Not Again.

Enjoying one road ride is probably acceptable, enjoying two is tantamount to MTB treason.  Before my skinny tired bike is behead-tubed*, let me at least present a case for the defence.

Firstly it wasn’t a long ride. The plan for a metric century was curtailed by a lack of time. Further scaling back became necessary once a small mechanical oversight popped up in the first 200 metres.

Not so much popped up, more popped out, with a cranked chain spinning uselessly over  un-indexable cogs. Look with that many little sprockets and associated spacers, anyone could have inadvertently misaligned the two.

It was me of course. And as such, I was deemed unfit to effect a repair which saw Jezz seemingly chase the wheel around the workshop using his biggest hammer. An opportune time perhaps for a quick spanner twirl elsewhere on the innocent frame.

First time out on Mr. Plastic Fantastic in 2011, all a-bling with new wheels (cassette not fitted properly, tyres under-inflated), new saddle (testicle splitting angle due to poor fitment) and new carbon post (unfitted due to it being entirely the wrong size).

Eventually, after some embarrassment and more excuses, the good ship Malvern-Route set sail under fair conditions with little wind and temperatures close to double digits.

Riding the Boardman after Woger Wibble was something of a revelation.  Best described as being gifted a proper cyclist’s set of legs, and an extra lung. Crikey it’s light – at least six pounds under the honest toiler of my winter bike – and *ahem* stiff. Having campaigned the thick end of 600k this winter on Wog sets a telling precedent on what a proper race bike feels like.

Feels fast for a start. Emboldened by climatic conditions, super light bike, dry road and an inability to clip out (new road shoes, new road pedals, stopping and starting involved lampposts and increasingly agitated foot waggling) my pace was both brisk and entirely inappropriate.

The latter I would only discover some two hours later when that “little wind” could be more accurately described as “a bastard headwind seeking to reduce me to a little cry”. Still having a trick bike is a great leveller.

Jezz was riding a oversized Wibble that puts one in mind of a farm gate cleverly accessorised with a wheel at either end. Not only tall, it has sufficient length to factory-fit a claxon and speaking tube for turns: “All Ahead Flank Engine Room” can often be heard bouncing off random Malvern hills.

So my bike is light and fast which is an almost perfect juxtaposition to the rider. Whereas Jezz – an Etape veteran and unapologetic semi-roadie –  can normally rip my little stumps off at will.  At this point, I can share with you that it is entirely about the bike.

For two hours, we jested and jousted up and over hilly terrain. I still lost more than I won but derived some pleasure from the look on Jezz’s fizog a couple of times. One I recognised as “Just give me a minute, once the black spots have faded, we’ll be on our way”.

Somewhere in between such hyper-competitivety, I realised with horror this was really quite enjoyable. Even a jaunt through Malvern traffic didn’t disappoint as my “London Commuter Elbows” have lost nothing in their vigorousness over the last few years.

And then the headwind. With all the climbing done, I was ready for an easy 25k spin home along the valley bottom.  The only match to that idyllic description was the distance. Not flat, slight climb all the way home, arrow straight roads horizon long, and into the teeth of a headwind that sought out my tiring limbs and made them tireder still.

I swallowed a little water, slightly more pride and hid behind Jezz for a while until we mercifully turned the relentless blast into a crosswind.  That couldn’t hide the fact I’d shot my bolt though and – light bike or not – the last few climbs were properly hurty.

Lesson learned? Probably not, ego not generally gapped my ambition. 70k, 890m of climbing, similar average speed to last time out but on a route made far tougher by elevation.  Riding in this morning was a fairly sedate affair, but not for a minute did I consider driving.

Actually I was looking forward to getting back on the (heavy) bike. That’s a worrying development.

* Been reading lots of Tudor history. After considering disease, poverty, hangman’s noose and executioner’s blade, hard to believe the population of England during that time could be more than about 7.

Danger of Death

H'mm shiny

As a man who has been categorised as “unsafe at any speed“, I’ve always viewed wheels as an accessory to murder. If one irresponsibly rotates them to terminal velocity, then their part in the ensuing accident can be robustly defended by the claim that no other choice was available.

