Tuesday, February 15, 2011

An New Old Bike and Reversible Brakes

I've found a bike for training on in Johannesburg.  It's nothing fancy.  It's scratched and scraped but everything is where it should be - mostly! - and works.  It's got V-brakes, front shocks (lockable) and it's got the little holes needed to fit a carrier.  It doesn't have a steel frame but I'm giving up on that requirement for now.

In short, it's a perfect bike for my Jo'burg training and if it feels right, I might use it for Angola.  It was also very cheap - is that the catch?

There's one small snag - currently being sorted out by the bike shop - which I found out when I test rode the bike and nearly flew over the handle-bars:  the brake levers on many mountain bikes these days are the opposite way around to the way I'm used to.  So when I pulled the left hand lever I was engaging the front, not the rear brake.  Glad I figured this out in the courtyard behind the bike shop and not hurtling down a mountain! 

Who's bright idea was this anyway?  I've been cycling for about 36 years and I've never come across a bike with brakes set up this way.  I must be getting old.  When I pick it up this afternoon the old order will have been restored!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Not Just a Training Ride

I hesitate to call the ride today a training ride because training implies some kind of chore;  a delay of satisfaction, a means to an end, a way of preparing for the real event, time that can be unpleasant and because it’s not the main event, unrewarding.  So my ride today wasn’t a training ride.  It will contribute to the main event, but it is something in and of itself.  An enjoyable thing.  An event worth it in its own right.

Cool and slightly overcast with only a gentle northwester blowing:  perfect conditions.  I rode out past the vineyards of Altydgedacht and was immediately struck by details.  Details usually blurred by the speed of the car.  The deep, dusty-purple berries on the vines, a rustle in the long grass next to the road, insect sounds and birdcalls, exchanges of “good morning” with cyclists going in the opposite direction.

I climb the long drag to the top of the hill, fresh legs pumping me to the top, enjoying the feeling of exertion, a moment on the brow of the hill to look out to the Atlantic before fierce concentration for the fast descent and round the sweeping bend, the gearing of my road bike allowing me to pile on the speed and cars passing more slowly than before.

Later I turn right towards the quarries.  There are cows and calves, I can hear them and smell them.  Was that a black eagle high above the brown summer fields?  I remind myself to pack a guidebook in the pannier.  A yellow billed kite leaves its fence-post as I approach and glides to settle amongst a loose gathering of pied crows.  A staff meeting at the quarry gates, a man with a clipboard telling them what he thinks they should know.

The next climb is a killer.  The pedals rotate painfully and slowly against the gradient.  I stop for some juice.  A few hundred metres from the top I stop to help a couple fix their bike chain.  I ride on and they push.  Maybe I’m stronger than I think.  The training is paying off.  Sweat in my eyes.  To wipe would mean letting go of the handlebars, which in turn would mean losing what little momentum I have.  I keep on.

 I’m breathing hard when I get to the top.  High up on my left there are three large birds of prey.  Eagles I think.  But I’m out of breath and can’t be bothered to stop for a good look.  The bike builds up speed again, down to the entrance of Meerendal wine estate and a cold drink before the last few kilometres home.

(written on Saturday the 5th of February)