I heard it quite clearly. The BANG of the stopping pistol. That’s right, the stopping pistol. Like a starting pistol, it tells me when I need to stop. All last week my mind was like a pendulum, swinging from one extreme to the other. I either felt strong and resourceful, or extremely distressed and tearful, with nothing in between. I needed to identify why that was and do something to change it.
It isn’t rocket science; it’s a matter of listening to what I usually already know intuitively. I worked on my book, completing the current batch of corrections on Monday, and decided to put it aside until the end of today (Sunday). This suited my proof reader as well. I was too enveloped in it and needed to kick back for a while.
At that point I received an email asking if I would like to ride out with other Sustran’s Rangers from north Devon on Thursday, as they wanted to ride around my locale. That was shortly followed by another, asking if I could plan a route. Prayers answered, I said yes straight away as it would mean no laptop for at least one day and I hadn’t seen the gang for since Christmas when I gave them a slide show.
It wasn’t just the book that was troubling me though. I was playing a waiting game with many aspects of the ride preparation and equipment that were out of my hands. My patience was stretched as I realised that some of these weren’t going to happen, not yet anyway. I made the decision that I needed to take back control and formulate plan B. By doing that I’d regain full ownership of my project, the responsibility for moving forward and feel less adrift, or so I hoped.
I made a phone call to MSG Bikes in Lancing (www.msgbikes.com) to talk to Alasdair and Shelagh. They run a remarkable business. Alasdair is a man of many talents. He and Shelagh import Santos Bikes, bikes that are individually fit to the customers’ needs before purchasing (unless you buy a special like I did) and then fitted perfectly to the rider on arrival. They run an ergonomic bike fitting service that doesn’t just measure you and fit the existing bike/parts to those measurements. Alasdair’s encyclopedic knowledge means that he builds the bike to your own needs and requirements, each part chosen becauseit will work best for you, your body’s biological quirks, the way you ride, and the type of riding you intend to do.
I’ll expand on that later on. My phone call was intended to simply identify when the new wheels I needed could be made. It turned into a full discussion of sponsorship possibilities, and the building of a new bike, made specifically to meet my own requirements. By the time I put the phone down, I’d agreed to drive down to Lancing on Friday for the first ergonomic fitting session, where I’d be measured up, observed pedaling, and we could discuss exactly what might work best for me. Putting the phone down, the stress I’d been feeling simply fell away and the pendulum stopped, leaving me level for the rest of the week.
I now had two free days. The book was at one end of the week and my trip to MSG Bikes at the other. In between, I stripped Irene of the Rohloff hub and various other bits and returned her to original trim with the Deore derailleur gears, crank set and shifters. All too soon it was Thursday morning and time to ride.
Chris had called and asked if we could meet earlier than originally planned. That would be fine, but I had to cycle 14 miles to meet them before starting the ride I’d planned to do with them. On the way there, I heard a clanking noise and the gears began jumping around. Stopping to inspect the chain, I found a broken link. Assuming it was the one I had joined when rebuilding Irene, I got the tools out and shortened the chain, being very careful to make a good job of rejoining it.
Meeting up with the crew en route, we all pedaled back towards Hatherleigh in the sunshine. As we approached town, the cracking I’d heard previously returned to haunt me. Inspecting the chain I found another rivet popped. Shimano say you can’t rejoin 9 speed chains unless using a special pin, but that’s what we’ve all done previously. Persuading people to have a cup of tea at my house, I dug out my Dahon folding bike whilst they ate lunch. The rest of the ride was a joy of great company and warm sunshine. As we approached Sheepwash, I felt the left crank of the bike come loose. At that moment I also realised that I’d left my bike tool in Irene’s saddle bag. Asking around, I was astounded that nobody else had a tool to tighten the crank up, a chain tool, or the knowledge of how to mend things. They were all touring cyclists, but rely on the bike not going wrong, or a bike shop coming to the rescue. I couldn’t do that. Maybe I’ll run some workshops?
I was 5 miles from home and decided that I could walk the hills and roll down the other side. Crank in hand, literally, I wasn’t perturbed by the mechanical problems. I’d had three more incidents today than on the whole of my Round Britain ride. I was so relaxed that these minor problems just showed me how good a decision it had been to put the book and everything else away. My ride was forty something miles and I arrived home with a big smile to a hot bath and lots of food. It had been just what I’d needed.
The buzz of the day lasted into the evening, as I bathed and ate, happy at my days pedaling. That was just as well because, by doing this, I was playing another trick on my mind. I hadn’t driven a car a long way in years, and 200 miles each way is a long journey. The natural high from the cycling would mask the anxiety I was beginning to feel. By the morning it would be too late to worry as I’d be on my way by then. I knew if I felt rough in the morning I’d have to cancel the trip. I can become dissociated… My mind removes me from the situation it can’t cope with and driving becomes a very dangerous pastime at that point. Speed seems to exacerbate that process. It’s part of my illness, and one that has seen me driving less and less, until recently, when things have improved.
I woke early, excited at the prospect ahead. Getting ready, I decided that limiting my speed to just under 70 mph on the faster sections and 50 mph on the other ones would give my mind a chance of keeping up with it all. At 12:15 p.m. I found myself walking into MSG, a little fuddled, but otherwise unscathed. The traffic had been light, which helps, and I’d never gone over 70 mph.
As we sat, Alasdair and Shelagh ate lunch, whilst I drank tea. . Alasdair is a modest man who loves solving engineering problems and developing new ideas. He designed the Qoroz Expedition One titanium bike himself, and the frames will have his name on them. I took it for a ride and it’s incredibly well balanced and responsive, a testament to his engineering abilities. He is developing a concept called Bicycles for You. It’s a concept whereby cycles are built around the individual. People pay big money for off the peg cycles that simply won’t work for them, given their level of fitness, flexibility, what they are doing. Alasdair wants to change this. Imagine a world where everybody rides a cycle that suits them and their needs, where no two cycles are the same. It a brilliant idea and one that we’ll hear a lot more about, I’m sure.
