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I’m a lucky Bar Steward! You see, I fall into that category of cyclists, who justify (to themselves, at least) the expense of two road bikes; my full-carbon Summer Special and my lowly alloy Winter Trainer.
Of course, it makes perfect financial sense; doesn’t it – the full carbon wears a velvety Ultegra drivetrain; which would be easily destroyed by salt slathered roads. And, it looks the nuts – wouldn’t want to spoil that; now would you!!! The Winter Trainer, on the other hand, sports workmanlike Shimano 105 throughout and bears battle scars – which it wears with pride. Alongside the summer bike, it is a set of overalls; compared to a Gucci suit.
As soon as the days started drawing in and the temperature looked destined for single figures, the full carbon was lovingly wrapped in blankets and diligently chained to a wall – where, common sense would say, it will remain until Azure blue skies, double-digit temperatures and glorious sunshine are once again the order of the day.
Method in my Madness…
Riding the Winter Trainer not only protects the huge investment tied up in that 50 odd CMs of Carbon Fibre, but also works me harder through the winter – so that when Spring is sprung once more and I lovingly sling a leg back over the Summer Bike, I will be faster for the same effort. Yes; what’s not to like in having two bikes? It’s a thought process that has served the majority of UK cyclists well…….or has it! A couple of recent events have made me wonder just how much logic there is in this – let me explain why (forgive me if I go a little ‘off-piste’ here to make my point).
All Will become Clear…
A while back, I bought myself an iPhone 4S (not strictly cycling-related, I know; but bear with me) which I promptly fell in love with. I know at this point, the readership will be divided – you are either an Apple person or an Android. To give myself some objectivity, I also acquired a Samsung Galaxy S3 to ‘road-test’ alongside my beloved iPhone. What became evident – over the next couple of months – was that the Samsung spent most time with the battery flat; not because it uses more battery (which it does) but because I simply didn’t use it. Where the iPhone feels like a Tag watch, the Samsung felt like a Casio! The smooth, ergonomic lines of the iPhone are absent on the Samsung and the user interfaces worlds-apart.
Having had the opportunity to compare the two devices, I became all the more wedded to my lovely, beautiful iPhone – which I would practically lay down my life to protect. The poor Samsung, however, met an untimely death over the festive period and that particular ‘asset’ has now been rapidly liquidated.
With the instant bank transfer from Mazuma sitting in my account, I promptly started looking for an old iPhone – to use whilst cycling and running; to protect my lovely 4S from harm. Sound familiar? Yep – I was looking for the iPhone equivalent of a Winter Training bike! Fortunately, sense prevailed and I thought to myself, “Hang on, the iPhone is insured – if it gets dropped, I get it repaired. It works better than any old 3GS replacement you will buy and you love it. Just keep using it. Enjoy it and love it all the more”. Decision made; on wet days it comes with me – wrapped in cling-film – on dry days, I simply worry less about it. Either way, I own it; enjoy it and benefit from it at all times.
This whole episode reminded me of something that happened way back in my dim and distant past. At the time, my best mate’s dad was a man not renowned for his generosity or willingness to spend money. And so, we were all amazed when, one day, a shiny new Citroen was parked proudly outside his house. Not just any old Citroen – but an absolute top-of-the-line, every conceivable extra car salesman’s dream. The icing on the cake of the extras package simply had to be the rich, luxurious velour seats. Anyway, about a week later, I walked past and was puzzled to that same luxury upholstery now covered with the cheapest, crappiest nylon car seat covers imaginable. Puzzled, I asked my mate, “What’s the deal with the seat covers in your dad’s car?” His response, “Dad doesn’t want to spoil the velour – so he’s bought the covers to put over it!” I was amazed!! This guy had spent hundreds of quid on something he would never get to enjoy because he was scared of spoiling. Poor guy! OK – point (kind of) made; let’s get back to bikes!
The Noise – The Dreadful Noise…
Yesterday, whilst out riding with my lovely missus, I was revelling in the fact that the Winter Trainer was now sounding the best it has in months. Over the last few weeks, it has had: a new bottom bracket, new cassette and chain, new freehub body, new pedals and hour-upon-hour of TLC – all to cure the annoying cacophony of noises that have accompanied me on practically every ride this winter. Last week, it had all paid off – the SMCC Sunday ride passed without a single click, clunk, rattle or bang; just the silky swoosh of the drivetrain and tyres on tarmac! Lovely!! However, yesterday as I swept gracefully around a bend onto a silky-smooth stretch of tarmac, it all went Pete Tong! Tick, clunk, tick, clunk, tick, tick, clunk, clunk – where the hell was that bloody racket coming from!!! After some hasty on-bike analysis and some patchy roadside investigations; I was none the wiser. And, so it went – throughout the rest of the ride. Tick, clunk, clunk, tick…..AAAARRRRGGGHH!!!! Returning home, the bike was hastily mounted in the workstand and operation ‘Find That Bloody Noise’ commenced!!!
An hour later, I’m holding the rear wheel in my hand and wiggling the axle – tick, clunk, clunk, tick – yep; found it!!! 5000 miles and many more thousands of feet climbing have taken their toll on the wheel bearings. The half a Millimetre or so play in the bearings sounds like nothing at all – but with a hard and fast 75 miles planned tomorrow (as part of the SMCC Sunday adventure) it’s a major concern!!!
Having discovered this at 4:00 PM on a Saturday, I was kind of out of options! The rear wheel was hastily changed for a spare (horrible old Bontrager thing) that weighs at least 100 Grams more! A fettle of the gears and I’m road-testing. It’s all there – or thereabouts – but something’s just not quite right. The indexing is out and gear changes lack the crispness that they had just this morning on the same stretch of road. Even worse, it’s fuelled the voices in my head – which are now shouting in unison, “You’ll hate riding this in this condition tomorrow!” They are right.
