A lifetime of cycling – part 2

Posted: March 3, 2011 in 2011, General

So, I needed a new bike but where was I going to get one? There was no answer, my Hustler (this picture is not of my bike but is the best picture I can find of one )

was dead(ish) but rideable…almost. The frame was twisted, the chain stays were bent but with a bit of bodging it worked. Looking down the length of the frame the front and rear wheels were way off alignment and you got the impression that it was ‘crabbing’ along the road rather than taking the most direct route.  Redemption was not to come for a few years but one day, when I had saved up enough money, I was off down the bike shop. Charlie Allen had retired by now and his shop was no more so it was off to the 1970s equivalent of Cycle King. My eye had been caught by a silver Puch, 10 speed tourer. It had everything on it not least the ten gears but also mudguards, rack, lights, those tourer type auxiliary brake levers – you know the ones, you’d pull them back to the bars and the bike would sail on as if nothing had happened. It also had a Brooks a like saddle. It sat there looking at me, smug, silver and soon to be mine. I haggled a bit and got some rigid panniers thrown in to the deal and launched myself into the new world, £140.00 worse off but with a new bike.

That first ride home was one of mixed emotions. Sailing through town (downhill) I felt like a king astride my new machine. The downhill section finished with I flew along the levels of Eastgate Street and then hit the lumpy bit. If you don’t know Bury St Edmunds it is predominantly flat, being bang in the middle of East Anglia. The ‘lumpy bit’ is but a series of pimples barely rising a handful of metres at any point but it was here that I noticed something I had taken no notice of in the shop. Seduced by its looks, and none the wiser for all my years of bodging on trackers, I think I had bought the heaviest bike in the Western World. Heavy tyres, steel rims, overbuilt rack, steel and chrome as far as you could see (rather like a 1950s Cadillac or a 1980s Mercedes) it was a tough ride. Having existed on a diet of singlespeeds (trackers) or 3 speeds (my Hustler) thus far, I had fallen for the elementary mistake of thinking that as I had 10 gears, several of them reassuringly twiddly, I could ride anywhere with little or no effort. WRONG! By the time I got home I was wet through with sweat and cursing. I headed straight for the garage and in no time had the mudguards and rack off, I scrounged around in my nascent ‘box of bits’ and changed whatever I could for lighter stuff. Smaller tyres, lighter tubes and a slightly lighter seat post and it was transformed….. well it wasn’t. I may have saved a couple of pounds but when you are looking at a 30lb plus bike it was never going to make much of a difference.

Still, this bike was made of stern stuff and it lasted way beyond its expected life. I took a year off after school and shovelled barley in a local maltings; the trusty bike carried me to and from work every day almost without a hitch. When I toddled off to London for three years of study it came with me and was obviously so unattractive to thieves that it was never stolen even when left unlocked. It may have had something to do with the fact that it was a bit of a gate – I reckon it was at least a 62cm frame if not more. Anyway, as I needed to carry books etc to and from lectures it had regained its rack and mudguards. It was cheaper to ride the bike than drive so once installed in London it took me most places.

Degree tucked under my belt I headed home to find work. Sadly, I no longer had any need for the bike so it was tucked away in my parent’s garage to rust gently over the next handful of years. Anyway, I had a car, I had taken up smoking and bikes just did not feature.

By the age of 23, the appeal of smoking had waned, I had discovered windsurfing and I launched into this with all the gusto and money I could rustle up. There I was ripping up the swells off the Suffolk coast and one day, sitting on the gravel waiting for the wind to show up, I spotted a very early mountain bike in one of the magazines. Billed as an alternative to those ‘no wind’ days I thought it sounded mildly interesting. Beer was still on the agenda  but fags certainly weren’t and my addiction to the evil weed was replaced by the desire to buy windsurfing kit and lots of it. The seed of an idea to get a bike had been planted in my mind but it lacked the spark to make it germinate until something happened.

Sitting in a pub, chatting to an old mate, after maybe our 5th or 6th pint – yes, that dangerous area where you are still lucid and any idea seems to be a good one – I mentioned that I’d like a bike to help me get a bit fitter. I was spending time windsurfing, playing squash, running and putting hours in, in the gym but I had this desire to get out on two wheels again. It was then I came up with the radical idea of doing the London/Brighton run. The only trouble was that I was never going to manage it on my old boneshaker and the way I told it to my mate, the 50 odd miles was going to be a massive ask, you know, more than the normal person could ever dream of doing in one go and it would make me a superhero.

Little did I know, as I had never asked, that my buddy was in fact a 2nd cat roadie at the time or that 50 miles was nothing. To his credit, he didn’t sneer, he didn’t scoff at my proposal and instead said he’d see what he could do and maybe he’d come out on a ride or two to see how I got on. Beers quaffed, we headed to our respective homes and I forgot all about it. A couple of days later after work, I looked out of my kitchen window, up the garden, and spotted a strange bike leaning up against the shed. I wandered up and there was an old lightweight road bike; the note attached to it said something along the lines of… this will help you with the London/Brighton run, get yourself a cycling shirt and some proper shorts and we’ll see how you get on. Once again, it was a case of mixed emotions – I had a new toy to play with but I was also committed to some work.

The bike was an old 1970s Rondinella similar to this onekitted out with a mixture of Miche (brakes), Stronglight chainset (a 55/48 combo), Campag drive train and a pair of clip and strap pedals. The wheels were tubs only rims and I had never seen such a thin saddle. Oh yes, to go with the 55/48 there was a six speed, straight through block running from 12,13,14,15,16,17. I didn’t know at the time but I was being given a choice of big or massive gears. Anyway, the die was cast; all I had to do was get the bike back on the road and get training.

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