IT may surprise regular readers to learn that my friend Bernard is a devoted reader of these pages. It’s not so much that he’s a fan as that he is looking for an opportunity to launch a libel action. This will never happen.
It would require me to publish an untruth that would lower a right-thinking person’s opinion of him. If you reflect on the fact that nothing I’ve said about him so far fulfills these criteria, you will begin to share my view that nothing ever will.
However, I’m happy to announce he’s on holiday at the moment, and won’t be back till after this magazine has left the newsstands. Not because I’m planning to defame him, but because I want to pay covert tribute to his very particular brand of low cunning.
As you may have gathered, we ride together quite a bit. This works in spite of our disparate speeds because he’s happy to sit on my wheel for hours on end and enjoy something akin to a motor-paced session. Well, I say happy. I mean miserable, crabby, and prone to tantrums on every hill. But he sits there all the same.
There are numerous benefits from his point of view. For a start, he’s saved several thousand pounds on a powermeter. He established long ago that the second rider in a line expends about a third less energy than the first. So he just demands to know what’s on my SRM box, and knocks off about 30 per cent.
This is actually pretty sound in principle. That it works in practice as badly as it does is entirely down to my taking an open-goal opportunity to mess with my friend’s head. “What’s that, old boy?” I say as I belt up a hill at 450 watts. “No, pretty easy really, only about 250 watts at the moment. Why, does it seem harder than that, perchance?”
If you want to try this with a wheel-sucker of your own, it works even better if I lull him into a false sense of fitness by fibbing in the other direction for the first part of the ride, and tell him he’s doing 300 watts when in reality it’s more like 150.
There are other benefits. He never brings any spares or a pump with him. This means firstly he can cadge them off me, secondly he can complain about the inadequacies of my pump, and thirdly the fear of having to walk 20 miles home in his socks provides motivation to hang onto my wheel. We have an agreement that if I drop him in the wilds, I will phone his house after I get home to check that he made it, and if he didn’t, I’ll come and find him. I’m lying about that too, incidentally, as one day he will find out.
You might think just sitting-on for hours on end would clash with Bernard’s competitive pride. You would imagine there was no way for him to score points against me. You would be wrong.
The season might start with a great deal of backseat whinging about how hard it all is and how unreasonably fast I’m riding. But as Bernie’s fitness improves, and it gets easier for him to hang on, that changes. By late May, the voice behind me starts to say things like, “Boy, you’re really not going as fast as you were a few weeks ago. What other training are you doing?
Mustn’t be enough. Your form is really going backwards. 400 watts you say? Are you sure you’ve got that thing calibrated right? Have you put on weight? This is dead easy. Here, I’d better do a turn or we’re never going to get home at all.”
Bernard might be deeply annoying in many respects, but he’s a very hard man to beat.
How to… true a wheel in an emergency
THE scenario normally involves breaking a spoke or spokes, knocking the rim out of line.
If the wheel still passes through the brake blocks, don’t mess with it. Just keep going, with caution.
If it does not, but still seems broadly round and it’s a rear wheel, you might get off with removing the brake caliper altogether. Bear in mind this is technically illegal. But then again, so is just setting up home on the roadside where you were stranded.
If none of this works, you need to true the wheel. Check to see if your multi-tool has any weird, unexplained notches in it somewhere. If it does, chances are they’re spoke keys. Use them to tighten up slightly the spokes either side of the broken one on the same side of the wheel, and loosen a little the surrounding ones on the opposite side.
Remember you turn the nipple anticlockwise to tighten the spoke. Repeat this process carefully till the wheel is straight enough to use.
If you have no suitable spoke-key you might have to try to make the best of a couple of stones or some such. This will mash up the nipples, but might work. Think carefully before approaching passers-by for assistance: ‘Can you help me, madam? I’ve got rounded nipples.’
If that fails, you can always try putting the wheel on the ground, and jumping on the ‘high’ sides. This will almost certainly result in a broken ankle. Then the NHS will send an ambulance to pick you up.
Acts of cycling stupidity
Word reaches me of an old friend who had a near-terminal falling out with his wife. The argument revolved round an especially lovely new track pump, in a delicate shade of anodised blue. It was, in fact, so pretty that he felt it would be somehow sacrilegious to put it in the garage, so he kept it in the living room.
He was gazing contentedly at it one night when his wife said, in a manner that was not exactly good-humoured: “You love that bloody bicycle pump more than you love me.”
He only got one word into his defence before the fireworks started. So here is a warning. If your life-partner ever makes a similar accusation against you, the one word with which you must under no circumstances start your reply is, “Um…”