My Seventy Second Week as a Budding Author
When asked what it is I particularly like about cycling, I roll out the stock answer that “I enjoy riding bikes”. And let’s be clear about the preceding sentence, it mentions “bikes” and “riding” and not a lot else. Which is a fair summary of my obsession with the sport. There are others out there who enjoy a whole lot more than just riding bikes. Strange people who take pleasure in tinkering with them, cleaning them, upgrading them or even mounting them on a wall for viewing pleasure.
It gets worse. I’m aware of other poor souls who have gone as far as naming their bikes, something I would never consider. As soon as you do that it becomes near human and how on earth could you whip a near human to death with tree branches after it has ceased to function leaving you stranded in the middle of nowhere? My attitude to bikes is suitably victorian. A bicycle should be seen and not heard (mine regularly disobey the latter), it should emerge from the shed, perform its function admirably and then return to the shed leaving the owner to bask in any honours. In fact a proper bike would return to the servants quarters, clean, maintain and upgrade itself before going to bed. It would be grateful of shelter and would make no fiscal demands upon its master.
Sadly the bikes of today have other thoughts. They are intricate and require loads of attention, they break continuously and require loads of money and are covered in bits which require loads of cleaning. There is a much touted cycling equation which states:-
number of bikes required = current number of bikes + one
It makes sense in overview but does not take into account that the cost, repair bill and cleaning hours will increase in direct proportion to the number of bicycles owned. So why would any sensible person buy another bike? Furthermore why would one who already owns a large number of machines increase the head count? But finally, Dave, haven’t you got quite enough bikes covering all of the cycling genres within which you partake?
Actually I haven’t.
Look at the map below, there’s nothing particularly unusual about it in overview. Looks like a reasonably epic bike ride that’s probably been done before. However, look a little closer and you will spot three markers and if you stroke your chin for a few more minutes you’ll note that they coincide with the three highest mountains in Great Britain. This is my next big cycling project. A foolhardy attempt at the three peaks by bike. Which has been done before but I’m planning on taking the bike up the mountain as well. Which means carrying it. It’s a pretty direct line and involves a decent amount of off-road. The mountain bike is too heavy to carry up a 3000 foot mountain, the road bike will die on the way down so there is a clear and obvious need for a cyclocross bike.
Now, those with good memories will refer to the Pompino, however, they can immediately take residence upon the naughty step as it only has one gear. There’s no way I’m singlespeeding 480 miles carrying all of my gear as well. I’m getting on a bit thus this expedition needs gears. So I’ve decided that I need a cyclocross bike which means that it’s already been purchased.
Actually that is stretching the truth a little. The bike has not been purchased, the constituent parts have and are now resident upon our kitchen floor. The simple reason is that I wanted a bike with disk brakes and spent an inordinate amount of time researching various models. One bike stood out as it had a specially adapted frame with a top tube designed to make carrying the bike easier. Like the child catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang an internet bike shop held out the lollipop of a “special online offer” and soon I was the entrapped owner of a new frame.
A legion of additional child catchers robbed me of even more money as I purchased wheels, seatposts, gears, brakes and other shiny things from whoever was cheapest. All this time a voice was nagging away at me. “Dave, you hate building bikes, it always goes wrong and costs you in the end”. Like the lollipop loving children I’d been warned before, but chose to ignore the voice.
By Saturday most of the bits had arrived and I decided to make a start on the build. They should create a version of Grand Designs covering cyclists constructing bikes. I’d be the episode where it all goes terribly over budget as the self-builder doesn’t have a clue and underestimates the magnitude of the task.
I began with the bottom bracket, a nice Hope unit that came with clear instructions. For once, these were actually read prior to commencing work. They talked about using loads of grease and making sure the correct number of spacers were used. So I dutifully slathered grease all over the kitchen and ten minutes later it was installed and looking just about correct. Next I inserted the chainset as instructed and finally the non-drive side crank, which didn’t fit as there wasn’t enough axle sticking out of the right hand side.
No problem, I undid the whole lot, removed some spacers, slathered more grease all round the kitchen and attempted to tighten the bottom bracket. It went in most of the way and then stopped. A bit in the middle was preventing it from being properly tightened up. I stood like Stan Laurel scratching my head and making high pitched noises in confusion. How on earth had Hope designed a bottom bracket that wouldn’t go all the way in. Then I returned to the box.
“Hope Bottom Bracket - Mountain Bike”
Oh Dave, you stupid bloody pillock you’ve done it again. Not only have you bought the wrong thing, you’ve marked it so it can’t be returned. I scratched my head further and then remembered the parts graveyard in shed number three. Surely there would be a shorter “middle bit” in there? After donning full caving gear I intrepidly delved into the depths of the parts graveyard but came up filthy yet empty handed. I then slathered the computer in grease and filth as I furiously browsed the Hope website for a solution. Luckily they had one, a “middle bit” could be purchased as a spare from a reputable dealer. Fortunately I had a local reputable dealer and made my way down with the chainset and bottom bracket just to make sure.
It’s at times like this that the guilt really hits home. There’s me standing in the shop with a couple of dead helpful mechanics measuring my cheap online purchased parts and ensuring that the right replacement is ordered from Hope. I bloody hate assembling bikes and halfway through the process usually yearn for someone I can pay to sort out my mess. These guys do it every day as their job. Surely there’s some sort of match made in heaven? Yet still I slunk out of the shop and made my way home to recommence battle with a carbon seat post that needs cutting and various other assembly jobs way out of my comfort zone.
I’ve sat and analysed this for a bit and realised that it’s down to a mistaken belief that I can become good at something by making every mistake once. I now consider myself to be a fairly proficient plumber after years of DIY mishaps that usually ended with towels, a bucket, swearing and Helen flicking through yellow pages. We now use a proper electrician for all cabling work and I know better than to even attempt anything requiring a hammer marked “large”.
Here I am yet again assembling yet another bike and making a whole series of mistakes that haven’t been made before. This is down to the pace of change in cycling engineering as all the bits are different from the ones I cocked up years ago, thus introducing a plethora of new hazards to trip me up. The mechanics in the shop won’t make these mistakes as they’ve been properly trained and I should defer to them. But I won’t will I? I’ll stumble through the assembly process shedding money left, right and centre like I always do. I’ll get the bike going, but there’ll be a niggle or two which will make themselves properly known about 230 miles into the epic ride.
At that point it will probably be me asking myself “what it is I like about cycling?”
Dave, 19th May 2012