Sunday, 27 October 2013

STEEL IS REAL



It was with great pleasure that I accepted the challenge of finding an appropriate bike for a potential member of Team Carlos-Weltschmerz. This is because he ‘wanted a bike like mine’ – a steel bike, with character. The idea came to him after hearing of our participation in the London to Brighton, and now he wants to climb aboard and join our outfit.
I was surprised how many bikes there were; I found him at least three candidates, of an appropriate material and size, in a little less than a fortnight. Some idiot kept stringing him along when my friend tried to buy the most convenient, so he ended shipping in a Dutch Van Herwerden from mainland Europe instead. It’s a better bike anyway – the right choice – and it’s induced in me a mild bout of bicycle envy. Van Herwerden is actually the name of the shop that would have had it badged and sold; the bikes themselves were normally made by Chesini or Zullo. Whatever the origin of this particular bike, it’s an absolute beaut, although I have yet to admire it at close quarters.
            I’ve already been passing on ideas for what jersey he might like to wear for next year’s London to Brighton. Easterbrook is a man with his own sense of style, and he’s proved most receptive to the type of togs I’ve suggested: 80s replica kit from Prendas Ciclismo, mostly. That’s an exciting proposition, but one too early to consider right now.

  
 
 

 
 

I’ve also been thinking about adding to my own collection (of one). I have no intention of letting go of the Romani, as it’s always been my intent to own two velocipedes (the size of my quarters precludes expansion beyond that).
I’ve been working in central London of late and my walk from Waterloo to the Grays Inn Road is riddled with bicycles. Just the other day, a gun-metal Peugeot really caught my eye, so after contemplating carbon and envisaging aluminium, I now think I’ll end up sticking with steel.
The Peugeot in question was probably a Premiere, but my research has pointed me towards higher end models; the Perthus, Galibier or Aneto. These bikes have chromed forks and their frames are forged from a higher grade of steel than the Premiere; Reynolds 531 usually, as opposed to Carbolite. I thought I’d found one these for sale on Gumtree. The seller resided in Brighton. I requested the measurements and the model, which would undoubtedly have been registered on the seat end of the top-tube. It took three emails before I garnered a response, finally suggesting a time I might like to come and view the bicycle. I explained that I lived in London so would need the measurements of the seat-tube, top-tube and head-tube, and a few choice photographs of the most vulnerable areas, to reassure me that the bike was worthy of my cash and the day-trip I’d need to make if I decided to action a purchase. He told me that he wasn’t prepared to put in the work to furnish me with such details. What a lazy specimen of a human being, I thought. I received nothing back in reply to the email I sent him conveying this sentiment (via the medium of sarcasm).

 
 


Economically speaking, the timing isn’t convenient anyway. Penury persists, and it’s almost winter – what’s the rush? So I have attended to a few issues that have been bothering my incumbent ride; the rear wheel, which needed truing, and a wobble in the bottom bracket. I went to Sigma in Kingston to fix the former, and the Vintage Bike Cave – from whence the Romani was purchased – to remedy the latter, figuring that if the bottom bracket needed replacing then they would probably have something appropriate to hand.
Initially, I thought that Sigma had done a decent job with my wheel, but no sooner had I ridden 20 metres and the chain fell off – they hadn’t replaced it consistent with the gear the bike was left in. Moreover, the rear wheel had not been properly realigned. I took it back and the situation was resolved, albeit in a blasé manner. To be fair, they did tweak the rear brake whilst at it, which would have cost extra had I realised it needed tweaking.
The Vintage Bike Cave represented a far higher quality of service. It turned out that the integrity of the bottom bracket was very much in tact, but after releasing the tension of the chain, excessive play within the axle was indeed observed. So I was sent across the road to drink coffee whilst they gave it the once over.
It was tightened accordingly, I wasn’t charged for the privilege, and the ride home was a delight; my gear changes were the smoothest they’d ever been, and the bike felt solid and reliable. Let’s hear it for the Vintage Bike Cave, folks. Sure, you’re going to pay a little extra for a bike down there, compared to what you might have to hand over to someone selling on eBay, Gumtree or, say, LFGSS, but your new bike will come fully serviced, with new tyres, inner tubes, bar-tape, brake blocks, and cables (if required), and their after-sales service will be committed and genuine.
In this day and age of people wanting something for almost nothing, it’s prudent to step back and consider what the meaning of ‘value’ really is. If that burk in Brighton selling his Peugeot on Gumtree had been bothered to take measurements, and it had turned out that the bike was what I was looking for, then he’d have got shot of it by now. Instead, it’s still up there on Gumtree. I assume people have come to see the bike and have deemed it unfitting or unworthy. The seller, therefore, will continue having to invest more time, writing emails, organising appointments, and entertaining potential buyers (although I am sure he’ll sell it eventually). All because he felt the use of a tape measure was somehow beneath him.


