We’re living at my parents’ old bungalow. There’s something wrong. Nothing serious – something to do with the house. Meryl Streep calls round in a sort of consultant capacity. She’s very relaxed. She sits in an armchair, crosses her legs and looks around. There is a lot of dust from building work, and many crocheted blankets.
Archive for November, 2011
A sprig of lucky heather?
Back in 1977, when I was 10, my parents bought me a Raleigh Chopper for Christmas. It was metallic blue – the same colour as our Ford Consul – and came with front and rear lights, a speedo and not one but two chrome mirrors with white reflectors on the back. Pretty much every accessory available, in fact. It was a gleaming gypsy caravan of a bike. I loved it.
I rode that Chopper to death. Wore the rear tyre down to the ribbing by skidding. Had a crash in which one handlebar bent through 90 degrees. Once when I thought someone had nicked it I walked home crying. (It turned out they’d just moved it.) I even got up to 40 mph on a caravan site. (At least, that’s what the speedo said…)
I rode it to school for a while. Then I started to walk, and after some years, when everyone was riding “racers”, my Raleigh Chopper fell by the wayside.
For around thirty years after that, I didn’t ride a bike at all.
Then, in the spring of 2010, I bought my first proper grown-up bike – a Genesis Day One flat bar single speed. My intention was to go out with the kids now and then and use it for exercise as a replacement for running.
I’d started running a couple of years earlier to lose some weight. This worked to some extent, but I came to hate running, with all that jigging up and down and banging on the pavement. It came to the point where I sought every excuse to avoid it.
Why a single speed? Well, I’m not particularly mechanically minded and was also attracted by the simplicity. You just get on and pedal. If you’re going up a hill or want to go faster, just pedal harder, young man.
When I was looking for a bike I imagined I’d ride the routes I ran. Maybe a couple of times. And probably a bit faster. What I didn’t anticipate was how much fun it would turn out to be, how good I’d feel afterwards, and how far I’d be able to go.
As I hadn’t ridden a bike since my beloved Chopper all those years before, my first few trips out were somewhat tentative. I was bit wobbly. I got yelled at by a passenger in a taxi (not even the driver, if you please!). I found my jeans had a thick, hard seam right under the crotch. But overall it was great.
A couple of weeks later a friend came round to have a look at my bike. Having ridden across Canada around 20 years ago (albeit in the wrong direction – you’d understand if you met him…) he recommended toe straps.
“You’ll want to lock-in,” he said enthusiastically. “It’ll be much better. You can pull up on the pedal as well as push down.”
I was sceptical.
“But I’d be afraid of falling over,” I said.
“Well you will,” he said. “A couple times anyway. I fell off at some traffic lights once. But it’ll still be better.”
The next few times I went out I focussed on my pedalling and noticed the amount of energy that I actually wasted just keeping my feet in contact with the pedals. The more I thought about it, the more sense this fixing my feet to the pedals idea made. Plus, I was using a pair of old trainers to cycle in, and these were pretty much falling apart.
I visited my local bike shop and ended up buying some clipless pedals and mountain bike shoes. “Road shoes” didn’t appeal at the time. This was partly because I didn’t see myself doing that sort of riding, and also because they have cleats that stick out of the bottom, making them difficult to walk in. MTB shoes would allow me to ride to the shops and walk around easily.
After some practice on Row Heath playing fields I’d pretty much got the hang of my clipless pedals. I still had a couple of falls, though: when your daughter decides she’s going to stop instantaneously at five miles per hour with you just behind it’s sometimes difficult to unclip in time. Lesson learned. However, I got used to them within a few rides.
Thereafter, I continued to ride, enjoying it, becoming fitter, losing weight. I sought every excuse to get out on my bike.
I was so enthused by riding that – somewhat on impulse it has to be said – I decided to take part in the 25-mile route of Macride 2010. This might not seem like much to any seasoned riders reading this, but at that time I hadn’t ridden 25 miles before.
