The Old War Horse

Seven years ago, my ancient and wrecked bike was stolen.  I loved that bike, but couldn’t ride it more than 10 miles from my uni room because it was just so heavy and old.  It weighed about 30 kilos (60lbs) and I couldn’t lift it off both its wheels at the same time – one was hard enough – but I bought it for £17 in the University bike auction and I stripped it down and resprayed it pink and fixed its brakes and transmission (pull lever gear changer between the handlebars, no Shimano SIS here).  Then one night while I was sitting late in Borders drinking coffee and reading a good novel, some chavvy fucker stole it.  They were kind enough to leave the basket.  I walked around the city until 5am then I turned up at my friend’s house, crying my eyes out, absolutely devastated, and she made me coffee and shared her cigarettes with me.

The next morning, I did what I always want to do when I feel wronged by the universe (and what I’m trying to get out of the habit of):  I threw money at the problem and made it go away.  I walked into Halford’s and bought an icy pale blue, aluminium framed cycle which I’ve always affectionately thought of as my very own pony.

No, it’s definitely more of a horse.

Together, we charted new territory and planned to take on the world.  I rode 30 miles to avoid a house party and caught a train home.  No-one said anything – it was the last train home and there was no-one else on there.  We cycled all over the north of England and parts of Scotland and the midlands.  Over the summer between second and third year of university, I considered the day wasted when I didn’t get up at 3pm and cycle at least 10 miles.

My new bike seemed so unbelievably light and aerodynamic compared to my old one – I could actually lift it (it was heavy, but it was ok) and while it’s always had problems, I never really cared to fix them because I knew most of it was design flaws.  The bike cost £89 in 2008 money.  The cheapest aluminium bike on the market now is at least £130.

I modified it by putting on a luggage rack at the back and a basket on the front, so that I could carry camping equipment on it.

And it was pronounced “probably unsalvageable” on Thursday by the mechanics at my local bike repair place.  In the last 3 months I’ve had to get the brakes fixed twice, the seat needed replacing, all 4 brake pads have been replaced and a new brake cable, the chain and both inner tubes needed replacing, and now, all the spokes on the wheels are rusting and the front wheel rim is dented where I hit a pothole lately.

The front brakes haven’t really worked since I got it, and a quick adjustment always fixed that, but now they don’t fix, so I have to disconnect the front brake because it just gets stuck on, slowing my progress so I’m fighting my brakes to actually move forwards all the time.  On top of that, the gear chain cogs have worn the teeth down so much that on the most useful gears (in both sets of ratios), the chain slips so much that it’s dangerous to stop at traffic lights (but I still stop).

I asked how much new wheels, gears and a brake system would cost.

For lightweight wheels alone, they’re about the same money as it would cost to just get another bike.

It seems that this, too, shall pass.  My bike, my trusty steed, needs to be put out to pasture so a new one can take its place as my workhorse, because I could do these repairs, but what, of my old bike, would actually be left?  The handlebars need replacing really as well because the rubber has flaked away and really that just leaves the metal frame, the aluminium that never corrodes.  What a pity the rest of the components weren’t made to last the same length of time.

I’ve been looking at perhaps getting a folding bike, a lightweight one, but I don’t know right now (my grandma had one of the earliest ones and I used to LOVE it as a concept).  If I buy a new bike, I really should upgrade from the old one, otherwise what’s the point?  My bike gets me from A to B at the moment, it’s just if I want to go to C or D that there’s a problem.  An ultra lightweight folding bike would mean I could use it more, although my knees are protesting right now that the bike should be large with huge gears.

Advantages of folders:

1. They store really small so they’re less likely to rust because you can probably fit them somewhere indoors.

2. They travel on most public transport for free, especially if you put them in a specially made bag.

3. They don’t usually need locking away – normally you can take them inside with you.

Disadvantages:

1. They’re lighter than they used to be but they’re still not light enough.  As a rule, 12% of your weight should be the maximum weight of your bike.  As I weigh 50kg, that gives me a pathetic 6kg limit.  Nowhere sells a bike for that light, which explains why I get so tired cycling.  The lightest folding bike is 8 point something kilograms.  There are many arguments about whether riding a lighter bike makes a difference, with people referring to a comparison someone did between a 13kg and 9.5kg bike, but these are BOTH light bikes, barely any difference in the weights, and the experiment had far too many variables to be a REMOTELY fair test so I don’t think the conclusion is valid (also my experience with my heavy bike before and my less heavy but still heavy bike now both contradict the conclusion).

