Cycling

My hand-built upgraded 16" wheel for my Brompton, incorporating a SON Dynhub and SUN rim.

I’ve been riding around on two wheels for as long as I can remember. I definitely remember my dad weaning me off stabilizers in the park, and a heavy yellow Peugeot Black Lion BMX with it’s funky padding I had when I was 10 or so. I assume I had unmemorable steeds before then, and certainly a few since.

There was a light blue steel Eddie Merckx road bike I permanently borrowed off my dad in my mid to late teens. I took it through a couple of re-sprays and component upgrades before eventually losing it at university. Those stands just off St Giles’, in front of Debenhams, to be precise. Losing your bike at uni is like having your arm ripped off. I’d traded on my reputation for being a bit of a bike fix-it man whilst at university. It was arguable the only useful engineering I did whilst I was up. I bought some new jockey wheels from a tiny bike shop up Woodstock Road. I was inappropriately excited by them. Little things…

I don’t remember what replaced the Eddie Merckx. But since then I’ve been mostly riding hybrids. There’s definitely been a much-loved Dawes, which was the first bike I brought to London. There was a fabulous Fahrrad Manufaktur (T200?) from Bikefix around the turn of the millenium. That and a brand new (though not full price) Schwinn Moab 3 mountain bike both got liberated from their hardened steel chains in my back garden around 2002. That marked a sea change in my approach to bike security. I now keep them indoors and minimize their time locked outdoors as far as possible. I have had bit of my bikes stoken since. But never the whole thing.

Those got replaced by the insurers, with a Specialized Crossroads A1 Sport 2002. Not a great deal, but then my insurance policy wasn’t quite up to the kit! I still have that bike, though many of it’s components have long since been upgraded. I daresay the originals are sitting in my bit boxes, though. I loved the single front disc brake. It’s something I’d briefly enjoyed on the Moab before it got stolen. So when looking into having a rear disk retro-fitted, Matt from Two Wheels Good, here in N16, convinced me to buy a Kona Dr Dew 2005 off him instead. I had only intended to take the frame, but ended up with the whole bike. I’m not complaining. I ended up exchanging components between the two frames.

The Dr Dew has been my main ride ever since. Pimped-up to within an inch of it’s life, of course. With new short-crank chainset (I have disproportionately short legs!) last year, only the frame, forks and stem remain from the original bike. At least the bike shop remember it when I take it in. For someone who likes tinkering, upgrading and has a reputation for his gleaming chain, you might well wonder why I take it to the bike shop at all. I’m a keen amateur and every amateur should know his limits. I’m not building and repairing bikes every day and new components come and go. New fittings, new threads, new sizes, new materials. It’s hard to keep on top; that Eddie Merckx had a threaded headsets and a cottered bottom bracket. We now have threadless Aheadsets and external bottom brackets. If you rely on your bike to take you a few thousand miles each year, it’s nice to have your work checked over by someone who can spot things I can’t. Like the cracks in my rim, the slighty-too-short spoke or headset that’s a shade too loose. Always learning. About bikes at least.

A Brompton L6 managed to slip in to the collection in 2004. In orange and silver. Can’t remember how I justified it. It isn’t a cheap bike. But it’s a jot to fold and unfold. I was slightly ahead of the trend. Since then, folding bikes—and the Brompton in particular—seem to pop up everywhere. It get’s dusted down intermittently when the need arises. It’s a fun ride. So now I like at home with three bikes: the Specialized Crossroads A1, Brompton L6 and the Kona Dr Dew. I have a favourite but I try not to let any of them know which it is.

No Lycra here

I like the machines more than I enjoy the sport of cycling. Indeed I know very little about it. The fact that I own neither a BMX, mountain bike nor a road bike probably indicates that I don’t participate in anything remotely sporty (on two wheels or otherwise). I’m a leisure and commuter cyclist, who likes his kit.

I remember my dad taking my out at weekends for a ramble round Wyre and Fylde. I have distinct memories of being impressed we’d managed 27 miles one sunny Sunday. I had one of those mechanical odometers. I hadn’t intentionally ridden that far just for the fun of it since. Until 2010. Despite being in London with my bike since 2006, and a passive member of the LCC for most of that time, I’d never gone on any ‘social’ rides. There were plenty going on. I was once lured in to a ride from Uxbridge to Docklands on my Brompton to get a rare tour of the Brompton factory and tickets to the Cycling Show at ExCeL. That was an exception.

Nick in south London on his Kona Dr Dew

Much like the appeal of the bike factory, the appeal of a jam factory convinced me, and a friend, to join the Tower Hamlets Wheelers on a summer ride to Tiptree, Essex in 2010. 40 miles. Me on my Dr Dew, and my friend on his Pashley. It’s fair to say I had a slightly easier time with it, with my 27 gears against his three. But it was a revelation. It was neither a group of Lycra nerds racing each other, nor old men pottering around at seven miles and hour. Sure, there were a few ‘characters’, but all quite entertaining and friendly. I’ve been riding regularly with the Wheelers ever since. It’s the same MO. Nothing too serious. All-comers welcome. No one gets left behind at the bottom of a hill and there’s cake. Lots of cake. And sometimes wine.

It’s a magic combination. This riding, in spite of (or possibly because of) the cake consumed, coincided with me deciding to diet. It’s a effective combination–cycling more and eating less rubbish. I’m three and a half stone lighter now than I was on that first Jam factory ride. That’s a wardrobe-changing reduction in weight.

And the hills that I would plod up, swearing, and stopping to push the bike up, back in 2010? We’ll I still swear, but I don’t need to get off and push any more. A ride with the Wheelers, up (and down) Six Peaks of Surrey (follow the link for myride report), at the end of 2010, marked a significant point in my cycling history. It was a ride I wouldn’t have contemplated a year earlier. But this ride I did twice!

How not to ride a bike

The GPS and heart rate sensors record the moment I crashed and broke my rib.

The first time, I’d taken a day of work to do it with a couple of friends from the Wheelers’ Crew to ride the course by way of a test for the full group ride. That first ride ended badly. In hospital. Six peaks done, and a short distance from the train home, I took a tumble, arse-over-tit at twenty miles per hour, downhill. Broken rib, messed up face and the feeling of being foolish. I didn’t hit anything or anyone, I was just getting tired and complacent at too high a speed on too steep a downward incline. The cycling geek that I am, I was, of course, wearing a heart-rate monitor and recording speed and position on GPS at the time. So the moment, and my body’s reaction to it is captured for posterity.

The bike came out of it almost unscathed. Nothing more than the odd scuff and the handlebars twisted a few degrees. It was those buggers that hit my ribcage and cracked my rib. Apart from a manly scar above my eye, the face healed substantially in a fortnight. The rib prevented me riding (and sneezing!) for about three weeks, and it was ultimately a shade over seven weeks between that fateful test ride and the real thing. But getting back on the bike is important. And a bit of new respect for hills is no bad thing.

Rides for 2012

The Wheelers had a record-breaking 37 people turn up in January 2012 for the gentle, perennial Lee Valley Ride. I’m always happy to help out at these events by assisting the ride leader by back-marking or leading a sub-group of riders. I’m under some pressure to create my own ride to lead, but lack the creative energy to design a ride from scratch! So if you have any great ideas for a ride within short reach of London (we don’t mind taking short train journeys to and from a ride), do let me know.

In the meantime, you will, no doubt, find me hanging out with the Wheelers on many of their forthcoming rides.