Simon’s Cycle Shorts are now available to buy in both paperback (£8.39) and Kindle (£2.99) editions from Amazon. HERE
I have been blessed; I have been loved by two people. In the thirty seven years since I was built by Mike – I was frame number 212 – there have been only six months that I wasn’t loved – my first owner hardly rode me at all during that time because I think I was too big for him; so he doesn’t count.
I guess you may be thinking that me, a slightly scruffy thirty-seven year old with replacement parts from all eras and cycling disciplines, must be slightly bonkers to even consider that I might have been ‘loved’. I know, it sounds completely ridiculous. But please, listen carefully to what I’m going to tell you.
Mike, my builder, wasn’t well in 1978 when he put me together. Mike was dying of an incurable cancer and he knew it. Mike, in human terms, was also alone; an only child, he never had a wife or children and his parents were dead. Mike had devoted his life to building perfect bicycle frames; racing bicycle frames. Not just perfectly true and perfectly strong, but frames built with an attention to detail that verged on the obsessive. It would take him months to build a bike; weeks of filing, and sanding and grinding to obtain perfectly sleek and gorgeously mitred double butted Reynolds tubes – before meticulously brazing them with brass to bond the triangles together to the exacting requirements of his customers. I was Mike’s last frame, and, due to his illness, I took longer to be built than those before me; by the end there was no strength left in his hands. Late one night at the workshop, Mike spoke to me quietly in his soft Berkshire burr as he caressed my powder-coated tubes; his hands shook a little as he carefully applied the decal bearing his name to my head tube. That is the time when a bicycle becomes something; the moment when we become more than the sum of our parts. The instant I was born.
“Go my beauty – go and conquer the world – you’re a special bike and I’ve given you everything I have. I want you to be enjoyed and cherished as much as I have enjoyed making you. If no other frame I have made is remembered, I just want you to be my star.” He sat with me in his warm, craftsman’s hands as the rain beat heavily on the skylight above us. I was born in a storm.
After my brief time with owner number one, the early days with my second owner weren’t that promising either; there was the disqualification from a local time trial event because one of the organisers had seen my young owner riding his other bike whilst pushing me alongside in a bid to get to the event without actually riding on my delicate tubular tyres….they were always likely to puncture. The official said it ‘was the most foolish thing he’d ever seen!’ and sent us all home. Then there was the early morning fall during another time trial when the same young man lost concentration in the fog and rode too close the kerb – guaranteed to result in a messy outcome. Finally, there was the unseemly retirement when my (still) young rider thought he might be able to stay with a certain Mr Sean Yates of Tour de France and Peugeot fame who’d overtaken him at the start of a 100k pro-am time trial event; we ended up in a field with bent (thankfully borrowed) wheels and a bruised bottom. Sean, incidentally, carried on to break the course record. But despite the spills, there was some sort of progression and even the chance that my rider might have joined a top club with prospects. Somehow this all eluded him. But the bond was there – I’d been his biggest ever purchase and whether it was combination of his guilt at my expense or his actual talent, we did get to do some pretty good rides.
But, as can happen with youngsters, he succumbed to the usual human vices; drinking, smoking and screwing were his favourites; all of which, when not moderated, can only be detrimental to a riding career. Many years later, after his ultimate divorce and re-birth as a cyclist with potential, he started to take me seriously once again; I think I was the love he didn’t realise he’d had all the time he’d been giving everything else a try – most of our time apart I’d spent waiting quietly in the garden shed and had to be content with just the occasional wistful look and apologetic words.
Things changed; he changed; my wheels and my forks and my brakes and gears changed. Everything changed. He bought other bikes for other rides – even a tandem for his other love, and he started to take cycling seriously again. We began to spend more time together and we started to move properly again, together. I was becoming a contender for every ride – he even thought to time trial me again – after nearly forty years!
Then, one day, out of the blue, he felt that I was the bike he needed to ride for the National 24 hour Time Trial. Surely, no one in their right mind would ride a forty year old frame in an event that is only ever won by superior technology or physiology – and usually a combination of the two? He wasn’t Bradley; I wasn’t carbon; he wasn’t Lance; I wasn’t aero; my wheels were aluminium for goodness sake; I even had Campagnolo cable clamps on my top tube! OK, so he put a few time trial necessities on me and borrowed a set of better wheels – but, surely, I was still far too old. Was I just going to be an excuse for not doing well?
The result couldn’t have been foreseen by anyone – OK, so in the past, through dogged determination, he’d made the top five a couple of times and a podium once, but win it? No one ever thought that was going to happen. As it was, the event was mired by a huge Atlantic thunderstorm that washed across the course with hurricane force winds and a deluge of biblical proportions; the Shimano Di2′ electronic gear changers were shorting and the BB30 bottom brackets sucking up the debris before belching out their bearings; the finely exfoliated athletes in skin-suits and booties succumbed to the cold. We won with the lowest winning mileage for thirty years. We won because I was old and wise and he never gave up on me. He talked to me through the darkness and turmoil of the night; I soothed his soreness and steered him through the storm. I was born in a storm, remember?
I’m blessed because I’ve been loved. Thank you Mike, and thank you John.
Simon’s Cycle Shorts are now available to buy in both paperback (£8.39) and Kindle (£2.99) versions from Amazon. HERE
Copyright © 2016 by Simon Bever. All Rights Reserved