good awareness of what it’s like to walk in somebody else’s shoes. There would also be the extra benefit of allowing people the opportunity to see that cycling is not dangerous and is in fact a very enjoyable form of commuting. This would lead to more people cycling, meaning less traffic on the roads, which is better for the environment as well as saving people money. Evidence from the UK cycle charity the CTC suggests that more cyclists on the road mean fewer accidents, which also supports the original idea of reducing road traffic accidents.
The number of people commuting by bike has been shown to be increasing, which is undoubtedly a good thing, but with more people cycling we want to ensure that those who commute by bike are safe in doing so. Compulsory cycle training offers a viable solution to this and is something the Government should seriously consider following these tragedies.

For more information please visit Cyclist Safety


Twitter: @mikesearchlabs


A day off, or just an off day?

Today was my day off. My friends always ask how can I tell that it’s my day off because, you see, I work as a volunteer and don’t get paid for the many things that I do. Plus it’s a live-in job, so I don’t have to go out to go to work. But it can consume me 24 hours a day, and I have only one day off a week, so I’m always torn as to what I should do on that day off … Sleep? Sleep some more? Catch up on some reading? Go to London and lunch with friends? Write a blog? Go for a bike ride? Clean the house and do some washing?

Choices, choices. But you get the drift. Generally, the options are do something useful, or do nothing and recover from the rest of the week. The latter usually wins. Well, today I wanted to go to London and visit a few bike shops to see if I could persuade them to sell my book. It’s something I’ve been putting off for ages. The weather wasn’t great for trekking around London on a bike with a bag full of books, so I thought I would use the Tube. But perhaps I could sneak in a ride before I went, in spite of the weather.

So I kitted up, dipped a toe out the back door and thought: “Noooo, I don’t want to go out there.” But an evil spirit on my shoulder reminded me that I have a SkyRide coming up this Sunday, and I hadn’t had a decent ride in, well, weeks. Man up, I told myself, and get out there. So I did. “Just keep it short and sweet,” I said. (Actually, that is what Mrs R tells me about this blog, and a few other domestic matters.)

Needless to say, once I was out and about, the rain didn’t seem so bad. There were even a few other idiots out on bikes, so I wasn’t alone in my insanity. The ride went swimmingly, and in spite of the puddles and mud I was quite enjoying myself until I hit the appropriately named Basted Lane, a short, sharp, muddy and bumpy downhill that is the prelude to a long, steady climb.

Just take it easy down the hill, I think, knowing that it is full of – wham – yes, full of potholes, this one disguised as a puddle. I brake, and see that my front wheel has instantly gone flat. Bugger. Or, should I say, Basted. A quick thought runs through my mind – should I phone the missus. A quick check of the mobile shows there is no network coverage, so I’m all on my own. But it’s no big deal. I pull over to the muddy, ivy-entangled verge and take off gloves and glasses, remove spare tube from saddlebag and pop off the front wheel. I take my time, because what’s the rush? I curse for bringing the smallest pump known to mankind, but it gets the job done, eventually. My hands are wet and grimy, but I pull on my (by now quite damp) gloves. Now, where did I put my glasses? I can’t see them anywhere: clear lenses, with just a strip of black frame across the top, renders them virtually invisible in the tangle of ivy and dead leaves. After five minutes I give up, mount the bike and – but what’s this? No. That back tyre is flat. Okay, I’m a boy scout, and have come prepared, because I always carry two spares (and even patches, if I’m MTBing), so I’m not stuck. I change the back tube in record time, then spend another ten minutes looking for my glasses. No luck.

The missing glasses

The missing glasses

I knock the accumulated mud and decaying leaves from my cleats and head off down the hill and up the long climb on the other side. It’s as I start climbing that suddenly I feel as if I’m riding a clown bike – on every rotation of the back wheel there is a bump, causing the saddle to give me a kick up the … Well, one look tells me why – the tyre beading and valve are not seated properly. Once again the tyre and my spirits are deflated, and the tyre properly bedded down, followed by another frenzied bout of pumping. I continue home without incident, apart from a lot of spray and mud in my eyes, and a wish that I’d bought some mudguards.
And so, a good hour later than expected, I return home, a little dejected, but none the worse for wear. And then, in one reflective instant, I realise what a total idiot I am – I catch a glimpse of myself in the kitchen window and there, stuck in the front of my helmet, are my missing glasses. Basted.