On Sunday morning, the clocks went forwards to British Summer Time, so now it’s light in the evenings until quite late…
Monday: it’s been a lousy day… a fire at Manchester has mysteriously sent our computers down in Nottingham… a member of my team “forgot” to put his alarm clock forward and arrived an hour and (mysteriously) twenty minutes late…
So as soon as I get home, it’s out with the Coker, and off to my usual starting place. After a hard ride on the MUni yesterday, tonight’s ride will just be a gentle stroll, right?
The light evening has brought out all the kids for miles around and they are gibbering around the half pipes like so many baboons. I hate this bit: first freemount of the day, on the Coker, and an audience of bored and inarticulate kids. Fortunately I mount first time. Fortunately? Nah, that’s skill and dedicated practice - honestly!
As I ride past, the kids wittily remark, “Naahaahaahaahaahaahaa!” and I cannot find a convincing counter-argument. One, brighter than his peers, and obviously destined for great things, repeatedly shouts, “Uniman! Yooneeemaaaan! Yoooooneeeeeeeemaaaaaaan!”
I turn across the field towards the Water Sports Centre. I love this bit because every time I do it, I can hear the kids’ tone changing as they suddenly realise I’m actually quite a serious rider. Presumably they haven’t yet twigged that I’m (probably) the only rider they ever see, and if I did it last time, I can do it again.
As I ride along the river bank, a bicyclist on a mountain-style bike overtakes and comments, “There must be an easier way.” He continues along the flat compacted grit path, and I divert onto the rutted muddy single track. I think he misses the irony.
I arrive at the Water Sports Centre without incident, and turn off the tarmac entrance road onto the footpath. The path appears to have been re-ballasted and raked, so it’s a bit tricky… but not as tricky as the next obstacle: two rowers carrying a twin scull. They look like they’ve never carried one before, and when they see me, they take it in turns to move first to the right and then to the left, so that the boat see-saws horizontally across my route. I can see a scene from a black and white silent film developing here… I slow down, hit some loose ballast and UPD.
I had had a vague idea to do a 20 mile ride without dismounting. With this in mind, I check my computer (1.57 miles) and reset it to zero. I push the uni past the boat and then remount and ride up the short and tricky zigzag path, predictable but good natured comments wafting after me on the breeze.
From here, it’s a standard route across the tops of the grassy hillocks, but I add an extra hill, and I’m pleased to make it all the way up in one. Then I follow the tarmac track around the lake, diverting to cross a narrow footbridge near the end. Back on the tarmac, I am greeted with surprise by a group of joggers. Has anyone ever invented a less leisurely or enjoyable leisure activity than jogging? Joggers always look like they resent every step.
I turn along a narrow path beside one of the side lakes, make it up the tricky little slope at the end, then race up the tarmac slope before turning onto the World’s Worst Grassy Slope.
The WWGS is rutted and potholded with fossilised wheel ruts and hoof prints, all concealed beneath about 6 inches of stubbly grass. It’s er… challenging. I make it to the top, then swoop down into the little hollow before the next slope. At the last moment, I notice that the hoofprints suddenly become very visible and rather deep… there is a boggy bit at the bottom. Just in time, I adjust my speed and make it through. I’ve worked hard enough now (I’m 41, you know…) and I turn towards the tarmac again.
Back round by the canoe slalom course, I approach the tricky bridge carefully. It shouldn’t be tricky - just a slight step up from grit to concrete, then a slatted timber arch - but I’m always suspicious of that little step. I make it, I relax, I look ahead to plan my route, become complacent, veer too close to the bridge handrail, and, without thinking, reach out with my left hand to steady myself. With hard plastic wristguards, my hand fails to grip (just as well) but in a moment of stupidity, I stop pedalling.
On a Coker, a sudden involuntary cessation of the pedalling action typically precedes disaster. This time is no exception, and I UPD loudly. (Ever dropped a Coker on a wooden bridge?)
This time it is 4.04 miles since I mounted, so I’ve done a total of 5.61 miles. Clearly it would be daft to reset the trip counter and have a third attmept at the 20 miles. At least this takes some of the pressure off, and I’m now free to try some more difficult stuff, including a tricky climb and a steep diagonal descent, raucously encouraged by a couple of canoeists on the course below.
Following familiar paths I make it back to the river side, then turn across the field along a straight stretch of single track. I have half a mind to ride the Very Difficult Path.
The VDP runs across the top of the field. It zig zags a bit, and has some slight ups and downs. I remember it as Very Difficult because the first few times I rode it, there were tall nettles to both sides, and long grass concealing the ruts and potholes. At this time of year, these hazards are absent, but there’s a new and unforeseen one: a dog walker, with his dog. It’s a mongrel border collie sort of thing, and when it turns to watch me, I notice that, most undoglike, it has clear blue eyes which glow a little disturbingly in the fading light. For a moment, I feel like an extra in a budget sequel to American Werewolf in London, but I ride past without incident.
The VDP takes me back past the skaters’ pipes, and I’m once again greeted with cries of “Yoooooneeeeeeeemaaaaaaaaaaaan!” I head back towards the river and up past the football ground, over the suspension bridge ( a bicyclist who has passed me twice pauses to stare, but can think of nothing to say ) then I ride up the river bank to the next bridge.
As I cross this bridge, I notice a group of bored kids with bicycles, waiting to hurl abuse. That’s all I need: I’m tired, I’m about 3 miles form the car… they outnumber me, and my superior grasp of the language, my ability to Morris dance, and my liberal values can’t help me now. They start to shout, but their comments have not yet crystallised into either outright abuse or approbation. I seize the moment, ride up onto the rough track along the top of the flood bank and, as one of them says, “Wow look… is he going to ride down that hill?” I take my pride in my hands and swoop down the side of the floodbank to cheers and encouragement.
Now I’m in unfamiliar territory, and I can’t stop, so I put the hammer down until I get to the end of the track, where I’m confronted by, of course, the steep inner slope of the floodbank. I make a valiant attempt to ride u the bank, diagonally, and nearly make it. Nearly, means the third UPD of the ride.
From here, I do a bit of exploring. Between the flood bank and the river are a few acres of scrubby land with all sorts of interesting paths and bumps. There are also burned out motor scooters (mine was burned out last week :o( ) and I wonder what it is that makes people so destructive.
The next group of kids consists of about 6 lads and a couple of girls getting gently drunk on about two bottles of beer. As I ride past, they applaud. I wave.
Almost back to the car now. I’m starting to notice the seat. A pass a small family group: dad, son, and grandma in her wheelchair. Son asks, “Are there any brakes on that?” I reply, “Yes, when my head hits the floor, I stop.”
He laughs, and there’s something in his tone which convinces me it was a serious question. I turn back and stop for a chat. He seems genuinely interested, but can only think of the one question, so he repeats it in slightly different formats. As I prepare to remount, he wishes me well, and, thankfully, I don’t miss the mount.
A few minutes later, to familiar cries of “Yooooooneeeeeeeeeeemaaaaaaaaaan!” I arrive back at the car.
Coker with 150 mm cranks.
13.09 miles. 21.06 km
Top recorded speed, 16mph. 25.6 kmh.