Wednesday Ride III – against the zephyrs

I was pushed all the way to John’s house in Trowbridge by an insistent tailwind, this did not bode well for this week’s Wednesday Ride. I dismounted and pushed the bike past the wheelie bin in the narrow alley leading to John’s secret garden. Not long after I arrived, the sound of someone squeezing past that same bin announced Brad’s arrival. He had been suffering from a ‘dodgy tum’ for the whole week, it was my secret hope that this would scrub some speed from the super-fit whippet, of course I would barely notice any dip in performance as his form is lightyears ahead of mine.

We set off in a row into some fierce winds, but on turning towards Melksham the wind moved behind us and sent us speeding down the road with considerable urgency. Then into Melksham itself, via the bikes and buses only route, which as it was devoid of traffic, saw us cycling three abreast. This fine stretch of tarmac is crying out for some bike activities under the cover of darkness, something like Sprint Club in Richmond Virginia.

Past the Waney Edge Cafe and over the roundabout, we hurtled through the outer edge of Melksham, until we pulled over to await another of John’s friends, Damian, who arrived almost as soon as we pulled up. The new addition duly linked into the chain, we set off again towards Seend and Devizes. I led off the front, pulling 21mph into a headwind. This proved to be utterly foolish, I was expecting Brad to come hurtling past and take over pulling at any second, but he never came. Then, even worse, we hung a right and smacked straight into a hell of a hill. I sat on the back behind John and just pushed and pulled my way through it, coming up a long time after the others. From then on in, it was a war of attrition with the wind. Damian was proving that he could keep up with Brad no trouble, and as usual it was up to John and myself to keep nightwatchman on the rear of the group. Then we turned directly into the headwind and the group started to break up. Brad was on the front and I hung onto his wheel for a few minutes, then fell off, unable to sustain 19-20mph uphill and into the wind (even with the shelter Brad was providing as I drafted him). I sat up to take a drink and Damian shot past, I watched them disappear around the first of many torturous switchbacks and double bends, before clamping down and digging in. My concentration was split between two things, maintaining an even, steady cadence and keeping breathing. The road got narrower and narrower, winding it’s way through tiny hamlets and villages. The verges became grassy, unfenced areas of common land, strewn with wildflowers, single cottages with beautifully looked after gardens unfolded from around blind corners. Eventually I stopped seeing glimpses of the two out front in the distance, and I was left alone with the roar of the wind and the sound of my own ragged panting.

The final straw came as the rain spattered down and I met a bus in the lane, the compulsory sudden stop as it squeezed past me, left my legs shocked into paralysis and I could barely turn the cranks. Luckily there was a junction for the main road and Brad and Damian were waiting there. Also luckily, John was a way behind and experiencing an enforced stop of his own with the bus, a white van and an old lady who had to reverse down the lane to allow the bus past.

All of this gave me time to recover and watch a Eurofighter screaming repeatedly overhead. John soon arrived, and we all took a bit of a rest and had a chat before stringing out again on the road into Westbury. One more stop at Westbury and I was wrongfooted, or wrongwheeled. When John caught up he just sailed past and the others shot off in hot pursuit. As I was the only one without clipless pedals, it took me a while to get clipped up, then there was a seemingly endless stream of traffic. By the time I got onto the road I had lost sight of them and took a wrong turn towards the Trowbridge road. Immediately I knew I had gone the wrong way as there was a long straight stretch down which I couldn’t see any cyclists. Cursing, I spun back round the mini roundabout and headed towards Westbury Leigh. This time they were waiting for me.

Finally, we got some tailwind as we turned towards Brokerswood at Dilton Marsh, the going became much easier from then on in, but the rain was starting to become a little more serious. Up through Rudge, I managed to bounce my foot out of a clip during a too fast gear change, leaving me pedalling slowly up the hill, with the odd scraping of metal on tarmac as the inverted clip hit the road. I was off the back again, and only caught up as we turned towards the village.