But it seems I was wrong. In a three card trick where parts are shuffled between my extensive bicycle collection, woger has lost a bit of rotating mass and gained a set of gear ratios chosen specifically to prolong my knee joints. This has been facilitated by Mr Plastic-Fantastic – the hibernated horizon foreshortening road bike – receiving a late Christmas pimping of some Italian loveliness.

Although having read the instructions* I was more than a little geographically confused. Because not only had Health and Safety gone mad, it had taken over the asylum. And yet rather than the product origin being some European Nanny State or our litigious colonial cousins, these revolutionary lovelies have apparently been hand crafted on the thighs of an Italian virgin**

Let me summarise the multi-lingual sheet accompanying what – after we’ve waded through the marketing nonsense trumpeting innovative spoke design and juxtaposed nipple alignment – are nothing more dangerous that something first installed on an ox-cart.  If you fit a tyre that is too big, YOU WILL DIE, if you fit a tyre that is too small YOU WILL DIE, if the cassette is not precision installed by a 3rd generation mechanic steeped in bicycle law THERE IS NO DOUBT THAT YOU SHALL DIE.

Incorrectly inflated inner tubes? CERTAIN DEATH. Rider over 82kgs (I’m not too many pies short) LUCKY TO MAKE IT ONTO THE ROAD. Under 82s? Might survive until the END OF THE DAY. Riding at Night? Put your affairs in order, YOU ARE TOAST. I could go on as the instructions did, but instead let me share with you the comedy catch all which suffixed the death threats “And if you die – as you inevitably will – don’t try blaming us for any manufacturing fault known, unknown or hushed up to get the product out, as we’ve got  lawyers crossed with Rotweillers'”

Nice. So it seems that I have not in fact purchased some fast riding wheels for summer jaunts to far off places, nope what we have here are weapons of mass rotation. Best thing would be to hide  the box underground and hope they don’t blow up the neighbourhood because “you looked at them in a funny way. Don’t call us, see note re: Lawyers

Light tho. Didn’t think there was anything in the box. In fact the weightiest item by far were the YOU WILL DIE instructions in nine different languages and signed for the blind. Somewhere hidden was the procedure for correct fitment but frankly I was so terrified by this time, I just went with my standard tongue out, hammer handed approach to percussion engineering.

And before unfair and hurtful accusations of wanton spending to no good effect, let me explain this is all part of my wider strategy. That’s what I am calling it anyway as “Internet Magpie Geekery” sounds a bit lame. Sure I’ve spent about £5*** on essential components absolutely necessary for me to commute by bike/possibly die by my own wheel, while slimming down the bike fleet by a significant one.

Come Tuesday, the Pace goes. To a man who really wants it and shall probably ride it more than the three times I managed last year. Of course the second it’s gone, every other bike will  fail in some spectacular way, and I’ll be left wondering if strategy is clever anagram of stupidity. Already there is talk of a DH day at Cwmcarn which I’ll probably undertake/die on my faithful old hardtail, and – even more worryingly – of the tiny fleet of five bikes remaining, two of them are entirely configured for the road.

That’s not a strategy, that’s heading off towards lunacy and accelerating. I think we all know what might happen next 🙂

* There’s always a first time. It won’t happen again. No highlighting of most expensive parts to adjust with a hammer. Useless.

** Assuming they could find one.

*** Hi Carol 🙂

Return of the rant

On the one hand, there is my well reasoned discourse – forensically arguing the case for universal benefits with reference to the unfairness of the proposed changes to Child Benefit, and more specifically the devastating financial impact on my secret bike buying funds, on the other a short sweary note on some welly-booted twat trying to kill me.

I have always maintained that a shared passion for something does not automatically engender kindred spirits. Many – in fact most – of my friends ride bikes but that doesn’t represent anything but the slightest dent in a world of cycling cocks. Nor does everyone who lives outside London* assume the gentler, kinder, less hurried characteristics of many we’ve met since heading west.