After lunch, I became the guinea pig to Alasdair and Shelagh’s measuring devices. Static and dynamic measurements were made. Alistair picked up that I was nervous, from the way I pedaled on the static rig. I’d been holding myself together to make the journey here, and was tight as a drum. Apparently, it’s quite common in the people they work with. From simply observing me ride, Alasdair could see where I was compromising around comfort, by holding the bars a certain way. He could see that one leg was slightly longer than the other, placing more stress on my left leg. He could also see many other things that I had never thought about. It was an incredible experience watching them work through the things they needed to know in order to build my bike up.
Once done, we sat with a specification list, a cup of tea and a large plate of Hob Nobs. We then worked slowly and methodically through exactly what I would like fitted to the bike. Things like crank length and stem reach are roughly decided from the measurements taken earlier, but everything to do with riding position, other than the frame and cranks, can be altered at the second, much more detailed fitting, after the bike is built.
For those who love bikes, here’s a rough spec list. The frame is another Santos Travelmaster 2.6 frame, this time in Cro-moly. It’s Rohloff specific, and that means no chain tensioner or torque arm is required, lightening the whole thing. I’m having a wheel set built using CSS rims. These are impregnated with Tungsten Carbide by firing it at the rim at supersonic speed. The result is a rim that wears much more slowly under braking, removing the need for disc brakes. The front wheel will contain a Son dynamo, the best you can buy. I want it to last many years, so the much cheaper Shimano option was dropped. It will power all my electrical needs on the road in conjunction with a Biologic Reecharger, a clever battery/ transformer that is specifically designed to charge iPhones and other devices on the road.
Alasdair’s knowledge showed again here as he suggested choosing a dynamo with the same hole pattern as the rear wheel. In the event of a broken rear rim, I could then use the front rim to build a new rear wheel, putting a cheaper rim on the front which is subject to less stress. I’d never have thought of that.
The wheels will sit on Schwalbe Marathon Supreme tyres (26″ x 1.6″) kindly donated to this ride by http://www.schwalbe.com and the braking will be done using simple Deore vee brakes, which can also be upgraded. Irene has an old-fashioned quill type stem and the new bike will be a headset style stem, easier to adjust and lighter. Cro-mo forks will run in a Santos headset. These have stainless steel bearings and Irene’s has never been touched, despite living outside for four months and 7000 plus miles. Swept back riser bars will steer it all and I may/may not fit stubby bar ends from Cane Creek. Gear shifting is done using Rohloff’s twist grip and the brake levers will be simple Shimano Deore. My hands will rest on ergonomic paddle shaped grips to ease wrist stress. I love these and they make a huge difference to comfort.
The cranks will be Deore. Straight forward Shimano cranks and will run on a standard square-tapered bottom bracket. I can’t decide which way to go with so many new styles and developments, so this is fine for now. An SRAM, 8 speed chain around a 38 tooth hardened chain ring will drive it along, with a 16 tooth, Rohloff rear sprocket. This gives the lowest gearing that Rohloff will warranty and gives me the puff for all those big hills with a load aboard. I’m staying with double-sided SPD type pedals, but upgrading to XT, or something similar for durability.
Sitting on top of the basic seat post will be my B17 Flyer, Brooks sprung saddle will increase comfort and take some of the road shock that Ireland is famous for. The Cane Creek Thudbuster remains on Irene. I will also stick with SKS mudguards for road use. They are all but indestructible for general use. Finally, a composite bottle holder will be fitted under the down tube for my fuel bottle (It’s hard to get gas in Ireland) A second will go on the seat tube and a large Topeak holder, that takes Evian type bottles, will go on the top of the down tube. There will also be a prop-stand, something incredibly useful with a trailer.
I can only have this bike built because of the generosity of Alasdair and Shelagh at MSG Bikes. I’m proud to have them as sponsors and would like to thank them for the support they are giving me. The type of customer service they give is getting harder and harder to find these days.
Phew, ‘techy’ bit completed. It had been a fairly intense day and I was still 200 miles from home. I decided to try driving back as I often find stopping overnight leaves me even more tired the next day. This way I could drive on adrenaline, not a good idea, but as a one-off it would be fine. By the time I left, it was 6:00 p.m. The drive home took around four hours with several stops and I rolled into Hatherleigh shattered, but incredibly happy.
The week wasn’t over though. I have recently written a piece for Mind’s website as a guest blogger, which will appear in the next couple of weeks. Another site I’m part of has asked me to do the same. Suffer In Silence No More (S.I.S.N.M) is a new Facebook page and about to launch its own website. The idea, created by Nic Elgey, is to bring people with mental health issues together. It provides a place where people can talk openly, share ideas and support one another. It doesn’t provide counselling and advice, it’s a meeting place to vent frustration, make friends and feel you are not alone. I like it so much that I’m on the staff, helping to man the page, as part of a group of people. That means somebody will always be around for anybody who wants to talk. I’ve written a short guest piece for the website when it launches and think Nic’s idea will really take off.
Going back to what I was saying at the beginning, I’m resting up all weekend. No riding until Tuesday and no more writing after I post this. If you work for yourself, which is what I’m trying to start-up here, you can always feel you have to be doing something. After Friday, I realised that there aren’t that many things that I have to do beyond getting my book out this month. If push comes to shove, I can simply pack my gear and roll off into the sunset in May. That’s my real focus, and with less than two and a half months to go, I’m getting excited at the prospect of travelling again, what I will see, and who I might meet on the way.