Thursday, 24 October 2013

A PLASTIC BOTTLE THROWN FROM A MOVING VEHICLE

 
 



Was 'An Appropriate Bicycle' supposed to run for a limited time only? Yes it was, but it might be nice to continue something in a similar vein; musings on bikes and related paraphernalia.
I’ve been fairly active since the London to Brighton in this respect. I take specific pride in a ramble out to Chertsey I've developed; expanding on my route to Walton-on-Thames and back, I now drive onward to Chertsey, then turn back on myself and ride on through Weybridge, Hersham, Esher, and finally to Kingston.
To mix it up, I might take a different turn at the roundabout that unites Chertsey Road, Woburn Hill and St. Peter’s Way. I will select Chertsey Road/the A318, follow it as far as Byfleet, and then head east along the A245, which takes me over the A3, then through Cobham, back over the A3, before re-joining with my default path in Esher. Depending on the twist and turns – and including the roll home via Richmond I often tack on the end – it’s anywhere between 25 and 30 miles; nothing epic, but mostly free of traffic control – lots of roundabouts instead of light-administered junctions – and so I can cycle mostly unchecked. I rarely bother with rides into London town anymore, let alone Ealing or Chiswick.
I also managed a 35 miler out to Staines and Virginia Water. That was Mommersteeg's idea, although he turned up hung-over and the loop up to Windsor and back was spontaneously excised from our pre-planned route.
On the final run in, back through Sunbury, a man reclining in the passenger side of a red van – dragging behind it a speedboat – threw a plastic bottle at Mommersteeg in an act of gratuitous indignation. I tried to chase the van down – almost succeeded – but we met again at the junction where Ham High Street and Hampton Road intersect. We were told that we 'didn't own the road.' Why the driver thought we thought that we did own the road can probably be explained by his obvious contempt for cyclists first, rational explanations later. I was in a mellow kind of mood and answered back literally: I didn’t think that I owned the road. I then pointed out that he was the guy who had thrown a bottle at my colleague: ‘You’re the guy who threw the bottle at my colleague,’ I said. The guy who’d thrown the bottle at my colleague told me to 'shut up'. Mommersteeg suggested that I 'leave it', which I did, and that was that.
I've resisted any calls to arms against these types, but you can see I’ve the ammunition, should I ever I need it.

In other news, I've been inspecting long-sleeved jerseys. The Urban Cyclist recently ran a feature on autumnal apparel and I was very taken with a Santini jersey they included. They said that I could buy this remarkable vesture from Prendas Ciclismo for a mere £65. Beautiful it was, but Prendas don’t sell it, for £65 or otherwise. I managed to establish contact with the Urban Cyclist collective via their bookface account, and they conceded it was a misprint. In fact, it sets one back a penny short of £120 from a company called Fisher Outdoor Leisure, and I can’t afford that right now.
            A fresh faced British company called Vulpine do a nice little Merino wool number, kind of along those minimal lines that Rapha like to lead. The ‘Alpine Jersey’ retails at £95, so still exceeds my present budget. Moreover, it appears it’s perhaps not rough and ready enough to satisfy my needs. It is referred to as ‘stylish and comfortable’ – it’s probably been featured in the Urban Cyclist at some point. I have nothing against this more relaxed approach to cycle-wear, but it’s not for me; I need gear that I can martyr myself in, which doesn’t stretch and won’t catch on the impedimenta with which I invariably fill my jersey pockets.
            Sportful do a more affordable and utilitarian alternative – the ‘Pista’ – and at £50 it may well have to do. I’ve tried it on and it’s a good fit, but I’m actually thinking along the line of arm-warmers as well now, for these will allow me to continue utilising my short-sleeved jerseys throughout the winter.

I ended up selling my Solo Heuvel jersey at a small profit and buying an original mid 1990s ONCE jersey with the proceeds. ONCE were a Spanish team founded in 1989, who slowly metamorphosed into Astana, by way of Deutsche Bank, Eroski, Liberty Siguros and Würth (don’t ask me). ONCE actually stands for Organización Nacional de Ciegos Españoles, meaning the National Organization of Spanish Blind People. I think I have the 1994-1997 version, made by the Spanish sportswear manufacturer Etxe-Ondo and co-sponsored by Look (the make of bikes Team-ONCE rode) and Macario (no idea). Mavic, as opposed to Macario, had their name on the jersey before 1994, and after 1997 their kit was made by Castelli and their bikes by Giant. Because ONCE’s team colours were predominantly yellow they wore a pink version during the Tour de France, but I have the yellow and black designation, worn for their three consecutive triumphs in the Vuelta a España and a number of Spring Classics besides.
            I’ve also added to my collection an all-green vintage jersey with faded lettering across its front and back spelling ‘Cassa Rurale Ed Artigiana Popolare Palm-Mont’. I have no idea what that means but it looks and sounds good, and it only cost  a tenner.
            I’ve got my eye on a Caja Rural jersey too, because I would quite like a contemporary jersey and Caja Rural’s top is by far the pick of the modern-day crop. If I do end up with that then I will own a total of five jerseys (long-sleeves don’t count), in complete contradiction to the Trinity Theory of Jerseys that I’ve been proposing. Oh well.






Finally, I’d like to say a word about this year’s Tour of Britain. Last year’s Tour of Britain felt a little bit cheap and nasty; it really suffered in comparison with the Vuelta a España that preceded it. This year’s Vuelta was cracking, but after the predictably pedestrian first few rain-soaked stages the 2013 Tour of Britain exploded into life on the fourth leg, from Stoke-on-Trent to Llanberis. The stages that followed were good too, especially Stage 6 from Sidmouth to Haytor – and that’s not just by Devonshire bias speaking.
            I managed to spectate at two of the Tour’s stages: a few members of Team Carlos-Weltschmerz and I saw them pass through Dorking on the Saturday, and then on Sunday my colleague accompanied me to watch the riders lapping incessantly around central London. It was a lot of fun.
            Bradley Wiggins was victorious overall, although it’s not considered a particularly prestigious title. However, after a troubled year it would have done his confidence a world of good, and perhaps helped him in securing second place in the time trial at this year’s World Championships. That was an impressive showing, all things considered, and it was more the imperious of form of the German Tony Martin that sealed the deal, as opposed to Wiggins getting his game-plan wrong. And then there followed the road face, which went badly for Team GB, although nobody is quite clear as to why.
            Which sort of brings the cycling season to a close…

