Friday, July 17, 2020

My Life In ... Bicycles

The second in an occasional series of alternative Curriculum Vitae because no-one on their death bed says "I wish I'd spent more time in the office".

I have cycled for over 55 years on a variety of machines from super light, carbon fibre delights to bikes clearly made from girders. All dates approximate. Some photos borrowed.

Dawes Model unknown (1962-1970): my first bicycle was a reward for passing the 11+. In those days most bicycles were old school “sit up and beg” or “racing bikes” with drop handlebars. Neither of these are appropriate for an 11-year-old. Fortunately Dawes did a tourer with straight handlebars which was pretty new and exciting for the time (possibly a Dawes Echelon).

That bike did me all through my secondary school years. It was a bit large for an 11-year-old and a bit small for a 17-year-old. With college approaching I needed a new, larger framed bike.

Make Unknown (1970-1983): My friend Catherine Bott’s younger brother Steve was short of cash and so I bought his bike. It needed a bit of TLC so I took it apart, literally every last ball bearing and spoke dismantled and cleaned. 

I sprayed the frame a horrible mustard colour, and reassembled the entire machine including new black plastic mudguards. It looked pretty smart and when Steve saw it he was regretful that he had sold such a fine machine for such a paltry sum, ignoring the amount of work I put in of course. At the time I even had some bumpers (canvas shoes) that were matching mustard and black.

That bike served me well all through college and the first few years of my working life. Then one day I went to stay with my brother in his new house in Clapham and in my naivety left my bicycle chained up outside. The next morning it was gone. That taught me a lesson, I now always chain my bike to something immovable, railings or lamppost. So a new bike was required.

Claud Butler (1984-2009): Penny, the wife of a colleague, had a bike she no longer needed. The saddle had snapped off and she was unable to extract the saddle post. I bought it off her and with a bit of brute force managed to extract the post. 

As with Steve's bike it needed a thorough maintenance and a new paint job. This time I had it serviced and resprayed professionally in a bike shop in Wimbledon village. I’m glad I did as they discovered a crack in the frame which they re-welded before spraying it a pretty blue colour.

That bike and I did many thousands of miles together! I commuted to work from Wimbledon into the City of London, April to December for many years. The classic leather Brooks saddle I bought had moulded to my bottom or, I suspect, it may have been the other way round! When you ride a bike that much it feels like part of you, man and machine a single unit.

Unicycle No. 1 (1987 approx): at one point I signed up for an evening class in circus skills in order to learn juggling. Having mastered the basic three ball pattern I decided to have a go at riding the unicycle and then bought one for myself. It came from the amusingly entitled “More Balls Than Most“ company. I never achieved a particularly high level of proficiency.

At work there was an outbreak of juggling in the PC development group and so I took in my bicycle for the lads to have a go. We then moved office and the bike went missing. I sent out a companywide voicemail message, "If anyone has seen my unicycle please let me know. It is easily identifiable as it is bright red and has only one wheel." Little did I know that that companywide message would follow me around for years. I would stand up to introduce myself and somebody in the audience would ask “did you ever find your unicycle?" The answer, alas, was no!

Specialized hybrid (2004-present): lovely though the Claud Butler was it was not appropriate for any kind of off-road, rough path cycling. So Mary and I bought ourselves a matching pair of hybrids. Very useful for cycling on the Thames Path. I used it for commuting into the office, Wandsworth to the City. 

Ridgeback folding bike (2005-present): Mary originally bought this to take over to Dublin on the plane when she was working there. Turned out to be a very useful purchase. For a while I was commuting from Wandsworth to just north of Slough. Cycling was the quickest way to get to Paddington and Great Western were very restrictive on the number of full sized bikes but a folding was never a problem.  Now we keep it in the shed handy for if we want to pop down to the shops or out to a yoga class.

Specialized Roubaix Comp (2008-present): Mary and I decided to cycle London to Paris in aid of the Stroke Association. Mary treated herself to a new bike for the occasion and shortly after I did the same. We had matching his and hers Roubaix, albeit hers is a larger frame.

These have carbon fibre frames and are so light they are a delight to ride. They have the modern style of gear change where you click the brake levers left or right as opposed to pulling a lever on the frame. 

I also used it for commuting. If the office where I was working didn’t have off-street parking I reverted to the hybrid. I was prepared to leave the cheaper bike locked up on the street but not the Roubaix.

Italy Unknown makes (2004-present): When we bought the Trulli we also bought two cheapo bicycles from Conforama for exploring the local area. They did us fine for years but then Mary took against hers and in 2018 upgraded to a newer, better quality bike with the old one going to charity. After a year of the new bike she decided its frame was too small so she bought the same bike again but with a larger frame and passed the nearly new bike on to me, with the second cheapo bike again going to charity.

Unicycle No. 2 (2006-present): After a few years without a unicycle Mary kindly bought me a replacement for Christmas. This time a blue one from Pashley.

It is now in the garage serving mainly a home for spiders. 

We currently own eight and a half bicycles between the two of us! Possibly time to down-size?

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