It’s that time of the year again, time to re-grease bearings, replace worn cables and parts and shine up your bike for whatever it is you are planning for 2017. I am one of those weird people that enjoy all this. Giving Kermit the love and attention he deserves is a way of minimising the chances of being let down on a long ride later in the year. But for me it goes beyond practical necessity. I love getting covered in grease, understanding how things work and knowing that every part of my trike is how I wish it to be.
If you aren’t in any way mechanically minded, that’s fine too. Your local bike shop will be glad of the work. One thing I would say is, before you say ‘how much’ to the person servicing your machine, remember it is only once a year and that you get huge pleasure from pedalling. Also keep in mind that pushing your bike home from many miles away is not a great way to feel, keep or look cool.
I divide my bills by twelve and then marvel at how little it seems for a whole year’s cycling. In all of the time I’ve been riding, I have never had an insurmountable problem when touring, although writing that here almost certainly means that I will next time I’m away. Broken spokes, split tubes, cracked rims, broken seat post bolts, snapped derailleur and other things were all fixed in the field. Punctures do and will occur. Learning to fix one takes just a little time and patience.
Carry a few tools: multi-tool, gaffer tape, pump, cables, repair kit and levers, chain splitter, zip ties and a spare tube or two. This almost guarantees that you won’t need them at all during your tour. You will need chain lube, though. Make sure it’s the wet type as the dry lube seems to wash off as soon as water touches it. Taking tools is a little like taking over-trousers. Take them everywhere and you never need them, not once for years and years. Leave them at home once and you will have the wettest, coldest and most mechanically miserable tour of your life. This is a fact. Ask anybody you know who tours about Sod’s Law.
Over the next few weeks I will be completely stripping both Kermit and Michele’s Celandine and replacing the parts that are wearing just a bit too much. I change cables (inners and outers) annually as a matter of course. Not to do this is a false economy and can leave you falling prey to Sod’s Law again.
I experienced this a few years back when I felt there was enough wear left in my chain to ride through France and over the Pyrenees. I don’t know how I got there without snapping it, but the chain and the rear sprocket were incredibly badly worn when I arrived at my friend’s house. The chain was so bad that you could almost fold it in half sideways. Despite regular adjustments and shortening it behaved like stretchy, warm toffee. Not good and certainly not clever.
Now is also the time to inspect your outdoor equipment too. Wash your jacket as instructed on the label and consider re-spraying the tent flysheet with something like Nikwax Tent and Gear Solar Proof. It isn’t expensive and extends the life of your kit considerably. Inspect things for missing parts that you forgot about over winter, having thrown your tent in a corner in disgust last summer when a pole was missing and you hadn’t checked it over before leaving. Remembering when you need to pitch your tent that you are three pegs short or that a pole is cracked will make you feel stupid for not checking it, if nothing else. It all comes under the banner of ‘peace of mind.’ It also gives you something to do as you wait for the time to come when you will be leaving.
Knowing you are ready to whiz out the door and head into the wild at any given point is a good feeling. Anticipation is a major part of the enjoyment of cycling and going away. Once you are ready to roll, Sod’s Law will intervene again by changing the weather that was bright and sunny with light winds all the time you were servicing your bike, to something more akin to a southern typhoon. Be patient, it will settle again and when it does you are ready to pounce. In the meantime, use your spare energy to plan your route and research your tour.
Sod’s Law even affects the shopping you do daily when you’re on the road. My experience suggests that the shop you passed because it was a bit too far from the campsite to carry the food you require, will be the last decent and well-stocked shop you see. You will end up ferreting around in an establishment that only sells pot noodle, porridge, three-month old bananas and postage stamps. So, if you pass a half-decent shop, go in.
The worst thing you can do is to push on regardless when you know better than to try. At that point Sod’s Law will throw everything at you to ensure you feel as stupid as you may later look when the mountain rescue finds you huddled in your tent in the middle of a moor, while the entirely predictable storm rages all around. Cycling is fun, but it isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things. Listen to your intuition, it’s the yin to Sod’s Law’s yang.
Ultimately, Sod’s Law can and will strike whenever you least want it to. If you’re a little late for a train, you will get a puncture to add to your distress. If there is a critically complex junction, indecipherable on your map, that is where the signs will be missing telling you where to go. And arranging to meet somebody outside a shop, pub or street corner will guarantee there are at least two places of the same name and that you are both waiting at different venues.
The best line of attack for Sod’s Law is to not care. Stuff happens. How boring would your tour seem if nothing unexpected happened? If you accept Sod as part of the journey it will add to your knowledge, experience and give you some good yarns to tell on your return. After all, there is no escape entirely from the little blighter, so you may as well be all philosophical and accept its presence.
I should add that I’m still learning how to do this. In 2012 when I was touring in the Irish Republic, the weather was the worst they had ever recorded. Now it isn’t that good normally, so I will leave that to your imagination. Sod’s Law said that each and every time I had a day to rest, it would pee down with rain from dawn to dusk, or until I rode again. I came very close to abandoning the ride as a result, but patience and my own stubbornness saw me push on to Scotland. Once there, and somewhat surprisingly, I basked in sunshine for the remainder of the tour, barring one storm of two days duration that reminded me who was in charge. So keep on smiling and keep on pedalling. It will all balance out in the end, and you will have the time of your life regardless of you-know-who.
Until next time….
STOP PRESS: Just launched: Serenity and Storm (paper version). Available now from: http://www.blurb.co.uk/search/site_search?search=Graeme+Willgress