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

ASPECTS OF LONDON





Waterloo Bridge has no greater significance beyond the many other bridges that span the Thames. Every vault has its own history, and that any particular recapitulation may be considered more vital than another is surely moot – a matter for taste or self-interest. That said, Waterloo Bridge was rebuilt by a largely female workforce during the Second World War, which to some might seem remarkable. For those who lived through that conflict it would appear less so. In stark contrast to our Teutonic enemy, Great Britain embraced the potential of its female workforce and invested in them with all sorts of heavy, menial tasks. What is worthy of remark is the fact that, on officially revealing the reconstructed article, there was no mention of the 25,000 female workers who'd put their back into rebuilding it. None the less, it is known to many Londoners as 'Ladies Bridge', which is an appreciation of sorts.
Hewn from Portland stone – a material respected for its ‘self-cleaning' properties, the process of lithification peculiar to this rock offering a resilience to the elements that appropriates its use in more urban settings – it is a graceful, contemporary bridge, cantilever in design. Its situation – breaching a north to east meander in the river – offers contrasting views. The riparian aspect to the south-west has changed very little in recent times. The London Eye has rested upon the south bank of the Thames for 14-odd years now, its initial five year planning application having long been forgotten, renewed, and the matter presumably taken over by the GLA or the LDA. I'm not sure I like the London Eye being there – I like it, but maybe not there – but have come to accept it. I am grateful for the buildings that lie beside – the Royal Festival Hall in particular – for they are just about capable of bearing the responsibility of ensuring that this ridiculous Ferris wheel doesn’t completely detract from its surroundings.
The bank of the Thames that faces the London Eye represents a completely different proposition. Compromised of Whitehall Court, the Norman Shaw Buildings, and Portcullis House, it is a spiky, perpendicular Gothic apparition very much in keeping with London's mythic pre-blitz past, and one that jars with the neoclassical Ministry of Defence building, and the Shell Centre (more Portland Stone) on the other side of the river (post war developments both). This architectural disparity evokes visions of some of the formerly Soviet cities of central Europe – Budapest springs to mind. One barely notices the towers of Battersea Power Station, or the panelled, glass-clad buildings beyond that are coming to define present-day Vauxhall.
In any case, we have an amalgamation of architectural style that appears to seek concord with a vision of London as a low-rise city. Forget the towers – Elizabeth and Victoria – that protrude from the Palace of Westminster: they are mere aberrations, and not all that tall anyway.
Looking east offers an entirely different perspective. It is to The City that I point this charge: The Gherkin, the Walkie-Talkie, Leadenhall Building, Heron Tower, CityPoint, and the many other developments that have filled in the gaps in and around Liverpool Street, St. Pauls and Fenchurch Street. The depth of field is deceptive, and it’s not as clustered as it looks, but from Ladies Bridge it appears a symphony of glass and height. Add to this the Blackfriars Bridge development, with its fragmented solar panelled roof, and the illusion is complete: the City of London is beginning to resemble some sort of Oriental metropolis, like Beijing or Singapore.
A similar thing happened to Docklands not so long ago, but without the ancient physical characteristics that have been forcefully assimilated into this new City of London. Docklands was a waste-land by comparison, and seems less exotic; there’s more of an American flavour to it, laid out along perpendicular lines.




There are other areas of London that exhibit their own distinct architectural flavour, although this distinction in character is not always so perceivable from street-level. If The City represents some sort of futurist Eastern vision with English Baroque elements, and the west a comfy tribute to both Europe’s Napoleonic and Soviet past, then Southwark offers up yet another schizophrenic tableaux. The South Bank extols the Brutalism that took hold after the Second World War: Bankside Power Station in the guise of the Tate Modern, and the whole of the Southbank Centre. Yet the area behind is a mix of Victorian terracing and low-rise tower blocks, and glass fronted buildings are intruding at any given opportunity. I like the atmosphere in and around Southwark, although it’s hard to put a finger on.
I wonder how much of this is deliberate. I speculate as to whether those in charge of town planning really know what they are doing. I entertain the thought that the whole of London is one circumstantial accident, and that its visual impact is entirely arbitrary. It probably is, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. My concern, however, is that over time these separate architectural enclaves will segue into one another, as land is sold and built upon in whatever style happens to be à la mode. And then one could stand on Ladies Bridge and whichever way one looked would reap only indistinguishable, homogeneous rewards.


Tuesday, 16 July 2013

AN APPROPRIATE BICYCLE - Pt. 27: EPILOGUE

 
 




We did not ride as a team and there was no identifiable peloton. Team Carlos-Weltschmerz did not have a sprinter in its ranks, and the circumstances would not have allowed for one anyway. We stopped twice. I had wanted to stop only once. Our attire was commanded by the cool weather, and so the resplendence of our raiment could only be fully revealed on Brighton’s waterfront when the cloud cover broke up and it became warm enough for short sleeves. Only two of us could be seen to be wearing cycling shorts. Alcohol was consumed. People had to push their bikes up steep hills. I didn’t even find time to eat my sickly energy bar. (I did so later, which is how I can testify to its nectarous property.)
I invented a challenge that wasn’t there, a race by proxy. I roped in colleagues. I encouraged immersion. I stipulated behaviour, imagined scenarios, avoided truths – deliberately. I focussed in on things. My bicycle became something else – it was my bicycle, just for me, and it looked the part.
            The London to Brighton IS NOT A RACE, but, descending down narrow leafy lanes, or riding through village high streets with the field well spread out, there were moments – brief moments – that it felt… like how I wanted it to feel. The act of it being relentless and unfolding, and of happening quickly, was pleasantly rewarding.