Last night point entirely proven. LandRover with massive trailer rattles up behind as I made my exit from Ledbury. Set of lights 300 yards ahead on red, but he can’t wait even tho I’m the far side of 20mph and pedalling hard. No, he pulls out to pass, realises there isn’t room for me, him, his trailer and the co-op lorry approaching from the opposite direction, and so removes me from the sizing equation.

How the swinging death metal of the trailer missed me I do not know. I did ask him though – politely knocking on the window before demanding a explanation quickly followed by an apology of exactly what the fuck he thought he might be doing.  A standard response I’ve learned well from my time in our fine capital was again trotted out “didn’t see you, didn’t realise you were going so fast, wasn’t that close was it?”. “Blind Idiot, Stupid Idiot, Yes it bloody was, I was there, honestly I know” was pretty much my comeback only with lots more swearing.

I went on at some length that the highway code applied equally to us all, and that “no his road fund license was not funding some secret cult where it was okay to kill cyclists for being in the way“, at which point the lights changed, and I decamped haughtily down a one way street. In the wrong direction. Throwing my moral high ground behind me.

If we meet again I shall hope he is suitably chastised and has learned a hard lesson. More likely it’ll be a shotgun out of the window and picking pellets out of my arse for weeks.

For the sake of balance, my reasoned argument went something like “tax those bastards who got us into this first, yeah you know the ones paying themselves six figure bonuses for lending more cheap money. The gits that don’t need child allowance to prop up their boarding school fees“. I feel it’s a populist cause I’m fronting here.

* almost all those inside are nutters tho.

Time.

Slippery little bugger isn’t it? I am fairly sure that last week it was still snowing and mostly dark, and yet here we are with the longest day barely a weekend away. This would be enough to make me grumpy as we contemplate the depressing slide into Autumn, but time has stolen more than my Spring, it’s bogged off with most of the days since as well.

I blame working for a living. Really chews up your days and eats into the light, warm nights when you really should be a) riding your bike b) drinking beer outside c) repelling the triffid invasion by deploying petrol based weaponry. And then quickly slipping back into b). I seem to be stuck with d) which involves a fairly fully time job augmented by wasting time I don’t have doing other peoples.

You may legitimately ask what they are doing instead, and you would not be alone but I have yet to receive a satisfactory answer. For which I may have to mix work and home life by implementing c) during office hours when a particularly trying situation needs resolving.

I did manage a monster end to end Malvern ride this week which started on one of the longest days of the year but still finished in darkness. The entire gamut of hills were either summited or sneakily bypassed including my favourite rocky horror tearing down 700 feet of steep bouldery ribbon before finishing on a superb rock step drop off. Right in between these two items of loveliness are a set of narrow yet very steep steps which puckered me up in all the wrong ways.

But these too were dispatched with nothing more than a clenched bottom and tightly closed eyes, before declaring to anyone who’d listen that a) it was really easy and b) no thanks I’ll not be doing them again*. Only at 9:30 and at the furthest outreach from our start did we begin to wonder how one of the riding flange was getting home un-crashed without a set of lights to his name. We did our best with a bypass of significant pointy ridge through the use of an “evening bridleway”, and a quick scoot through darkening woods to a final climb over Midsummer.

Where our brave – if foolhardy – pal was now shrouded entirely in darkness. What with it being 10:30pm. Some 100m below was his car and safety – between us and that were a second set of leafy woods letting almost none of the not very much light through.  He wasn’t keen to be the meat in a Lumen Sandwich so hung onto the back of us enlightened ones and mystifyingly made his way down using the little known skill of “bark brail“.

Brilliant, brilliant ride. 1100m ish and 30ks.  All that trudging through winter makes sense on an epic like that.

Sports Day topped the domestic billing today, but – predictably – I missed one child losing quite often and the other broken one watching on. But I still arrived in time for lunch and left with no phone, no watch, no gps, no water (oops) but a brief time window and a fast road bike. Just headed out in a random direction and rode until my legs were shot and my head was clear. As good as the other night, for all the wrong reasons.

