The first ride for weeks. It’s a long winded process: rinse and clean the Camelbak, pump up the tyre on the 28, search the house from top to bottom for my helmet and wristguards…
But soon, I’m parking up at what used to be my usual place. It still is, I suppose - but just a bit less usual than before.
It’s only 9:15, so there aren’t many people around yet - just a couple of kids on the skateboard ramps. That’s good, because I know my riding skills will be a bit rusty. However, I manage to freemount first time (always a relief) and soon I’m wobbling down the grit path across the field towards the river.
My steed of choice is a Nimbus with a 700c wheel, 32 mm road tyre, and 110 mm cranks. It combines the qualities of being easy to ride and easy to fall off. While it’s trundling along, it’s fine, but a UPD is never more than a moment’s overconfidence away.
The first pretty bit of the ride is a narrow tarmac path with a patch of overgrown riverbank next to it. The grass and weeds are shoulder high. There are brambles, still with some blossom, but with some hard green blackberries already forming. Along this section, I meet something remarkable, and indeed admirable: a young mother is jogging towards me, pushing her child in a pushchair. She’s in the full jogging kit, with proper running shorts and everything, and not just playing at it. It can’t be easy jogging and pushing a child in a push chair. It would be much easier to sit on her backside watching TV and moaning about how hard life is for young mothers. Full marks to her. Nice legs too.
A few hundred metres later, just outside the Nottingham Kayak Club HQ, I have a moment’s overconfidence. Bang! A completely unprovoked UPD on a section of tarmac that could have been smoothed with laser technology and a GPS-controlled steamroller. How embarrassing! That’s the first totally unprovoked excuse-free UPD I’ve had for months.
Still, it’s all good freemounting practice. I leap merrily into the saddle and scoot along past the 3 rowing clubs, then down under Trent Bridge and up onto the embankment. Here, there are hundreds of young people basking like seals in the sunshine. They are the crews and followers for a major dragon boat regatta that is taking place on the Trent. I’m pretty well disposed towards dragion boaters - I like boats anyway, and my li’l sister was in the GB team that won gold at the world championships last year.
However, I do get a bit irritated when one of the dragon boaters shouts some banal comments, and another launches into the circus tune: dit dit diddle iddle it dit da da… (Fucek’s Entry of the Gladiators). Rather ungraciously, and with wasted irony, I respond with, “Bugger me, a dragon boat.”
The next obstacle is the suspension bridge. The approach takes care. There is a blind left hand turn, then a 180 degree right hand turn to the start of the ramp up to the bridge. There are bollards across the ramp, just close enough to each other to worry me that if I ever UPD, I might hit my face on one. As I approach the blind turn, which has a rough sandstone wall on the inside (my left), I hear the tick tick of freewheeling bicycles approaching. I reason that they will be going fairly fast, and will take the corner wide, so I tuck in close and slow down. I see helmeted heads over the wall and the first two bicyclists swerve past me. The third swoops into the corner, making no allowance at all for the possibility that there might be something she can’t see. I stop, reach out to the wall to steady myself… she swerves at the very last second. If I’d been on a bicycle, she would have hit my front wheel or handlebars. With nowhere to go, I UPD.
This is really annoying. The complete absence of an apology from the bicyclist provokes me to suggest that she should consider introducing an element of forward observation into her riding skills portfolio. I emphasis the importance that I attach to this suggestion with a few short words of Saxon origin. She doesn’t respond. Perhaps she misheard, and thought I was referring to the Fucek music of a few paragraphs before.
From here, it’s up and over the suspension bridge, along the tarmac path beside the river, along the cycle path beside the main road, then down into the underpass. It’s a few months since I’ve been here, and some of the grafitti are new. (OK, let’s play spot the pedant.) Interesting: I am totally against vandalism, but I really do find that some of the better quality unofficial murals brighten the place up a bit. I shouldn’t approve, but I quite like it. Hmmm.
After a few uninteresting sections of cycle path, I find myself crossing the edge of the sports ground. The very narrow single track path winds under the trees, which are lush and heavy-leafed after a wet “summer”. I have to duck and weave, and fend off the occasional low branch with my arms. Emerging from this, I suddenly take the opportunity provided by a microscopic bump to fall off for the third time today - this on a ride I would normally expect to do with no dismounts at all. I must be getting rusty in my old age.
Soon, I’m swooping along the nicest part of my planed route. It’s a rolled grit path that winds and swoops, so that I am constantly adjusting my balance and steering, but I can keep the speed up. The river is on my left, and I can hear the rapids - which shows exactly how wet the summer has been, because it is June, and you can’t normally hear the rapids even in winter. A canoeist wouldn’t even dignify them with the name “rapids” most of the time.
And as I’m thinking what a wonderful path this is, and the best part of the ride… a moment’s overconfidence and… “Bang!” Another UPD.
For the last mile or two, I’ve noticed a creaking whenever I put extra pressure on the left pedal. I take it easy as far as Beeston Weir, ride down the ramp onto the flat concrete bit at the side, and get my tool kit out. The nut has worked a bit loose, so I tighten everything up, then remount and ride the few hundred metres to the café at Beeston Marina. Here I stop for coffee and a Bakewell slice. “Still not got another wheel for that bike?” asks the proprietor. I smile at his ready wit. What he’s really saying is, “I recognise your face; you’re almost a regular,” and he’s only trying to be friendly.
The ride home is along the towpath of the Nottingham Canal. This is generally pleasant but uneventful, except for two UPDs - one as I try to nurse the uni up a 2 inch step without dinging the rim (remember, this uni has only a skinny tyre), and the other on the steep footbridge, which I’ve only successfully ridden a couple of times.
From the end of the canal, there’s a short section of back street, then some pavement, then some tarmac river bank, then back over the suspension bridge, and past the dragon boaters. Daftest comment of my career: “Oi! Do you know your back wheel’s going round?”
Total distance? I deliberately don’t take a computer these days, but I’d estimate 12 miles, give or take, and 2 hours or so including stops. Not the longest, hardest or most interesting ride ever, but I’m so busy these days it’s just good to get back in the saddle.