We bid each other farewell and I rode back to the house, the others rode the tailwind back to Trowbridge and Melksham. Total mileage 32 miles, soaked up the back, and legs pummeled into jelly. Now, in retrospect at 23:54, I say it was a good ride. It didn’t feel that way at first.

wet roads

In John’s Workshop

Tools in John\'s Workshop

As it was sheeting down with rain all day, and I was working right up to the bell, John and I decided to postpone the Wednesday Ride and possibly make it a Thursday Ride instead. That did not stop us getting all bikey though, by eight forty-five in the evening I was in John’s workshop with some of the parts of the shopper bike. The frame and forks with stem and headset attched, and the rim, hub and spokes for the back wheel. John looked down at the Sturmey Archer hub I had just handed him and happily explained that it was assembled in August of 1984. He showed me the 84 8 stamp on the metal and said it was made in England, they stopped stamping the dates when the manufacturing was moved overseas.

John’s first job was stripping down, cleaning and rebuilding secondhand bikes that had been brought in for part exchange at a bike shop. He learned about classic hubs like the Sturmey – many modern bike mechanics in a shop would rather you bought a new hub that have to open up a Sturmey, but not John, he has an appreciation of good engineering. John got the stem off with a combination of brute force, a metalworker’s vice, GT85 and a big hammer covered in a rag. Then he made me laugh, he kept saying, “well I’m not going to take off the bottom bracket tonight”, then proceeded to do so, then “I won’t take off the cups on the headset” just before doing just that. We surmised about doing up old bikes and reselling them and I brought Coco’s Variety Store to his attention. This fantastic shop, owned by the legendary Mr. Jalopy is a model of recycled cycling, with bikes rebuilt from scrap with parts from other reclaimed bikes.

With the last bits of the bike in pieces, much chat and a cup of tea later, we decided to call it a night. Phase two of the shopper rebuild is now in operation – parts cleaning and repaint. John has the back wheel to build and I now have a lot of greasy bearings and oily bits of metal to clean up. then comes the repaint, and finally the all important reassembly.

The only problem is, I now have to go to London for a client meeting with ingrained oil on my hands tomorow.

Wednesday Ride II – Et in Arcadia ego

John repairs the spokes

John arrived outside the house with the sound of toe clips dragging through chippings and the sharp hiss of rubber finding purchase on tarmac. He never can resist getting up speed on even the smallest downhill gradient. I had just been wiping the mud off the bike and relubing the chain. We had a brief chat about wheels for the shopper, he reckons the rims can be salvaged. As long as I can work out the spoke length of the back wheel, and we can source the spokes, he will attempt a wheel build, which is very good of him.

On with the ride. John had it in his mind that he wished to cycle up a shade dappled hill with little traffic to make the most of the sun. Often John is a man after my own heart, yes he likes a hard ride and to push himself a bit, but often the simple pleasure of riding through tree shadow on a hazy summer evening is enough for him. I thought the idea sounded excellent so we set off on our quest. John knew of a road that could possibly provide what he needed – although it was a good ten or so miles away. With the time at six fifteen in the evening, commuters were still heading home, the traffic was too fast and angry, not liking two cyclists being on their road. We got a few beeps as people got too close too quickly, then thought it would be easier to honk us into the verge rather than actually slow down and wait until the opposite lane was clear enough for them to overtake. It was a relief to get off the Frome bypass and head towards the forest roads. The trial part of the quest was not yet over though. We were in a headwind on a road surface that seemed to suck the life from our legs. We hammered on and upwards, the road was straight and although the going was hard we were in good spirits.

John on the straight road

We took a left and then suddenly, we were in arcadia – the road was quiet and drifted upwards into the treeline. The evening sun was stretched out richly across the ploughed fields behind us, and then we were riding through a tunnel of trees. The tarmac was a patchwork of leaf-shadow and brilliant sunlight. John was out of the saddle, and going well, when suddenly ‘ping’ a spoke went on his back wheel and it started to buckle. We found a flat bit half way up the hill and John upended the bike and got busy with the spoke key. It gave me an opportunity to catch my breath and look back at the route we had traveled. The sun was lowering and a gentle haze flooded the horizon, distant hills faded into blue, swallows and swifts danced and called to each other as they dined on the feast of insects bourne up by the evening’s warmth. The long deep drone of a distant tractor drifted languidly up over the hedges and hollows, the scent of wild garlic mingled with the rich scent of freshly ploughed warm earth from the fields. A perfect English summer evening in the countryside.