As it was, I completed the course relatively easily, and was pretty chuffed to raise £250 in the process. This was also the first time I rode in a group. Well, when I say rode in a group, I rode along behind someone for a bit. A big fellow with a creaky bike. I don’t think he knew I was there…
In the club
A year or so passed during which I tried to get out on my bike around three times a week. This I managed pretty much consistently apart from during the very icy weather. One day I bravely ventured down to the canal towpath near Bournville station. It was a pure sheet of ice about two inches thick, and so I was forced to return home frustrated.
More recently I googled “cycling club Birmingham”. Beacon RCC popped up, among others. It seemed fairly friendly, and certainly active, and also very local to me. As well as the regular club runs, the Beacon also does regular intro rides. As I work from home this would represent an opportunity to socialise and meet new people, as well as get out of the house and on my bike a bit more.
I thought I’d give it a go, and bought all the stuff the club run guidelines said I’d should have “just in case”: spare tube, tyre levers, pump, a saddlebag to stick it all in.
On the morning of the intro ride I woke early. I was a little nervous, not sure what to expect: how many riders would there be? Would my single speed bike and mountain bike shorts be the scorn of the club? My experience of other cyclists at this point was mixed: some – usually individuals – had given a nod or a wave and said good morning. But those in groups on swish road bikes that I’d encountered tended to completely blank me. Would this be the case here? I wondered.
There was quite a turnout on the day due to the Indian summer – 25 degrees in mid-September. We milled around at the meeting point for a while, and I soon found myself at ease, chatting to others who were going on the intro ride, and admiring the bikes of those going on the A and B runs.
The A and B rides are the main club runs, although the C runs are now more regular. The B run covers 45-60 miles at 13-15 mph; the A run covers 55-65 miles at 15-17 mph. C runs typically cover 40-50 miles at an average of 12-13mph. I believe I once caught a glimpse of someone from the A run group, but he was merely a blur…
When the A and B rides had set off Jane, our intrepid leader, gave the intro ride group a briefing before we also departed. “Is there anyone who hasn’t ridden in a group before?” Jane asked. Several hands were raised, including mine, despite briefly slip streaming a fat, creaky gentleman.
With Jane having advised us about hand signals to indicate obstructions, pot holes, etc, and to yell about cars and such like, we duly set off.
All because the lady loves…
I really enjoyed riding in the group. I also noted the reason why some groups on road bikes probably don’t acknowledge lone riders: there’s quite a lot to think about: position in relation to the other cyclists; semaphore; shouting things: “car”, “easy!”, “clear”, “how far to the café?”, etc. Also, you get to chat a lot.
I’ve been on a few more rides since (including one on which I was referred to as “the little lad on the single speed” by veteran rider Alan), have met many nice people and generally had a great time in the beautiful North Worcestershire countryside.
Having apparently become a road cyclist, I’ve bought some “bib tights”, to wear with my Aldi base layers (which are, I’m told, very good value). My wife and daughter wear tights. They are a form of undergarment. Cycling tights are apparently not a form of undergarment. But goodness me, they are tight!
When wearing my black base layer and black bib tights I look like the man from the Milk Tray ad, a silhouette that slips through the house on a Sunday morning before adorning the club colours and setting off for a jaunt in the countryside. I also do a mean Max Wall.
Long may it continue!
Anyhow, you’ll have to excuse me: I have a box of chocolates to deliver…
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I’m standing on the shore looking inland. The world is grey and lacks detail. A small triangular jet fighter like something from Thunderbirds appears in sky above the hills, heading directly towards me. I watch it pass directly overhead. It is very low, but not very fast. As it flies out over the sea the left wing dips very slightly and it drifts to one side. The pilot corrects and the aircraft drifts back to the right, but then its nose suddenly drops and the machine plunges into the water. There is a brief explosion beneath the surface, then the sea quickly calms. I yell to someone to call the coastguard. I am shocked, a feeling which lingers when I wake.