Mountain Mayhem this weekend. I’ll pop in to have a laugh, and personally verify that this could be the first event in living memory where monsoons have now sunk the trails below the water table. Good luck to any nutters participating – I have been offered a cheeky lap on a slack team but any free time I have this weekend will be spent with a glass in my hand. Or possible one in each.

* Lists you see, under pressure I revert to type. Surprised I’m not accompanying this lunchtime post with a couple of beers.

Long Way Round.

Yesterday I planned a cautious extension to my home-bound commute. London Midland clearly felt my idea lacked ambition so abandoned a train-full of us weary commuters in Worcester instead, offering only the delight of a possible service resumption sometime before the weekend, or hoofing it away with Shank’s pony. The fat controller, somewhat gleefully delivering the news, reviewed my transport choice before chortling “you can ride home can’t you then Sir”

Yes I can” I replied evenly “and you can fuck off fat-man” before taking my leave, phoning home for directions then launching a one man bicycled assault on the Worcester Rush Hour. Amazing such a compact town centre can have quite such epic traffic jams come six pm. No matter, four years of London commuting saw off their frankly pathetic and barely committed attempts to kill me. For the look of the thing, I removed one earphone and swore mostly under my breath.

There are probably many safe and scenic ways to escape the Western approaches of Worcester and I found none of them, instead pinning my hopes on pinning my ears back and wildly changing lanes as vaguely familiar road names passed in front of me.  It took a while but eventually my path was cleared of urban misery and nothing short of twenty five miles, two bastard hill climbs, fading light and two empty bottle cages stood between me and reaching home the same day I’d left.

Forgetting my water bottles was stupid, attempting to imprison the eye wateringly expensive replacements in the cages was even less clever. At about a quid a time*, my progress was fiscally halted on a number of occasions as I wearily fetched them from some few hundred yards behind me. Until a particularly broken road section catapulted the remaining bottle in a perfect parabola over my head and under the wheels of an oncoming truck.

Bugger.. And I had a few hundred dickheads in cars and most of a dual carriageway to keep me company before finally Malvern hoved into view via the poor part at the bottom of the hill. And what a hill that is, goes on for quite a while and then a bit more. I’d told Carol I might need fetching at Ledbury some ten miles from home if the light gave out before my lack of the same came into play, but secretly I was going for it.

Quite slowly on that hill encumbered by the laptop of doom and a raging thirst brought on by unexpected sunshine. A quick detour to a handy petrol station fuelled me up with sugary goodness and sufficient liquid to see me home. Liquid which was safely stored in that large bag I heft around. A great solution to a simple problem, and one I wished I’d thought of before lobbing watery grenades at the good citizens of Worcester.

The climb out of Malvern had me wondering if I could fit a proper granny ring without any proper roadie noticing and pointing aggressively. Such dark thoughts kept me occupied until a learner driver ground gears behind me but refused to pass. Eventually they picked the perfect moment – for a crash – on a blind double-lined corner into the path of oncoming traffic. Lights were flashed, v signs were flicked, heads were shook but nobody died.

Not yet anyway, because this was the last corner before the much anticipated crest and a headlong plunge down the other side. From my last road ride here, I knew that a big effort on the flat top section would be rewarded with a 40+mph one mile hoon down the steep, straight section. What I hadn’t bargained on was being able to slipstream the learner driver, who was being somewhat over cautious on a dry road with visibility of about 20 miles.

No matter, for one crazy minute I thought I was going past him, but the second I hit the wind first hand, a giant hand plucked me from an overtaking position to a spot some distance behind. Never mind, a quick look at the time and we’re still good for a fast fifteen to finish. I was surprised by the rapidity of my normal commute home having swept into Ledbury on the back of a few 25 MPH downhill corners and a big grin.

Knees were a bit sore. Some chafing from the cheap saddle but otherwise a warm peramble home including tackling the optional extra big hill because, well, it was there really. No obvious mouse lung, not getting wet, not freezing cold and not benighted. I could get used to this and in the 90 minutes since we’d been abandoned, mad ideas of a long way round all the way from the office in Birmingham were spinning in my head at the speed of my pedals.

