Dr. Hutch: new rollers

About eighteen months ago my friend Bernard nagged me into buying a set of training rollers. He’s been evangelising about rollers for some years now.

About how they give you a lovely smooth pedal stroke, how they refine your balance, how they replicate the feeling of the open road, and above all how much more interesting it is to spend an hour or two enjoying the zesty realism of rollers than being bolted lifelessly to a turbo trainer. And eventually I crumbled.

There’s an expression about roller riders dividing into two camps, those who’ve fallen off and those who haven’t yet. So I gingerly put my rollers in the kitchen doorway as recommended by Bernard, and climbed on board.

It was a piece of cake. It was smooth, relaxed and, as long as I clung onto the doorway at all times, perfectly secure feeling. After an hour or two my arm started to get a little sore, but I reckoned I’d be well equipped for hanging onto the door handle of a team car, so I was quite happy.

Access all areas
Mrs Doc was less satisfied with the sweating, tea-pot shaped lump that was blocking all access to the kitchen. After her third go in and out through the serving hatch, an ultimatum was issued. Me and my rollers were banished to the garage.

My normally cluttered garage was almost empty at the time, because I had just painted the floor. But there was a workbench at the end, so I set my drink and my iPhone on that, put in my headphones, and used the bench in place of the door handle.

After a few minutes, I plucked up the courage to let go of the bench, and put both hands on the bars. I didn’t know what had worried me so much. It was simple. But a few minutes after that the trouble started. The vibration of the rollers on the new shiny floor combined with its very slight unevenness to allow me to judder very slowly out into the middle of the garage.

By the time I realised what was going on, it was already too late to grab the bench and stop. And there was no way this novice roller-rider was going to stop without something to hang on to. My only hope was to shudder to the other side of the garage and use the wall. Which was working fine till I remembered about the iPhone. The new one. The one that was a present from Mrs Doc. The one at the edge of a bench above a concrete floor. The one that was tethered to my head by a cable that was much longer than my arm, but much shorter than the garage.

Collarbone or iphone?
I tried to take my hands off the bars long enough to snatch the headphones off – but of course I’d bought some poncy noise-cancelling ones that don’t dislodge easily. I lowered my head, to see if I could knock them out with my knees, and nearly concussed myself. I tried desperately to devise a way to avoid having to choose between my phone and my collarbone. Eventually, I decided that if I yanked the cable with my head, the phone would fly into the air, and I could catch it. (Maybe I actually had concussed myself, now I think about it.)

Too late I remembered I wasn’t skillful enough to take my hands off the bars, never mind catch. Fully aware I was doomed, I tried to catch the flying phone between my teeth. It hit me square in the face, ricocheted onto the floor and into a thousand bits, and I fell off the rollers, incurring some grazes and quite a lot of bruising.

Bernard was right. It was a lot more interesting than a turbo trainer.

Great Inventions of Cycling

1870s – Lugs

From the very beginning of the metal bicycle, tubes were joined together with lugs. They’re the little assemblies of precisely sized and angled sockets that you find at the corners of a traditional frame. They were normally of steel. A frame builder mitred the tubes to fit exactly into the sockets, then used a silver or brass filler to braze them in place.

From the end of the first World War until the 1960s, almost all bikes were made of steel. More than that, almost all UK bikes were of tubes made from just a handful of alloys produced by Reynolds in Birmingham, most notably 501 and 531. (Try this stuff at parties and watch the ladies go wild. Just a suggestion.) This meant that in practice most bikes appeared to be almost exactly the same.

Lugs became the principle means of product differentiation. Frame builders would hand-cut and file them into exotic shapes, allegedly to save weight or promote stiffness. If you read a 1930s brochure, you would imagine fancy lug-work was the main purpose of frame building, and that the finished bicycle was intended purely as a machine to safely store and transport your lugs.

Lugs were used from the 1970s for early aluminium and carbon frames to join tubes. Sadly, these days, this bit of cycling history has been rendered almost obsolete by TIG welding and molded carbon construction, and there are just a handful of artisan builders left who’ll file your lugs down for you.

Acts of cycling stupidity

There is some parkland near my parents’ where not long ago the National Trust created several km of cycling trails, for leisure riders mainly, and shared with walkers. To stop people like me from going too fast, the trails wind and meander, which is fine and sensible.

Less so is the installation of gates every few hundred metres on several sections. Gates are not cycle friendly at the best of times. But my favourite is at the bottom of a hill, on a gravelly path, just round a sharp blind bend. If you wanted to design a cyclist trap, it would look just like this.

I like the fact that last time I saw it it had been fixed open with cable-ties and gaffer tape. Bloody cyclists, eh?