Dr Hutch: Winter bike envy

The Doc has the dubious pleasure of giving his mate’s winter bike a once-over

My friend Bernard has complained for years about my winter bike. He’s quite right — my job means I’m lucky enough to be able to just slap some mudguards on a carbon bike that is, in truth, nice enough to be a summer bike. I don’t own a proper shed of a bike to use in winter, and I’m sure as hell not buying something horrible just to please Bernard.

When we met last week, he gave me his winter wreck to hold for a moment. Then he took my bike. By the time I’d worked out what was happening, an alarmingly permanent-looking swap had been executed. “This winter’s training is looking up,” said Bernard. He rode off on my bike. If I’d had any sense, I’d just have let him go, rather than confirm the ‘deal’ by chasing him on his. But I didn’t.

Bernard’s winter bike appeared to have been assembled on a scrapheap by a gang of disorganised magpies. If I were writing a review, my first comment would have been about the frame. The standard rule is that you can pick any two from light, stiff and cheap. Bernard had picked just cheap. The frame was made of a mysterious substance that, after eliminating all the conventional possibilities, I concluded must have been rolled-out plasticine, and painted in custard-coloured Hammerite. I’m making it sound a lot nicer than it was.

My second comment would have concerned the brakes, and the comment would have been, and indeed was, “Aaarghh! Bernie! How do you stop this thing?”

“Shut the caliper quick-releases,” he said. “The wheels are quite buckled, and they don’t go round all that brilliantly if the brakes are set up normally.”

“And if you need to stop quickly?”

“Hey, if you don’t like it, you can always true the wheels,” he said.

My review would, to be fair, have gone on to admit that the need to stop quickly was of somewhat academic interest, because the tyres — bought in a jumble sale in about 1993 I reckon — prevented any acquisition of excessive momentum.

The carcasses were apparently made from a garden hose, and were clearly aimed at avoiding punctures at all costs. In order to try to give these inflexible monsters some grip, they’d been covered with a wondrously soft tread that nonetheless still totally failed to provide any purchase on the road, but collected flints and thorns and bits of twig as effectively as a date being rolled in desiccated coconut. (When I say ‘a date’ I mean the fruit, not your girlfriend/boyfriend. But if you like the sound of the second version, don’t let me stop you.)

Around 10 minutes after we set out, the left crank fell off. It hung, swinging, from my shoe. It’s remarkably hard to stop when this happens. One foot has a crank on it, so you can’t put it down. Nor can you use it to get yourself off the saddle to put the other one down.

“It does that,” said Bernard. “You have to learn to pedal with just the right leg, and just sort of go through the motions with the other one.”

“Do you think there’s any possible correlation between this and the bad back you always develop around mid-November?” I asked.

“Seems unlikely,” he said.

Finally there was the saddle. I don’t even want to think about how this came to be the profoundly disturbing shape it was. Either my friend has only one, centrally positioned, sit bone, or I’ve uncovered 90 per cent of the explanation for his permanently foul temper.

He’s still got my bike, by the way. I was going to take revenge by leaving his unlocked in Cambridge’s Market Square. But even a bike thief doesn’t deserve that.

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