You’ll remember that, in southern England at least, the weekend before last there were three lovely summer days that appeared from nowhere to split stones and fry eggs, and then vanished the same way.
I looked out at the weather on the Saturday morning and thought, “Right! I’ve been waiting for this!” I foreswore my usual complicated survey of weather forecasts, and the normal assessment of what combination of tatty kit to wear.
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Instead I broke out a brand new pair of team shorts and an aero jersey. I didn’t skimp on the bicycle either, and got out what, if I were 20 years older and steeped in cycle lore, I would call simply my ‘best’ bike.
I added some carbon wheels, which have only done about 50 miles in two years since I seem to be saving them for the day I get a call-up to ride the Worlds. The tyres were of the same pointless over-specification as the wheels, being handmade silk tubulars retailing at about £200 a pair, bought on a day when I must have had a bang on the head and woke up thinking I was Fabian Cancellara.
Old country elegance
Even with that description, you will still barely be able to imagine the fine figure I cut as I rode down the lane away from the house. Years ago in a beautiful old town in Italy I saw a man in full-length white trousers wheel a vintage Colnago (with full chrome rear-triangle and forks) out of his front door, throw his leg over it, and ride off.
It was cool as only an Italian can do, and it’s just the sort of effect we’re talking about. If you’d been there to see me, you’d have taken a photo.
I’d left behind all the electronics that I normally cart about. No phone either. Just a spare tube and a small pump, a bottle of water, and the open road before me.
You’re probably thinking, “Lucky bastard.” I know that’s what I was thinking.
And here is a terrible confession. I rode about 40 miles, on a full-pro spec machine, in 22 degrees and sunshine, over some of the quietest roads in the area, and I hated pretty much every minute.
The ride of the carbon frame and stiff wheels was too harsh. My lower back was a bit sore, probably as a direct result of the ride quality. One foot was hotter than the other. Sweat ran into my right eye — I’d forgotten that happened with my good helmet in warm weather. I kept fearing I’d got a puncture in one of my oh-so-expensive tyres. The pollen blowing off the rape fields irritated my nose and eyes. I wouldn’t say it was hell on Earth, but it wasn’t what I expected.
Go ahead and judge as harshly as you like. I was judging myself pretty harshly at the time — which didn’t really help the cause. I had the blue-sky dream, and totally failed to appreciate it. I agree: I’m a bad person.
I think the problem is that I’m not a blue-sky sort of bike rider. I look wrong in sunshine. I don’t think it’s an accident that no one has ever asked me to come to the Alps in summer to do a cover-shoot session for a magazine. And, trust me, it’s not like I haven’t offered.
At a basic level, I don’t like to have my expectations raised too high. It’s an odd thing to have to accept, but I’m at my most content when the weather is a bit dull and blustery. I prefer to ride a bike that makes a few funny noises, because then I don’t have to worry it’s going to start making funny noises. Perfection makes me nervous.
Still, this outlook on life means I’m going to have a nicer summer than you.