25 Mar 2016

25th March 2016 Youthful, mostly uphill exploits.


Friday 25th 41-47F, 5-8C, windy, grey and wet. These things are sent to try us. Or words to that effect. My small,  but sensitive, wind vane is spinning like a top. But generally pointing an accusing finger at the the usual source of choking smoke. The more staid vane above it has no doubts. Guilty as charged!

It's odd that the weather figures so largely in my life. Walks, rides and all my foolish projects all graunch to a grinding halt in the presence of precipitation. Why is rain so unpleasant and uncomfortable? A desert dweller, or inhabitant of a drought area, would rush outside to welcome the first few drops and dance in the following deluge. Though usually colder, snow is much more fun. An umbrella is a poor companion in wind and likely to be seen askance when furnishing a trike. "What a clown!" Yet a cowl or canopy is acceptable because they are traditional on exotic holidays? Who makes up these rules? 

I made a flat perspex windscreen for my old bike when I was still at school. Then slipped on a steep uphill corner and fell like a stone! Smashing the expensive material on the very first ride. Its weight was as foolish as the idea but I was desperately trying to keep up with an older boy. He on his '531 racing bike with 10 gears and skinny tires and I on my ancient £2.50 heap of water pipe and low pressures with flat bars. I turned myself inside out every morning trying to keep up on the vertical sections of our daily route.

The hills were incredibly fierce and school at the top of a hill so long and steep there was a strict, prefect-enforced ban on descending while mounted! No need for such a ban on the climb as few bothered to ride but I had my new found pride and something to prove. Only to enjoy a personal sauna in assembly as the heat of my furious pace found a strangely delayed outlet. I can still remember the older boy's feet pumping up and down, his chain flipping effortlessly across the cogs and his toe straps flapping from over 50 years ago. I had bare, rubber tread pedals and my cadence with a 3-speed Sturmey rear hub was literally all over the place. A year or two later I was already experimenting with triple chainsets.  The lack of gears back then may account for my fetish for "extras" these days. As my regular readers will attest.

I wasn't doing too badly for a tiny and unbelievably skinny, underdeveloped kid who was sent to a specialist by doubtful parentage. The over-quack had me blowing up balloons to develop my non-existent lungs. That exercise didn't last long however, because I, quite literally, couldn't manage it. Not without nearly passing out within seconds! It took me well over another decade before I stopped feeling light headed at every attempt at inflating Christmas decorations! 

Anyway, that daily ride/chase to school changed my life. I had found something related to sport which I could actually do. I hated most sports with a vengeance and still do. Being tiny and non-competitive meant I was always stuck at full back when we played rugby in the snow. The chances of my surviving a tackle may have been sympathy rather than the scorn heaped upon me by a whole series of "Sports Masters"

At the time I [or rather my parents] could not afford the exotic machinery I admired so enviously in the packed cycle sheds. Where the true aficionados congregated in morning break to bask in their gleaming ownership. Avid polishers of spotless steeds with strange men's names which still make other grown men's mouths water even today. I have no idea why because I never noticed them there at the time.

Thanks to the cycling, I went, almost overnight, from the tiny kid who half-walked, half-loped on the playing field to one who could not stop running. Before "taking up" cycling I used to run cross-country with the back markers who always arrived late back for the showers. There was the only fat kid in school and the blue one with heart problems and there was me panting along with them.  Usually with a stitch in my side to add to the misery of exercise. But not any more! I even began to compete with the serious runners in my class at sprinting. Alas, it was all, far too late! This was just before leaving school. But above all, finally, I grew from the school dwarf to above average height in under a year. My decade of being bullied mercilessly was finally at an end but came much too late. Another roundtoit. The story of my life.

Eventually I was allowed a Jack Taylor lugless frame and all the Campag gear. Though there was a hiatus when I was still riding on HPs instead of sprints and tubs, I still won my first 10 mile time trial of only two ever. I was closely paced right round the route by a bigger rider on my second outing at the village club TT. He sprinted past me on the line and I was so angry I never rode TT again. I protested but was ignored. TT was only for cheats!

I was even allowed out of tech college to "train" instead of staying in the sweaty gym or going swimming or during "free periods". Which meant I would ride flat out up and downhill and chase buses and lorries like a demon for several hours almost every day. Climbing was my thing and I knew Charly Gaul and Federico Bahamontes by name from black and white library books. I knew they spun their pedals fast and climbed great mountains.

That was good enough for me as I repeatedly climbed Landsdown and up to Odd Down and Combe Down and Claverton Down and sought out hills like Brassknocker and Landsdown Lane and Thomas Street and the 1-in-4[?] Prospect Place above Bathford Hill itself and the lovely long drag up the Box Hill up to Corsham. Then there was the Hollow and Warminster Road and Holloway and Widcombe Hill and Bathwick Hill and Lyncombe Hill and the Gloucester Road and Wellsway. The area above Snow Hill is the perfect training ground for keen climbers of the steep stuff. Thomas Street, Pera Place, Arundel Road and Clarence Street with Guinea Lane a little further on towards the City Center. The area was so steep that it had a major landslide back in the 1881 which destroyed 175 houses! Leading to the establishment of Hedgemead public Park. The area leading from Widcombe up to and above Bear Flat is ripe with decent hills named after poets and playwrights. This was where I raced to school.

