Watch your manners.

I’ve never competed as a cyclist. While I’m fit and healthy, I am well above average height and weight so suffer an aero and gravity penalty that wouldn’t do me any favours. It’s a relativity thing, gravity and black holes and all that – Einstein, himself a keen downhill mountain biker, based his famous formula upon this premise. E=MC2, where E is energy gels required, M is the middle aged man, and C pertaining to being a cyclist, and 2 confirming that us big guys have to work twice as hard.

He was wise.

Still and all, never having entered a ‘competition’ before, when the opportunity arose to volunteer as a marshal at a Sportive recently I jumped at the chance.

On the day I was allocated to a pit stop, so never got out onto the course. I won’t name the Sportive, and thus identify the organiser, but I felt it could have been better organised. The pit stop was the fairly large car park of a warehouse. Unfortunately, there was only the single road in and out. Perhaps not a problem if everyone could be trusted to be sensible, but this left two traffic streams, incoming and outgoing, sharing the same road. The problem arose when the incoming riders spotted the lovely juicy energy drinks, energy bars, sweeties and crisps being handed out for free. The temptation of this wondrous sight was too much, recalling to mind the scene at the end of Ice Cold in Alex when John Mills finally gets his hands on the pint of beer. The sight was too much for some of them, and like John Mills they were drawn inexorably towards this source of wonder…straight through the outgoing traffic flow, while the sensible riders left their bikes in the bike park and walked the correct route to collect their freebies.

This caused chaos, and it was us poor, unpaid marshals that took the verbal abuse during the ensuing chaos. OK, there were thousands of riders, and maybe only a few dozen who were rude or threatening to the marshals, but it really ruined the whole experience for me. Without these unpaid marshals there would be no event, and after the way I was treated I certainly won’t be volunteering my time and fuel (I had to drive half way across Southern England to get there) to do so again. If enough people felt like that there would be no such events. Ever.

On the upside some of the decent riders were horrified by the behaviour they were seeing, and many felt compelled to apologise to the marshals on behalf of people they have never met before, which was really jolly decent of them. There are some good people left.

Out on the course things were also quite uncivilised on occasion. Several drivers did not think a lawful road closure applied to them and bullied their way through. One driver managed to knock over a marshal while doing this and broke the poor bloke’s hip, and ended up getting himself arrested. I don’t know if I’m being over sensitive, but I think it’s an utter disgrace that a middle-aged volunteer has a very painful and possibly life changing injury because some utter idiot (I would use stronger language, but this is a family friendly blog) did not think the law applied to them.

The bikes and riders were interesting to watch. The fast boys were really moving, and by-passed my pit stop altogether. Some of the times they were posting were absolutely phenomenal. I know it isn’t a race, but it’s no secret that a fair tranche treat it as such and take it very seriously.

The average rider was on a fairly mundane machine. Sure, there were the super light top flight carbon framed space ships, but the majority were on high end alloy framed bikes, or mundane mass produced lower end CF bikes, and beyond the very fast lads there seemed to be no correlation between the value of the bike and the order in which the riders were coming in. There were even a couple of mountain bikes, and one old feller that strongly resembled Catweazel (remember him?) was on a full-squidge mountain bike, and he wasn’t hanging about, coming in to out pit stop easily in the top 1/3 of the shoal.

There were a couple of titanium framed bikes that were very nice, but the real treat for me was the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s 531 steel framed British bikes. Some even had mudguards, and it’s amazing to think that more than 50 years on these wonderful machines were providing comfortably competitive performance to their owners. One of the other marshals had even ridden to the event on a gorgeous 1950’s Claud Butler – it wasn’t mint, but it was good and straight and had a wonderful patina that only 70 years of loving use can bring.

This got me wondering. I’m in my 50’s, and I’m also not mint but I’m in pretty good shape. I’ve upped my mileage this year and my fitness and endurance are probably as good as they have been in the last decade. With all this in mind you may see me on a Sportive myself, perhaps later this year or early the next. I’ve the handsome young Tom Selleck lookalike, so give me a wave as you watch me trundle by.

There’s dog in the old life yet.

Ride safe.

Chopper.

 

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Size matters. Or so I’m told.

