Intensive Care

The Gold Rohloff bike has done 13,000 miles, way more than any other bike in any of the three legs of Ride2CureNeuroblastoma. But what’s really remarkable is that whereas the Rohloff was new two Christmases ago, it did zero miles between August 2018 and July 2019. So that effectively means that it’s done those 13K miles in a year. That’s scary!

However while the gears are still behaving like a perfect gentleman, which was the whole point of investing so heavily in the first place, the brakes have given up the ghost. What’s been happening, over a period of time, is that while the brakes are still functional in the dry, they become nigh useless in the wet, and that brings with it a whole heap of problems, not the least of which is my safety.

We’re talking disk brakes, by the way, not the rubber block jobs that sit on the wheel rim.

Here’s an example of what’s been going wrong. I gave both the front and back calipers a couple of mm twist on the tensioning screw before I set off this morning, and both wheels were locking to a stop when I applied the brake levers. When I went out it was dry. Fifteen miles into the gig, out at the coast by Ardrossan, it was still dry and the brakes were still working normally.

Then the rain came on…

Heavy rain.

Smash you in the face sort of rain.

It was cold and it very quickly became deeply unpleasant. As I approached the crossing at Stevenston Station, I could see that the barriers were down so rather than hang about getting even colder and wetter, I opted for Plan B that does a loop round the back of the houses by the seafront. It brings you out at the same place as the route over the crossing, but goes over a railway bridge about a mile away. The effect was that the first time I had to brake for real was when I got to the chicane barriers under the railway bridge halfway between Ardeer and Kilwinning: that’s the bit that they blocked off last year to stop motors using the bike route as a rat run. The chicane is basically a zig zag but you have to be careful with the speed in order to avoid whacking a barrier. And those barriers sit a the foot of a short descent round a right angle bend.

I touched the brakes: nothing happened.

I swapped my hands onto the drop bars and pulled on the levers for all I was worth: there was the tiniest bit of slowing down, but not enough to stop the bike so I just aimed it to one side of the barriers, unclipped myself and used my feet to bring it to a rest.

Scary stuff: brakes had gone from hero to zero in twenty minutes, just because it started pishing doon!

When something like that happens, my brain goes into autopilot: what’s the safest route back to HQ that doesn’t involve trying to slow down and stop at a significant junction? Kilwinning to Stewarton was the easy bit, because it’s basically uphill the whole way and I use back roads. The fun started once I got to Stewarton. All of the routes coming in from the north were out of the question because they’re all downhill, and every one of them has a set of traffic lights or a T junction at the foot of a hill. For some strange reason, I’m reminded of Mouldy trying to unclip and come to a stop the day we went to Belfast on Cycling Santas, five years ago. He ended up hugging a lamp post because his foot was stuck in the pedal.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I did get the bike home in one piece (obviously!) but it then went straight into theatre for major corrective surgery at Fast Rider Cycles. This was planned operation, for which Neil received the bits yesterday. I was up in the shop only a week ago reviewing the issues that I’ve been having with cable driven disk brakes, but the problem at that time was that the back caliper (the bit that holds the brake shoes) was allowing sideways movement over time, and hence drag on the back wheel. I likened it to cycling in treacle, and it was making R2CN very hard work.

The solution to all of these problems, and it’s happening right now, while I’m typing this, is that the cable driven brakes are coming off, and are getting replaced by hydraulics: still disk brakes, but the intention is to return to the halcyon days of pulling the lever in the wet and the bike coming to a halt.

Will the bike be back today?

A good question, but also an important one. I’ve been nominated as pickup driver for the young team in the small hours of tomorrow morning after their football team night out. Then tomorrow I’ve to be on a bus at 11am for the rescheduled Scottish Amateur Cup away day at Gartcosh. If I’m rolling into bed at the back of 1am, albeit stone cold sober, do I really want to be getting up again at 6am to bag the miles that’ll keep 6,000 miles in six months on schedule? I think not.

So I’m going out tonight. The pickup’s not till half twelve so as long as I’m still on the road after midnight, I plan on logging tonight’s gig as tomorrow’s miles. And I may still be able to grab an hour at 8am instead of three hours at 6am.

But if the Gold bike’s still in intensive care, then the black bike will need to come out of the shed: the bike that went to Oz: the fast bike…

Fast bike, searchlights and quiet roads does have a certain appeal, I must admit. I’ll know in an hour.

For the record, in order to achieve that 6,000 miles in six months gong, I need to bag 767 miles between now and the bells at Hogmanay. It works out at an average of 30.7 a day. That’s why tonight and tomorrow morning matter: that average must not go up as the days go down.

And so to other things R2CN…

I did a school visit yesterday: to Nether Robertland Primary in Stewarton: the school that our youngest two went to all those years ago. The brief was to take the story that I did at Shotts prison six weeks ago, and re-tell it to a junior audience. That meant leaving out the gory stuff, and definitely leaving out the video clips of irresponsible driving, of which I have several: the last thing I wanted to do was leave the kids with the idea that the roads aren’t safe for cyclists.

This gig was a real privilege. I’ve been in that assembly hall for countless Christmas Nativities, summer concerts and Bring and Buy fundraisers: it was an honour to be on the other side telling my story in a way that hopefully spiked an interest in the youngsters. At the end of the day, I can only go by the variety of questions and the feedback, but I think the kids loved it every bit as much as I did. And now they all know who Jimmy Harrington is, and that without Jimmy’s Walk For Cancer, there wouldn’t have been a Ride2Cure across the Outback. They also discovered that Australia is as big as Europe, and that Anna Meares is the most celebrated women’s track cyclist of all time.

Questions such as “Why are those pedals so small?”, “What was the most tiring bit of riding across Australia?” and “When did you sleep?” were just a few of many, and I’ve since heard that the conversation carried on well into classroom time after the gig ended.

I just love trying to convince folk that they are capable of stuff that they never, ever thought possible: that they just need to put their mind to it, have a plan and give it a go: and not give up when it gets difficult, as inevitable it will. One girl came up to me at the end and said that her dad rode from John O’Groats to Lands End a couple of years ago: there’s a girl who’s been inspired by her dad for sure!

This coming weekend is special for a variety of reasons, all of which are based around this being the 5th anniversary of what I believe might have been the final Solving Kids Cancer Cycling Santas. The spin off was that it was the weekend I first met big Mouldy, it was the first time I met wee Eileidh, and it was the time that Chris Riddle, Vanessa’s dad, chaperoned me the final 30 miles from the Sick Kids Hospital in Edinburgh to Yorkhill in Glasgow when I was done for into the wind and rain. Symbolically, it may also have been the only time that Vanessa and Eileidh were together in the same room.

On Monday, amid all the talk of Storm Atiyah, Mouldy and I are getting the old team back together and heading out to Loch Lomondside. It’ll take a bit more than wind and rain to curtail us two once we put our minds to it

Five years. So much has happened. Warriors lost, but never forgotten; new friends made, and journeys to remember for a lifetime.

But all I want at the end of this particular day is the beloved Gold bike, the workhorse of Ride2Cure2, out of intensive care by ten o’clock tonight, and doing what it does best: I’ve got a job to do…

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