I’ve looked at a map and I reckon it’s possible. Although Bromsgrove may be a likelier option – not so much the reduced distance more the chance of still being un-squashed which the manic route from Brum totally fails to guarantee. I don’t know if a big ride home two days before the HONC counts as tapering, but I’d not much to taper from and, anyway, my legs felt fine. Until I tried to chivvy them into action an hour or so later when my brain issued a “LEGS NOT AVAILABLE, GET BACK TO THE SOFA RIGHT NOW BEFORE YOU FALL OVER” instruction.

Still HONC is only about double that distance. Off Road. Probably riding my rigid Kona because otherwise it might not be miserable enough. I’m not worried.

Much.

* a QUID. FFS. A QUID. Next time I’m buying lager, it’d be cheaper.

The Grim-O-Meter.

This is my unofficial measurement of unpleasantness when bicycles meet rain, dark, wind, cold and mechanical catastrophe. So a 1 would represent a light sprinkle of mid-summer rain cascading over an un-jacketed rider, thereby souring an otherwise delightful experience of tanning and pedalling. Whereas a 10 would be the archetypal “dark and stormy night” attempting to fix a puncture with no tubes, a busted pump and bloodied thumbs while being frequently deluged by passing HGVs.

This morning was a strong six. Dark. Check. Early. Check. Wet. Check. Mechanical. Oh yes. After 30 minutes of sustained fettling, the screeching mudguard of doom now emits a piercing howl rather than a dull scratch. Ratcheting up the GOM score was some unrelenting rain triggered, as I moved the bike from indoors to outdoors, from an apparently clear sky.

A little music tends to ease the passage from night to day, but my MP3 player lay abandoned where I’d placed it charging the night before in a location impossible to miss at 6am. That’s an area of my commute that needs some work, as does about half of the road surface which is either pot-holed, subsiding or entirely missing.  The only joy of mid winter riding stems from darkness hiding an ever more pretzled wheel set.

So whereas last weekend I strode the quantocks as a cycling collusus* stomping up climbs and gloating over early season form, this week has been payback. Firstly a Malverns night ride shortened first by apathy and secondly by sleet. My legs were fine, but  the shop steward of the brain demanded a one-out-all-out withdrawal of labour.

We still poked a big pointy hole on the upside of 2,000 feet of vertical climbing, but sticky trails, too much great riding lately and a shared sense of can’t-be-arsed saw us lowside it home to avoid all the really hurty bits.

And we weren’t alone. At least not quite. Two weeks ago, I was lamenting the burgeoning flange of riders on my hills. But Tuesday saw just us and another pair who were talking a hell of a game in terms of a peak bagging epic** trudging through the plasticine trails, and sliding about in a generally not-very-good-at-cycling manner.

The signs of post Christmas apathy are all around. The fug of a microwaved pasty has already replaced the smell of fresh lettuce in our office. On the train – come summer – we struggle to position six bikes in a space for barely three. But this week there’s been just the one, with the rider receiving pitying looks from fellow passengers.

I know what they were thinking “Nice bike, shame he had to sell his car to buy it, because well you wouldn’t got out in THAT by choice. Or maybe he’s a nutter“.  February is always a bastard month, not quite close enough to spring for light and warmth to permeate the times when I ride, nor far enough into the season to motivate yourself that this is training for summer events.

No month 2 is a slog. And there aren’t many of us still doing it. But great riding gear, fast road bikes and a level of bloody mindedness not to let this unheralded fitness slip shall keep me going. Although I expect the Grim-O-Meter to take a beating for the next few weeks.

* Other people who were actually there may have a different – and less glowing – opinion.

** But based on the physical evidence of them blowing it out of their arse on a flat section, I’m thinking they were fibbing. A lot.

Heartless.

That’s what  my dusty HRM indicated after I’d harvested it from the foetid outreach of a forgotten draw to which electronic tattery is dispatched. There is all sorts of esoteric shit in there which considering the high incidence of fadderyness exhibited by yours truly is no real surprise. What was that it seems everyone has a similar repository for stuff too expensive to skip, but not interesting enough to use.   Mine is larger of course – including strange shaped beepy things with fading displays that don’t seem to do much other than chirp noisily.