Go on; You Know you Want To….
Slipping back into the garage for yet more fettling, I noticed the lovingly wrapped outline of the Full Carbon sitting quietly alongside the wall. I don’t know why, but I felt compelled to walk over and pull off those diligently wrapped layers of protection. As I stood there, gently squeezing the brake levers and running a hand gently over that gorgeous frame, I thought, “Why don’t I just take this tomorrow?” As soon as that thought entered my mind, I was finding reasons not to – but the harder I tried to avoid it, the more sense it made. Five minutes later, I’m checking tyre pressures, de-flinting them, lubing the chain and generally making her ready for action.
As I slipped into bed that evening, those blasted voices in my head were still there – but changing their tune slightly, “What if it rains? What if you stack it? What about the four ours of cleaning when you get it home!” They were still nagging at 04:30, when I awoke. In fact, their nagging had become so persistent and effective that I even made my way to the garage at 05:00 for yet more fettling of the Winter Trainer.
Oh, Happy Day…
With breakfast on board and faffing faffed, I was clipped in and making my way to the meet point. Oh, sweet Jesus, what a joy – no noise – plush ride – much faster – lovely, lovely, lovely!!! God, how I’d missed riding this bike!! With Wet Wipe and Mooga collected, we were striking out down our usual lanes – heading in to our planned 75 miler. Despite the wet arse crack (no mudguards on this baby) and my constant cringing as muddy debris flicked up onto that pristine white frame, I was having a ball. Out-climbing the other guys up Hawk Hill and maintaining the lead all the way up into Rettendon, the difference that a carbon bike makes was starkly evident.
Another few miles on and the gentle climb of Hoe Lane / Warren Road is upon us. Slipping into the usual SMCC pattern, we backed off, three-abreast and simply enjoyed talking bollocks. The moment of relaxation was broken, however, as Wet Wipe shouted, “Car up!” With this, Mooga jumped out of the seat to take the front.
In Just a Moment…
We all heard the bang of the spoke breaking as Mooga stamped on the pedals and powered ahead. Standing by the roadside, it was clear that his ride for today was over. But, this is the SMCC; we don’t leave a man down. Wet Wipe and I both immediately insisted on accompanying him home – at which point, we would take off and do something more local. Mooga paused for a moment, looked at my bike, looked back at his broken Winter Trainer and said, “F@*k it; I’m getting my Carbon and coming with you!”
Carbon 2 – Ally – 1…
With Mooga now perched atop his Madone and me on my Domane, it was just poor Wet Wipe now confined to the discomfort of his winter bike. Notwithstanding this the usual pace-line formed and he slotted in at the back nicely. Of course, with four mudguard-free wheels just inches ahead of him, it may not have been his preferred location but no one can doubt the super-human effort he was making to run at a pace which suited the carbon frames ahead.
Almost imperceptibly, speeds rose and then riders ahead triggered the need for yet more pace. Checking over my shoulder to ensure the team was together, I pushed hard – passing the other rider more easily than I had imagined I would. At this point, my heart went out to poor Wet Wipe but, at the end of the day, he made the rules on passing riders in front; he’d just have to live with them. And, to be honest, this was pretty much how the remainder of the ride passed – speeds higher than we have seen in months, heart rates in the high zones and that heady mix of fun and suffering that makes cycling so addictive.
By 05:30, the gear indexing was as good as I was going to (or could be arsed) t get it and I lifted her down out of the workstand. The final check before I pushed her out of the garage for a morning of hard labour was the usual tyre check. With the Joe Blow connected, it rapidly became evident that the rear tyre (fitted with the spare wheel) had a slow puncture. Why the hell hadn’t I checked that earlier! At that point, it became clear that, today, the Gods of Cycling had decreed that I would ride the Carbon. Turning slowly toward her, I said, “You’re coming with me!” and gently wheeled her from the garage (observing, of course, the required pre-ride ritual).
And – Relax…
As we sipped our post-ride coffees, I took a moment to check the Garmin. In the last half of the 50 mile ride, we had maintained a 19 (ish) average – with one 5 mile split over 20.
Considering that this was on slippery winter tarmac and, despite being drawn in by the turn of speed available, Mooga and I had probably tempered the pace marginally – so as to not need a Paramedic for Wet Wipe – that ain’t bad! In that moment of reflection, we all agreed that this unplanned manic thrash had been a thoroughly enjoyable experience – which in some way had broken the monotony of winter training.
Of course, it could all have turned out differently, had I not been ‘forced’ into using my Sunday Best bike. Had I not arrived at the meet point sporting my best blade, I wonder if Mooga would have been inclined to drag his beauty from the garage when the gremlins bit? Equally, even if he had, with just one of us aboard their nutty bike, I wonder if that pace-line would have fully formed. And, of course, without the pace-line and 25 miles of manic, heart in your mouth effort, I wonder if we would all have felt that complex mix of elation and exhaustion as we sat outside the café?
And, the Moral of the story is…
Today has taught me that if you live by the ethic of saving your best for high days and holidays, you only end up denying yourself. We spend a lot of money on our bikes and it is therefore completely understandable that we may be reluctant to expose them to environments that may harm them. But, equally, let’s keep some perspective here – all the time that best bike is sitting in the garage, neglected and un-ridden simply because there is not a huge yellow disc spreading its rays across the sky, you’re really not getting value for money.
Nice things are nice to have; they enhance your enjoyment of whatever it is that they relate to. But, nice things are designed to be enjoyed. Buy them, cherish them, use them and enjoy them. You only get one lap of the track – make it count.