As the summer heaves into soggy view, an adventurous cyclist’s thoughts turn to the adversities to be faced in the height of the season. The travails, the tribulations, the fickle fingers of fortune, and the horrors of… the hospitality industry. That’s right. There is no ride so demanding that it overshadows the difficulties we sometimes face sneaking the one we love into our hotel room for safekeeping, a little light mechanical fettling and, let’s face it, company.
I’ve crept through hotel reception areas all over the world with a bike in my hands. Curiously, the more decrepit the hotel, the more fussy your host will be. But there’s also a good chance they won’t be too bright either. In a wretched flea-house in South Wales a couple of years ago, as I and my racing iron were picking our way past the dog turds on the front steps, the proprietor challenged me with the words, ‘Is that a f**king bicycle?’ The ash fell off her cigarette and her chins wobbled with indignation. I was able to sense that she was not a fan of bicycles. So I took a chance and said, ‘No.’ And actually she was perfectly happy with that.
Conversely, when I cashed in some points and stayed in a rather swish place near York last year, a flunky carried my bike up to the room on one of those nice luggage trolleys. If I’d asked him to sort out the indexing on the gears, I suspect he’d have done that too. (On the down side, popping out for a few easy miles a little later was turned into a bit of a trial by the presence of a wedding party in the lobby, whose repartee one would have been well advised to avoid for fear of injury to the intercostals. Drunken idiot number three: ‘Fook me! It’s a poofter with a push-bike!’ Omnes: ‘Ha, ha, ha!’ and general immoderate hysterics. But you can’t have everything.)
Once you’ve snuck the bike in, of course, the chances of you spending an evening looking at it without finding something to fix are pretty slim. In the same way that couples who haven’t been interested in each other for years get bored into having sex by Van Gogh prints and Gideon Bibles, you’ll discover a passion for fixing that headset that’s been loose for three months.
In hotel rooms over the years I have replaced bottom brackets and cleaned chains. I have trued wheels, and replaced entire drive-trains. I have never managed to do any of these things without dropping at least one grimy component onto the carpet. In fact there is a rule: the lighter in colour the carpet, the more things you will drop on it. Normally you get a contact print of the component in question, so you can’t even convincingly claim it wasn’t you.
As you would expect, the more dreadful the state of the carpet to begin with, the more irate the proprietor will be when they find a perfect print of a 21t sprocket on it. My friend Bernard was once shown to a room by a hotelier who’d failed to notice it contained a dead cat, but who it turned out could hear a cable-crimp hitting the carpet from the other side of a closed door.
The only advice I can give you is this: move the bed, and perform your tinkering in the space. You’ll find that the light is better, there is more space to swing a lump hammer, and the carpet will be especially thick and fluffy, and just the job for wiping things clean. Then you replace the bed, and any dead animals you found below it. Everyone happy.
Great Inventions of Cycling
In the early days of cycling, it never occurred to anyone that doing more of it might make you better at it, at least, not once you’d mastered staying upright. No, an amateur chap pulled on his britches for a spot of competition, and won or lost by his God-given talent, his determination, and the waxing of his moustache.
It was accepted, of course, that professionals were faster than gentlemen. But that was because they were working-class oiks, not because they rode their bikes all the time. A certain innate vigour, the lower orders. It compensated for their grubbiness and tendency to drop dead of TB.
But then, in the 1880s, gentlemen began to sneak a trick by riding their bicycles for the purposes of getting better at it. What was worse, it became clear that the more of it you did, the better you got.
Suddenly this meant that a chap who wanted to race with success come the weekend had to go and ride mid-week. Perhaps on several days. And before everyone knew where they were, training took over their lives.
It was not long after that that it occurred to some bright spark, whose name is now happily lost to the mists of time, that perhaps just riding about wasn’t the best sort of training. Perhaps it would be better if he trained hard, by riding very fast, for long periods. And thus was misery piled upon misery.
I would invite you to consider the following: if training is so wonderful, so important, how come after 130 years we still haven’t worked out the best way to do it?
Dear Doc, I write regarding the Box Hill Olympic ticketing matter, to which you referred in your column. It seems to me that the simple way to see the road race for free is to do what some friends and I have done at the national road race championships for many years, which is to ride round the course in the wrong direction, and pull over to give the riders a clap whenever they come past. It’s old fashioned, but offends no one. Yours, Geoffrey Waters.
Geoff, thank you for your suggestion. I feel it only fair to warn you that applying your tried and tested spectating tactic at the Olympics is, on the whole, rather likely to get you shot. But don’t think that means I’m not on your side.