Like many cyclists, I own a road bike. Well, 3 in fact.  For the purposes of this discussion I can dismiss my olde Claud Butler, as that is on Imperial sized 27 x 1 ¼” boots

My 2nd road bike is a very nice Pinnacle Dolomite, but that’s on 28c tyres for a little bit of comfort and pothole resilience.  It makes a nice fast commuter or day tourer.

Of more relevance to this essay is my Felt road bike.  Just like me, it’s slim, sexy, lightweight and purposeful.  Just like me, I love it.

As standard this speed beast is on 23c tyres.  However, these original hoops are cracking with age and it is now time to replace them anew.  My latest bout of tyre shopping has caused me to stumble on to the latest fashion trend/scientifically led debate (delete as you see fit).

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The latest thing is that the fatter 25c tyre are, all things being roughly equal, supposed to actually be faster than 23c tyres.  “Rubbish!”, was my first thought.  How could a fatter tyre with higher rolling resistance be faster?  Well, it might actually be true, and perceived by so many to be true that it has now largely become the norm for tarmac racing.

Yes, like for like they will be slightly heavier than a 23c.  This brings increased inertial resistance to overcome, and factional extra mass to accelerate.  However, the difference is slight, and supposedly the benefits overcome this.  It would seem that, again, like for like, a 25c tyre has a smaller footprint that a 23c.  The footprint is fatter, and therefore shorter as it lifts the circumference of the tyre from the tarmac.  The NET surface area is correspondingly supposed to be slightly smaller, which means less rubber in contact with the road, less rolling resistance.

The extra volume of the 25c means it can be run at slightly lower pressures.  This means extra rider comfort and less fatigue, two of the most important yet most overlooked performance factors in performance cycling.  The lower pressure also gives a better suspension effect, which minimises the way the wheel bounces and loses contact with the road, thus reducing wasted energy

The benefit is supposed to be slight, and may riders report that they can’t even feel any real difference. I am as subtle and sensitive as a low flying sledgehammer, so I do wonder if I will notice the difference.  Nevertheless, the difference is supposed to be genuine, backed up with a small degree of science and testing.

A part of me, try as I might, remains skeptical.  Sure, the majority of thinking riders may have swung that way for their tarmac race setups, but just because a majority do something does not make it right.  Majorities have brought a chap named Adolf to power, brought us Brexit, and at one time even believed the Sun orbited the Earth – just because the majority go for something, it does not automatically make it right.

Nevertheless, my skepticism is also balanced by a healthy curiosity, and a will to believe that there really might be something in it, in much the same way I really would like there to be life on Mars, or that I have half a chance with Rosamund Pike.  Hope springs eternal.  That being the case, I am have opted for a set of 25c’s for the Felt, and I will report back in a future post the results of extensive testing on my butt-dynomometer.  Will I feel the difference, or will I simply be following the trend for no gain?

Stay safe.

Chopper.

Norbital.

I had to pop into Northampton the other day.  It was a medical appointment, and as it is for orthapaedic issues I did not fancy cycling.  Nothing worse than riding after being given a good thrashing by some dominatrix lady consultant.

I do own a car, a tiny, minimally polluting one.  I also have a robust, and ever growing, environmental conscience, so as ‘green’ (cough) as it may be I use it as a last resort when there are no other options, not as the default lazy-ass option like most people do.  People who then complain about global warming, pollution, gridlocked roads…

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I was going to get a bus, but a friend of mine works about a mile and a half from the Hospital and he offered me a lift.  Lazy-ass he may be, but whether I am on board or not he’s still making the journey.  In any case, he’s a fellow Smart car owner, so we were not dragging around a half empty car behind our lazy-asses.

Once we got to my friends place of work I struck out on foot, and it was not long before I stumbled upon a cycle path scheme called Norbital.  Northampton + Orbital, I guess.  I cringe to think that someone paid from the public purse came up with that moniker.

In the main the Norbital crew have repurposed some footpaths and some of the wider footways to make shared use paths.  On some of the newer areas they are installing new and purpose built tracks as the buildings go up.

One nice little touch that made me smile.  At one point I stumbled across a trackside device, about the height of a man.  There are sensors in the surface of the path and the impressive digital display shows how many cyclists have been past that day and the total for the week.  It stood at 110 and 11,000 or so, so that’s a helluva lot of 4/5 empty cars not making journey.  It was a lovely little touch, so I do hope it does mot succumb to vandalism.

