My bike is taking an absolute battering at the moment. Water, mud, sand, salt and every other bit of junk that you can imagine is rather upsettlingly flicking up off the road into it’s sensitive parts – and nobody wants that. The amount of ‘foreign objects’ that I wash off the bike at the end of each ride is quite incredible, with the aftermath collecting on the floor to suggest that I’ve been riding on Cromer beach, not around the lanes of south-west Lincolnshire. And don’t worry, I do recognise that Cromer isn’t local, and am not going to ride all the way there at this time… though the peace of mind the sea brings is highly appealing.
Dirty bikes used to be my pet hate. It used to drive me crazy, to the point that before starting a sportive with friends, I would ‘in jest’ make a bike inspection before the off (though in reality I was not jesting in the slightest – I was absolutely serious!). I finally said goodbye to this obsession during the Deloitte Ride Across Britain, from Lands End – John O’Groats, when at about mile 40 (of 977) the first downpour, somewhere near Truro, set the tone for the next 9 days, and from then on my bike looked like it was held together with dirt. I’m glad I learned to live with dirty bikes, otherwise I would spend as long cleaning as riding in the winter, and almost certainly not have any riding buddies remaining.
Dirt is one thing… but noisy bikes are quite another, and should be considered in the same way as bleeding gums. Noises should not be ignored as it is a sign that something is not right and you are not looking after your beautifully engineered contraption as it deserves (needs). All you should be able to hear is the hum of the tyres on the tarmac… and this is achievable for every ride, even if your bike is ‘dirty’. If your chain is squeaking, it needs lubricant. If it’s crunching, it needs cleaning. If your rear mech is dragging or not shifting sweetly, it needs adjusting. If your crank is creaking, then your bottom bracket likely needs changing, or at least a bloody good clean. If your brakes are grating, the rims / discs and / or pads need cleaning (degreaser and baby wipes are perfect!). It is worth checking your pads regularly for wear and debris as they can wear rapidly on the wet, mucky roads that we have at the moment. Albeit a more extreme environment, I was amazed how quickly I destroyed a my brake pads during a very soggy ascent and descent of the Col D’Aubisque and Col du Tourmalet, in the Pyrenees – 2 days, they were gone! While brake lever travel is one indicator of wear, taking a good look at them is critical. In winter I remove my pads every couple of weeks to check the wear marker and also remove any hard particles that are embedded in them with a sharp object (a flat blade micro screw driver is perfect!) You may be surprised the difference it makes – though of course, do remember to put them back in properly, it can be very expensive in many ways, otherwise.
Some maintenance interventions cost more than others, but the basics cost very little – and in my opinion you can, and should do them yourself. I believe that the less maintenance you do the more you’ll spend on running your bike in the long run, the more rides you will ruin, as more things will wear out, more catastrophically, more often.
One of the things that I learned very quickly about cycling, is that it is full of opinions. And when I say full, I mean to the brim, in fact overflowing like a really badly poured glass of a particularly lively Prosecco. I’ve offered several opinions already in this particular post, and am conscious that The Gabbling MAMIL is founded on my ‘opinion’. For every piece of advice that I have, you’ll find contrary views, and many experts who think I am a buffoon who should not be listened to, or should even be censored to prevent me spreading my misplaced views about cycling. And that’s fine, they’re entitled to their opinion… I don’t pretend to be an authority on the subject, I just enjoy it, and if you want my opinion, I’ll gladly provide it… but even then, I usually caviat my input with it’s only ‘my opinion’. Throughout my journey of becoming ‘a cyclist’, I’ve found ‘opinion’ is actually about 2/10ths of bugger all use. Though my experiences of receiving it have encouraged me to either find my own through plentiful research, through trial and error, or just to not give a hoot about others opinions at all.
Don’t get me wrong… I’ve got it spectacularly wrong on occasion. Just last summer, I took my pride and joy into my local bike shop for a new bottom bracket, utterly convinced it had died after just 2 months. Despite it displaying all the right sound effects and frequencies, the reality was that I merely hadn’t tightened up the rear wheel skewer properly (facepalm!). But this made my credibility somewhat sketchy (perhaps The Boy Who Cried Wolf) when a creak appeared again immediately after a thunderstorm, only a few weeks later. This time on longer rides it would begin creaking, though would then be silenced for 20 minutes or so by a generous squirt of a water bottle around the interface between the bottom bracket and crank… but the local bike shop was convinced there was nothing wrong with it, and didn’t want to change it despite me paying. They changed it, and it’s been fine since.
I think cycling is at an interesting juncture. Participation has grown so incredibly quickly in recent years (myself included). The technology has and continues to develop equally quickly, and this is magnified by what manufacturers / marketeers want us to believe is right / best / needed perhaps based largely on fashion. All but the most opinionated, or really thick skinned (who couldn’t care less what anyone else thinks), can be forgiven for being intimidated by what they should or shouldn’t believe or do. I think as a cyclist, and cyclists, we have an opportunity to make cycling a gloriously accessible and inclusive hobby. I’m sure we’re mostly the same… where the experience of riding a bike from a physical and emotional perspective is as exciting today as it was the first time someone let go of the back of the saddle and we wobbled off down the pavement. It’s not the time to be protectionist or to reinforce exclusivity, and we should be embracing and enjoying the new energy, excitement and people who want to join us (social distancing applies). Though if you’re a long time cyclist, I fully support the notion of you being here to create the scene, before it was cool – and yes, please wear the t-shirt with pride – thank you for what you’ve created!
However, I’ve read a lot of opinion on whether Joe Public should be allowed to buy, wear and ride wearing the rainbow jersey. The rainbow jersey is the visual prize of the UCI world champion in their discipline, that they wear to race for the year following their crowning. In cycling, this is a big debate (think Brexit, or Blur vs Oasis), with particularly strong opinions with regards to protecting the sacrosanct nature of the rainbow jersey and it being to the exclusion of all others than the World Champion themselves. My opinion, I can’t see how anyone would confuse me for Alejandro Valverde when I’m riding through Rutland, the Cotswolds or the Alps… okay, I understand the protests are not against impersonation, but frankly if someone wants to enjoy their hobby while celebrating our sport and its heroes / World Champions by wearing such a glorious symbol of its heritage… then why not?
Before you write in to complain about my opinion and tell me I’m wrong… unless you’re a world champion who’s earned the jersey, I won’t personally be influenced by what you think, but you are of course entitled to your opinion. That said, if you’re a club racer turning up for a time trial or road race wearing it, you’d better win by several minutes! Otherwise you fully deserve to get a damn good thrashing from your mates, their mates and your mum’s mates too.
However, if the UCI think it a good idea to sell rainbow branded kit for Joe Public to wear to toddle off down the road to the coffee shop on a Sunday morning, then that’s good enough for me… I may even partake myself.