Friday, November 11, 2005

T#4: I miss my bike

In explanation of the lateness of this post, I've been to MPH '05 this evening. You'll hear more on that later. Meantime, here's Thursday's entry.

I miss my bike.

Ahh, carbon fibre. It’s such a silly thing, but a little bit of that can make all the difference. It suggests specialism, and an attention to detail. And if you pair it with lightweight aluminium, well, then you’ve really got my attention. Tires? Make ‘em cut-slicks. Suspension: rock hard.

It’s attention to detail that attracts me so much to the new Z06 Corvette, a car that’s so thoroughly re-engineered it’s an entirely different animal to it’s “stock” spec namesake. But it’s not the ‘Vette I’m thinking of – it’s my bike. And it doesn’t even have Ducati written on the side.

I am, as I mentioned before, a reasonable guy. I’m on an auto journalism programme, but I’m not an automobile uber alles kind of fruit loop. I believe in the right vehicle for the right journey, and while I appreciate the personal space afforded to me by my (strictly speaking, overlarge) motorcar that doesn’t mean I don’t feel guilty. Especially when I’m sat in a t-j on the M1, going no-where, surrounded by dozens of other single-person-occupancy vehicles. On such occasions I often daydream the science fiction that is a viable public transport solution – you know, the stuff of a far-off distant visiscape, the environmentally friendly future of our needs. When all the trees are gone and the oil’s dried-up. Then remember how much I love being able to listen to my own mp3s – at any volume – and make my own choices about when to pull out at an intersection.

Anyway, it was this kind of beautiful idealism that prompted my decision last September.

Ah. Well.

That and the financial aspect. Although, in tuneful harmony with the wistful naivety of the above, this may have been something of a blushing fish variation. Do throw in an element of physical fitness, however – there was definitely incentive in that.

I went and bought a mountain bike – and a bloody good decision it was too.

I say mountain bike: F1 racing cars have more knobbly bits sticking out of their rubber than the tires on my Dawes Ombra. And I say good decision – everyone I knew thought I was mad. You have seen the way people drive in Bournemouth, haven’t you, dear…?

But I figured if anyone else can do it, why can’t I? So what if everywhere is uphill from my house? I’m reasonably fit; if that old duffer in the day-glo overcoat is coping with the gradient, I’m sure I’ll be fine. Who cares if dad refers to our locale as God’s waiting room, and claims the Honda dealers offer a bifocal windscreen option? The thing was I’d be saving the environment. And some money – all the better to afford this course with, when the time came.

So I trotted along to my nearest stick-ontm auto-accessory and pedal-power convenience store, and thought wow, I can buy a full-suspension garish paint job for only £70! Then I looked at the build quality. And without even touching it, the rear brake-lever fell off. Hmmm. Bearable I suppose; I’m ok with an allen key.

But in the name of proper product research I decided to also stick my head round the door of a nearby independent specialist. I left with two hundred quid’s worth of shiny-shiny dark grey and black, street-fighting mean machine: an urban mountain bike, self-motivational transport for the city-dwelling masses.

Urban does not mean it comes free with a hooded-sweatshirt and an ASBO. Ha ha. It means a hard-tail aluminium mountain bike frame with slick tires and a gear-set more accustomed to finding its home on a racer; it means straight front forks with no bump-absorption, gunmetal handlebars and super-sticky grips. Oh, and cool looking black rims with chrome spokes. Plus a total absence of any reflectors at all – though I quickly fitted some tiny led lights as an alternative, and ran with these switched on whatever the time. Note that I never used the flashing setting – the general consensus amongst my car-driving friends being that this was more annoying than visibility enhancing. I also added genuinely carbon-fibre bar-ends – just because I could.

My dad helpfully pointed out that the amount of money the bike cost would have bought ten weeks of petrol. I ignored him and got on with it.