Was my obstinate insistence on riding a steel bike tenable? A case could be made, should one feel the need to defend against it. Let’s be clear: for the most part, I would have profited from riding a carbon bicycle. The course gradually ramps up towards the South Downs. The roads gravitate upwards. Going up the steeper hills, there’s no doubt that the inherent lack of density particular to carbon would have been to my benefit.
On the levels, too, a carbon bike has the edge – unless there’s a cross-wind. Then, the carbon rider will be required to expend energy keeping their bike on course, whereas on steel (or aluminium), I imagine it’s easier to hanker down and ride on throw it.
            It’s on the descents that I might feel a sense of vindication, almost by default. It’s not so much that I gained from riding steel than my carbon friends lost out. I weigh a little over 10 stone – there’s only so much weight I can carry. On the descents, a rider’s weight can contribute towards their forward momentum. Ergo, however aggressively I might choose to ride, I’m inherently less capable of reaching certain speeds than my heavier opponents. Under these circumstances, steel becomes my leveller. Whereas their modern bikes aid them on the climbs, that will count for nothing going downhill. My metallic form of propulsion, then, compensates for its lighter load, allowing me to compete on the declines.
            There aren’t a huge amount of descents from London to Brighton, but there are enough to have rewarded my sentimentality. It makes more sense, now, to think of all those people, on often the most unlikely bikes, hurtling down country lanes, apparently fearless. Mountain bikes, aluminium hybrids, BMXs and tourers were all giving it a solid go and reached velocities that implied it didn’t really matter what material one rides.
Even if I had wanted to ride carbon I couldn’t have really afforded to; £440 doesn’t get you much on the carbon market. It does – and did – buy me something half-decent in Columbus moulded steel, and a very pretty bike to boot. Two pretty bikes, in fact, except I had to sell one to fund the other. I would like to have kept the inimitable Carlos, but it was not to be.
The Carlos left its mark on this project in other ways, namely on my team’s name: Team Carlos-Weltschmerz. As silly as the appellation might sound to some, the Weltschmerz component was not as flippant as one might think: it summed up perfectly the physical constraints of the exercise in hand: fantastical, nugatory and unsound.

Do I go anywhere from here? Probably. Because of its geographical delineation, the London to Brighton comes across as a greater test than it actually is; at 54 miles, it’s not – or shouldn’t be – too much of a physical challenge. That’s not to detract from the people who took part who thought that it was – and to an extent, Ditchling Beacon is deserving of its fearsome reputation – but 54 miles is little more than a ‘club run’ for many cyclists. There are people who cycle from London to Brighton and back just as a fun day out. When I started all of this, cycling in and out of London seemed like a big deal. Now I’m rarely content with a loop of anything less than 30 miles. I’m not sure if I fancy cycling all the way to Brighton and back, but I am thinking about heftier challenges; maybe the 75 mile Sussex Surrey Scramble?
I don’t think I’ll begin to emerge as a particularly good cyclist – above average at best. Despite a staminal tenacity, I’ve never been strong or powerful enough to really excel at any sport, and I respect those who can and do. Which is a shame because I think it must be a great way to earns one’s keep. That said, it quite boggles the mind what professional cyclists must go through – ascents ten times as long as Ditchling Beacon and just as steep – and I can begin to understand why they sometimes throw up the moment they cross the finishing line.
In truth, it’s an elite few who can push their bodies to such limits. Even those cyclists who applied themselves from an early age, and were fortunate enough to have the support, circumstances and wherewithal to prosper, most of them never win a stage at a grand tour, and content themselves with the role of domestique – or ‘water carrier’ – for the duration of their sporting career. So as much as the peripatetic nature of being a professional sportsman appeals, I guess it’s mostly hard work. But still…

Cycling has brought with it an extra dimension of interest. It has reminded me of being 15 again, when I was consumed by football and troubled myself with all its trappings. My favourite book back then was Simon Ingles’s The Football Grounds of Europe. I became obsessed with stadium architecture, so much so that I used to design my own. I possessed at least five football tops, three of which were Italian (Internazionale away, and Torino and Fiorentina home). I could name Everton’s preferred first-eleven. I knew which country had won every World Cup and in what nation it had been hosted. I even owned a pair of goal-keeping gloves. But I was 15 and at that age such behaviour is acceptable. You may even be lauded for it. I am 38.
The Tour de France is on. Chris Froome is the favourite to win. By the time you’ve read this he may well have been crowned champion. Contador has yet to propose any serious opposition. Valverde’s hanging in there. Cadel Evans looks well out of it.
            And so has begun another flourish of enthusiasm akin to that which accompanied the Vuelta a Espana last year and set me on my quest to find an appropriate bicycle. I look forward to reacquainting myself with Gary Imlach. Gary Imlach is as good a presenter as one could hope for – slick, amusing and well informed.  He should probably think about letting go of his hair, and exhibits quite a hangdog kind of look, but what does that matter?
            I like it best when I’ve been out drinking and I return home to top the evening out with the Tour highlights and a beer. And then, the next day, I’m out on my bike again, although a pain in my right knee is preventing me from pushing as hard as I did through May and June. Cycling has become an inveterate interest, just something I do, and only persistent injury and bad weather will stand in my way.

