The Great British Bike Off

If I’ve said it once, then I’ve said it a dozen times: you get an awful lot of time to think on the LCFN bike. Occasionally, those thoughts are negative and you have to flatten them before they flatten you. But for the most part, the LCFN thought process is nothing but positive, and in the main, the shittier the weather, the stronger I manage to respond.

This week has been a long time coming…

It’s Christmas and I’ve been thinking on and off all week about Eileidh Paterson and Bradley Lowery. Those are two households that should have been entertaining hyper kids at 3am on Christmas morning, ripping open presents from the main man, then piling into their parents’ bed to show off Santa’s wares. In truth I’ve thought about Gail and her family a lot of late because I know them. Gemma I met at the Solving Kids Cancer conference six weeks ago and I was completely taken by her passion to see an end to this eternal pain in other families.

That passion was evident for all to see last Sunday night at the BBC Sports Personality Of The Year awards. There had been a suggestion some weeks ago that we could all vote for Jermaine Defoe, and as he was a 20-1 outsider at the time, it represented a great opportunity to rob Peter to pay Paul and get the bookies to fund neuroblastoma research. But alas, the establishment channel saw fit to ignore Jermaine’s candidacy. But fear not for the wee man was up for the Helen Rollason award for outstanding achievement in the face of adversity. To be honest, any one of a hundred kids who succumbed to cancer in 2017 could have been nominated, but Bradley was without doubt the figurehead, the warrior’s warrior. And that is all down to his connection with Jermaine Defoe.

I don’t even know whether BT have a version of iPlayer but if you are ever able to seek it out, I highly recommend that you watch Jermaine Defoe on the Claire Balding Show that was broadcast on 14th December. It kicked off by demonstrating what a really grounded sort of a guy Defoe is, even touching on the time he stopped his motor when he was playing with Tottenham, to play football with a bunch of kicks kicking a ball about in the street. One of those kids, it later turned out, was Harry Kane.

Anyway, I digress: Jermaine Defoe did more to raise awareness of neuroblastoma in 2017 than any sports personality in this country, ever. Bradley Lowery was Jermaine’s erstwhile Roker boy, his radium of light. If Jermaine was barred from winning it, then Bradley was my SPOTY.

And so to other stuff….

Regular readers will know that the gig has been plagued by ice and mechanical problems for a month. I won’t ride on black ice anymore. I’ve had enough offs to last me a lifetime and whereas in the old days of being employed I got sick pay, working for myself I get none. I simply cannae afford a broken arm (or worse). My rule of thumb is simple: go outside into the street and have a wander about: if there’s any chance of ending up on my arse, then then bike stays in the shed. I don’t actually care whether the main roads have or haven’t been gritted: my roads are not the main roads: my roads are wee country lanes with rivers running across from one field to the next. Arrive at one of those, frozen and you’re off in an instant. Been there, done it, read the book, got the video (it’s on YouTube) and I don’t need that anymore.

The problems with the bike(s) have been well documented, but if I may do a bike off for our new viewers, the Golden bike that’s going to see LCFN through to the end has been off the road for a month courtesy of a gearbox issue. “Gearbox” I hear you say. Yeah, it’s a road bike and it’s got a gearbox. Neil, who sorts all things mechanical for me, spent much of the first half of the year egging me on to get hub gears (because I was spending a small fortune on derailleur components) but it wasn’t until our mam died that I took the plunge. I invested the little that was left of her estate, divided multiple ways, in the Golden bike, the centrepiece of which was the Rohloff Speedhub.

The reason that Goldie’s been off the road has nothing to do with the Rohloff hub itself. The wee spring loaded box of tricks that sits adjacent to it was jammed in the top end position: fine for flying down hills at 30mph but hee haw use for getting back up them again. The cause, I suspect, was because Neil and I were still tweaking the configuration through November and the downshift had always been sticky as we played with the angle of the drop bars, putting the cable under increasing tension.

The spring loaded changer had to go back to Germany but Santa, aka the postie, delivered it back on Monday. By teatime, Goldie was roadworthy again, albeit that I’d already bagged Monday’s miles on the old bike with its jumping gears.

So on Tuesday morning, I was a mix of excited cum trepidation. “What if the changer fails again” was all that was on my mind. In my heart, I knew there was only one way to dispel that concern and that was to rack up an enormous number of miles. This is the bike that’s going to Australia so I need it to prove to me that it’s up to the job.

If the last four days are anything to go by, I needn’t have worried: I’ve fallen back in love with my bike.

This is hard to put into words in a way that non-bike people will understand. But suppose you drive a twenty grand motor: and suppose you do actually have a bike habit. Just suppose: hear me out…

What I’m telling you, not just suggesting, is that you should shave a grand off that motor next time around and invest it instead in a Rohloff Speedhub. Brexiteers will hate me for saying this but the Rohloff is a brilliant piece of kit: made in Germany.

For the cyclists amongst you, you will instinctively know the sad tale of your gears playing up: out of true, clicking, bent derailleurs if you hit something or fall off: the list is endless. And those bits wear out: shit happens, and that shit comes up off the road. I have learned the hard way that derailleurs are the Poundstretcher of gears. On LCFN I pay for everything: no corporate sponsorship on this gig. Even if you leave aside new pieces of kit, I would put my maintenance bill at two grand since 2013: most of that has gone on consumables in the drive chain, plus labour of course. A Rohloff Speedhub costs only half of that and is reckoned to go 60K miles on just an oil change every 3K miles. As I said to a mate of mine only last night, look upon it as a long term investment. Assuming the shifter behaves itself from heronin, I fully expect the Rohloff to see me through the rest of my days.

And see the best bit, when you’re out on the road, you change gear and it just works: no thinking about it, no clicking, no jumping, no unforeseen surprises halfway up a hill: it just works. And I love it. I love it to bits. I now need to convince Jane to make the switch too…

Right, to the miles…

I’m parking the revue of 2017 until next week seeing as there’s still one week left, but it’s on a knife edge. The miles to date have been:

2013: 2,514 (I didn’t start until August)

2014: 9,525 (inspired largely by Oscar Knox)

2015: 9,120 (probably would’ve been a 10K job but I lost most of Q1 to a hernia operation)

2016: 6,363 (got made redundant and had to re-invent my spirit)

2017: 9,240 and counting

Do you see the challenge?

Do you see the fightback from the boot in the baws that last year delivered?

Had it not been for those seventeen lost days at the back end of November going into December, this would have been a 10K year. Of that I have no doubt. But the best achievements in life don’t come from sustained success: they come from knowing hurt, knowing pain, and knowing how to resurrect yourself. For the resurrection of LCFN, cue August, cue the lasting memory and driving influence of Eileidh Rose Paterson. When Eileidh gained her wings, I was exactly halfway through the year: 4,291 miles. With her memory on my mind and her drive on my back wheel: 4,948 with a week still to go (and that includes the week when I did nothing other than ride #ForeverFive in her memory and honour). The equivalent back end of 2014, similarly inspired by the passing of Oscar Knox, piled up 5,050 miles. That mark is going next week.

The old road bike did me proud: it was the workhorse that took me through 12,500 LCFN miles and 650,000 feet of climbing. But Goldie’s gonna beat that. We may only just have started courting, but I’m telling you: this beautiful German machine is going to win The Great British Bike Off.

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