Saturday, May 3, 2008

Gone are the days of the penny-farthing

Years ago I got a bike free with petrol coupons. A green mountain bike type affair with 3 gears at the back and quite a few at the front. 21 in all. The last serious bike ride I went on was if I remember rightly, on a friend’s bike with ape hangers when I was a kid. That shows you my age doesn’t it. Now I have to say that I don’t like mountain bikes. Don’t really like bikes at all. Can’t see the point in slogging up hills on a road, and up a dirt track, even worse, much better on foot or on a trials bike if you must have wheels. On a bike unless you’re going down hill and that of course implies that you have already slogged your way up a hill, you’re not going fast enough to make it interesting but not slow enough to notice what you’re passing. And for me a bike should have ape hangers or at least cow horns (for those of you who are too young to remember real bikes, cow horn handlebars stick out at 45 degrees). We did stuff as kids with three gears and cows that would now go under the label mountain biking but with the added benefit of comfortable handlebars. However before I put some apes on my green mountain bike I’m going to have to gently, gently talk She Who Must Be Obeyed round to the idea. I have had things explained to me; weights and theories of pedal rotation and bodily positioning etc and that I am no longer 15 and that serious mountain biking could not be done with ape hangers, but I still prefer apes. It’s genetic.

My green mountain bike has sat in various positions for years and years, neglected, unused, unloved. The wife also has a mountain bike, yellow which she has used a lot.

She has now convinced me, for the bairn, that we should go rideabout every now and again. With this in mind we took a trip to what must be the most boring shop in existence, Decathlon, purveyor of sporting equipment and attire. A whole shop dedicated to sport – wow!. Anyway after buying some cheap t-shirts we got the child seat, rack, new pump and a helmet for the wee’un. There is no way I’m going to put one of those things on my own head. Maybe silly and irresponsible of me but I don’t hold with all this excessive namby pamby health and safety. The next step will be helmets for walkers. I spent my childhood doing mad things on bikes as did all the kids with no untoward consequences and I don’t see why that should change now that I no longer do mad things.

Of course the child seat rack doesn’t fit the bike. Way way too simple. Way way too optimistic of me to even consider that a producer of things for bikes could come up with a product that can be easily fitted to a bike. So I had to use 9 washers and bent a long screw at right angles to fix the bloody thing on to the saddle stem. But I did succeed where modern industrial practice has failed which is comforting. After fitting the thing on I told wifey what I had done and we had lunch and set off for a ride.

Well, perhaps set off is not the correct word. First I was talked into putting on a pair of cycling pants. Sort of lycra type things, which reach half way down your thigh for some reason and have padding under your men’s bits and bum. I felt a right nancy. But then, with a pair of Bermudas on too I felt a little more normal albeit uncomfortable. Then, because the bairn had to go into the car as well as the bikes we had to take the front wheels off of tie everything down and get rucksacks and fleeces and spare stuff for She Who Howls and phones and… well you get the drift. Beware family on the move. We are no longer of the hunter-gatherer ilk I fear, and a spear, a loin cloth and a sling for the baby are simply not enough these days.

So, living in the foothills of the mountains we had to drive to the plains which, luckily for us is only a 10 minute drive away being as our house is on the last mountain before said plains. We parked the car in the square at Bibiana and started getting wheels back on and kitting out the howler in her child seat. The seat goes over the back wheel which means as I can’t see her, the boss has to ride behind to ensure that the She Who Howls when in silent mode, doesn’t manage to get herself free and leap under a passing lorry. Finally off we went.

The road to the farm where we buy our organic stuff from is imperceptibly down hill. Just enough to make the first 5 minutes easy allowing time to figure out gears and saddle etc. We found we had forgotten to pack the spanners and stuff to tighten things like wheels and chains. We also found that, because lunch had got in the way I though the wife had tightened the nuts on the child seat and she though I had. As usual they were socket nuts yet another of man’s great inventions (note hint of sarcasm in voice). So I tightened them as best I could and hoped for the best. Well after all, babies bounce don’t they!