Monday, 17 June 2013

AN APPROPRIATE BICYCLE - Pt. 26: FROM LONDON TO BRIGHTON



It is 04.55 and my bedside clock is emitting an urgent series of bleeps that will crescendo into a sonic frenzy if I fail to intervene. If that doesn’t wake me, then my mobile phone has been instructed to contribute its marginally less tumultuous tone a minute or so later.
There is no need. I’ve had about six and half hours sleep, but of an acceptable standard, it isn’t cold and I feel remarkably spry. This is contrary to how I would normally expect to feel at this hour. It’s not that I struggle with rising early – during my intermittent periods of unemployment that have characterised these last nine months, I’ve been habitually up by 08.00 and on the road for 09.30 – but any earlier than, say, 06.00 and I can find it all a bit menacing.
Not today, though. For breakfast I have pitta bread stuffed with a whole tin of tuna, a glass of orange juice, and a cup of coffee. This is in no way an exceptional start to my day, although I’d usually hold off for an hour or so before making coffee.
I listen out for my neighbour and think I hear him. When I’ve finished in the shower I can definitely hear him. I get dressed and alert Mommersteeg of my near readiness. We are a little behind our agreed schedule but I’ve only got to fill my bidon with EPO and H2O, and I’m primed.
Mommersteeg isn’t primed: his rear brake has jammed. He tinkers with it and improvises a solution. We leave our respective flats at 06.05, 20 minutes later than planned.

It’s Sunday and an exiguous collection of vehicles stalk West London’s roads, although there’s more traffic than one might expect for the time of day. As we near Putney other cyclists begin to emerge from many directions, united in purpose. By the time we’re descending Battersea Rise, they’re everywhere.
            Team Carlos-Weltschmerz is supposed congregate around Clapham Common Bandstand anywhere between 06.15 and 06.30. By the time Mommersteeg and I pull up it is 06.40. The rest of the team are ready and waiting and I respect their punctuality. Apologies are offered for our tardiness, although we do point out the mechanical cause of our delay.
My team’s jerseys are looking good, but it’s a little fresh and some of us are wearing outer garments and base layers. Only Mommersteeg’s St. Raphael and Wenborn’s Château D'ax Gatorade tops are actually perceivable, although Evans (S) is wearing a long sleeve retro-styled Peugeot jersey over his short sleeved Café de Colombia one, so really it’s only me and Gowland who aren’t visibly paying homage to cycling’s past. We momentarily remedy this for an improvised team photograph.
Our allotted start time is 07.00 and it says so on the rectangular pieces of paper the British Heat Foundation posted to us, along with the edict that we attach them to our clothes. They are even coloured in a peremptory coding, designed, I presume, to deter queue jumping. Our plan is to join the event a little ahead of the starting line anyway, at the roundabout where Nightingale Walk joins Nightingale Lane, to avert getting caught up in the bunch. This strategy ensures that we are on the road for 07.00, eluding a multitude of cyclists and delaying us no further.
It’s a token gesture. By the time we’ve hit Bellevue Road we’ve lost sight of Mommersteeg and Gowland, who’ve been sheared off ahead of the group via the medium of traffic lights and marshals holding placards commanding us to pause. These signalling devices proliferate all the way along Burntwood Lane, Garratt Lane, through Tooting and along London Road, and our progress is mulishly slow.
After about 15 minutes or so, Gowland materialises out of nowhere, smoking by the side of the road. He extinguishes his cigarette and re-joins the group, but can’t enlighten us as to the whereabouts of Mommersteeg. Now I’m torn between riding with Gowland and Evans (S) or catching up with Wenborn, who’s slowly pulling away from the rest of us. I do my best to fluctuate between the two, and collisions are only narrowly avoided. It is apparent that I need to commit one way or the other, and my appetite for progress determines the outcome.
It’s not really until we’ve reached Carshalton that I’m able to settle into anything resembling a rhythm. Mommersteeg is still out of sight, Wenborn looks like he might be going that way, and I can only assume that Evans (S) and Gowland are somewhere behind me. As I turn right onto Pound Street, with ponds to both sides, I can feel the tempo rising. The field is starting to spread out a bit, and I push on unimpeded.

Suburban now, and with about 11 miles covered I hit the first discernible climb. It’s not a steep or long climb but the path is bloated with cyclists and everybody toils to keep out of each other’s way. I think this is Woodmansterne Road and past its humble peak the field begins to thin out again. I’m conscious of the fact that I’m now averaging a fair speed (whatever that means) and the short descent down the B278/Rectory Lane excites. I have little idea of how far I’ve travelled or where everybody else is. I’m not particularly concerned; the sense of occasion has me in its thrall.
Then there’s another short climb (up How Lane) which is even more congested, although my legs feel fine – indeed, I’m churning a relatively big gear to maintain the momentum and dodge the dawdlers. It occurs to me that the allotted starting times bear no relation to a rider’s capability or intent. Either that or I’m selling people short, for there are a lot of well-worn bikes and inappropriate-looking cyclists keeping up a respectable cadence, pinned with a colour coding corresponding to my own.