Bit like some people I work with. Anyway new batteries refused to kick start my heart as far as this £20 single use monitor was concerned, and dead it remained until I sprayed my nipples with WD40* while threatening the strap with a hammer. I was going to write a bit about the total pointlessness of such devices, only to find I already had. Back in the days when I was a bit more amusing as well 😉

It will accompany me  riding come  Sunday, for the sole purpose of knowing how many beats my pounding heart is banging out while I’m involved in some unpleasant hill based action. My theoretical max is pretty low now what with me being old and all that, but I reckon I’ll top that even if I have to die trying. It’d be a good way to go.

Because I may be killed anyway by my mountain bike friends, who are already threatening ex-communication after the public  debagging of my furtive roadie-lust. Any further mentions of “The Essex Lightening” ** shall bring down the might of previously mild mannered riding buddies. I am concerned by their threats of exactly what I can expect once they’ve had a chance to forge weapons from the carbon frame. The “It’s all bikes, it’s all good yes?” has fallen on deaf ears this time, so I’d be leaving the HRM, GPS and any visible Lycra behind for our Quantocks trip next weekend.

There is a thing here thought – past years have seen January as a boiling over of  Christmas excess not lanced by frozen attacks of random hills. Maybe it’s the new bike thing, maybe it’s a not getting any younger thing, maybe its a wanting to get fit thing but whatever it is, I’d ride every day right now if I didn’t have to go to work. Sadly, those new bikes have to be paid for.

Heart Rate now 51 as I sit here typing. I am off to see if there are Elephants’ in our recent ancestry.

* Not strictly necessary, but having already purchased something called a “mini wedgie” today, I felt it was appropriate to continue the smutty theme.

** Thanks to Ian for naming the road bike. I like that very much 🙂

It is about the bike.

Upping the ante is where it is at for 2010. My heroic couplets from last weekend are now cast into shadow, when compared to my attempted-death-by-commute this morning. If you were hunting for a set of circumstances to ensure a proper accident, it’s hard to think of anything more causal than these sick puppies.

Ice and Snow. 23c slick tyres and 100psi. New road bike and dubious battery lights. Zero visibility fog and, oh I don’t know let’s just go with bowel clenching terror should we? An hour earlier than Sunday, a further degree colder and a rider injured from a tripping incident involving a dark room and a black, slumbering mutt.

And in the same way we’ve had proper pre global-warming snow this last two weeks, the fog of this morn was of a type last seen when nefarious Jack was ripping through London. So thick you could chew on it, while waving a hopeful hand in front of a face merely panicked one into believing you’d been struck blind.

I risked catastrophic voltage collapse, with a clumsy grope to high beam, only to see it reflect back at 90% brightness and 0% improved visibility. And what I couldn’t see, I could hear with that horrible crunching sound of slush under tyre. The new mudguards were almost too efficient, with their low tyre rubbing profile delivering forty minutes of finger-on-blackboard aural stabbing.

The bike is fantastic though. Oh it properly is, light, stiff and flighty. Where the Kona would accelerate under spongy protest, the Boardman springs forward rewarding each pedal stroke with a surge onwards. When you hit any incline on the Jake, your options were a right hand ratchet and a long spin or a black-spotted, rivet-ridden, busted-lung sprint praying the gradient gave out before you legs did.

The Boardman isn’t like that. Because it weighs 8ks plus some commuting collateral, and has a BB junction forged from a pineapple hunk of carbon. I found myself shifting down the block and accelerating up hills. This is unheard of, and made me very proud I’d bested something similar last year.

Don’t get me wrong tho – this bike has the potential to hurt you. Because it is so rewarding to crank out maximum power to bring forth the horizon, then soon your aspirations are ruthlessly gaped by your fitness and ability. But even in sub zero temperatures, blinded by the fog and scared of the ice, I glimpsed that road riding might actually offer something other than non motorised commuting.

Lance was wrong. It’s all about the bike.

