A few years ago, while I was at my parents’ over new year, I noticed my father had had his bike repaired at a local shop.
I’m guessing it was not a very good shop, because his front cantilever was attached to the fork with a zip-tie. The boss itself had been mangled, apparently using plumbing equipment and a substantial hammer by a mechanic who might have been happier strangling puppies for a living.
I rang a friend who runs a bike shop, who managed to find me an old steel fork in a matching colour, which he sent over. I installed it.
My father was as grateful as you would expect. “So how much has that bit of rubbish cost me then?” he said. He had, to be fair, been deeply sceptical about my insistence that the zip-tie in question had not been a special brake-attaching zip-tie, as the mechanic had told him.
I said there would be no charge. “So you can get this stuff for free, can you?” He visibly brightened.
Next time I was home, he explained that everything on his bike had broken all at once.
It was especially surprising, he said, since only a few weeks previously he had cleaned it using a high-pressure steam-cleaning hose borrowed from a local garage. I reminded him that I had said never to do this, since it would drive the grease out of every bearing, meaning that it would all seize up simultaneously. “Gosh, really?’ he said. ‘I don’t remember that at all.”
Can’t let go
So I spent £300 buying him a new bike for his birthday. It’s been a thoroughly peculiar experience for both of us. No matter how hard I try to let go of this bike, to tell myself it’s his now to do with as he wishes, I can’t stop myself providing lectures of a ‘don’t leave your bike out in the rain, it will rust’ nature.
I buy him ‘improving’ objects whether he wants them or not. Last Christmas I gave him a chain cleaning device and some degreaser, provided a complimentary course of instruction in its use, and regular ongoing reminders about when to take the gunk off the chain.
This year I got him some nice brake blocks to stop the brake squeal he’d been moaning about. He wasn’t especially grateful. I thought I heard him mutter something about my batty Great Aunt Elizabeth, who used to give me an allegorical religious book of her own creation each birthday.
“There was small boy who was very bad, and was quite clearly going to hell.” I don’t think I was very pleased either. I’m having some effect though, because he cleans it, regular as clockwork, immediately before I come home. I know, because it’s still dripping. I tell him he ought to dry it and squirt a little water-dispersing spray on the pivot points.
“Thanks. And, really, welcome home,” he always says. When I was home last Christmas, my mother took me aside and told me to stop doing this.
“For one thing, you’re putting him back in mind of smothering you in the night with a pillow, like he always wanted to, and frankly with all my charity work these days I don’t have the time to keep talking him out of it.
And for another thing, if you stop nagging him, this one will rust just like the last, and then we’ll have solved the problem of what you give him for Christmas next year. After all, you get these things for free, don’t you?”
How to… Wash your kit?
Unlike other manly sports, where for many decades kit washing consisted of throwing everything in a large saucepan and boiling it for an hour, cyclists have always taken a more delicate interest in laundry. For most of the 20th century, professionals, fearful of saddle sores, included in their equipment some detergent so they could wash their own shorts each night.
This odd-sounding personal interest was also partly because this was the era of the real-leather chamois pad, which required careful maintenance if it was not to transmogrify into a large piece of rigid, crotch-shaped sandpaper. It’s significant that while many people have willingly recreated epic rides on vintage bicycles, few have volunteered to recreate anything in vintage shorts.
Modern kit comes complete with a label containing a series of bizarre hieroglyphics – triangles, stray Arabic numerals, a giant severed hand being lowered into a pool of water, and so on.
These mean, ‘Dude, if this jacket shrinks, ceases to be waterproof, fades, disintegrates, melts, or otherwise causes you to scream in anger and frustration as you take it out of the washing machine, just remember it was all your fault. It will still be your fault even if the garment is washed by the missus, OK?’
This causes a division along gender lines. Women tend to give up cycling, to avoid the issue. Men simply give up washing their kit. You’d be surprised just how effective a facsimile of the old leather chamois you can make with a modern pad if you give it long enough.
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Acts of cycling stupidity
I spent some of the new year break in a rural bit of County Down, where one of the local farmers has used all his skill and creativity to produce a new cycling-related product. He applies a layer of mud to the road. Then he cuts the hedges.
Then he applies another layer of mud. It’s genius. So you slow down for the mud, through which you can’t see the thorns, which now stick to your tyres. The moisture lubricates the thorn as it works into your tyre, and when you stop a bit further down the road to fix the puncture you get mud all over your hands and kit.
Finally, with your cleats all but terminally clogged, either you can’t clip in for the rest of the ride, or worse, can’t unclip at the next junction. And land in some mud.