Norbital seems far from perfect.  Doubtless the budget was miniscule, and being a town cracking on for a thousand years old (some of the infra structure seems almost that old as well!) the Norbital people were both physically and financially constrained in what they could do.  Still, it legitimises cycling on some footpaths where cyclists probably rode anyway, and as tiny as the contribution to transport and the environment is it’s far better than nothing at all.

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I walked to the Hospital and for a short stretch Norbital took me alongside the A45.  The litter was incredible, even the roadside grass seemed dirty and stained with diesel soot.  Cars flashed by at ferocious speeds, virtually every one with 4 empty seats.  I felt rather saddened at the thoughtless consumption and pollution taking place before my eyes, yet also a little cheered that someone, somewhere in authority had done something, no matter how tiny, to try and do something to reduce it.

I urge all councils and local authorities to do something.  Even tiny efforts multiplied a thousand times over can become a significant entity.

But most importantly, I urge you dear reader do something.  If you are reading this then most likely you are a cyclist, and all power too you, you are halfway there.  If we each make tiny changes the effects will also be multiplied, and with that comes demand, and with demand comes the impetus for politicians to act.  Then Chris Grayling, if he takes time out from dooring cyclists for a moment, can stop coming up with plans to cover the South East of England with tarmac and do something positive for a change.

And thus ends the tearful rant.

Ride safe.

Chopper.

 

 

The Old Bill.

The use of bicycles by the police has a long and proud history.  For as long as villains have been using bikes to do a runner, the dibble have been using bikes to catch them!

Of course, bikes have other advantages.  Back in the day there was little alternative – you may have had a horse, but more likely you were pounding the beat the old fashioned way, putting one foot in front of another, and bicycle was far better than that!  Cost effective, silent, visible enough that the public could see you, covert enough that you could sneak up on bad boys, fast enough to cover meaningful distances, slow enough to see what’s going on, and can go where the few motor vehicles of the time had no hope of venturing.  Of course, the environmental impact is minimal, making cycle patrol more relevant today than ever.

Back in the late nineteenth century officers started using their bicycles to get them around the manor, particularly on rural beats.  In most cases these officers would have simply used their own bicycle, although there is a long and proud tradition of the police taking unclaimed bikes from the found property store and pressing them into service as police vehicles.

One of the earliest known instances of a police force acquiring its own bicycles was in 1896 when the Kent Constabulary purchased 20 bicycles for their officers to use.  This sounds dandy, but one must remember that it was common practice right up until the 1970’s for police forces to charge officers for their bicycle, and the deduct a little money from each pay packet until the account was settled.  Imagine having to pay for your own patrol car today, and you can sense how mightily aggrieved the bobbies must have felt about that.

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By 1904 the records show that Kent had 29 bicycle in use, almost certainly among more rural based officers, and this pattern was rapidly repeated all around the county.  This remained largely unchanged until the post war years, when motorcycles started to gain a foothold.  The 2 stroke and partially faired Vecolcette LE “Noddy Bike” started to edge its way in, but luckier officers might have had access to a big BSA thumper, or even a Triumph twin, depending on how much dirt they happened to have on their senior officers.  While motorcycles did edge into the bicycles territory a little, their spread was fairly limited, and the pedal cycle remained supreme.  Things only really started to change from the latter part of the 1950’s and into the Sixties when patrol cars were introduced and over the next few years started to become ubiquitous.

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By the Seventies the patrol car, panda car, squad car, area car, – call it what you will – began to reign supreme, and although cycle patrol remained common its days were decidedly numbered.  By the Eighties the police car really did rule the roost, and cycle patrol became almost extinct, surviving only in the hands of a few long-serving “fossils”.  And that was pretty much the end of that.

At least, it was, until patrol cycling as a tactical tool and specialism started to a gain foothold in the United States.  American law enforcement took the matter very seriously, and IPMBA (the American Police Mountain Bike Association) created the World’s effective syllabus for law enforcement patrol cycle training.  And very good it was too.

This prompted renewed interest in the UK, and here and there the odd and usually very isolated bobby in the UK started applying these principles over here.  They would scrounge funding, beg and borrow equipment, and even resort to the age old practice of acquiring bikes from the found property store.  Things went well, and the individual teams began to grow in stature and number.  It is fair to say that it was not all plain sailing and many senior officers, some of who controlled the budgets, failed to see the many advantages that cycle patrol could bring.  Three things happened in quick succession which forced UK police forces to start placing their cycling projects on a more professional footing.

