Pen-portraits of the machines that make much of this blog – and indeed life – possible.
TREK MADONE 4.7
My latest acquisition. Frame and forks are made from carbon fibre, Shimano Ultegra 10-speed makes it go and stop, and it rolls on Bontrager Race wheels. Not the lightest, fanciest or most expensive bike I’ve ever owned, but perfect for this new phase in my cycling life. The riding position is a little more upright than a full-on racing bike (it has a slightly longer head-tube, if you’re interested in these things) which is easier on my back, while lower gearing is kinder to my knees. Still early days, but this is definitely a long-term relationship.
Ah yes, the Guv. Bought as a 40th birthday present to myself, this mighty machine is a replica of a 1930s ‘path racer’. In their quest for authenticity, Pashley have specified a Reynolds 531 steel frame, 28″ rims with massive balloon tyres (in cream) three-speed Sturmey-Archer hub gears, hub brakes, ‘North Road’ drop bars and a Brooks leather saddle which, after almost two years, remains as smooth and unyielding as a mahogany dining table. It weighs 17 kilos (the thick end of 40lb) and has the nimble acceleration and sprightly handling of a fully-laden furniture van. And that’s on the flat. It regards all the marvellous advances in materials, transmission technology and biomechanics that have given us supersonic featherweights like the Madone with a lordly disdain. (That it’s designed and built in Britain should thus go without saying.) It does nothing that one of my other bikes can’t do much better. In almost every respect, it’s just plain wrong. Yet I absolutely love it, because of rather than in spite of its manifest unsuitability for the modern world. I ride it for the sheer joy of it. My knees aren’t keen on the three-speed, but if the price of riding it is a few twinges in the hinges, I’m willing to pay.
Hand-built in Stratford-upon-Avon by Pashley, the company best known for providing rugged, reliable steeds to generations of British posties. It’s a replica of a bike (made by another legendary Midlands firm, BSA) which was issued to some unfortunate paratroopers on D-Day. The original had hinges in the top- and down-tubes so it folded; the thought of jumping out of a C-47 over Normandy clinging onto 50lb of unyielding, angular steel makes me shudder. This modern version is a true pacifist, however, its prodigious weight and Sturmey-Archer hub gears and brakes making it best suited to leisurely trundling around the lanes with my daughter, or popping up to the boulangerie when we’re on holiday.
An old-school mountain bike from the home of the sport – Marin County, CA. Now sold as an urban warrior, the Muirwoods is entirely devoid of modern MTB technology: it has a steel frame, no suspension and rim brakes; it does, however, sport a carbon seatpost salvaged from a long-departed road bike. We’ve covered countless miles together, both on-road and off, in every kind of weather imaginable. It owes me nothing, but my debt to it is enormous.
The bike that tipped me over the edge from enthusiasm into addiction, and made me a ‘real’ cyclist. This is the bike Lance Armstrong rode to his first Tour de France win in 1999; it inspired me to do things I never thought I could. All the big things I’ve ever done in cycling have been done on it: London to Paris, London to Brighton (in 2 hours 40 minutes) London to Canterbury (following the route of the first stage of the ’07 Tour) the Ronde Picarde sportive in northern France (averaging 18.9 mph for 117 miles) my first 100, 200 and 400km rides, time-trials, club rides, even being an extra in a movie. All that remains of the original bike is the frame and forks, made from Trek’s proprietary OCLV carbon fibre: everything else has been replaced at least once. After more than 25,000 miles, it’s enjoying a well-earned semi-retirement, with the Madone – its great-grandson – taking over the summer programme. Come winter, though, the old workhorse will be back.