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The Sounds of Winter
The torturous grating of wet, salty gritty crud against gears, hubs, braking tracks and cranks almost screamed out to me, “Welcome to Winter, 2013 /14!” I sometimes feel that I’m the classic ‘Goldfish’; it only takes a few months (or, sometimes, weeks) of summer for me to quickly forget the frozen extremities, acres of heavy (un-aerodynamic) clothing, sodden toes and laboured riding that typifies winter for your average recreational cyclist.
Grinding along, next to Wet Wipe, our almost brand new winter bikes clanked, rattled and graunched away beneath us; like a couple of scrappers, we’d salvaged from a skip. I was almost oblivious to the relentless torrent of crap cascading from both wheels; evenly coating my lower half and practically every square inch of my formerly pristine bike, with the gritty, abrasive paste that clings to every inch of your favourite lanes at this time of year.But, that sound; that terrible sound, served as a constant reminder that my lovely winter trainer was probably suffering more than me at that point. Turning to Wet Wipe, I said, “Ah, the sound of grinding drivetrains – the sound of winter”. His response was typical Wet Wipe, “Best get used to it until about mid May, mate!”
And, it wasn’t just the sound. A moment in the wheels became a new form of cruel and unusual punishment as a laser-designated salvo of filth cascaded from the preceding tyre, coating upper-torso, face, riding glasses and (should you be remiss enough to open your mouth) teeth with the same gritty paste, currently working it’s way into every moving part of your bicycle.
Sixty miles later, as we sat outside the pub with a well-earned hot coffee and bacon sandwich, I surveyed the damage. Not only did I look as though I’d just completed a ‘Tough Mudder’ run, but my lovely bike (which is still waiting for mudguards to be fitted) looked as though it had just completed a full Spring Classic. So caked in filth was it that the normally bold Trek logo on the downtube was almost completely obscured. And that’s to say nothing of the precious moving parts – most notably, the lovely 105 Groupset, which had all but disappeared beneath this hardening crust of grime. As we finished our coffee, I resolved to go to work with the cleaning kit the very moment I got home.
Of course, resolutions are made to be broken, aren’t they! Arriving home, I hastily showered and sat down with another coffee whilst I downloaded my Garmin data. Then, I happily breezed past my poor winter trainer, complete with it’s new exoskeleton, propped gently up on the turbo trainer mat in the hallway. Walking through the door, I said to myself, “I’ll definitely clean her tomorrow”.
Resolutions are Made to be Broken!
Monday morning dawned bright and crisp – perfect cycling weather. A rare week of annual leave was upon me, the wife off to see her friend in Kent and a full day of cycling beckoned. Running through my usual pre-ride checks, conscience weighed heavily upon me though. Up-close and personal, the toll that yesterday’s 70 miles had taken was plain to see; not a drop of lube left on the chain, brake calipers almost completely covered in a cement-like crust, braking tracks so covered in grime that I nearly had to back the brakes off to allow the wheels to move and every inch of frame now plastered with mud, grit, grime, salt and horse shit.
But, conscience is temporary on such occasions. And I quickly become adept at finding valid reasons to justify my laziness; “It’s going to get covered again today!”, “It’s my winter bike – that’s how it should look” and, my personal favourite, “I really can’t be arsed – I just want to ride!”
Striking out into this glorious sunny winter morning, the cacophony of noises, growing louder with every turn of the pedals, mattered not a jot. I rode, I savoured the traffic-free roads and new route and told myself – yet again, “I’ll clean her tomorrow”. But Monday’s good weather continued into Tuesday, prompting my wife to decide that we should seize the day and go riding. We did. The noises grew louder; my conscience weighed heavier and, turning into my drive, I knew that the time had finally come.
A Man, a Bike and his Destiny!!