 

A postman fell off his bike, badly breaking his leg.

 

A PCSO in one of the Northern forces lost his life when he rode up the inside of a large lorry, which then turned left and ran him over.

 

A female PC in one of the English forces suffered career-ending spinal injuries when the seat post of her bike suddenly collapsed back into the frame.

 

All 3 incidents happened in a fairly short space of time, but it was our poor postie that really set the cat among the pigeons.  He took his employer to Court, on the basis that they had sent him on his way on a bike with no training, no safety inspection, no records that the machine had been properly maintained, and it was therefore his employers fault that he was injured.  The Court agreed, and awarded the postie several hundred thousand pounds in damages.  The Court also ruled that PUWER applied to bicycles in use at work – the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations says, in very simplified terms, that any piece of work equipment capable of causing death or serious injury must be properly maintained, records of the maintenance kept, and operators trained in the safe use of this equipment.  The Court had now put cycling at work up there with operating dangerous machinery – if you ride a bike at or for your work, the provisions of PUWER apply – you must be trained how to ride safely, and the organisation must ensure the machine is properly maintained and records kept of this.  Full stop.  Period.  No ifs, buts, excuses or exceptions – it’s the law!

This finally forced the police forces to act.  To suddenly withdraw bicycle patrol now would leave hundreds of bobbies with no daily transport, and the forces without the means to buy dozens more cars each.  A few forces simply shut down all cycling entirely, but most saw sense and appointed a Principle Force Cyclist, who was responsible for arranging maintenance, keeping records, and either delivering or arranging training.

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Some forces turned to IPMBA, and after tweaking the syllabus a little (the bits about using firearms while mounted astride a bicycle were not terribly relevant over here) were soon producing fleets of highly trained, professional and motivated staff.  Very motivated indeed – officers on cycle patrol units have the lowest sickness rate of any other police department in the UK.  Meanwhile, a UK based training organisation called MIAS was already delivering standard MTB training, and quickly developed their own Emergency Services course.  This was the one adopted by most UK forces, and MIAS quickly developed further ‘add-on’ courses in addition to the basic cycle patrol qualification.

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First aid, bike specific unarmed defensive tactics, accredited patrol cycle maintenance, advance road skills, and Search and Rescue are all courses that MIAS teach, and which I am extremely proud and fortunate enough to be qualified to deliver.

And yes – I can ride down a flight of steps.

Until next time,

 

Chopper.

You know you’re a cyclist when…

These photos were taken in my house.  Have a look around your own house for the subtle – and not so subtle – signs that you’re a cyclist.

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The eagle eyed will notice the police cycle helmets.  This is because I was a police patrol cyclist, and worked my way up to become a high level emergency services MTB instructor – that’s a story for another day.  Those particular lids are beyond their recommended lifespan, but I can’t bring myself to bin them because of their link with the past.  Mrs Chopper wants to make hanging baskets out of them.

 

Ride safe.

Chopper.

British steel.

I am fortunate enough to own 8 bicycles, so all the main uses and niches are covered. The notable exception is a carbon framed road bike.  I am a 6’3″+, 265 ex lifter, up to 100lbs or more heavier than many adults, so saving 2lbs off the weight of a bike is a pointless exercise for me.

This also means I’m heavier by a fair margin than many manufacturers 105kg road bike weight limit. Some quote more, but 105kg seems to be a fairly common limit. That’s not a lot of use to a man who regularly eats meals that weigh more than that.

Carbon is immensely strong, but when it does fail it does so explosively and without warning, whereas alloy or steel tend to fail progressively and give visual clues of impending doom. An explosive failure would not be good while leaning into a corner.   I’d probably be fine, but while the risk is tiny it is nevertheless genuine, and without being able to exploit the minor weight advantage it’s a risk not worth bothering with.

This leaves me riding alloy or steel framed machines.

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Steel bike frames are a funny thing and a lot of guff is spoken on the subject.  Old men nod sagely and tell how ‘gas pipe’ steel weighs more than 531 etc.  This is simply incorrect.  Take a nice, high quality Reynolds 531 double butted frame. Now make an identicical frame using cheap steel from a BSO (BSO = Bicycle shaped Object, a derogatory term to describe an ultra cheap, low quality bicycle of very limited usefulness).  Both frames will weigh the same.  The difference is Reynolds 531 is a stronger steel blend, so it can be made into thinner tubing, and thus make a lighter frame, without the risk of the frame falling to pieces. Cheaper steel isn’t as strong – although it weighs the same as Reynolds, because it’s not as strong you would need to use more of it to maintain an equivalent strength.

