What a couple of weeks I’ve had. I don’t really want to talk about the day job, but needless to say I’ve been appointed centre manager – starting after Easter. Two weeks ago I was at the point of walking out.
Then there is the bike ride! The Prudential RideLondon 100YES! I’ve have a place! I still can’t believe it, hence why this blog is called DNA. I think both Pam and I have a little bit of cycling in our DNA – if that’s possible.
Unfortunately Pam didn’t get a place on the ride and Pam’s link to cycling is direct - her granddad was a track cyclist. For me it’s a bit more complex, my dad always claims we have links to the Rudge bike family. I’ve never found any proof and would love to be corrected. However, according to an election website there are less than 4000 voters named Rudge in the UK, so I suspect we’re all related somewhere along the line.
Preparing for the ride started on Saturday with a bike fit at Bicycles by Design in Coalport. In photographs of two events I rode last year I didn’t look quite right on the bike – I rode with extended arms. It wasn’t uncomfortable, but might be when attempting 100 miles. So I thought it was best to get a proper fit. So the saddle has gone up, a new stem fitted and cleats adjusted. On a test ride on Sunday I was averaging 2mph faster on freewheel sections of road. Therefore I recommend everyone gets a proper fit before venturing out for any distance.
My cycling really started when I was about seven; I found it difficult to learn to ride a bike. I think in part due to stabilisers being popular in the 1970s, my parents had fitted them in good faith to a very old bike my dad had bought from someone at work. When I say old, I really mean vintage – it had rod brakes! Eventually losing patience the bike was about to be sold on. Stabilisers off I was given one last chance to try it before it went off to a new home, off I went around the garden like a rocket. Swung around the garden shed, through the apple trees and only realised my dad wasn’t holding the saddle when I turned for home.
My dad went off up the road to give the new owner his money back while I carried on circuiting the garden with increasing speed. My parents have a picture of me in 70s dodgy Sunday best riding over the Priorslee banks after chapel. They couldn’t keep me off the bike that day. The great thing about having a 1940s bike was it could go anywhere. It was built for potholed roads and cobbles, I guess I was mountain biking before it became recognised.
My dad completely stripped the bike, repainted it and fitted it out for my birthday. I really did love that bike. It was heart breaking years later when my mum thought she was helping out a local destitute family by giving it to them so the boys could have a bike to get a paper round and earn some cash. They got the paper round – took the wages, burnt the papers and trashed the bike. Never trust chavs!
The next bike was a Chopper - another salvage job. This time a neighbour’s son had snapped off the bottom bracket. My dad worked for a small engineering company with a brilliant fabricator who managed to weld it back on without any trace of a join. Once again my dad worked wonders with this bike. Perhaps this was Rudge DNA and bikes meeting - not for the first time. We spent hours one Saturday night fitting new shiny parts and truing wheels when we could have been watching Jim’ll Fix It. Even at the time, watching dad with chalk and a spoke spanner was more interesting.
That bike really was something to behold. 1970s turquoise blue with hand painted green snakes. Money couldn’t buy anything that looked remotely similar. Even the gear change was white vinyl (salvaged puller from a curtain system). A truly unique bike! Some of the posh kids around passed the odd comment because it was a MK1 chopper and built at home, but I really didn’t care. It rode as good as it looked. My dad really should have been a bike builder and not an electrician, the world would have been a safer place.
At primary school we weren’t allowed to ride bikes to school, except for cycling proficiency training and the subsequent test. This would be my first act of rebellion – I had a great Aunty Nelly who lived by the school and agreed daytime parking in her coal shed. Headmaster and his rules for limiting the mobility of the proletariat completely stuffed! There were some unhappy faces on the school walk when I cruised past.
Aunty Nelly and her husband great Uncle Edgar were on my Nans side of the family. A long and proud family of miners – rules were for breaking. At work I’ve run into the trust fund socialists who talk about helping the miners under Thatcher, I shock them when I reply I helped the cause in the 1970s strike and the 80s. Yes I was only 7 years old when Uncles Edgar, Harry H, Harry T and cousin Dennis used to call and see my Nan after the daily punch up with the police and scabs outside the pit. My mum and I were on tea duty, in addition to that I was even sent to school in red football socks to wind up my infants teacher who we suspected was a tory. My granddad (Nans side) had died in 1957 due to a coal industry related illness, he had been fundamental in unionising the Shropshire coalfield – hence the daily visits during the strike and regular weekly visits from a member of the extended family during the rest of the year. Then people wonder where my politics come from!
Back to the bikes! My Chopper finally gave in around 1981 when the bottom bracket finally succumbed to metal fatigue. Before it died it had one surprise for dad, it nearly killed him and would have been YouTube gold today. While I was away at school he decided to borrow it to cycle to Beverley (about two miles away) to buy a part for his marooned car. Dad didn’t know that the MK1 Chopper had a design feature – it pulled wheelies really easily. The MK2 had extended wheel stays to take the danger or fun away (depending if you’re a parent or child).
The M54 extension hadn’t been built then and the Snedshill Furnace junction was very busy, complete with HGVs, cars and the odd tank road testing from COD Donnington. Into this maelstrom of traffic ventures my father, who decides in order to get across the junction he has to push down extra hard on the peddles. Picture my turquoise mean machine with a Hitler look-a-like (he does) in brown nylon flares pulling a wheelie across a T junction on a busy A road - while trying to stay on the saddle. Something he failed at as he landed arse first in the middle of the road. Of course it was my fault! Despite being locked up in school some 20 miles away.
The next bike also had history – a Black Hawk 10 speed. My mum worked at Woolworths, a customer had paid a deposit for the bike but failed to collect it. So the manager let mum have it at cost price as the deposit covered the mark up. This bike would carry me for 100s of miles. One of the few advantages of being locked away in a dingy boarding school was a bike mad form tutor - Mr. Devy. He would organise youth hostel trips to avoid weekend duties. We started local venturing to South Shropshire and built up to further afield. One weekend we got as far as Malvern – 125 mile round trip. He also started a tradition that I have continued with my own pupils – when hillwalking every summit is a chocolate stop. Following the trips with Devy I haven’t really been off a bike since.
As a teacher I don’t think I would be allowed to run some of his trips today – main roads, no support vehicle, no mobile phones, only a vague idea of a route and as for risk assessment; did they ever exist before 1995? Well he did teach us to ride defensively, so we didn’t have accidents and I have evolved to become the mamil that drivers just love to hate!
Therefore as I train for the London 100, if you feel intimated by a large lycra clad cyclist who will not allow you to own the road, who will try and chase you down and who has a very prominent middle finger. Just remember it’s nothing personal, I have cycling in the DNA!