The weather’s holding up nicely. Conditions are still cool and overcast but I don’t think it will rain. There’s a complimentary stillness to the peloton, although really it’s no peloton at all: just a mass of bikes steadily moving forward. It’s a singular experience, this: people’s heads are down, nobody’s communicating. Dare I say the atmosphere borders on the funereal? There are spectators gathered here and there to cheer us on, but this is no London Marathon. These are transient moments and the speed of travel spares us reciprocation.
Miles 14 through to 17 are uneventful, passing through fields, pop-up barbeques and through small villages, and then breaching the M25. I do, however, find Wenborn pausing at the top of Rocky Lane, waiting for the rest of Team Carlos-Weltschmerz to catch up. He asks if we should wait for the others, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen them so I advise we press on. Still no sign of Mommersteeg.
There’s another climb at about 20 miles – Church Hill – taking our elevation up to 430 feet (although we reached 577 feet earlier), but it’s no great strain. On the other side of Church Hill is the descent down Cooper’s Hill Road. It is fast and exhilarating, the tree lined banks of this country lane creating a tubular effect, and the vicarious pleasure of the event – in lieu of genuine Tour conditions – is gaining momentum. I’m surprised at how fast most people are tackling these descents and the marshals admonish us for our velocity. Some of the hairier corners are backed up with bales of hay as a precaution.
I’m still just about keeping up with Wenborn. Along the flatter sections – through Smallfield and along Redhill and Effingham Road – I’m with him most of the way, and we talk of our progress, the distance left to Turners Hill, and hotdogs. I’m absolutely ravenous and it’s very tempting to stop for something to eat, perhaps at Burstow Scout Hut and to hell with the schedule. Wenborn reassures me that there’s not long to go until Turners Hill. Then he drops me and I’m all alone again.

Turners Hill Road is the first climb deserving of our effort, and at the top is Turners Hill. It’s taken us 30 miles (neglecting the distance any of us had to travel to reach Clapham Common) and over 2 hours to get here. It has cost Wenborn 2 hours and 6 minutes, to be precise, or so says his Garmin computer. From that we can deduce that it’s taken Mommersteeg – who, under the impression that he was behind us all, sped on ahead – about 2 hours and 5 minutes, and myself about 2 hours and 7 minutes. Evans (S) and Gowland follow approximately 10 minutes after that (or however long it takes us to lock our bikes, take a leak and buy a cup of coffee). Using the Tour de France system to determine a Points Classification, and assuming that we’ve completed a “medium mountain stage” (because I’ve now suddenly decided that this is how I’d like to quantify our teams’s progress) the standings after Stage 1 are thus:



Points Classification after Stage 1

Mommersteeg: 30

Wenborn: 25

Evans (J): 22

Evans (S): 19

Gowland: 17


I hadn’t realised how long it would take to get out of London. I didn’t appreciate that, although the route to London to Brighton is closed to traffic, open roads would recurrently interrupt our forge to leave the capital. I assumed that our scheduled stop in Turners Hill marked the halfway point, but it is three miles more than that, and feels like it. The back of the route is firmly broken, then, and we reward ourselves with a light lunch.
Evans (S) and Gowland acquire themselves a pint of ale to accompany their burgers made of beef. I had been resolutely anti-alcohol but Evans (S) deliberately exploits my fondness for cycling’s heritage to point out that alcohol was used to aid many a cyclist’s fortune back in the day. I compromise and buy half a lager to accompany my sausage filled bap and think of Jacques Anquetil some more.
            There’s a church fete kind of atmosphere all about us. Refreshments and sustenance abound, and a brass band strikes up a tune. There’s no sense of competition amongst the massed, although I wouldn’t say we’re overwhelmed with camaraderie either. People are friendly enough but nobody’s checking out each other’s bikes, or admiring Team Carlos-Weltschmerz’s sartorial elegance.
I identify a nice Chas Roberts road bike which I swear I saw on Gumtree a few months back; it is coloured racing green with yellow bar-tape, so quite distinctive. Why is nobody looking at my bike?
After about an hour we’re ready for Stage 2 of the… race! I suppose that Stage 1 hasn’t turned out quite as I anticipated. There has been no discernible peloton – just a chaotic conglomeration of riders riding at varying speeds – and Team Carlos-Weltschmerz has struggled to keep together. Consider our bicycles:  Wenborn and Mommersteeg have the lightest, most expensive bikes, and that’s paid off for them. Conversely, Evans (S) is riding an aluminium hybrid with treaded tyres and two panniers strapped to either side of the back wheel – with this in mind, to be only 12 minutes down in the general classification is actually quite respectable. Gowland’s bike is also made from aluminium but it has road specific tyres and he’s not attached panniers. I fancy my steel bike to be more congruous still, and that I’ve spent much of time stuck in the middle implies that this could very well be the case. We resolve to try to stick together for a while. Maybe we can start to help each other out?
            It’s also decided that we’ll reconvene at the top of Ditchling Beacon no matter how the next “stage” pans out. I’ve come around to the idea of this two-stop strategy, not so much because I like it but as a result of wanting to establish a rough general classification. For this to work we need to follow the same schedule, which means beginning the descent into Brighton as one.


 
 
Turners Hill debriefing



Team Carlos-Weltschmerz climb back upon their bikes and within about a mile they’re spread out again, along the same lines as before. I suppose if one’s riding a Condor Squadra or a Specialized Roubaix it must be hard to resist the temptation to see what it can do.
            And then, somewhere on the approach into Ardingly, just 4 miles on from Turners Hill, I pass Wenborn and Mommersteeg fiddling at the side of the road. It doesn’t look like a puncture is the problem because they appear to be playing with something in and around the pedal area of Wenborn’s Roubaix. This is on a slight descent and I’m travelling along the opposite side of the road, making good time.  I would like to stop and help but can’t fathom how to safely go about it. It occurs to me that Stage 2 must be a High Mountain Stage, so whoever’s first up Ditchling Beacon would have to be King of the Mountains. Like Javier Chacón sensing his opportunity, I decide to move up gear – literally and figuratively – and see if I can put a bit of distance between me and the rest of the bunch. I do not expect my breakaway to succeed.

