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Sunny springtime on Bodmin

I spent the afternoon of New Year’s day thumbing through photographs, most of which I have taken on the various cycle tours I’ve completed since 2010. It was like falling through a trapdoor in time to another realm, one where my memories are pin-sharp and smiles are kept by the hundred in bags. The more I looked the more I wanted to delve further and time seemed to warp as minutes became hours. There were moments when I felt I was seeing things, held here as a single moment and framed, for the first time. I half expected to turn my head and find the scenery moving with it.

Each photograph took me away somewhere else, somewhere special, somewhere that I had taken the time to stop and record something. Sometimes you look at photos and wonder what inspired you to take them in the first place. Other times you just know instantly when you see it again, your camera capturing perfectly the image and moment you intended. People, places and time all are stored here on my hard drives as well as up in the cloud, previously a good place to keep your head before geeks stole it for their own devices. As I dip in and out of years long gone I wonder who else is looking fondly at their own catalogue of memories at this moment.

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Cafe of the year: Avon-Kennet canal (NCN4)

Stepping away after several hours of being immersed in the past I felt uplifted. Not so much by remembering what I had achieved but from the sheer volume of happy memories captured forever by the push of a button. What I found interesting was that it wasn’t so much the places as the people and the sense of purpose I gained from travelling that mattered. I was left feeling that it doesn’t matter where or how far I travel, as long as I get out and explore. In an age where flying anywhere in the world at the drop of a hat is both cheap and normal I felt comforted by the fact that just down the road, relatively, seems like an adventure still to me.

I’ve grown extremely fond of these small isles during my lifetime. Despite the obvious setbacks like: the weather, crowded roads and poor public transport. Perhaps it’s based in familiarity, I don’t honestly know but I hold no great desire to travel the world, by cycle or any other means. I can remember deciding that I wanted to get to know my own back yard well when I was younger and despite traveling to many other countries I’m always happiest in ‘blighty’ and feel there is still a great deal to uncover.

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Memories of riding along the Nantes-Brest canal, Brittany, 2013.

I can only stand the heat of an arid, dry climate for a short time before I begin to hanker after green and verdant as my preferred landscape. I hate sunbathing and love being active. Sitting around all day waiting for it to cool enough to do that provided the source of much anxiety and frustration on my climbing sorties to Spain and Southern France in earlier years. The same was true of the many motorcycle trips I made when heat, helmets and leathers were often not conducive to enjoying the ride. After just a few days the novelty of almost constant sunshine would wear off as each and every morning dawned as bright and hot as the last.

What my photos can never show are the steepness of hills, ground up slowly with steely determination, strong headwinds, cussed and sworn at in the hope they might reduce, or the sheer accumulative effort required to power yourself across any part of the planet, big or small. Cycling is hard work but that is partly why it’s so rewarding. You make the effort and therefore can own the reward as one that you’ve earned, viewing it later as still and rose-tinted photographs, or video’s if you’re that way inclined, which I’m not.

You may not have thought cycling was much fun had you seen me returning form a jaunt out Holsworthy (hills-worthy) direction earlier in the week. For more than an hour after returning I cussed and swore as I tried to make Kermit look something more akin to a loved trike than something I had just dragged from a muddy swamp. There wasn’t an inch of trike that wasn’t plastered in muck and debris and adding to my joy was the fact I have no outside tap for attaching hosepipes.

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There were some mighty stormy days.

No, for an hour I toiled away with umpteen buckets of the hot soapy stuff and liberal squirting’s of Muck- Off, a self-proclaimed biodegradable substance that is not only Barbie pink but better at removing grease than my elbows will ever be. As usual I got to talk to my neighbours, all of whom, had quizzical looks at seeing this self- confessed madman cleaning a trike in mid-winter. I guess they were also wondering why I was riding in January, but they really should know by now that, for me at least, it’s a year round process and good for my soul.

Once clean I decided it was time to give the poor Kermit a little TLC by inspecting all the moving bits to see how much, if any, life was left in them after a particularly tough year. This would normally entail disappearing into a shed for many hours, but I live alone, so I disappeared into a far more comfortable kitchen instead. With a small amount of furniture redistribution, a workmate bench, and a great deal of guile I set Kermit up for as much attention as I could muster. Somewhere deep down I could sense the need to ‘tinker,’ as it used to be called, pulling me in. This historically involves messing around with mechanical things without any real intent or purpose, something I have had a great deal of practise at over the years.