With me so far?

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Reynolds 531 is one particular blend of high strength steel that in days of yore was in common use for aircraft structures, race car chassis, and bicycle frames. Mass production has now ceased in favour of more modern blends, but they do still make 531 to order for the likes of Pashley and some other specialist frame makers.

4130 Cro-Mo is another aviation grade steel with very similar mechanical properties to 531. A good quality double butted 4130 frame will feel much like a 531 frame, but as the tubesets cost less, and as they can be welded and thus make the production process cheaper, such frames are often cheaper than 531.  4130 double butted road frames are out there, but you’re more likely to find the 4130 tubing on Nineties mountain bikes or touring machines, types of bike where 531 is much less likely to be present.

531 can be made lighter still by reducing the tube thickness in the centre of the tubes length, where strength is needed the least.  Steel frame tubes fashioned in the manner are described as “butted”.  Double butted tubes are made with 2 steps in thickness as one works outwards, one at each end, triple butted two steps at each end, and so forth.  A high quality tubeset can be as thin as 0.4mm in the centre, which is astonishing.

A pleasant side effect of this butting process, aside from the mass reduction, is that it bestows the frame with a pleasant stiff, yet slightly springy character. Stiff, in that you can feel your power being efficiently transmitted to the road. Springy, in that the frame feels comfortable and lively beneath your behind.  It’s hard to explain, but such a frame is a joy to ride.

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Last year I was surfing a very popular UK based cycling forum when I stumbled across an ad for a bike going free.  Free is my kind of price, so I clicked on the link and read further.  It turns out the bike was a Claud Butler Sierra, purchased new in 1983 by Its current owner, who now had no use for it.   He was a very nice retired gent with a fleet of expensive modern machines, and the Claud Butler had sat unused and unloved for many years.  Best of all, it was a 25.5″ frame, perfect for a tall chap like me with a 34 1/2″ inside leg.

A quick trip down to the chaps beautiful house overlooking the river at Kingston Upon-Thames and I was the proud owner of a Claud Butler.  The chap was such a nice fellow and a free Claud Butler, even in that state, was such a generous gift that I gave him a case of beer and bottle of wine.

A bucket of soapy water revealed a 531 framed Claud Butler.  It was intact with all the original equipment present, including SR crankset and gorgeous Suntour VX-GT non indexed gear system.  The wheels were pleasant Suntour hubs with polished and eyeletted Wolber alloy rims.  The rims are unavailable now and sell for very decent money on their own.

I stripped the bike completely.  I considered getting the frame repainted or powder coated, but decided that while the finish was battered it was just sufficiently intact that I would leave it as is.  The paint is only original once, and it still had the original bike shop sticker on it, which is a tiny but nevertheless delightful piece of history.

Some chrome work came up well with just Autosol and patience.  Some required soaking in on oxalic acid.  The headset and bottom bracket got new bearings.  The hubs were stripped and the bearings found to be in excellent order, so were meticulously cleaned and refitted with new grease.

The Brooks seat was just redeemable.  A clean first, then I wetted it and taped it up in the correct form to help it regain it’s original shape.  Once dry it was carefully retentioned, and proofided within an inch of it’s life.

Every single component was cleaned, inspected, polished, greased and refitted. The bike was rebuilt as standard apart from the brake levers.  The original Weinmann hoods were fit only for scrap, and I had some Tektro RL aero levers in my box of spares, so they went on in place of the originals – they look good and without the cables in the way there’s plenty of room to move around when up in the hoods.

The pedals were the only other deviation from standard.  I always ride clipped in, so on went a lovely set of Shimano SPD M-540 pedals.  These are every bit as fantastic as the cheap and excellent 520’s, but they’re a little bit lighter and the polished alloy body has a nice warm finish which suits the bikes character.

On went new bar tape, Schwalbe tyres, tubes, chain, brake blocks and cables.  £50 almost to the penny was spent on new parts, which is a bargain when one considers I now have a quality 531 framed British bike with a bit charm and history behind it.

5076560220_1b72b42abb_bAnd then it was finished.  A few short rides to get it dialled in, and its was ready to go.