A group of riders in full British Airways regalia are vexing me. They look serious and they sound serious. It appears they’ve made it their mission to take every descent as recklessly fast as they possibly can, aggressively overtaking down the right hand side of the road. Then, when the course starts to straighten out, they slacken off, contradicting a physical mien that leads me to believe that they could push harder if they so desired. This is frustrating because after overtaking them on the flats I’ve then got to repeatedly deal with their blustering antics whenever the road decides to take another tumble.
The next nine miles are all whirlwind, heat and flash. I pass through Lindfield and Haywards Heath, and still no sign of either Wenborn or Mommersteeg; the Roubaix or the Squadra. I’m riding “full gas” (I’ve been dying to write that), taking on liquids regularly, and I look to have freed myself from the British Airways mob. I feel champion. For a few miles I make it my mission to follow in the path of an androgynous figure speeding along on a Charge Plug fixed-gear bicycle. When the road slings upwards, and my gears give me the edge, I find someone else to hang to. I’m not looking for any assistance – just incentives to drive me continually forward, like Javier Chacón.
            It’s on exiting Haywards Heath – or soon after – and riding up Fox Hill/Lunce Hill, that one catches the first glimpse of The Beacon. It’s an intimidating presence, although still some way off: about four miles. It looks so sheer one cannot comprehend cycling up it. I start easing up in preparation, although I’m very conscious of the possibility that Wenborn or Mommersteeg, or both, may not be far behind.
Through Wivelsfield and the nearer I get the harder it is to see how close The Beacon really is, for it is now obscured by trees and buildings. Passing through Ditchling itself, and then along Beacon Road, I’m incapable of discerning the precise moment the climb is supposed to kick in. And then Ditchling Bostall – the road that ascends the beacon – is suddenly there. So abrupt is its emergence that it takes me a few moments to decide it is what it really is.
            What I fear most is the presence of other cyclists, and particularly those who will struggle to stay true. If I come off my bike I know I won’t be able to get back on, for the road is too steep and congested to allow for it. It is a serpentine trail, which is probably a good thing for it obscures its length and therefore its potential duration. A swerve to the right, a sharp swing to the left, and general windingness thereafter. My cadence is steady and I’m happy with how the Romani is responding. A tortured woman almost veers into me and apologises profusely, but I manage to hold my course. The profusion of her confession means I don’t hate her for it.
I pass a sign informing me that I have 800 metres to go and cannot decide if this is a good thing or bad. When I reach the next sign and it tells me that there’s still another 400 metres remaining I conclude that it was probably bad.
A man is pushing his bike up on the right side of the road, which is forbidden, or at least audibly discouraged via the medium of megaphones. It’s a terrible effort to circumnavigate this dozy article, and I have just enough breath spare to make him aware of this. He offers nothing in reply, which means I absolutely loath him for it.
            Sat out of the saddle, I reach the top and pull into the maelstrom foaming at the side of the road. Approximately 1 minute later, so does Wenborn. I AM KING OF THE MOUNTAINS, but wouldn’t be had Wenborn not suffered unspecified technical difficulties on the run into Ardingly.
A few more minutes elapse and then Mommersteeg emerges. The three of us have made it up Ditchling Beacon without dismounting. Another 5 minutes and Gowland shows his face, and Evans (S) soon after. They had to alight about halfway up, and there’s no shame in that.

 
Points Classification after Stage 2

Mommersteeg: 30 + 15 = 45

Wenborn: 25 + 17 = 42

Evans (J): 22 + 20 = 42

Evans (S): 19 + 11 = 30

Gowland: 17 + 13 = 30


The weather, which on Friday had been forecast in a very negative light, but by Saturday had been revised to say it would be largely rainless, has very much behaved itself today: light winds, overcast but dry, approximately 15°C. Now, though, the wind and the rain have tuned up unannounced, and our sojourn atop Ditchling Beacon is but a brief one. Plans to approach the final descent with my jersey on display – for I’ve been wearing my Mavic technical jacket all the way – are abandoned. What’s more, this act of meteorological sabotage decimates the efficacy of my brakes. The flat ride over the top of Ditchling Beacon is not as aggressive as it could, or should, be, and I spend much of it riding at the back of the group alongside Evans (S) and Gowland. Wenborn and Mommersteeg repeat their disappearing act and form yet another breakaway.
            My brakes have recovered their purchase in time for the descent down Coldean Lane, but the standing water discourages me from freewheeling down this monstrously steep declivity.
            Along the A270/Lewes Road, and the terrain has levelled out. I pedal accordingly. I have since overtaken Evans (S) and make it my mission to finish before, or with, Gowland. I pass as many people as I possibly can and nobody gets past me. By the time Lewes Road has morphed into Richmond Terrace and reached Grand Parade, we’ve all been siphoned into designated bike lanes, demarked by railings and regulated by traffic lights. There’ll be no sprint finish here.
            Actually, as Madeira Drive widens, there’s just enough time for a final turn of speed, and I’ve plenty left in the proverbial tank. I collect my “medal”, find the Carlos-Weltschmerz support team of one, wander about looking for the rest, and then remember that we’d agreed to reconvene at the Concordia, where will I find my fellow riders in the process of acquiring celebratory alcoholic beverages.
The final flourish into Brighton has been more akin to an intermediate sprint or a time trial (this is all relative), which leaves the Points Classification as thus:


Points Classification after Stage 3 – Final Classification

Mommersteeg: 45 +17 = 62

Wenborn: 42 + 20 = 62

Evans (J): 42 +15 = 57

Gowland: 30 + 13 = 43

Evans (S): 30 + 11 = 41


Turns out I overtook Gowland somewhere along the A270 without even realising it.




