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.         


  1. Spelling mistake David: .....take 'of' my bicycling helmet.....

  2. Looks great David. I must admit to being a tad envious. I’m looking forward to reading about your many upcoming adventures. Can’t help thinking that you missed a trick by not going for an electric bike though. They’re all the rage you know.

    1. Hi Steve
      An electric bicycle? Are you suggesting my lithe young thighs aren't up to the job? Well you may be right. Time and a few hills will tell.

  3. Great handlebars! Good to see the unfairly maligned 'Quartic' steering wheel from the Austin Allegro making a comeback. ��

    1. I once owned an Austin Allegro. Perhaps that subconsciously influenced my choice of a 'butterfly' handlebar.

  4. I'm in awe. Simply in awe. I await the next thrilling instalment with bated breath. (Crowther uncrosses fingers)

  5. Of course you are, Geoffrey, and of course you do. Try not to let my blog posts give you an inferiority complex, though. You are almost worthy. Almost. 😂