It rides beautifully.  It’s not as fast as my Felt road bike, but it’s no slouch either. It’s a very efficient feeling bike to ride, with rider input seeming to be transmitted to the road without loss, and an almost supernatural ability to carry on rolling, rolling, rolling…

It’s very comfortable.  The Brooks saddle suits my butt very well.  The frame isn’t harsh and damps the high frequency vibes well.  The position is quite upright compared to my more modern drop barred bikes, despite them being set up to be as upright as possible to minimise the strain on my duff elbow and shoulder.  The Claud Butler is even more vertical still.

I love all my bikes, but this has quickly become the favourite.  36 years old and riding like new, still delivering the goods, turning heads and starting friendly conversations with strangers wherever we go.

My best friend is an old feller named Colin.  He never let’s me down, he’s dependable, he watches out for me, and he’s a generally decent mate all round. This bike seems to be similar in character, so has been christened Colin in his honour.  In fact, Colin the human adores Colin the bike and remembers well when Claud Butler was still making bikes that were a genuine cut above the norm.  A desirable, aspirational brand, that still has it’s fans today.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the vintage 531 framed British bicycle.  British steel at its best.

Chopper.

Daredevil.

I have several old orthapedic injuries that cause me problems.  None stop me riding outright, but they can limit my endurance and how well I power up steep hills.

I’m having treatment next week which will liable keep me out of the saddle for a week or 10 days.  I’m not looking forward to it – the treatment or the enforced cycling lay off – and my growing apprehension at the coming inevitable pain and discomfort set in motion a train of thought about pain thats actually caused by cycling.

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My experience with pain and cycling started off early in my two wheeled career.  It was the early seventies when I learned to ride, and if I’m honest there wasn’t much going on.  The bright and colourful swinging sixties had passed my remote part of the world completely by.  Music was limited to what we might hear on Dad’s car radio. I was puzzled because the Beatles were telling us that there were 8 days a week, but my little backwater still had only 7.  TV was black and white and had only 3 channels. There was no internet, mobile phones or video games.  Hell, I was lucky because we had central heating – some of my mates didn’t have indoor lavatories.  Aside from the flares and wide collars it may as well have been 1930.

Beyond the the obvious scrapes, bangs and tears that a young sprog endures while learning to ride, my experiences with bicycles and pain began early.  Because there was nothing to do we inevitably started to arse about with our bicycles.  This sometimes involved stunts and tricks, but we soon turned our attention to modifying them.

By the end of one afternoon we all had playing cards held on the seat stays with clothes pegs, which made a nice thrumming motorbike sound.  Someone then hit upon the idea of using fence wire to make rakish looking aerials affixed to the back of our bikes.  I was riding round looking like a five year old hybrid between Peter Fonda and Evel Knieval, but in my mind way cooler.  Sadly, this brief moment of awesome wonder came to an abrupt and screaming halt when I managed to poke myself in the eye with the ragged end of the ‘aerial’.  Cue one rather hasty trip to the Daredevils, War Veterans, and Generally Cool Kids Hospital in my Mums Mini to have the damage repaired.  Fortunately I suffered no lasting damage, and went on to new heights of cycling coolness, and new depths of embarrassing pain.

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Fast forward a few more years and I became a strapping and rather dashing young fellow.  Tight Gary Glitter T shirt (yes, I know, I know), flares, platform soles, I was so cool I could stop ice cream from melting in the heat.

And hot it was, seeing as it was the summer of 1976.  It was so hot Bryan Adams wrote a song about it, although he couldn’t rhyme “seventy six” with anything and changed the song title accordingly.  Lightweight.  Anyway, you think the summer of 2018 was long and hot? It was nothing.  I laugh at the summer of 2018.  I spit upon its lack of heat and turn my back upon its short duration. Ha!

By this time I’d been bought a Raleigh Chopper by my Dad.  It was one stylish looking monster and as soon as I saw it I knew I was going to be a hit with the chicks.  It as the MkII with the T shaped gear shifter.

But for all its style it was also one unstable sonofabitch.  So bad that the police wouldn’t let you use one to do your cycling proficiency test, so I had to use my sister’s pink bike with the flowery decals and basket, an experience that left me deeply traumatised.

