The Legend of El Cobblo, Frome Cobble Wobble

I am sitting in the Fancy studio in Frome, on my own, I’ve just taken some Panadol Extra + Caffeine washed down with a free can of Red Bull. My legs are twitching and I’m feeling fantastic. Why? I’ve just ridden the 2nd Frome Cobble Wobble, and played host to a star of Mexican Wrestling. Here’s how it unfolded:

It was months since Andrew Denham of the Black Cannon Collective wandered into the Fancy Studio and commissioned the design and website for the 2nd Annual Cobble Wobble, all the preparation, the sketches, the artwork, the printing, the coding and the testing, all came into fruition for a few amazing hours today.

The Cobble Wobble is a hill sprint up a steep cobbled slope in Frome called St Catherine’s Hill. Not to put too fine a point on it, it is a bastard of a hill. Even walking up it leaves me out of breath. So to ride a bike up it, whilst egged on by crowds who stand mere inches from the taped off edge of the course, would seem to be madness. When Nic, of Espace Solutions heard we were riding it, she simply said “The hill we walked up that nearly killed us? S**t!”

Myself and Matt Wellsted of Fancy, for some reason, told Andrew we would ride it. As the day loomed closer, we felt that perhaps it was a bit of a stupid thing to volunteer to do.

So we had a chat, and decided that we didn’t stand any chance competitively, but stood a good chance of entertaining the crowds if we did something a bit daft. To this end, Matt decided to dress up like the chap in the poster he created, and I decided to do it on my Brompton, dressed in a suit, and smoking a pipe.

Meanwhile, as builders of the website, we were contacted by the Mexican Wrestler El Cobblo, who travels the world entering cobbled hill sprints in memory of his brother Carlos, who tragically died of sheer knackeredness on a cobbled hill race in Mexico. He was looking for a base in Frome, and also it turns out, a bike, as his had a puncture and the seatpost was a bit squiffy. We extended the hand of hospitality to this great man and bid him join us on Sunday morning in our preparations.

Sunday morning dawned a bit grey, with the promise of rain. No matter, we assembled at the studio at 1pm to prepare. El Cobblo turned up, fully masked as usual and on checking out my Lemond Etape, deemed it worthy. He was amazed at the lightness, as his own bike is steel.

El Cobblo in the studio

El Cobblo, prior to the race in our studio

I suited up and prepared my tobacco, packing my pipe with some smooth shag. Matt slipped off to Live2Ride to get his fixed cog changed and El Cobblo and I rode to register.

El Cobblo and I ride to the registration point. El Cobblo delighted by the beeping of horns and waves he received.

El Cobblo and I ride to the registration point. El Cobblo delighted by the beeping of horns and waves he received.

Having given our names and collected our numbers, I took El Cobblo down to Live2Ride to meet up with Matt. El Cobblo chatted with his fans, telling children to eat more vegetables and meeting some of the opposition. Then we headed up the hill and waited in line for our turn on the Cobbles:

El Cobblo meets the Angel

Andrew Denham meets El Cobblo

At the Start of the Cobble Wobble

Gradually, we inched towards the Start. All to soon I was at the start line, I lit up the pipe, got it going and launched myself sedately up the hill. In my lowest gear, I spun the cranks wildly, tinging my bell. On approaching the corner where Stoney Street splits off I decided it might be quite funny to signal right. This was a bit of a mistake, the bike veered madly to the right and I thought I was going to spill all over the cobbles. Somehow I managed to stay upright and got the bike pointing in the right direction (up) again without putting a foot down. The crowd pressed in and clapped and cheered.

Your author on the Cobble Wobble

Your author on the Cobble Wobble, picture by Jez Cope

The smoke filled my lungs as the hill became steeper and steeper. Soon I had no oxygen left, just smoke, the pipe was running hot and my head felt lighter and lighter. As I approached the finish line I could hear the tannoy blaring that I was a proper ‘chap’, by then I was almost blacking out from oxygen starvation, but approaching a state of shamanic bliss. I aimed hard for the finish line and got over, only to find I still had to ride the exit shoot. I took the pipe out to do that and my head was swimming. There were pats on my back and even a hug from some fellow.

I looked behind me to see El Cobblo finishing, still on the bike and screaming to the sky that this was for his brother Carlos!

The press crowded round the mighty Mexican, he was interviewed for Red Bull TV, The local rag, bloggers. Parents pressed their kids forward for him to shake their hands. He beat his chest mightily, and spoke of his love for his late brother, the crowds wanted more, but I could see he was eager to leave.

We rode in silence away from the hordes, his cloak flowing behind him as the children who ran behind us dropped away, holding their knees and panting. El Cobblo did not look back, he raised one fist in salute, and I turned to see a small boy with his own fist raised in imitation, receding round the corner.

Back at the Old Church School, I asked El Cobblo if he was staying for the party. He shook his head, and said no, there is a race tomorrow in Spain that he must attend. He looked out over the rooftops of Frome, but I could see that his stare was thousands of miles and twenty six years away. We said our farewells, he shook my hand, thanked me for the use of my bike. And was away.

