“Isle of Fright!” screamed the page-three headlines in the newspaper that morning announcing the discovery of a new species of ‘vicious’ flesh-eating dinosaur that had been found embedded in the 120 million year-old cliffs of England’s fair and gentle Isle of Wight. Believing this walking nightmare to be the long-elusive great-great-grand-daddy of Tyrannosaurus rex, palaeontologists around the world were hailing it as one of the most significant dinosaur finds in recent years. An artist’s rendition showed it striding, fang and claw, through the swampy landscape that characterised the area at the time, in the company of an iguanodon, a brachiosaurus, and an armour-plated polecanthus, other prehistoric beasties that had also once roamed the island. Stirring stuff. And so for the sheer giddy hell of it I hopped aboard my old tourer and rode over there to see if I could find some dinosaur bones myself.
By now I’ve had the opportunity to put a few hundred miles on my new randonneur and having become better acquainted with it, I have to say that the quality that amazes me the most about it and puts a big smile on my face every time I climb aboard, is just how beautifully this…
Strolling accordion players and trained poodle acts are but two of the many things in this world that are beyond my peasant comprehension, and to that list I would add those weekend warriors who shell out anything up to a hundred and twenty quid (each!) to put carbon-fibre drink bottle cages on their bicycles.
When I think back on all the hours I spent in pleasurable anticipation of the hand-built touring bicycle I was having made-to-order, I find the most enjoyable – and the most exasperating – were the ones I spent perusing the big, tattered fold-out colour chart I’d borrowed from the frame-makers’ shop, trying to pick put a colour scheme. One of the great joys of having a frame custom made for you is that you can have everything precisely the way you want it – from your choice of tubing and frame geometry to the carving on the lugwork. Most particularly though, you have your choice of colour scheme, a chance to make a statement, have your own personal livery on your own personal bicycle.
And nothing could be more delightfully perplexing than picking it out.
One thing you’ll never see cluttering up my handlebars is a cycling computer – let alone one of those exotic GPS devices that pinpoints your position on the globe, charts your course, monitors your speed, cadence, distance, elevation gains and counts your heart rate and, while it’s about it, also measures your power output in amps, watts and kilojoules and tells you what you should have had for breakfast. No thanks. Not for me. One of the loveliest things about slipping down the road on my bike is that exquisite sense of getting away it all, free, clear and beholden to no one.
I see that the new season’s bicycle headlamps are now hitting the pre-Christmas stands with manufacturers boasting more dazzling brightness and beam intensity than ever before. We’re up to 3000 lumens now for Niterider’s very brightest, top-of-the-range headlamp – surely overkill for all but the fastest, most dangerous late-night MBT descents and twenty-four-hour mountain races. I cannot imagine a circumstance where anyone would need that kind of luminosity on the road, and I speak as a cyclist who not only rides thousands of miles each year down darkened country lanes but who also likes to have plenty of light to see by when he does. It begs the question: how much brighter can they go? And how much brighter does anyone want, for God’s sake?
This morning at long last I finally replaced the worn-out chain on my old Thorn tourer, which these days serves as my winter bike. It was high time. I’d been giving the incumbent chain the benefit of the doubt for quite a while now but even my most optimistic self could see it was clearly well, well, well past it’s use-by date, that one per cent ‘stretch’ point beyond which it starts appreciably wearing down your cassette and even your chain rings. The reason for my reluctance to replace the old chain was that it was one of the last of my dwindling stockpile of those beautiful German-made Rohloff SLT-99 chains, once the finest you could buy and now, sadly, no longer being made. When I learned about eighteen months ago that they were not going to be around much longer I stockpiled as many as I could afford – which was not so many, and nowhere near enough, but at upwards of forty quid a throw these finely crafted nickel-plated chains were not the kind of things you bought by the dozen. Or at least not something that I bought by the dozen.
I generally take my coffee black, no cream, no sugar, no nonsense, and until a few months ago I’d have said pretty much the same thing about the way I take my bicycle tyres too – straight black, double shot. After forty-seven years of riding the same-old, same-old, it wouldn’t even have occurred to me to put cream-coloured treads on a bicycle. Like Henry Ford and his early Model-Ts, my vision for bike tyres extended only to … black.
They call it the sleigh ride: the three-hour flight on a ski-equipped Hercules cargo plane from the U.S. base at McMurdo to that most exotic of Antarctic destinations: the South Pole. Schoolboy keen, I showed up early at the icy airstrip, bundled up, bags packed, eager to go. It was the summer of 2000 and…
This gallery contains 24 photos →