Monday, February 15, 2010

An Account to Be Settled

Sunday Ride - 14/02/2010, originally uploaded by John the Monkey.

There is an account to be settled.

That much is clear to me once the family turns back (mechanical on my daughter's bike, her pedal has seized). There are protestations that I should ride back with them, Mrs. Monkey insists that they will be fine, and I should carry on riding. No excuse now. No one to slow and wait for. No one to keep the distance low for.

I love Mrs. Monkey.

The tourer has languished in the garage over the Winter, poor weather keeps me off the commute. Poor weather and family commitments devour my weekends. The new bell is fitted, the cushy 42c tyres are on, the brakes are adjusted, attention has been lavished, but the miles are not in my legs.

There is an account to be settled.

I kid myself that keeping my legs turning over with 7 miles of Brompton riding each day will have done some good. The road heads upwards. Was this the gear I was in last time I was here? Why do I feel so stretched out on this bike? Maybe my saddle is too low. Maybe the big tyres are heavier than my 32s.

Familiar countryside rolls by; thank god, the hill ends, I freewheel down. I should have bought rollers; a turbo. I did consider it - but I only missed two weeks the year before last. And a month or so the year before. I can't spend the money just for that. And can I sit in the garge, pedalling away after a day at work? No view, no breeze in my face, no joy, no spur of the moment diversions, just artificial miles, unrolled relentlessly with single minded purpose.

If only.

In November, I had skidded through the rain, bounced on the parts of trees that the wind had left in the gutter, half seen in the angry glare of headlamps. The dark, the wet, the cold had enveloped me, and pulled me to a crawling speed. The rain fell directly into my face, the tyres bounced and slipped on obstacles seen and unseen. The other traffic dazzled and blared and harassed. I put the tourer in the garage. I unfolded the Brompton.

Thirty miles becomes seven. Two hours on the bike becomes thirty minutes. I read more, I buy a more expensive season ticket for the train. I leave the house later, work longer, arrive home at the same time. At the weekends I put my cycling kit out. I see the weather and I lie in instead. I think about Summer, and lighter mornings and evenings. I put off the reckoning for my indolence. I try not to think about the ground I will have to make up.

The tourer is almost whisper quiet. The Brompton is accompanied by a comparative cacophony of squeaks and clicks. The folding pedal clicks metronomically. The suspension block squeaks on all but the driest days. On the tourer I listen; I can hear the hiss of tyres on tarmac. A slight complaint from the nosebolt of the Brooks saddle. The click as gears move up and down. The wind moving past me.

Up on to the big ring. Is this fast? I have no idea - measuring the new size of the front wheel and its larger tyre is still on the "to do" list. The bike computer is in my desk drawer at home. It feels fast. It feels like hard work. Change down a sprocket, take it easy for a while. By god this bike is comfortable. The big tyres and steel soak up the buzz from the road. My hands edge towards the hoods rather than the tops. Why does this bike feel so long?

Left onto the trail. Gravel and potholes - I've turned away from this before on high pressure tyres. The 42s roll over it, with a little bit of weaving to avoid the larger holes. Up over the bridge, around a tight turn onto the trail. Clear ahead of me, change up, pedal on.

The main part of the trail is busy, walkers, dogs, runners, families on bikes. Slow down, ring the bell, chat, thank, ride on. Through the crushes - just wide enough to allow me to go through sat on the bike. Just. Moss marks my shoulders, visible evidence of my misjudgement.

I love the bell. It rings like it's mounted on the desk of an old fashioned hotel. Maybe a smartly suited functionary will appear to offer me his wheel? Dog walkers call their dogs back to them; hold the lead tighter; wave as I pass and thank them. The parents on bikes nod, the children pedal furiously, as competition awakes in them, or ring their bells in reply.

The runners settle their own accounts, heads down, focussed, mutely accepting my thanks. There are resolutions to keep, their own lost, icy weeks to recover.

There is traffic noise ahead - it grows, until a gate comes into view. Beyond the gate, two lanes of main road. I step aside and hold the gate for a couple with a German shephard dog, they hold the gate for me. Exchange thanks and look at the road. The traffic here is quick, 60-70 miles per hour, I guess. There is no icy layoff to make up for here. No debt to pay before getting back to business as usual. Here you buy your speed, the link between sweat and motion stretched to breaking point. A gap - across the road and through the gate. Back on the bike, and on along the trail.

More walkers; more dogs; more runners; more bikes. Up over the little bridge. Mark that as a photo to take on the way back. The end of the trail, and a decision to make. It can wait. A drink of water and a biscuit first, it's lunchtime. I realise the bottle cage still has one of the bottles of orange I brought for the children in it. I mentally note the extra weight that makes. Kid myself again.

Back on the bike, too early to head back down the trail yet. Turn onto the road, and head for the NCN marker. Industrial units flash by, I try to recall where I am. The sign for the station, and Elworth - yes, now I know. The road is not busy, and it's wide. The traffic passes with good space between bike and car. I wave thanks. Could it be like this even in the dark and the rain?

Maybe this is fast? The road is level, I seem to be in a high-ish gear. Maybe. The NCN is contradictory. The gravel and potholes, the trail. Now clear, fast road. The next marker - that's not where I want. Pedal on.

I see the railway line, the sign for the station, the junction with the main road. My saddle is too low. Lean the bike up, get the multi-tool. Is that high enough? Maybe. Look at the main road. Follow that home, or double back?

Back the way I came. The bike is coming back to me now. I remember that I must change gear as I slow down. I need to get ready before I stop. Hub gears have made me lazy. I feel less stretched out, more at home.

There is an account to be settled.

My legs fill with a good ache. I take the photo I'd noted earlier. I think about whether I can fix my daughter's pedal. I try and remember the weather forecast for next week. The niggle in my knee subsides. Stop and wait while a family comes down the trail with their dog. I am in the right gear when I move off. I remember now.

Maybe my saddle was too low.

Maybe this is fast.

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