I raced back to see Matt start his run, as the first of the Fixie riders. The rain had started to come down, thinning the crowds and making the Cobbles slick and treacherous. He put in a hell of an effort and finished with a respectable time:

Matts race face

Matt's Race Face

Matt goes up

Matt goes up - encouraged by a man running alongside and shouting

Then, the elation. I got a t-shirt, some badges. The post-mortem of the rides, the times.

The whole day was superb, but it’s not over yet. As designers of the Cobble Wobble and website builders, we got free passes to the Red Bull party.

I’m off there now.

But, I will be thinking of El Cobblo, and his lonely quest.

Adios Amigo.

El Cobblo

PS: If anyone has any pictures – please let me know!

Published in: on September 19, 2010 at 6:57 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , ,

Old School Shorts – Cycling Short Film Special – Riding home on moonbeams

On the last Friday of every month, the studio where I work most of the week puts on a short film night. As we’re based at the Old Church School in Frome, we call it Old School Shorts. With the Cobble Wobble looming close we though we’d ask the race organiser, Andrew Denham, to curate the event.

Andrew Denham is part of the Black Canon Collective – a group of mountain bikers who are often to be seen bombing around the forest at Longleat – sometimes dressed as superheroes – always with big grins on their faces.

Andrew chose the films for the middle section of the night. There were some crackers, from Minibike battles in Portland, to mad tricks on Scottish Streets. We managed to watch the brilliant RSA/Rapha film Two Broad Arrows by Adrian Moat (it’s no longer up on the Rapha site). As ever, we peppered the evening with music videos, vintage adverts, and amusing cat films. All projected up big on the wall of studio while we lounged around on sofas and swivel chairs, munching on pizza and nibbles and drinking beer.

Old School Shorts bicycle film night

All in all we had about an hour and half of films with two intervals. It was great to finally meet @westfieldwanderer from Radstock who I’ve been conversing with on Twitter for ages. We had a good chat about bicycle commuting, local hills and AtoB magazine.

Afterwards, Ed took some photos of the old bikes and parts that Andrew had collected to be donated for The Bristol Bike Project and we returned to the studio for music videos, Guess who games, more food and drink and good chat. People took turns on the VJ ing and we watched a myriad of films, from helmetcam madness, to Bats for Lashes videos via Vanilla Ice and Guns & Pork, my favourite part of the VJ section was a film of Andrew putting his shed up on his allotment.

Things wound up just after midnight, and I loaded up the Brompton for the ride home.The streets of Frome were doubly quiet, because I was suffering from a bit of a head cold, my hearing in my left ear had disappeared. As I’m half deaf in my right ear anyway, this meant that I could barely hear a thing. Not that there was much to hear, I didn’t see a single car moving until I left the town. I took it slowly through the streets, freewheeling wherever I could, and gently riding up the hills in the lowest gear.

On leaving the town I suddenly noticed the moon, not yet full, but incredibly bright. The wooded hill down to Oldford, normally a pitch-black potluck ride of guessing where the kerb might be, was transformed into a gently lit flight through a luminous forest. As I turned up the hill towards Beckington I pulled over to look out over the valley – gloriously rolled out before me in and picked out in sharp electric detail by the witchlight. The stark black of the distant hills, the sulphurous streetlamps of Frome itself, the deteriorating skeleton elms that lined the slope, all seemed so vibrant and hyper-real, and I was struck with an unsettling feeling that the same scene by daylight was not the true view, but merely a reflection of what I was seeing now.

I continued up the hill, my blocked up ears meant all I could hear was my own breath and the creaking of my jaw. I felt, rather than heard the steady trundling squeak of my faithful Brompton’s cranks as I spun the pedals. In the hedge to left there was a brilliant white blaze of light, as I inched closer it resolved into the shape of an old milestone. I had never noticed it before, despite passing it many, many times, yet here it was glowing fiercely under the lunar influence.

The air on the slope down into Beckington sucked the warmth from the bare skin of my arms, I had enough momentum to get halfway up the hill on the other side. Past the 24hr garage – devoid of customers, over the roundabout, devoid of traffic, past the place where the gypsies camp and hard left before the boundary stone. Ursa Major was a few degrees off horizontal, far to the West a few low and long clouds stretched themselves out above the land, the lights of a distant plane flickered on and off in the space between cloud and earth as it tracked towards the orange glow of Bristol. The lane was narrow, and the moon flung her beams directly over it from left to right, pools of moonlight settled on the tarmac, punctuating the ink-black shadows that leapt from the trees and hedges and hid the stones and cracks in the road. My Wheels seemed to find them without any trouble.

I felt I could ride on into the dawn, but the glamour of the moonlight would have worn off quickly, leaving me cold and tired to endure the long hour before daylight alone.

The village was still and silent, not even the blue flicker of a television set could be seen. The restored clock on top of the Cross Keys softly chimed one o’clock as I folded the Brompton, bid the moon a goodnight and closed the door.