With the spokes repaired we continued up the hill, through an impossibly picturesque village, the pub was tempting, but we resisted. Then more hills – it was becoming clear that John is now considerably fitter than I am, he led easily. Then past Longleat, a swift diversion into the little track that runs parallel to the road – exciting at 20 mph on a road bike. Then we headed to Chapmanslade, down The Hollow into Dilton and parted company at Brokerswood, by the time I freewheeled into the village I had completed 24 miles.

An excellent ride and to me, exactly what cycling is all about.

Published in: on May 21, 2008 at 10:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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In Praise of Old Tools

business card of Penny Farthing Tools Salisbury

I’m sitting outside, typing on the laptop, waiting for John to arrive, we’re going on the Wednesday ride, at the moment it looks like a trundle round the Frome bypass then up a stupidly big hill under the forest, sounds interesting, and more on that later.

As I’ve started restoring this old shopper, it’s given me a good excuse to have an overview of my tools. A workshop is a fine thing to have access to, it allows you a place for your tools, and of course, the space to actually own some. I think it’s a shame that many of my friends have less than the bare minimum of tools in their houses. The attitude these days is that if something’s broke, buy another. I remember my wife’s Uncle Roger telling me how his grandfather, a ship builder lavished incredible care on his tools, and never recovered from having a portion of them stolen. Although I have bought a fair few tools brand new, I tend to pick up other ones as donations, or from shops like Penny Farthing Tools in Salisbury. Penny Farthing is a terrific store, essentially it seems to be in an old garage, but it is packed, absolutely packed with amazing tools. Some are specialist or collector’s items, but alongside all that you will find a box of spanners where everything is 50 pence, or an old oil can for a couple of quid. I absolutely cannot leave without spending some money – often only two pound fifty or so, but coming away with a nice tool, such as a well used spanner, or a wire brush drill attachment – or even as I did once, a German Engineer’s folding ruler that folds out to two meters.

penny farthing tools - salisbury

I am reaching the stage now where when I need a tool for something, I actually have it in the workshop, I recall the days when I would be having to take a trip to the hardware store for a new screwdriver or wire cutter. At the moment though, I own very few bike tools beyond tyre levers, chainbreakers (2) box spanners and bike size hex keys. I could also do with a magnetic tray to hold small parts.

Luckily for my bank balance, Penny Farthing’s only bike tool was an old fashioned bike spanner. Well, it was their only bike tool, until I bought it.

The Tuesday Ride is Dead, Long live the Wednesday Ride!

Yes, it’s official, having sent an email to John after months without contact (“The days are getting longer, I’m not getting any thinner. Let’s ride!”) we were on the open road again. Occasionally Brad kept us company, but a lot of the time he was off the front, a mere speck in the distance that John and I worked in a chain gang to try and catch up with. Tuesdays are now off the menu, so it looks like we’ll be going out Wednesdays, and probably a little earlier than we have been. This will allow me to put in 25-30 miles and still get back to the house to help put the kids to bed.

This week, John and Brad led me all over the backroads around Trowbridge, Devizes and Melksham. We paused only to watch a Hercules fly slowly over Keevil airfield and drop a box onto the runway. One thing was made absolutely clear to me, I am still not that fit yet. Hopefully, with the discipline of a regular ride in company, that will change. Last year the Tuesday rides started to improve my metabolism and my breathing – especially when we went out with the human greyhound that is Brad.

John (foreground) and Brad (in front) sign at speed, West Wilts

It felt great to be out on the bike in company again, for me it’s a lot of what cycling is all about. We varied the pace, sometimes gliding along chatting away, other times drafting and pedaling hard (usually to try and catch up with Brad), sometimes we’d just be merrily trundling along, then suddenly someone would change up a gear and start sprinting, provoking a sudden burst of speed in us all, then we’d wind down again and go back to the chat. That lovely melodic sound of three chainsets whirring in unison was a pleasure to hear, as was the drone of three pairs of tyres over the tarmac.

Left John and Brad in Trowbridge and cycled back to the village solo, no energy by the time I hit the Wingfield straight, on the verge of The Bonk. Arrived back at the house with 33 miles on the clock for the evening.

Hopefully there will be many rides like this throughout the coming summer.