I’d also become obsessed with speed.  The antics of the likes of Craig Breedlove made my chest swell with a testosterone pumped manly pride, and I was determined to follow in my hero’s footsteps.  In order to achieve this I took my Raleigh Chopper out of town to the biggest, baddest hill I could find, and readied to launch myself off the top.  I mean, this hill was steep.  Word was climbers preparing to tackle K2 practised here, and even the SAS wouldn’t attempt it without a team of sherpas.

Off I went, faster, faster, fassttteeeerrrrr! That is, until the inevitable Raleigh Chopper wobbles set in. Then the wobbles quickly became full on transonic buffeting that would have left Chuck Yaegar’s Y fronts badly soiled.

The bike spat me off at about 680 MPH (the police told my Mum it was about 25 MPH, but what do they know?), and I landed very badly, injuring my leg and hip.  Cue another visit to the Vets, Daredevils and Cool Dudes Hospital for treatment.  Afterwards I was deeply upset by the damage to my beloved Raleigh Chopper.  How would I emulate Jon and Ponch with such a battered machine?  I immediately placed my hand upon the bible and vowed never to do anything stupid on a bicycle again.

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A few more years passed and I soon forgot my vow.  I’d grown into a strapping young man and a paragon of style.  Tight jeans, denim shirt slashed open to the waist, medallion, mirrored shades from the market, and so much Brut aftershave people’s eyes watered if they came too close to me.

I needed a bigger bike, but my Mum couldn’t afford one.  In the end she got me an old Raleigh 3 speeder that I think may have been pre-war vintage.  It even sported rod brakes.  Still and all, it was in good nick and if I was to get out there and continue my career desperately trying to attract the chicks then I needed wheels.

I, a beggar, definitely could not be a chooser.

Alas, this situation was disrupted a few days later when I got a visit from the puncture fairy on the rear wheel.  I really couldn’t be bothered to repair the tube, so set my fertile mind on working out another solution.  While pondering the problem my eyes fell upon my old Chopper gathering dust forlornly at the back of the garage.  Then I had a monent of genius – I would take the rear wheel from the Chopper and fit it to the rear of my new bike.  It fitted well, and even the 3 speed gears hooked up and worked.

However, there were a few tiny little problems.  The rear wheel of the Chopper was much smaller than the one it replaced, meaning the bike leaned back dangerously.  I thought it looked cool and racy.

Then there was the reduced ground clearance.  Pedalling in a dead straight line was ok, but the slightest turn caused the cranks to smack on the floor.

Oh, and don’t forget the brakes. Or lack of them.  The smaller wheel meant the brake didn’t reach the rim and didn’t work.

But I wasn’t the sort of young daredevil about town who was worried about details – I was a big picture man!

For a few days things went well.  I rolled around town looking cool, and doubtless impressing loads of girls who would surely want to snog me very soon.  This blissful situation soon came to a crashing halt.

Riding along one day I went to pull out to overtake a parked car.  Considering the slightly dodgy nature of the bike I was going a bit quick and pulled out too sharply.  The right hand crank hit the ground, causing the bike to lurch and wobble. I yanked on the brakes, but with no rear brake the bikes retardation abilities were almost halved.  Out of control, unable to brake, going too fast I smashed into the back of the parked Vauxhall Viva (a metallic bronze 4 door HC model, as it happens) and suffered an immediate Class 1 scrotum-handlebar spatial incompatibility incident.

My loves plums seemed to explode, and I lay on the floor clutching at my space hoppers which were bleeding alarmingly though my Erik Estrada tight jeans.  A passer by called an ambulance, and the crew – who by now were on first name terms with me – tried not to snigger too much as they scraped me off the floor and took me to the Exploding Scrotum Ward at the Vets, Daredevils, and Stupid Idiots Hopsital.  One small saving grace was having a nice young lady nurse tend to my bruised spuds, which was better than I was to manage with a girl until I turned 17.

I vowed to go straight, and properly repaired the Raleigh and fitted the correct wheel.  The Viva owner didn’t seem bothered by the testicle shaped dent in his boot lid, so I escaped having to pay for the damage.  A year or so later my Mum scraped the cash together and bought me a gorgeous Triumph 10 speed racer, my first proper bike.  I was in love with this bike, and fell in love with cycling, which from that day forth became a serious and solemn undertaking.

They say a wise man learns from his mistakes.  Rubbish.  A wise man learns from someone else’s mistakes.  Learn from mine.

Chopper.