Firing on all cylinders

Over Christmas I’ve been out riding pretty much every day. I even popped round to my fiancée’s by bike on Christmas Day. The weather has been ludicrously mild, the only blip being one day when the winds were gusting at 40-50mph which kept me indoors for a couple of hours. On Christmas Day it was a balmy 15 degrees! One welcome Christmas present (among many with a cycling theme) was £30 in vouchers for Henry Burton’s, the local bike shop. That should keep me in ball bearings for the foreseeable future… I also got a newer, lighter, airier and redder Specialized helmet for longer rides on Major Tom.

The vast majority of my riding has been on my three-speed. All of a sudden, and I have no idea why, that bike is riding really well, better than ever before. I do find it a bit peculiar, though obviously welcome. All I can think is that after my most recent puncture I swapped out the Halford’s own-brand inner tube for some Continental inners, as well as some minor adjustments that have my hub gears working better. It never occurred to me that inner tubes could make such a difference, and I’m still slightly dubious. Perhaps the Conti’s just fit better inside the tyres? Apart from the rear rim still being a bashed chrome steel unit I’d say Crichton’s pretty much in A1 condition now, comfortable, fast and quite handsome and a really excellent winter bike. 

over the Christmas break I’ve also been trawling through the very interesting Lovely Bicycle blog, starting at the beginning in spring 2009. So far I’m about two years in. While I lament that I don’t have Velouria‘s bike budget, there’s a lot of interesting little ideas popping into my head when I read some of her posts. Like me, she returned to riding a bike in adulthood, and started with an upright lugged-steel roadster. 

One thing that I hadn’t twigged before was that the weight of a heavy roadster contributes to its stability, so perhaps starting on a steel bike is quite a good idea. I know steel has more forgiving material characteristics but maybe newbies who buy an aluminium or carbon fibre bike first up are also missing out on this reassuring stability. She talks about geometry a fair amount (which is something else I’m naive about) and how certain geometries lead to various handling characteristics. It was reassuring to read, for example, that when she got a road bike she had the same problems with adjusting to the bike’s apparent instability as I had.

The other thing that was quite a surprise to me was how she describes, many months and 1,000s of miles after starting to cycle, how she is learning some of the skills of riding, such as how to lean into corners. It’s probably not as drastic as I make it sound, but nevertheless the fact that it’s worth her pointing it out was a bit of a shock to me. All the skills she describes (mostly described in a Sheldon Brown article you can find here) are things that I completely take for granted as things I taught myself to do as a child. I’ve been monitoring my riding since I read this, and I do have a lot of quite skilful, totally instinctive technique. I’m beginning to wonder firstly whether the way boys and girls teach themselves to ride may be different, and also whether I wasn’t some sort of bike-handling prodigy and everyone else didn’t learn these things until later, if at all. It may have a bearing on how I coax my fiancée onto her bike, and what sort of things I try to teach her – my housemate also.

Finally what’s interesting is how the releationship she has with her bikes is very slightly different to mine. She tends to do a lot of little customisations, where as I, more in the role of curator, tend to either leave the bike components as I found them or else at least try to be period-sympathetic in my adjustments. Perhaps reading this blog will encourage me to be a bit braver in future? I’ve already ordered a chain case for Crichton to save on chain maintenance, though I’m not looking forward to installing it – from the pictures I’ve seen they’re set up for old Dutch roadsters with horizontal rearward-facing track-style dropouts, whereas Crichton has the forward-facing slanted dropouts common to all Raleigh Sports type bicycles. A certain degree of improvisation may be necessary…

Today I popped into town on Major Tom, and came back the long way round down the Isabel Trail. There were lots of people out walking, and one or two kids trying out their new bikes. There’s a stretch of trail at the north end of town before the tarmac starts that I’ve taken to calling ‘L’enfer du nord’ – In Italy they call these paths “stradi bianchi” which sounds terribly glamorous, and with a Mediterranean climate I’m sure they are. In English weather however they end up more like a concatenation of loosely confederated puddles and potholes, horribly bumpy and slow to drain. Poor Major Tom is now covered in specks of this sandy mud, as was my bottom. And my shoes, and my jacket, and my gloves, and so on… It’s fun the way cycling daydreams can vary by surface and surroundings. On tarmac I’m Bernard Hinault, but on wet bumpy stretches I’m always Roger De Vlaeminck.

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