Thursday 29 March 2018

Two Men on the Bummel

Geoff's superb Thorn bicycle. Red, shiny and fits all adventure camping touring bicyclists up to 4 foot 7 inches tall

Does my tent look big on this? My grown up bike. A black, shiny, customised Surly Disc Trucker courtesy of  Jack at Alf Jones (Gresford) Cycles

(If you go no further with reading this blog do click on Jack's link above for the most brilliantist two things he ever, ever has done in his life)

“I have it!” exclaimed Harris; “a bicycle tour!”

George looked doubtful. “There’s a lot of uphill about a bicycle tour,” said he, “and the wind is against you.”

“So there is downhill, and the wind behind you,” said Harris.

“I’ve never noticed it,” said George.

“You won’t think of anything better than a bicycle tour,” persisted Harris.

I was inclined to agree with him.

“And I’ll tell you where,” continued he; “through the Black Forest.”

“Why, that’s all uphill,” said George.

“Not all,” retorted Harris; “say two-thirds.”

From Three Men on the Bummel,1914, by Jerome K Jerome
(Did you know that the ‘K’ in Jerome K Jerome stands for Klapka? I thought you didn’t.)

On The Road Again (Click linky thing for sound effects)

“I really think you should walk before you try to run,” said Geoff, “the Black Forest for your first ever bicycle camping adventure tour sounds rather ambitious. Perhaps the Delamere Forest would be more feasible.”

“Well in actual fact I wasn’t planning on walking or running, I shall be on my shiny new black bicycle,” I shot back with my normal laser like wit, "but if that’s all you can manage then it will have to do."

The following day Geoff arrived at Fellbound Hall clutching a bottle of Domaine Leflaive Batard Montrachet Grand Cru 2014. “Slosh a bit of that into a couple of glasses and please get the food served pronto my good man,” he said.

I took the bottle and studied the label.

“Sadly, Geoff, it isn’t chilled enough. I’ll stick it in the cellar so that it’s ready for another day.”

I served up.  Some scrag end of animal, Bisto Gravy Granules, tinned carrots and mushy peas (Best Before End 2014), washed down by a bottle of Tesco’s most excellent value range called ‘Spanish Crispy White, 2017’. I think Geoff appreciated the effort I'd gone to in undoing the screw top. This was followed by Sainsbury’s Apple Crumble, remove outer packaging and plastic film then microwave for 1 minute in a 850 watt model.

The following morning I stood on the drive way and watched Geoff get his shiny red bicycle out of the car. “Is there a small boy coming with us then?” I asked. “Come on Geoff, stop messing about. Where is your bicycle?”

But Geoff was indeed going to ride on a child’s bicycle with all his adventure camping equipment.

The stocks at Tilston, Cheshire

We set off and bicycled along country lanes. The Welsh potholes disappeared when we crossed into Cheshire. Those footballers’ wives racing around in their Range Rovers wouldn’t put up with all that bumpiness.  The villages were all delightful, comprising picturesque cottages and manorial halls. You could smell the money. We only stopped twice. The first time was, theoretically, to admire the stocks in the village of Tilston, but really it was to give Geoff’s legs a break from all the mad whirring round and round trying to keep up with me on my shiny black bicycle which has grown up wheels. The second stop was for coffee and cake in Tattenhall.

My Hilly Berg Rogan Josh
Geoff in his Terra Nova Southern Comfort 2

We arrived at the campsite. Geoff had his Terra Nova Southern Comfort 2 up in no time and started to brew up, all the while shouting helpful 'tips' such as "you should have got a Terra Nova" as I put up the Hilly Berg Rogan Josh. I put it down to jealousy. Hideous, rampant jealousy. So unbecoming.

