Eroica was my third organised bike ride, and by a distance the toughest. It wasn’t just the hills that were tough, it was the weather too. My Irish genes have given me a constitution that just isn’t comfortable with too much direct sunlight (it rains a lot in Ireland, which is why it’s such a vivid green) and any temperature beyond 30C, and I really had to force more fluid inside me on the ride than I ever thought it possible to take in.
After the Katherine House charity ride earlier this year (45 miles) I was absolutely all in, struggling to climb stairs and I spent a good three hours just lying down watching TV. Somehow after Eroica I didn’t feel as knackered, but I didn’t really have a choice – the tent wasn’t going to fold itself and walk to the car after all, and I then had some driving to do. I did feel pretty tired when I turned in, but really nothing like as bad as I was expecting. I did have one very obvious discomfort though: Sunburn.
I think the discerning eye may just be able to detect the point at which my shorts stopped… the whole weekend had been pretty unrelentingly sunny and warm, and nowhere on the site seemed to offer a nice cool shaded area. The tents with the bars and stores and so on had very little air circulation and you just roasted, lying in the tent was prohibitively hot as well. There was just no escape, no major breeze, either you got uncomfortably hot or you got the sun on your back. This was before the ride even started! We’d brought some sunscreen but it soon got washed away with sweat, or rubbed off when it got into your eyes, so after a point it was just inevitable. Irish skin burns easy.
My other rather more worrying complaint, though less painful, concerned my hands. I’d had a bit of discomfort in my bottom and in my feet, which had each gone a bit numb at times during the ride, but once I got off the bike it soon stopped and I was really pleasantly surprised at how little discomfort I’d had in these areas. My hands though were not numb so much as tingly, particularly the right hand, and particularly the outer fingers.
This did not go away quickly, and I would guess that this was a bit of carpal tunnel syndrome. CTS is where the nerves that run to your hand, that runs through a channel containing the tendons that operate your fingers, find themselves without enough space and cease to function properly. I could feel discomfort in my palms when I was riding, and I think some inflammation started to set in that impinged on the nerves.
I’ve always suspected, having remarkably narrow wrists, that I might be susceptible to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, but until now I’ve escaped without a single episode. Having searched for diagrams I don’t think this was actually related to the carpal tunnel, but it’s a definite nerve issue of some kind that seems to be affecting only areas governed by the ulnar nerve. I was genuinely worried I might have some permanent nerve damage, but writing this three days after the ride it is finally starting to go away. It definitely needs monitoring though, no bike ride however wonderful is worth losing the function of my hand for.
Finally, there was the bike to attend to. Overall the bike had coped extremely well, but I’d had a problem with the bottom bracket during the ride, and as I suspected when I got home I found the fixed cup HAD loosened. In my attempts to fix it I managed to actually slightly break a very solidly-made bottom bracket spanner. So I nursed the bike as it was to the bike shop, resigned to a bit of a financial hit for work I could do myself if only I had the right tools.
The following day I got a call from the bike shop. They’d taken the cups out and found signs of wear on both the cups and the axle. Perhaps this is what had caused the bracket to loosen? Anyway, I was given three options: refit the existing axle and cups, do a like-for-like replacement, or switch to a modern Shimano sealed bottom bracket. Would this invalidate the bike for Eroica, they asked. I told them it wasn’t really that strict, but I’d know the difference, so I got them to fit replacements the same as they’d taken off. As if my bike would have Shimano parts on it. The very idea…
I then got another call to say they’d fitted the new parts but were having trouble getting the front mech to work properly. This made me giggle a little – “Glad it’s not just me then!” This is a problem I’ve had before, as it only just about fits in with the rest of the drivetrain and is incredibly fussy about its position. It’s fine for downchanges virtually anywhere, but can seem to jam when changing up and can actually jam if it’s too far out of position. Where the real red herring lies is that poor changes on a stand are nowhere near as bad when the bike’s actually being ridden. It’s a bit clunky, but at no point on Sunday was I grinding away waiting for a change up. It was funny having to reassure the mechanic that yes, it does that, don’t worry, it’s fine…
He suggested I switch to a conventional front mech, I.e. Low normal. This means with minimum cable tension the mech sits over the small ring, and is virtually ubiquitous save for a select few SunTour models such as my Compe-V, which is the other way round. SunTour pursued this as they thought customers would find it less confusing if both levers operated the same way, and they were right, but they lost the argument. With SunTour’s ratchet shifters there’s no danger (if properly adjusted) of the shifter loosening and autochanging up to the big ring on a climb, but since everyone else only used friction I imagine the Campagnolos of the world would have been rather prone to this if they’d reversed their mech’s action. I like it though, it’s one of the quirks/talking points of the bike and allows me to store it with both cables at minimum tension without crossing the chain over. Another little benefit. It changes fine, why switch?
I still haven’t had the heart to remove the race number from the frame, I think Major Tom’s rather proud of himself so I’ll leave it be for now… I wonder what our next big adventure will be?