Sunday, 22 February 2009


"No, that'll do me fine." I said and CF just looked at me and laughed. He'd heard it all before. The novice cyclist claiming that the bike under him was just perfect, no alterations necessary. No need to get involved in the world of kit.

A few weeks after this exchange I found myself in a newsagents waiting for a train. I took down a copy of Cycling Weekly (otherwise known as the comic) and the die was cast. A mag full of kit, most of which I didn't fully know where it went on a bike. What was a bottom bracket? Stems? Seat posts? and why did people need ones different from the ones they got with their bikes? After all I had just spent the best part of £700 on my Trek 1200, surely it didn't need anything to make it any more lovely.

The pedals were the first thing I replaced, I think I thought that they would be the only thing I needed, I had been getting a sore knee and the blokes nodded sagely and said "pedals", who was I to argue. Then someone was flogging a second hand pair of wheels cheap, I thought "Why not, everyone says that wheels and tyres are the key". And well, after that, if you are going to spend a long time on the bike, a decent saddle is important - what's £70 when your comfort is involved?

And well, it's not long before you're looking at that perfect bike and thinking, it's nice but it's really a winter bike. So that fateful day when I fell in love with the 5.2 Madone - in red. that last bit is important. It's not known by me as the Madone, although I regularly thank Mary for the beauty of it. No, it's the 'red bike' and it cost me close to £2000. It's called the Madone after a hill in Nice. I once went up part of it on a bus and nearly passed out from the vertiginous nature of the beast. Lance went up it in record time on the prototype of my bike. It's a good name, the BVM is supposed to be the patron saint of cyclists and when the legs are screaming it's worth remembering.

Of course even the perfection of the red bike needed some alteration - a new set of wheels (they were going cheap, I would have been a fool not to have snapped them up), a new stem and handlebar - carbon, ergonomically designed - obviously improving my performance no end. A new chain and cassette. I have got my eye on some new cranks.

But maybe the more extreme change in my attitude to kit is in the clothes. I used to turn up in Ultura gear - cheap and durable kit and quite frankly perfectly serviceable. However, the pressure of the peleton soon led me to start looking at the kit I had once winced at the prices of. I did buy a team kit - Saunier Duval top and shorts. I really thought that I had arrived. In my mind I was David Millar. It was only when MF said very loudly and quite cruelly, yet correctly, that he could see my pubes through the white front of the shorts that I realised why Mr Millar had chosen to jump ship and join a more sensibly trousered team.

But when the red bike arrived, everything changed. I needed kit to match the prestige of the bike. And it needed to be red. So now I entered the period where my gloves are red, my socks are red, my sunglasses are even red. But maybe more to the point I have discovered Rapha red.

Rapha are the acme of cycle clothes. In fact we are the ponces of the peleton. Overpriced and no longer made over here, Rapha likes to think of itself harking back to a golden age of tifosi. All merino wool and sans helmets. However, you have got to love the gear. I have a Rapha top, a Rapha jacket and am seriously looking at shorts and a jersey for the summer. What credit crunch? There's no point keeping the money in the bank. As I like to say to my wife, I could be out doing coke. Or even worse, playing golf.

Now I open the comic and think, hmm...maybe that's just waht i need, a carbon seat post clamp - it'll make all teh difference, then no more need for anymore kit. Honest, CF, honest.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Off and Abandon

Cycling and mucky weather. It's not for everyone. Lance, for example, has never had a go at Roubaix, the ride made famous by the fact that the tracks of northern France, where the ride ends, are made up of blocks of pave - cuboid chunks of cobble - which bounce cyclists off the road, crack front forks and leave riders peeing blood for days after. And that can be on a good day. Usually, of course, it's chucking it down with rain and the cobbles make pro riders look like dogs on wet lino. The Prince of Le Tour shakes his head when offered the chance to join cycling's immortals and maybe none of us should blame him.

So, it's been snowing this week, the thermometer by my bed hasn't shown a positive value all week, the little green light notifying possible icy conditions has been working overtime and schools have had to close for fear of the new bogey man - Health and Safety. Undeterred, a few of us roll up at 8 - big D in his road man's beard , CF, JF, K and NS. None too keen to get going we wait expecting others to arrive but they have all pulled their sheets over their heads today and it's just us.

A 45 seems like a good idea and as we roll out along the sea front the mood in the peleton is good. Lots of admiring glances at Big D's Mercian and chatter about the number of layers each of us is wearing.

The first sign that maybe things are not quite right is when the puddles at the edge of the road look like the bottoms of beer glasses - thick ice, undisturbed by any sun for quite some days. The talk turns to times we have fallen off. I point out to JF the place where I hit CF's back wheel and slid half way across the road in my new jacket. How I spent that night in a fever of speculation on how much worse the accident could have been - a broken collarbone at the very least, a cracked wrist or a thud into an oncoming car.

As we turn off the main road and past the duckpond, the temperature drops as if we have gone through a frozen curtain and these least used roads are much icier. I slow down and move to the back of the group and try and find a clean line through. We always joke about this stretch as being like a mini Belgium - open fields, a cruel wind and rotten roads. Roubaix in Essex.

When someone goes down it is no surprise, one of us was due a tumble. The surprise is that it is not me and that it is Big D. And being at the back, I have the perfect view. His front tyre rolls over the ice before he can even see it but his back tyre isn't straight and there it is, he's over. Luckily, he lands firmly on his thigh, and maybe more luckily, he doesn't rip any of his clothes. He stands there and takes our sympathy but you can see he is annoyed with himself. The off a judgement on his ability and while this is not true it is very difficult not to feel that you could have done more, you could have prevented it. But really he couldn't have, not today, not even the great Mercyx - the Cannibal of Roubaix could have stopped that spill.

From that moment on the group is silent, every corner a potential disaster, the shoulders tighten, the handling stiffens and every patch of black on the road is possible ice. When I finally shout that I am heading back, my nerve gone, it is not long before the others agree. The ride back is slow, no idle chatter on the seafront now. An abandon is serious business. We only get out twice a week at this time of the year and having to come back home in all our gear after less than an hour's worth of riding is a depressing thing indeed.

Still, there is always tomorrow, I hear the forecast is supposed to be better...