Geoff ready to do it again

Then the following day we did it all again. Except we didn’t, as we went back a different route. At one point we swapped shiny bicycles but not for long. I felt like a clown at the circus, all squished up riding one of those tiny child’s tricycles, knees up by my chin, whilst Geoff couldn’t reach the pedals on mine. Oh. But there was cake again. This time in Malpas, surrounded by the real housewives of Cheshire having their lunch before their hard afternoon reading Country Living magazine or whatever they do before their husbands get back from the training ground.

I'm not telling you what Geoff had just done whilst still straddling his red shiny bicycle

All-in-all we had a lovely time. We did thirty miles each day. That may not sound much but the furthest I have ever cycled in my life is forty and I was sixteen at the time, and I now have a senior railcard. And our shiny bicycles were fully laden.  Indeed, until a few weeks ago I probably normally didn’t cycle more than a total of thirty miles in a year, let alone in a day.  My knees only ached a little and my backside not at all. Geoff has an ok bicycle really (it’s a Thorn) and it is very shiny, which is what matters most in the world of us adventurous touring camping bicyclists.

Incidentally, if you want to read a made up version of this trip, Geoff's blog post can be found by clicking this link. You can learn a lot from Geoff's blog posts. Whether that's good or bad I'll leave it to you to decide.

Monday 26 March 2018

The Tale of the Toad and the Bumble Bee

All loaded up and ready for a trial run

'Once, it was nothing but sailing,' said the Rat, 'Then he tired of that and took to punting. Nothing would please him but to punt all day and every day, and a nice mess he made of it. Last year it was house-boating, and we all had to go and stay with him in his house-boat, and pretend we liked it. He was going to spend the rest of his life in a house-boat. It's all the same, whatever he takes up; he gets tired of it, and starts on something fresh.'
(Ratty describing Mr Toad, and his penchant for trying new hobbies, The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame)

It was at the back end of last year when I sat in Geoff and Chrissie’s motorhome in the Yorkshire Dales, drinking their beer and eating their food, when Geoff referred to one of his adventurous cycle camping trips.

“I could do that”, I thought. Stick some panniers on my bicycle, stuff them with my ordinary backpacking gear, and it would be off on the open road, my beautiful long locks blowing in the wind, steely blue eyes sparkling in the summer sun, the weight of my camping gear transferred straight to the ground without passing through my shoulders, and all would be well with the world. In my imagination there were neither hills nor rain. And there were no punctures or mechanical defects, for I am the least practical man on this planet when it comes to fixing things.

Geoff said that he would accompany me on a trip to show me what’s what, provided I promised not to make a show of him.
Of course things are never quite so simple…..

…. firstly, I learnt that you can’t just stick panniers on any old bicycle.  My machine had front suspension and no fixing thingies on the frame to attach a rack to the front. “No matter”, thought I.  I’d had that bike for 17 years.  Time for a new one.  I’ll pop to Halfords.  No good. They don’t do touring bikes.  And as I researched it became clear that few cycle shops sell good old fashioned touring bikes.  All you can find are mountain bikes; or road bikes (which were called drop handled racers when I were a lad) more suited to the Tour de France than a few hours bimbling on the potholed back lanes of the sixth richest country in the world.

I ended up at the fabulous  Alf Jones Cycles in Gresford near Wrexham.

“I would like a touring bike please. Black and shiny. And none of that drop handle bar nonsense. I've had two major back operations you know".

“Hang on I’ll get Jack. Jack’s your man. He cycled camped around the world fourteen times last year. He’ll sort you.”

