Today’s plan was to get up early and do a long ride. However, on Tuesday, I did an hour’s time trial on the Coker, Wednesday I had a particularly strenuous evening’s fencing, Thursday I was out with the Morris men, dancing in the May Day sunset, and Friday I was fencing… so on Saturday I sprang out of bed at about 10:30, feeling like it would take some time to get the old legs working properly.
After a couple of hours doing chores etc., I get the Coker out. On Tuesday, I was riding it like a demigod; today, I mount with the grace and precision of a panda with a migraine. I ride the short distance to the car, and think, “Hmmm… why do my legs feel like jelly?”
I drive out to one of my regular starting places. I mount like a spaniel climbing a palm tree and zigzag off towards the track, gradually recovering my poise.
A lady opens the gate, steps to one side and says (I think pleasantly) “Ok, so I’m impressed.” This saves me the indignity of a public failure to mount, and I ride through onto the tarmac track. There’s a stiff breeze blowing into my face. At Coker speeds, it is roaring across my ears enough to be distracting. Do other Cokeurs get this, or do I just have particularly protuberant ears?
For the first time ever on this section, I find a herd of cattle blocking my path. Cattle and Cokeurs have this in common: they are highly suspicious of each other. By a combination of wobbling and shooing, I’m able to clear a path through the herd, and find a route that isn’t pat-mined.
Then onto the cattle grid, where I dismount. Riding across cattle grids is really easy, but you only have to get it wrong once to realise how very very dangerous it is. When I UPDd on one a few weeks back, I know I was lucky not to snap an ankle, or buckle the wheel. Treat cattle grids with respect, and save a lifetime of feeling in your bones when it’s going to rain.
There then follows a short section through the woods with two ‘up’ obstacles, two ‘up and over’ obstacles, and a ‘doooown we go’ obstacle. I manage them all except the first ‘up’, but that one’s been changed recently, and I’ve never managed it yet. At least it’s more mounting practice, and I’m starting to get back in the groove.
As I blast expertly along a narrow and twisty track through the woods, ducking to avoid low branches, there are three ‘yoofs’ in among the trees who wittily remark, ‘Yoooooonicycle, oooooh, yooooonicycle, oooooooooh!’
I wonder whether any of them can do anything at all that I couldn’t do, and why I might want to mock them if they could. It seems to me they can probably only do one thing that half the world’s population can’t - pee against a tree - and that doesn’t give them much by way of credentials for mocking unicyclists.
Be that as it may… I dismount for a gate, freemount well, and then it’s half a mile or so of bumpy single track by the river. Then it’s up a short compacted mud and grit ramp, where I annoy myself by UPDing unnecessarily. I mount, ride back down, intending to turn and ride up again. I fluff the turn and UPD again. It’s all good mounting practice - the mounting is mounting.
I make it up the ramp, then it’s a section of rough track, past a burned out car (are these the Western values we forcibly export to the rest of the world?) and up a long ramp onto a favourite ‘training circuit’.
This is a wierd place - or possibly a weird place, I can never remember. There are two lakes, way above the level of the surrounding land, and held in by huge banks of earth. Imagine an iron age hillfort with a leak in the bathroom that had gone undetected because the tribe was away at the coast for a month… that sort of thing. What it does give me is a figure 8 route around the two lakes, on a packed grit and mud track along the top of the ‘ramparts’.
What it also gives me is complete exposure to the strong wind. So I go flying down one side of the lake, as fast as a rapid thing, then on the way back, I’m leaning into it, pedalling like stink, and doing about 6mph. In a strong headwind, the Coker loses its famous momentum factor, so when I lose concentration for a moment, I suddenly find myself with a short walk back to the Coker. I swear merrily.
After a couple of laps, dropping down the ‘ramparts’ twice (wheeeeeeeeeee… oooooooer… aaaaah… phew!) and riding back up the ramp, it’s time to move on. I ride further up the river, under a railway bridge, then I’m faced with The Previously Unrideable Obstacle, tadadadaaa!
The PUO is a steepish slope, of varying angle, paved with small concrete paving slabs which have all settled unevenly. It’s too big to ‘rush’. . The only route up is diagonally across the slope, and to make it harder, the slope is convex both in plan and elevation. I’ve ridden down it, but never up. And now I do it FIRST TIME! These little milestones are what makes our sport so rewarding, don’t you think?
After that, it’s a swoop down and onto a rough track, and there’s a mud bath. Experience tells me that the ground under the mud is deeply rutted, and that the mud is supplemented with motor oil and general debris. Do I dismount and tiptoe through, or do I go for it? That’s right: I go for it, get half way across, UPD, and land with impressive force in the mud. My shoes are instantly lots heavier.
I find a short track which looks like it might lead to wasteground. It leads to a disreputable looking scrapyard. I turn back, then ride a mile or two through an industrial estate to the Country Park. The Country Park offers a variety of routes around the lakes and through the woods. Because the weather’s not too good (let’s be honest, here, it’s just started to rain!) the park’s not too crowded, and the people who are there aren’t the abusive idiots I sometimes meet.
Part way through the woods, I meet a father with his two sons. One child is crying, after UPDing from his 5 speed bicycle. The other child is struggling to put the chain back on. Father is helpfully watching. I stop to offer assistance. The chain is doubled back on itself a couple of times, and it’s like a Chinese puzzle. It takes me 2 or 3 minutes to do it. I doubt the child (or his father) would have succeeded in a month.
While I’m doing it, Dad makes a couple of half hearted missing wheel comments. I remark that at least the Coker doesn’t have a chain, and that’s the main reason I bought it.
Job done, I mount and ride off, the family’s thanks ringing in my imagination.
This is about the 4th time this year I’ve had to replace a chain for a cyclist when I’ve been out on the uni. They have a problem, I arrive on a Coker, fix the problem, tip my hat, and ride away. My imagination runs away with me:
Child: Who was that man who saved us?
Father: Son, that’s the man they call the Lone Cokeur.
Memo to self: buy black eye-mask and white hat, and get some silver crank bolts made to use as calling cards. (?Query: film rights… seek agent.)
Within minutes, it is raining quite hard. I’m a few miles from the car, and I know I’m going to be soaked anyway, so I don’t take the most direct route back. As I ride round the back of a clump of trees, I meet an elderly couple on mountainbikes. The old man is in a world of his own, and zigs across my path, sees me at the last moment and nearly falls in the river. His wife is fiddling with her gear shifters. She sees me and says, “That’s what I should have got - then I wouldn’t have all these flaming gears!” More evidence in support of my theory that 90% of bicycles are overdesigned for their real purpose.
Back through the industrial estate, and then it’s the oily mudbath, where once again I inadvertantly make a crater. One disadvantage of the Coker is that it’s so tall and heavy, and slow steering, that you can lose it very quickly in a side slip.
Then it’s the obstacle previously known as The Previously Unrideable Obstacle. Riding down it is easy… except that it’s been raining for a while, and the lichen on the slabs now has the friction coefficient of buttered Teflon. Very quickly, I find I have unwanted but interesting experimental data which tends to support Newton’s law of gravity, and laws of motion.
From here, it’s a short blast down the river bank, then along the tarmac track, and back to the car.
The trip computer shows 1:44:12. I’ve had no stops for rests, but a few dismounts, so I reckon that’s 1:46:12 really. Top speed (as always!) shows as 14mph, and distance is 16.5 miles.
So that’s an average speed for the journey of 9.32mph, and an average RIDING speed (excluding the 2 minutes added) of 9.5mph. Not bad on mixed terrain, and often with a strong headwind.