Wheeling the bike down to the garage, an inner calm descended upon me. I felt like a criminal about to confess, unloading a burden of guilt; a man on the edge of absolution. Having neglected my alloy beauty so badly, I didn’t just clean her – I devoted myself to the task. Wheels were removed – allowing them to be thoroughly scrubbed. Dropouts were treated to my stiffest brush and best degreaser. Chain removed and immersed in a personal paraffin bath. Every inch of frame lovingly washed, dried and buffed with my softest micro-fibre towel; brake callipers brushed, caressed, loved and fettled.
Then, as the sun slipped below the horizon, the chain and wheels were attentively refitted, pivot points and mechanisms oiled, chain diligently lubed and, finally, the icing on the cake of a bike clean, gears fettled and coffee quaffed as I sat back with a rosy glow of inner contentment – admiring this near-showroom beauty, gently glinting in the garage before me.
Wheeling her back to the house, an eerie silence had descended upon us. Gone was the grating of crud covered braking tracks, nudging filthy brake pads. Wheel hubs and bearings no longer involuntarily graunching out their disapproval and freshly lubed chain ready to spin with a velvety smoothness against the newly scrubbed cassette and chain rings.
And it’s then that I realized how deeply satisfying bike cleaning is. It’s not like cleaning a car – although it can take as long (or longer). I’ve often heard people say that their car seems to run better after a good clean. Realistically, we all know that has no basis in fact. Cleaning a car does no more than remove the layer of grime plastered over it’s exterior. Cleaning a bike, on the other hand, involves maintenance on another level – well, at least it does if you do it properly.
Contentment - on a Different Level.
When you clean a car, you generally don’t maintain a single functional or moving part; when you clean a bike, you do. Cleaning a car simply says to the rest of the world, “I’m a conscientious owner”. Cleaning a bike is an act solely for you – there is far less metal on show on a bike (and usually, it’s obscured by your legs) so you are cleaning it for you and you alone. On Tuesday afternoon, not only did hundreds of square centimetres of alloy get some TLC – but also, 116 chain links, countless pivot points and a clutch of cables. And, unlike the car owner, the next time I spin a pedal, snick a gear or squeeze a lever, the payback for that four or so hours of my life will be tangible and evident. Brakes will slow progress more effectively, gears will snick smoothly between ratios and the ever-present Ivor The Engine-esque wheezing from the drive train replaced with the silky-smooth swoosh synonymous with the stalwart Shimano 105.
This evening, my beloved Domane 2.3 stands proudly in my hall – gleaming as she did that day (just a month or so ago) when I collected her. My conscience is lighter, my pride restored and, once again, I feel like a genuine cyclist – rather than simply a person who has a bicycle.
Be a Cyclist – Not just a person who owns a Bicycle!!!
We all know that cycling is good for the body – and good for the soul. No one could challenge the simple pleasures to be found in a good few hours in the saddle on a sunny morning but the rewards of being a cyclist run far deeper. Every time I clip into my bike, I know that I’m responsible for the smooth running and safety of the machine I ride. Not only does it make me take pride – it makes me take responsibility. When people see me on my bike, they don’t see the gleam from the bodywork – but I know it’s there. Even better, when I find myself on a stretch of quiet country lane, with the drive train swooshing almost silently beneath me; brakes gripping predictably as I feather them into corners and gears snicking cleanly up and down, I will know that it is the sweat from my brow and finesse from my fingers that keep it this way.
The weekend approaches and I know that my beauty will, once again, have to contend with the worst that winter in rural Essex can throw at her. I’ll ride her, enjoy her then love and fettle her once more – cleansing my bike and my soul in one fell-swoop.
So, my plea to you is simple – don’t just cycle – become a cyclist. Know your machine, love your machine, learn about your machine, clean her, fettle her and enjoy her all the more as you strike out into the lanes with a gleaming machine, clear conscience and confidence that every single moving part has been loved, cleaned and adjusted to the best of your ability. I promise you that these simple acts will add an extra dimension to every ride.
I’ll shut up now – because the other bike needs a clean!