Monday, 21 April 2014

Pendle Witches

Of course, if you read the last post, you'll know that I am a bit in love with the Pendle Witches Vintage Velo. Last year it took place a couple of weeks after my youngest daughter was born, so I skipped it. I was late getting my entrance form in this year, even though I very much wanted to do it again. So I had a few weeks of fretting before I got a phone call from the incredibly modest and down to earth organiser, Sean McAdam, to let me know that I had forgotten to sign my cheque, but not to worry, because he does that sort of thing all the time too. Sean works in a bike shop a few miles from me, so I called in when I was doing my Christmas shopping to turn the cheque into a valid means of paying the entrance fee. Between then and race day, I spent a lot of time anticipating. And when I say anticipating, I mean either:

- Making plans to modify my bike to give me a hope of hell in getting up the hills; or

- Making plans to implement an epic, pro standard training regime, to give me a hope in hell of getting up the hills; or

- Imagining myself sprinting across the finishing line to the cheers of thousands and immediately having a massive bottle of champagne thrust into my hands. Possibly some sort of complimentary "sports massage" might happen shortly afterwards.

(Ken Johnson's picture of Eddy Merckx doing his thing in Montreal - 1974 - hosted on Flickr)

None of these things actually happened, but although all three turned out to be wild fantasies which I definitely should not be publishing on the internet, they weren't entirely without merit. For instance, that first idea of doing the ride on a bike which is fit for the job: Modern bikes are welcome on the ride, but vintage bikes and the people who are prepared to try and ride them up some of the fiercest gradients in the North of England are part of what makes the Pendle Witches special. Which suits me just fine, as I have three bikes in the cellar that are older than me. Of those three bikes, one of them has only five gears. On a bike, gears work a lot like they do in a car: the lowest gear is the one where the engine turns over the most umber of times during one turn of the road wheels. It is the gear where the engine is strongest, the one that you use for starting and for climbing massive hills. My first bike is extremely flattering to ride - it always feels lighter than it is, and it is always egging you on and telling you to go a bit faster or ride a bit further. It is also an astounding, lit-from-within orange colour:

But the Pendle Witches is a serious morning's work, and none of the five gears on my first bike are low enough to get me up the hills.

My second bike has more gears - 12 of them in fact - but I am half way through trying to build a new rear wheel for it at the moment. Also, it is heavy and incredibly uncomfortable to ride. Going over a pothole on it is similar to what I imagine being set about by some sort of Chuck Norris style martial arts expert with a nasty glint in his eye might feel like. So that was my second bike ruled out.

My third bike is the Aerospace Pro. I knew without thinking about it very hard that this was the bike to ride the Pendle Witches on. It is a working class hero for one thing: built in Birmingham and sold for peanuts, it was in its day a featherweight miracle, as light and as fast as bikes costing many times more. It is comfortable and fluid to ride, regardless of what the road surface is like. And like all heroes, it has one fatal flaw: the front fork - that's the bit that holds the front wheel and connects it to the frame and handlebars - is made of an aluminium casting joined to a steel tube. The rumour that has followed the Aerospace almost since it was born is that the casting and tube have a habit of separating from each other.

However, I must have ridden hundreds of miles on the Aerospace since I finished putting it back together, and over that time I have come to trust the bike in a way which demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding on my part of the way that metal fatigue occurs. So, the Aerospace got the job - again.

There was just one problem. While the Aerospace's designers created a fine, beautifully engineered bike, they sort of did so on the assumption that anyone wishing to ride it up hills would first go out and get some legs like Sir Chris Hoy's. On a geared bike, the bigger the biggest cog attached to the back wheel is, the easier going up hills will be. The smaller the smallest cog attached to the pedals is, the easier going up hills will be. On the Aerospace, the smallest cog at the front has 42 teeth, and the biggest at the back has 25. What this adds up to in practical terms is an invitation from the designers to get involved in some Spartan style training or suffer. Although I did spend an hour the day before the race trying to find a bigger cog to go on the back, ultimately I chose the latter option.

I couldn't sleep the night before the ride. I tinkered with the bike before bed time, and I was up and away early. The Pendle Witches starts from the Craven Heifer in Rawtenstall, and I got there before the weather had decided whether it was going yo be cruel or kind.

To be continued.

1 comment:

  1. Ha! The Pro, eh? I need to check the freewheel on mine. 25 is cruel. I do steep hills on my 28 (on the red flash), but I'm suffering on a bad day.