Jack arrived. He looked like he had just strolled in from California in the mid-1970s.  Shoulder length hair and a long beard. The term ‘laid back’ seemed to have been invented for Jack. In my mind I was immediately back in 1977, listening to Hotel California by the Eagles or Crime of the Century by Supertramp on a tinny little cassette recorder, late at night in my Hall of Residence, putting the world to rights with friends. Oh yes. It will surprise many of you but I had friends back then.
“No problem dude. We’ll sort you. Peace and love man, peace and love", said Jack. He asked how I was planning to use the bike and what my requirements were. He didn’t bat an eye lid when I explained that I rather fancied something a bit special. I wanted a two wheeler, I said. And gears. Could they do me a Sturmey Archer 3 speed job, just like on the bicycle I had owned when I was 11?  And black. It must be black. And shiny. Black and shiny. That would be classy….. And some good strong stabilisers. From then on Jack wisely pretended that he didn’t think I was clueless. He translated my naïve or non-existent ideas into a bike. For the techie bikey people reading I have added two appendicitises at the end of this post. Appendicitis A is my simplified, layman's version of the technical specification of the bike; Appendicitis B is from the actual version as designed by Jack.

Well. My lovely new toy arrived at the start of the December. As did the snow, so my planned pre-Christmas overnighter ‘try out the bike, panniers and cycling thighs’ did not materialise. However, the bicycle was still shiny new and Mrs Fellbound was at work so she wouldn’t see me playing with it in the kitchen….

Sparkly spangling new. Note how I have cleverly photoshopped the picture and made it look as if the bike is propped up against some of our kitchen units. The photo was, of course, in reality taken in the garage Mrs F. Cough, cough.

Jack and his colleagues had already done a superb job but Mrs F and all the little Fellbound children bought me bicycle related bits and pieces as Crimble presents. Including a Brooks Saddle, me being a retro trendy hipster sort of guy. And some cleaning stuff. I have owned bikes for 55 years and didn’t know real bicyclists cleaned them. A bit of 3 in 1 oil on the chain every couple of years had been my philosophy. I also bought a clever little rear view mirror, mainly so I can check my hair hasn't been messed up too much when I take off my bicycling helmet.

Look at that lovely black leather. Doesn't this Brooks saddle just scream "fondle me, babes, fondle me"?
The cockpit, full of high-tech wizardry
Over January and February I went on lots of day rides. Within less than a fortnight of practising the stabilisers came off and I was flying.  Well almost. There was the occasional wobble as I got used to the butterfly bars and the SPD clip in thingies for my feet. Residents of smart Cheshire villages would run out of their houses to admire me in my new lycra winter weight bicycling skinny leggings, complete with strange bulgy bits to protect my nethers, the bicycle and my body working in perfect unison, a blur of sleekness as I raced by at speeds of, crikey, almost twenty killymetres per hour. The Brooks saddle confounded the doom mongers and took no breaking in. My backside remained as soft as a baby's.

After a few trips I transferred my backpacking gear to the bike to try it out fully loaded. Black bike and yellow panniers. I bumbled down the lanes of NE Wales and Cheshire like a giant bee. I reckoned I was ready. I was confident enough in my abilities to know that Geoff would be well impressed. The weather looked set fair for a couple of days and there was a pleasantly situated, open-all-year campsite just 30 miles along the lanes.

To be continued….

Appendicitis A
Technical Spec for people who just get on a bicycle to go for a potter

Pedals: Two
Gears: 3 big coggies next to the pedals and 10 smaller coggies attached to the back wheel
Lights: One white, one red. Powered by a dynamo thing in the miggle of the front wheel
Bell ring tone: "Ding ding"
Frame: Black, shiny, fine for fatties.

Yes, Geoff. The chain needs cleaning. And the rims. Should I use Vim or Ajax?

Appendicitis B
Technical spec for lycra wearing types (NB I got bored with typing this bit and didn't understand most of it so gave up)

Frameset: Surly Disc Trucker

Shimano Tiagra 10 Speed Drivetrain:
            -Triple front rings (50/39/30)
            -Shimano 11-32 Cassette
            -Flat Bar Shifters
            -KMC chain with quick link
            -DT Swiss TK540 36 spoke rim
            -Shimano DH-S501 Alfine 6v 1.5w Q/R dynamo front 
            -Sapim Plain Gauge Spokes

            -Schwalbe Marathon Tyres x 2

            -Shimano Pd-M324 Spd, one sided mechanism.