Part 1: The Plan!
The plan was always to replace the car: an ugly, 3 litre diesel beast; with a bicycle. I remember, very fondly, my teen years and the bicycle I had. The independence the bicycle gave me then was enormous and I would think nothing of cycling to places 20 or even 30 miles distant. I lived on the South Downs then and there were some serious hills there but there was not a single hill that could get me off my bicycle and force me to walk it!
After moving to Cheshire I immediately started volunteering at Community Recycle Cycles. What a wonderful idea! All those unwanted bicycles spruced up, serviced and sold on, usually for much less than £100. Every week I went in I asked if there was a bike for me, all the time eyeing up the gorgeous Chris Boardman frame that was waiting to be used. Eventually I was offered the frame and I got the opportunity to build my own bike.
We could not find a set of front forks for the bicycle so I bought a pair from eBay and before I knew what happened I was the proud owner of an awesome bicycle, that I put together, from a bare frame, myself! Of course, under the watchful eye of Glyn, the chief engineer and all-round bicycle wizard. Have you noticed that there is nothing quite as satisfying as building something yourself? I believe this is the key to Ikea’s success.
I had built a high performance bike. It is made of superlight alloy and carbon fibre and weighs about 9kg, very light-weight, even the spokes of the wheels are flattened for better aerodynamics. Two cogs at the pedals and 9 cogs on the wheel making a total of 18 possible gears. Admittedly as soon as I got it home I spoilt its performance by adding a pannier rack, mudguards and a new saddle. These extra features, despite their detrimental impact on the bicycle’s performance, are essential. This bicycle is a working machine, not just for Sunday joy rides, hence the panniers. I will be travelling in all weathers and are you aware of how much of any puddle you cycle through ends up over your bum and back? Let me tell you – all of it; hence the mudguards. Finally a new saddle was necessary. I was offered a super-lightweight, narrow racing saddle for this performance bicycle but having some experience I refused this point blank. “Give me an enormous saddle, one suitable for the size of my ass; make sure it has copious padding and I want it with springs too.” Honestly, good people – do not mess with the saddle – most of your weight rests there and every bump in the road will rattle through that tender spot. All this equipment added an extra 3kg to the weight of the bike and, of course, spoiling its aerodynamics and the extra weight is something I will have to push around. It is still a grand bicycle, one to be proud of and would certainly perform excellently.
The performance issues are nothing to do with the bicycle, its components, the additional parts, the construction are all top notch. Sadly the problem is the “engine” – me! Think for a moment of any great cyclist, Bradley Wiggins or Chris Hoy maybe; it doesn’t matter as their build is startlingly similar. Slim men with powerful legs. One look at my physique and your expression will change to one of immediate concern: “Listen, Simon, about this cycling thing, perhaps you should reconsider the idea? I am concerned you will do yourself an injury and frankly that saddle is nowhere near big enough!” Think of my physique as exactly wrong: chunkily put together with skinny legs. Those skinny legs are not just pushing around the 12kgs of bicycle but the additional 100kgs of me!
This “engine” has also seen some wear and tear too, it is not the tightly put together teenage “racing snake” model that you may have seen just over 30 years ago; oh no! This is the model that has been fuelled by cigarettes, alcohol and takeaways for most of those intervening years. This is the model that has been in the IT industry and then a maths teacher because it was “indoor work with no heavy lifting”. This is the model whose exercise was solely achieved between the armchair and car seat and the office chair and car seat. Still, it was a well put together engine those thirty plus years ago, what can possibly go wrong ….