“There’s a problem with your bike”

So said the standard issue multi pierced, alternatively hairstyled young punk behind the Bikehut desk. I was only able to extract this admission once he’d had a good scratch of his crotch, and spent some time examining the floor in the obvious hope this would spare him from dealing with boring old blokes. To be fair to the lad, it cannot be easy even moving about when your jeans have a crotch that doubles as a marsupial pouch, and even just bending down risks several potentially lethal stabs from a much-gelled serrated fringe.

It’ll take a while for you to scroll down when I’ll get this down, but stick with me on this, it’s a cracker.

AL: “Right then, tell me more what’s the problem

GR: “Gears won’t index, need a spacer, don’t have the tool, can’t let you have it without PDI’ing it fully otherwise they’ll make me wear proper clothes“*

AL: “Well you could have called me” GR: “We lost your number” AL Slapping Every Increasing Forehead “When will it be ready then?”

GR: “Tomorrow, maybe Friday, no later than when you’re dead

AL: “I know this isn’t your fault, and you’ve been left to roll out the bad news by your boss who sounds the part but clearly has a fine career waiting only in Sales and Marketing, but I’m here now, I’m a bit irritated, I have no intention of coming back tomorrow, so what do you suggest we do next?”

GR clearly considering which bike tool he’s going to insert up his boss’s back passage come first light tomorrow “Er, Er, I dunno, do you want a black one?“**

AL: “No I bloody don’t. I’m in touch with my inner Essex, what’s Plan C?

Plan C appears to be the supervisor who is – oh – months older than the Grom, who smartly steps in and asks “Large is it?” “Yep” ” Special Edition” “Yep”, “How about that one over there?” She points to a bike carelessly laid on the clothing rack showing at least the odd sign of being built.

GR: “Er, Er, that’s for a bloke whose coming in tonight. From Swindon”

SU: “Ring him up, tell him not to bother

GR: “Don’t have his number either”

SU: “He’d have come by now, let this gentleman have it

GR and I exchange a glance. I know he’s in a world of shit if this bloke turns up demanding his bike tonight even though it’s only 20 minutes to closing, and he knows I’m clearly the type of selfish arse that is leaving with either the bike of his choice, or a choice of body part from the cannon fodder behind the desk.

GR: “I’ll just sort the brake cables” and off he wanders hunting for some tool that is clearly going to be sharper than his own intellect.

For a second, I’m conflicted with a fairly unusual feeling of guilt that not only does some poor bastard have to live in Swindon, he’s made a special trip all the way to Hereford where his reward will be a grunty grommit and a bag full of excuses. Two seconds later, I’m over it and flashing virtual cash while trying to speed up the lad whose turning cable cutting into a three week job.

Eventually – just before I rip the tool from his hand and do it myself because I know something bad is bound to happen if this goes on much longer – the bike is handed over, I take a deep breath and admonish myself not to ruin everything by hastily falling down the stairs. I navigate those successfully only to be confronted by a fit looking chap of about my height sharing a cheeky hello and a “Snap I’ve come to pick one of those up”.

Well what would you do? Honestly, you’d be out that shop and gunning the engine in an escape driver styleee rather than have to try and negotiate between three people you’ll never see again, or be forced to wrestle for ownership of the one working bicycle. Look I’m not proud of my behaviour, but at least I’m being honest here. And he was from Swindon, so really deserves almost everything he can get. Or is this case, didn’t.

Bike loaded, engine running, I sneaked a last look up the stairs when there seemed to be some kind of argument going on. I’m surprised they didn’t call me up to ask if I could come back in – ah no they’d lost my phone number of course.  I’ll ring up tomorrow to make sure no-one was injured on my behalf, but right now I’ve a lovely 8 kilogram  Carbon road bike sat behind me ready to float onto the ceiling and that’s makes me happy.

And a bit of a bastard, yes I’ll admit to that.

* I have applied the Babel-Hog to save you having to navigate grunts, oddly placed glottal stops and vigorous crouch rubbing.

** Again, I’d like our London readers to take a deep breath and try not to make 2+2 add up to about 69.