The whole point was that I would never get off and push or give up and turn round. Not ever. They were placed there as a personal challenge to be conquered and at as high a speed as possible. Many of these can be enjoyed on Google Earth. Though the sheer weight of traffic and countless parked cars seen on GE simply weren't present back in the 1960 and 70s. Many of these inclined, linear car parks are almost unrecognizable now. Making rapid descents a completely different experience to my own youthful freedom.

I would measure 25 mile routes on the map and ride them as if in a solo TT. It never occurred to me that they should be flat routes because there were none. Bath is built in a crater, with only the Bristol exit remotely flat, and what fun is that? Besides there was usually a headwind if you couldn't "catch" a bus or a lorry early on before they got a good speed up.

I climbed Box Hill furiously before riding my two village TTs and remember a posh kid arriving at the start of the village TT by Dad's car, climbed straight onto his posh bike in his posh racing kit and then threw up when he'd finished his ride. While I only ever had a T-shirt and a single pair of woolly shorts with hard chamois but already had an afternoon of riding flat out and ten more hilly miles before starting the race. So I was already "nicely" warmed up. I even went on my one and only [ever] Sunday club run with Corsham CC. Their more experienced riders tried to talk me out of my 58T TA chainwheel. But how else was I to pace coaches, lorries and buses along the Globe Straight for a quick trip to Bristol? They didn't like my Unica Nitor saddle either but I found Brooks saddles heavy and horribly uncomfortable.

There were a bunch of very long haired, rural kids who rode well over 110" fixed on 'proper' Cinelli track bikes and they would sometimes ride two and three abreast behind buses and lorries. We even rode like that to Weston Super Mare once, swapping to new buses and lorries as each turned off. Most double-decker buses back then had the tell-tale marks of our narrow tyres on the alloy rear bumper. Doing track stands at traffic lights became our normal behaviour. Though once I dropped the front wheel into a drain cover with slots running parallel with the kerb! As if in slow motion I fell over sideways with my feet still strapped tightly into the toe clips. I had just given up paying for bike insurance because I could not afford it on my pocket money. The Bath council weren't remotely interested when I went in to point out the idiocy of their drain choice at a traffic light! 

Then my Jack Taylor was stolen and I took up smoking while mourning its loss and searching the rougher back streets of Bath in vain. My previously un-burstable lungs were never the same after that. Though I never gave up cycling and even commuted from Bath to Bristol for a year on an Original Dursley Pedersen and even a no-name trike with 26" rusty wheels. I broke the latter by carrying a 1 cwt [112lbs] of sand in a huge cardboard tub back the 15 miles from Bristol to Bath up and down some incredibly steep hills! While commuting I could still beat recognizable cars from center to center until they opened the new Keynsham bypass.

Probably the only existing photograph of myself on a bike: Posing in the local park on my Dursley Pedersen "Peasant Commuter Deluxe."  I have posted this image before but it is worth a second look just to prove that old people like me did once exist in a strange, monochromatic, [almost twilight] world of black and white. Probably captured with an Instamatic somewhere around 1970 but I wasn't scribbling my blog back then.

I was too much of a loner to enjoy the club cycling scene and preferred to ride at my own, flat out pace and my routes chosen entirely on a whim. I still try to catch every other cyclist I see up ahead. So it is almost certain I was a yapping terrier in a former life. I've probably said that before because even I am suddenly getting déjà vu. Was I there?

I rode the 110+ miles down to Plymouth in one day and back again the next at sixteen or seventeen. The agony of saddle soreness on my Unica Nitor still lives on, seared indelibly into my memory. No doubt I still have the scars but I am too shy to look down there. Not to mention carrying that heavy cotton tent in which I could not sleep in a pitiful, kapok sleeping bag directly on the ground in a park. Some mouthy kids came over to see what was happening and wouldn't go away for ages. Climbing with that load was like pulling a bus but at least I could get out of the saddle. I was so tired coming back across Dartmoor that I hallucinated that I saw a coach and horses coming the other way! It suddenly vanished just before it reached me. It had seemed so incredibly real. Very odd.

A grey day today with light rain. The first sign of sunshine was at 17.00 [or 5pm in old money] but lasted only a minute at most. The Head Gardener was kind enough to help me tidy The Trike Shed. Needless to say I had absolutely no desire to be tidying anything but what can you do when you meet an irresistible force? I can say in all honesty that I was actually able to touch the far end wall for the first time in living memory. Not that it means much in my case. There was no ride that day. It was supposed to be Good Friday but I have no idea what was good about it. I suppose you had to be there to appreciate the point. Grey Friday would have done well enough for me.

Oh, by the way, never waste your money on cheap, steel, shelving racks. You will regret it until the end of your days. Why don't they make shallow storage tubs? I'm sick of cardboard fruit boxes falling to pieces! Nothing is made to last these days! ;-)


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