After cycling about for a twenty minutes we came out by accident on the road that leads to the new B&B we want to buy. It’s a hill but, always the macho, I suggested we climb it. After 2 minutes any residual machismo had started to drain away very quickly, probably into the saddle. I would though like to stress the fact that it must be 15 years since I last got on a bike so I’m not that bothered by my wimpish behavior Ten minutes on the level and then a hill and with twelve kilos of sprog on the back is just not cricket. But, sweating like a pig and with several stops we got to the little chapel which sits to the side of the road just before the final steep climb to the level road leading to the B&B.

Reflecting on the ride to this point I had found that the biggest problem was surprisingly not legs or even the saddle, but balance. Impossible to ride straight for long. Sure, the handlebars were off center but I couldn’t see why that would make a difference. But, stopping for a rest next to the chapel I noticed that the bolts on the child seat had worked loose and the whole contraption had slid backwards – She Who Howls looking a little like a pirate sitting the plank. The seat could not have come off but going up hill meant that all the weight was at the back so the front wheel was unstable. Soooooo, we had to push the bike up the last bit (oh what a pity!). When we got to the flat ground we cycled again up to the friend’s B&B. to borrow a socket wrench. The innkeeper (lovely word) John tightened the nuts and we straightened the handlebars. John also suggested I raise the handlebars. Wot, you can raise them?? So we did. Oh Comfort!!! Oh Bliss!. Oh Balance! So with the howler doing what she does best because the helmet tips over her eyes all the time so she can’t see, we set off again, down hill this time.

So, biking, what to say? Going up your legs and bum hurt because of the pedaling, going down your bum and fingers hurt because of the braking. What an activity!! The balance was a lot better because She Who Howls was right up close to the saddle, the handlebars were straight and a lot higher too. Pity then that just after the chapel going down I got a flat. She Who Is In Control pumps it up again and off we go. WWWeeeeeeeeee! And down to the farm to get our veg. But hanging around up at the B&B and chatting got us to about a quarter to seven. A twenty minute ride down again, including flat, and we arrived at five past seven. It closed at seven. So off we set yet again back to the car. Just after the dead snake, very long and green with spots, and which suddenly turned out not to be dead at all, I got another flat.. This time, no amount of pumping by She made any difference. But considering that the bike had lain idle for years and that the spare inner tubes she had put in were about 10 years old, we thought perhaps that they might just be a wee bit permeable. The tyre too, though new, was very aged and cracked.

I must just pint out here that it is She Who Must Be Obeyed who is the mechanic of the family. I haven’t got the patience. I am the rough bash it with a hammer type. If it don’t work, kick it and so on. So the fiddly stuff which most mechanics is I am quite happy to let someone else get on with. If you need any heavy stuff doing though, I’m your man.

So I took the yellow bike and leaving the two hers by the side of the road rode off to get the car. What a difference, better bike, more balanced, better gears, better tyres, 12kg less on the back, bliss. The road back to the car though up a slight incline was not difficult. Quite pleasant even. The design of my bike is Pininfarina. Not my choice but there it is. It shows really well how putting a famous name on something more often than not lowers the quality. Nice design shame about the practicalities. ‘s life I suppose. I used to have a friend who produced fake Valentino handbags. Impossible to distinguish from the real thing. Cost? Cheap. Materials? Exactly the same, but he gave up in the end because people wouldn’t buy them, they wanted the genuine article. People are so predictable.

So, next morning? Well I was very surprised. No pain, no aches, nothing. I figured because I spend all day every day walking either up hill or down my muscles must be used to it. My bum didn’t even hurt because, presumably, the bikers pants cushioned it.

So today I am more enthusiastic. We went to the bike shop and got two new tyres and inner tubes and a tool kit and stuff and perhaps tomorrow will go again, perhaps a bit longer on the flat and not so much up hill though.

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