2. They’re more expensive than non-folding bikes.

3. The wheels are usually tiny, which
a) looks ridiculous,
b) means potholes are a bitch and
c) means you can’t get them to go as fast so easily, also coasting is slower.

3. There’s a much more limited choice of styles, colors etc because there are fewer manufacturers.

More to the point, I don’t know what to do with my old bike.  It seems a shame to scrap it, but it’s virtually useless (and pretty dangerous with the gear and brakes problems) on my 10 minute commute to work let alone further afield.

Travel Plans 2015

It was raining so much that I couldn't get my phone out to take pictures once we were out of the car!
This was how much of Scafell Pike we could see when we looked across the water. I can’t show you the left hand side (where we were headed to park) because it was raining too heavily to get my camera out of the car.

Sometimes travel plans just go wrong. Other times they don’t materialise at all. I made a plan to climb 3 mountains during the February half term, and I climbed a grand total of half. How do you so comprehensively fail to achieve a goal? Well, it turns out you can’t climb a mountain when the path leading to it has turned into a white waterway. It’s simply too dangerous. So I turned back. While it’s irritating as all hell and disappointing and all the rest of it, I don’t think there’s any shame in knowing when to stop. I trust my own judgement and I really wasn’t confident that the mountain was safe.

It was hard, having bought petrol, made plans, hoiked equipment and trudged all that distance, only to have to admit defeat in the face of white water and whiter fog, which was closing in rapidly. But I know I made the right decision.

It has affected my bigger picture of travel plans for the year though. I had a progression of mountains planned for the year, and hikes, cycles and walks, and now I need to re-order things and try to make it all work with even less time, a problem that’s compounded by the fact that my current work contract has been extended by 5 months, meaning I won’t be free to properly travel until the end of July.

Here’s my current plans for 2015:

1. Climb Ben Lomond and Ben Nevis.

2. Hike the West Highland Way.

3. Climb Scafell Pike.

4. Visit Orkney

5. Visit the Broughs at the top of Scotland

6. Walk Hadrian’s Wall.

7. Cycle the Pennine Way

8. Spend the night in a castle

9. Climb mountains on the Via Ferrata in France and Andorra

10. Climb Serra do Gerez and Serra do Estrela in Portugal

11. Drive to Morocco via Spain (and France, Andorra and Portugal)

And here’s my current music plans:

1. Steeleye Span, March (like, this Sunday).

2. Lynyrd Skynyrd, April.

3. Download festival, June.

When compiling my list, I tried to group things by location, so for example all the Europe stuff can be done in the same trip because it’s all along the Morocco route (or at least, a meandering journey in the direction of Morocco). Again, my UK-based travelling is all in the same relative direction from me – it’s all northwards (except the Pennine Way, which starts 100 miles south of me, but it does end about 150 miles north of my house), with an emphasis on the West of Scotland. As for #8, there are plenty of castles in both Scotland and France which open their doors to tourists – if you can afford their rates. I’m hoping to get one for a cheaper price before tourist season kicks in, but you never know.

For the music plans, I chose a mixture of styles and picked one at £20 (Steeleye Span), one at £40 (L-S) and one expensive festival (Download) so I could see the maximum amount of bands, genres and time-periods without going to a different one every week or bankrupting myself.

A big factor in all my planning was my car. All of my plans are very dependent on my car working and being hospitable inside. I’ve added curtains and put one of the back seats back into the car (they were all removed before) so there’s somewhere for a passenger or rabbit if we need it.

These are the curtains to the car camper - tutorial to follow.
These are the curtains to the car camper – tutorial to follow.

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