Sunday, 19 January 2014

Wheels & Withies

The Redstone Centre : Living willow structures
This ought to be good cycling country. It’s undulating enough to give you a few slopes to ride down and neither so flat that you can’t make headway against the wind nor so hilly that you have to stand on your pedals. Someone once told me that cycling across the Lincolnshire Fens was more difficult than it sounds. There were no slopes to give impetus.

So, with miles of winding lanes, old railway lines and canal towpaths it ought to be ideal here for my new hybrid bike. It should perform well on tarmac and go off-road when required. 

That assumes, though, that you're a good cyclist (I’m not) and good at mending punctures. I’m not good at that either. On my fourth trip out on my new hybrid bike I did it again. I must have ridden over a thorn somewhere along my 13 mile round-trip. The next time I fetched it out the front tyre was as flat as a pancake. I was all fingers and thumbs and broke the valve when I tried to pump it up. I swallowed my pride, took it to my friendly, local repair shop and he fixed it and put me straight.

While I was there, I had a rummage through his clearance bike-clothing. I came away empty handed. It was all very well and good, padded cycling pants and stretchy lycra tops ... but I’m under pain of death not to wear anything of the kind. My eldest has promised to ‘divorce’ her parents if I as much as look at lycra. She’s right of course. It might be sleek and streamlined but I’d look a complete prat. Or even more of one.

The thing is, I’m not as supple as once I was. I can no longer lithely swing my leg back off the saddle and clear the wheel when I stop – if ever I could. I sort of topple over or else catch my baggy trousers on the saddle. I’ve even collapsed in a heap of jangling gears and ticking wheels. I’m getting better at it though and once or twice have vaulted off magnificently – or at least, alighted without getting tangled.

I found the same thing when helping a friend with his willow harvest early this month. Sounds romantic, doesn’t it? Stooping down and cropping the withies close to the knuckle and close to the ground. He grows them for his basket weaving and willow-sculpture business. What else would you do with Grade 3 agricultural land on the edge of town? Why, run a basket weaving business, country-craft and management/team building centre of course.

Clipping the withies is one thing, straightening up afterwards quite another. But I felt the better for it after two days of honest manual labour (oh, alright, two mornings ...)

'It's gripped, sorted ... Let's ...'
Now I’ve got the bike back on the road I’m feeling even more virtuous. It’s the first time I’ve cycled for about 5 years – I got fed up of the punctures on my old reconditioned unisex bike. All I have to do now is go easy on those valves and we’re fixed, gripped, sorted ... As they used to say on The Fast Show, 'Let's off road.