…this morning I bottled it. Oh I have excuses locked, loaded and ready to fire at those hardy commuters, who see brutal rainstorms as a meteorological foe to be fought and bested at every opportunity. But I have a bit of a cold and Iâ€™ve just cleaned the bike and itâ€™s been a tough weekâ€™s riding on tired legs and the catâ€™s not been well andâ€¦. But once you break through this flimsy web of deceit, the simple truth is Iâ€™m nesh and I bottled it. And I feel terribly guilty.
…. my arse. After a winter maintenance regime of “slinging it in the barn and forgetting about it”, it became clear the time had come to clean the shopper. The rear cassette had morphed into one single big gear packed with two months of gritting salt and road muck. The rest of the bike was in a shocking and neglected state as well. I feel the latter may have been the cause of the former.
Cleaning it was akin to urban archaeology. Layer and layers of road grease interspersed with random vegetation were stripped away before a long forgotten silver toothed thing was triumphantly unearthed.
I had to be pretty generous with the degreaser and I’m not sure the brush will ever work again but I’ll admit to a pang of satisfaction when it was done.
The rest of the bike is still a shed. If I had a pond full of degreaser and an army of brush wielding enthusiasts, it may be possible to restore it to its’ former glory. Failing that I’m chucking a bucket of water and a blanket over it possibly even in that order.
This morning the train was working but the track was broken. Rubbernecking up the train line, as the passenger information system entered an electronic sulk some months ago, there was a complete lack of train shaped objects emerging from the pre-dawn gloom.
Then the flat distorted tones of the PA system informed us that a â€œmajor points failure at Amersham has suspended all southbound services indefinitely”. Only train companies and BBC announcers use this type of syntax â€“ is there a school they go to? My fellow commuters remained unmoved on the platform even after a further announcement suggested re-routing via High Wycombe or Rejavik.
Sensing something afoot, I awaited further news which wasnâ€™t long in coming. Alledgedly the â€œmajor points failure” was now magically fixed and the next train would be along as soon as the driver had finished his breakfast. We all shuffled forward to the platform edge, in the manner of lemmings facing a bit of cliff action, before old â€œflat-tones” on the PA cheerfully announced the points were, in fact, still broken and London bound services would resume sometime in the Spring.
For Chiltern Railways. In the future they shall be known as the “Unreliable, Overcrowded Baggage Truck” or BUT-O for short. This morning after a total of two hours travel, I have covered a truly epic 15 miles. Of which the first 5 had been on my bike.
The first train never turned up. The second one broke down threatening to leave us destitute in the Buckinghamshire flatlands. The third has mysteriously mislaid about half of it’s carridges reducing us to increasingly irritated sardines.
Still Chiltern Railways did offer their apologies and hoped we hadn’t been inconvenienced in any way. No, two hours to cover 40 miles while being repeatedly wounded by a fellow commuter’s sharp edged laptop bag and tortured by a thousand inane mobile calls is hardly an inconvenience. How could it be? But for the record I don’t bloody well accept your apologies. Make the trains run on time. It’s not hard and I don’t know why you keep having a problem with it.
If the Americans want to force confessions from those still held in Camp XRay, make them commute for a week on Chiltern Railways. They’ll snap like a twig.
And the creaking singlespeed is now attracting worried glances from passers by no doubt expecting mechanical disaster at any moment. Nothing that sounds like that can be expected to remain in the same shape and configuration for long.
I swapped the pedals. Same creak. It’s definately not my knees. H’mm what next?
…Wind, Rain, Dark and Cold. All four horseman were out riding with me this morning as 30 MPH winds first batted me sideways, before settling down and driving cold stinging rain into my face for three long miles. Dark and Cold were in close attendance adding their own brand of misery.
Riding in these conditions sometimes feel like a tax on the stupid. And maybe it is â€“ the seeds of my downfall were planted last night with the abandonment of a resolution to pre-pack the commuting bag ready for morning. The alarm trilled irritatingly as it always does at 6:30am and as normal I flail around wildly trying to cancel it/break it into a thousand small pieces so not to wake my wife. From there on in, things kind of went downhill.
Itâ€™s dark. Really proper dark where I live with no streetlights and no close conurbations. But thanks to the miracle of electric light, Iâ€™m able to dress in sufficient expensive gear to waterproof a small elephant before heading out into the cold and moistness of a winterâ€™s morning. Today I headed back in a number of occasions for keys, water bottle, work shirt, etc. Thatâ€™s what happens when laziness overrides common sense leaving me standing uncertainly in the kitchen, head swaying from side to side, trying to remember what Iâ€™ve forgotten.
As may be apparent Iâ€™m not a morning person. My cognitive functions refuse to operate before daylight creeps over the horizon and they have been fortified by a strong cup of coffee. Their response to any enquiry before such precepts have been fulfilled is to flip a neural â€œV” sign and suggest consulting the hind brain instead which may be able to help. It didnâ€™t and I had a train to catch so off I went with the fifth horseman â€“ more a pit pony really â€“ â€œdoubt” riding alongside.
Which wasnâ€™t as surreal as Iâ€™d first thought. Because it was acutally Piccadilly Circus. Let me explain, the underground strike drove many of the tube rats out of their tunnels and onto bikes of assorted vintages, ridden with skills blunted by twenty years neglect.
Glancing over my shoulder at a set of lights, I was presented with a rambling pantheon of two wheeled transport, 4 or 5 deep in places. Suits and trouser clips jockeyed for position with lycra and SPDs. It was a great experience as this critical mass took flight (pedal?) on the green light and the cars â€“ for once â€“ played second fiddle.
There are sure to be casualties though. Diffidence and stupidity in equal amounts created traffic havoc at every junction. Increasingly frustrated motorists sounded horns and waved clenched fists at wobbling and worried cyclists. If the strike does nothing else, my hope is it will educate those who rode today what itâ€™s like for the rest of us who ride every day.
But I say again, it was great to be part of a large cycling community today. Roll on summer and more of the same.
It’s official. I am a proper mountain biker. Retro traditionalists may claim that 300 metres makes not a mountain, but this is nothing more than semantic pedantry. I’d further refute their laughable claims by offering this compelling and watertight evidence:
Impervious in the face of dampness. As the weather tended to the spectacularly moist, my riding buddy cluster compressed to five or less. Proper riders unearthed dusty waterproofs, traded race shoes for winter boots and, striking a heroic pose, manfully rode out into the driving rain. Frankly, it was pretty unpleasant – a flashback to November with greasy trails outing summer technique as overconfident ego-stroking rubbish which dissolved under sheets of the wet stuff. Although once I’d slid into a tree and suffered a two hour deluxe mud enema, it became strangely enjoyable. Especially at the end. That was the really good bit.