By the third or forth day of riding to work and back I was going everywhere in top gear – including uphill. A journey that started off being a 50-minute round trip soon took less than 20-minutes each way. Speed bumps on the stretch home not only meant air, it meant I could overtake cars – particularly fun if this was a modified hatch: lowered suspension leading to incredulous looks as I sprinted by. The bike meant consistency in journey times, and was often quicker than sitting in traffic at nine in the morning. I was overtaken by another rider on only a couple of occasions (racers and lycra both times), otherwise anyone else under their own power was my target, my emphasis for pushing just that little bit harder in the effort to catch them down the road. I’d arrive at work on time, awake, grinning with the burn. And hey, by this point I was also well on the way to buns of steel. Which was a bonus.

However, no plan is flawless. Riding a bike to work has a whole ballpark full of problems. First off, the weather. Rain actually isn’t too bad – crash-hat with a peak helps with that. As mine weighs practically nothing, riding with a lid on was never a chore. Any kind of breeze at all though and your effort is doubled – which is no fun when everywhere’s upwards.

Then there’s other road users… Hmmm. Tolerant they are not. I full-on stacked it a couple of times all by myself, but getting run off the road by a pair of dicks in a white van really pisses you off. People beep at you for no reason, cut you up, leave no room to pass. And all pedestrians hate you. For all the good that it does, no-one ever seems to appreciate you when you’re on a bike. The guy in the car who actually hit me looked mad rather than sorry, even though he ran into me when he rolled through a give-way line as I was crossing a junction. You have to understand that the populace are dumb and they will pay you no mind in their actions. But your observation improves as a result – which sticks with you next time you’re behind a steering wheel

Biggest problem was with the bike itself. The urban mb is a relatively new genre, and I got the impression that Dawes hadn’t thought it through properly. I had repeated issues with the gear-set; riding as hard as I was, the high, road gearing caused the frame to flex. This lead to the chain rubbing where it shouldn’t, and the resulting squawk with every pedal revolution was seriously annoying – making it sound like I wasn’t looking after the thing. The only solution offered was a mechanism set up so biased it made the “granny ring” – the lowest gear – physically unusable, the bike was no longer able to select it; doesn’t matter I never did, such a forced compromise should never be necessary. The supplier proved wholly unable to remedy this, and Dawes simply weren’t interested. This alone means I’d never buy again from either of them. I’ve also had a new rear wheel, as the joining weld was so poor it was causing a destabilising vibration under heavy braking – the last thing you want if you have to stand on the anchors on a bicycle. And the fittings are rusting – even though the bike lives inside. The issue of riding hard-tail over our scarred asphalt, however, was entirely of my own making – but if you think Britain’s bumpy in a sports car…

Of course, now I’m in Coventry. Coventry’s great because it’s so compact – I’m literally five minutes from anywhere that I conceivably need to be. But it also means my bike here would be pointless; I’d spend as much time locking it up as I would on the journey in-between. So it’s sitting at home in the outhouse, probably feeling sorry for itself, wondering when it’ll next find itself fighting with the traffic. And I miss it, man. I miss it so much. Niggling fault aside, the Ombra has to be one of my all time life-enriching choices. My heart goes out to it, all on its lonesome with no speed bumps to caress. I can feel the environment suffering its absence. And by crikey, without it, my ass is getting big.

Ombra picture is a Dawes publicity shot, though God knows why I'm advertising them here! And, ps: I've gone from nought-to-some html in the last few days - you've no idea how pleased I am to have managed to make this appear at the bottom of the page - even if it was incredibly simple. ;-)

Z06 picture from (looks like a press shot)


Anonymous Matthew said...

Ha - brilliant article! I've just
bought my first bike - yes an urban
mountain bike, from Hal(spit!)fords
called a Carrera Subway 1 for 200
smackers. Cant wait to pick it up and give it a good thrashing! It's got
some good reviews for such a cheap entry model - fingers crossed..
I'll be riding in London every day so i noted your comments re van drivers & pedestrians - scary stuff!
But whatevs, can't wait to give it a go - no more cramped/slow busses & trains for me!

2:28 pm  
Blogger InfinityReversed said...

Those Carreras are pretty cool - I like the matt black paint.

As for the other stuff - just keep your eyes open and don't take it personally when people diss you for no reason!

With any luck it'll be one of the best decision you ever made (and incidentally, I know of loads of auto journalists who are serious bikers - so I can't be the only one who thinks that way).

Cheers for the comment! All the best...

2:51 pm  

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