Even deeper down I knew that this tinkering would almost certainly lead to a session of deep cleaning and possibly an unreasonable amount of expense. I’m one of those ‘I’ve started so I’ll finish’ sort of people who can’t help themselves once they begin. As Guy Martin would say, “it’s not right until it’s right,” except he would say it twice, bless him.

All this came about because during my ride a few days back the right wheel began to make a rumbling noise, a sure sign that a bearing is on the way out. Stopping at the roadside, a measurable wobble, more technically called play, confirmed my suspicions. Being sealed, these bearings last a while and then start to break down. Once that occurs it is definitely time for a new set and being who I am I have to replace both sides, just in case. Given that I have used Kermit exclusively for two years, many filthy, wet miles and several long tours, I wasn’t surprised at this.

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Kermit getting the TLC he has earned

Deciding to carry on stripping things off the trike I removed the left-side kingpin(steering) bearings which also felt a little rough. That led to the right hand side also being stripped. During this process a bearing on each side fell to pieces as I tapped them out, due to ingress of water and fairly major rusting. Counter intuitively, the wheel bearings and kingpin bearings on the side nearest the centre of the road (when riding) were in far worse condition than those that have been immersed in all the stuff that lives in the gutter. If anybody can explain this, please do, as I’m baffled.

Going for a full house I removed the steering rod (track-rod) ends only to find that they were also showing signs of corrosion with the bearing surface just beginning to break down, so four of those went on the list of stuff needed as well. By that point I was in need of a large cup of tea and a sit down. Cake would have been nice but I’d already polished that off after my last ride.

Of course there are still all the usual expenses of owning a cycle and using it. Chains and cassettes don’t last forever, nor do tyres and tubes, but by making careful choices with these and you can get up to 10,000 miles form a decent set of Schwalbe tyres and a years’ worth of riding from a chain, even moderately priced ones like the KMC chains I use. My chainrings generally last the same time as two-three chains, the cassettes a little less and I tend to change cable outer and inners once a year as well. This gives me reliable performance without too great an expenditure. By doing all the work myself I save a great deal of expense and it means that I can tackle almost anything thrown at me while I’m touring, which is of great comfort.

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Tea anyone. Brewing up in a Scottish layby (No, I don’t carry a kettle when touring)

Now all of this might seem a trifle much for an expensive vehicle that is not yet two years old, but you have to give it some context. I don’t have an array of recumbent trikes and bikes to choose from so poor Kermit has been employed for all manner of duties in the time I’ve owned him. Michele’s trike gets more reasonable use, being used for regular longer rides and some touring, but not shopping, distance touring, training and the like. I’m yet to strip her trike but don’t expect to find much wrong when I do.

Perhaps a better perspective can be gleaned from my past when I destroyed something like sixteen mountain bikes in eighteen months through volume of riding. All of them wore out within a short period of being introduced to Welsh mountains regardless of the level of specification and much to the chagrin of the manufacturers, who mostly stopped talking to me. I had to get used to the idea that it was me and the demands I was making that was destroying the cycle parts and nothing to do with my bikes. That was when I learned that top-end Shimano stuff often isn’t worth paying for unless you race because mid-range equipment does endurance and durability better.

I think you also have to consider how small an outlay this is in comparison to using buses, trains or driving your own vehicle everywhere. By costing it out per mile, which I can’t because I don’t record mileage, Kermit should be darned good value for money in my opinion. When I was preparing to ride around the UK, my wee folding Dahon’s wheels lasted three months of riding (three times a week) before they needed replacing, such was the demands placed on them by braking on Devon’s steep, narrow and often mud splattered hills. A new set of wheels would be far more expensive than replacing these bearings, so I feel that’s a good swap. The trike doesn’t use the rims to brake so unless I have a huge crash, room here for a small offering to the road gods, they should last a good while longer.

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Glen Shiel: Perfect 🙂

So my head is full of pictures and my kitchen is full of bike parts in various states of disassembly. The smell of grease permeates my house, which for me is far more preferable to the smell of the fish I had for tea last night. I told a friend yesterday that I had no plans for 2016 but that I had plenty of ideas. I’m sure I will settle on something at a point in the near future but where that might take me is still a mystery. What I know clearly is that it doesn’t matter where I go at all, as long as I do.

Until next time……………….