 Team Carlos-Weltschmerz



In terms of General Classification, we deduce that Wenborn must have recorded the fastest time. With regard to the Points Classification, it’s a draw between the breakaway boys. As for who’s King of the Mountains there was only one ‘mountain’ (don’t laugh: Ditchling Beacon is as steep as Mount Ventoux, albeit a tenth of the distance) and I was first up that – thanks to Wenborn’s technical hitch – so that will be me. But there’s only room for one winner in the five-man Carlos-Weltschmerz, and on balance that has to be Mr Wenborn. Well done, Mr Wenborn – here’s your bottle of champagne, a furry ape holding a banana, and some bizarre ceramic ornament, collectively worth a little over £10.
            We then proceed to get quite drunk.





Wenborn receives accolades



Saturday, 15 June 2013

AN APPROPRIATE BICYCLE - Pt. 25: FINAL TOUCHES


I rode well on Sunday. I cycled out to Chertsey, made the right calls at the junctions and roundabouts on the pre-planned route back to Kingston, stopped for coffee, before then improvising a ride out to Wimbledon, Wandsworth and Putney. 37 miles in all, but I could have done more. It was reassuring.
            This was with one week to go before the London to Brighton itself. How does one approach training so close to the event? I read somewhere that on the penultimate day one should abstain from training altogether – take a day of rest – and then on the day before partake in some light cycling. I’m happy to go along with that, but what of the rest of the week? Should it be given over to a period of quiescence, or is it preferable to go all out and build up some muscle reserve? Or somewhere in-between?
I did nothing on Monday, although it was hard to resist the temptation to do otherwise. On Tuesday I took the bike on two laps of Richmond Park, then another half lap to catapult me towards Wimbledon. 31 miles in all and, again, I felt capable of riding farther. Went for a run on Wednesday, to rest the muscles employed for cycling and to test my stamina, then went bouldering in the evening.
            Thursday presented me with something of a dilemma. I was decided in favour of cycling but was not sure how hard to push. I wasn’t even certain how much progress I’d really made with regard to my fitness since that jaunt out to Box Hill. My laps around Richmond Park had proved inconclusive. I was averaging 22 minutes in a counter-clockwise direction, although my methods of timing were imprecise. For example, on my first attempt I noted that it was 09.46 when I began my first lap, 10.08 as I finished, and 10.36 on completion of the second. My other circuits of Richmond Park yielded identically vague results.
            In an anti-clockwise direction my laps came out at 23 minutes, although they felt no slower. In all instances I had to cycle into a headwind for at least a couple of miles of every 6.7 mile lap. From what I can tell, these times are just – only just – about acceptable if one takes into account the weight of my steel bike and the added wind resistance, but I’d like to be recording better. But then that’s how it goes sometimes, without the adrenaline of ‘the event’ to spur you on.
In the end, I rode 33 miles on Thursday in a bizarre improvised loop that saw me cruise through Kingston, Wimbledon, Tooting Broadway, Streatham, Brixton, Vauxhall, Pimlico, High Street Kensington, Shepherd’s Bush, Acton, Ealing Broadway and Brentford. On Friday I rested, and drank a little because I thought it might help me sleep better on the Saturday. And because I thought it was what Jacques Anquetil would probably have done.
            On Saturday afternoon I readied myself. I’d passed my expendable baggage to my colleague, who would be travelling down to Brighton on the Saturday as part of Carlos-Weltschmerz’s limited support crew, so it was simply a matter of organising my attire, cleaning the bike, ensuring I had the requisite tools in case of a puncture, and preparing food and drink for the ride.
I wasn’t nervous or anxious, but I was alone and emotionally perplexed. The weather forecast for Sunday made for grim reading: heavy rain, 12°C, southerly winds – almost as bad as one could expect for the time of year. Forecasts – especially those put out there by the BBC – are not to be trusted, so I wasn’t overly concerned about that. I still felt weird, although I didn’t think it weird that I felt weird, because when one is faced with a weird situation one often feels a bit weird. To feel any differently would be weird.

It’s been almost nine months since I made the psychological commitment to cycling, to riding the London to Brighton, and, most importantly, of finding the appropriate bicycle. And herein lies the crux: if I’d already owned an acceptable vehicle then I wouldn’t have bothered writing any of this. Finding the right bike – and bear in mind that I was set on steel from the off – was more important than all the rest.
The reasoning is not simply utilitarian; it is aesthetic too. To succeed in my venture asked that I connect with something mythical, a beast worthy of my attention. I wanted a bike that was pure in its design, that was functional and at the same time beautiful – beautiful as a result of it being functional, like a Supermarine Spitfire or an E-Type Jaguar. It had nothing to do with being retrospective for the sake of being retrospective: it was the classic geometry I was after – not a Brookes saddle, brown leather bar-tape, or down-tube gear shifters (which I’ve got, whether I like them or not).
If that’s all it was about then why bother with the London to Brighton component? There’s no point finding a peculiar bike if you’re not going to ride it, and there’s no point riding the same bike if you’re not going to get something more out of it – otherwise I’d have been satisfied pootling about on the Jamis.
That’s not the whole story, though, because I’ve been defining this mission in combative terms. I’ve constantly referred to the London to Brighton as being a ‘race’, even though it’s not, and I’ve talked of pushing my colleagues to their limits, and of riding in a line and orchestrating breakaways. I’ve obviously got some sort of competitive issue although I’m pretty sure it’s against myself. I’m by no means a sore loser and my sporting exertions are rarely structured - meaning I don’t even need to be. But I do like there to be a point to my physical meanderings.
Why? Ask Javier Chacón. Why is he prepared to suffer for so little reward?  Poor Javier Chacón…