See every time Lewis Hamilton wins a Grand Prix: the first thing he does is thank his team for all their hard work. Yeah, I know they probably get well paid for it but at the end of the day, he’s just the guy out there on the road putting in the miles. Back in the garage, and at Mercedes F1 HQ in Brackley, there are probably hundreds of guys who put in the hard miles to make his job easier.
I don’t have hundreds of guys: I have one: Neil Kinnaird. Neil is my technical designer, he’s my purchasing director, and he’s my man in the garage. He does the lot. Neil is the quiet man who keeps LCFN on the road. I had to look back at the log to find out when we first hooked up and it was in the summer of 2014 when I was on my third bike and sitting at around 8,000 miles.
We’ve been together for 27,000 miles!
Neil’s a thinker, and he’s always half a dozen steps ahead of me, or to put it another way, one bike ahead of me. I remember when we first got together, I was riding a still new Dawes Tourer. I got it for my birthday because I reckoned I needed something heavier duty than a mountain bike for the long haul over the Fenwick Muir in the winter. Heavier duty right enough: the Karakoum weighed in at about 35 pounds, and that was before I loaded it up with supplies every day. That bike was a workhorse.
But every time it was in his shed (as it was back then), he used to say to me “y’know, you could really do with something lighter. For the hills that you’re dealing with, this is way too heavy”. Neil wasn’t trying to sell me a new bike (although he does sell bikes), he was simply trying to tell me that as a mile muncher (I do love that term) I was making life hard for myself.
So the next birthday (back in those days y’see, new bikes only ever happened on birthdays – is that not a tradition anyway?) I took his advice and went for a road bike. Ultra light at 21lb, to me it felt like a Ferrari. I had a Flying Scot 25 years ago (mine was a replica – Jane had an original) and this gave me a similar kind of feeling on the open road: if you’ve never ridden a road bike (at speed), then you’ve not lived. Twitchy as fuck but exhilarating. Simple as that.
I broke that bike inside twelve months.
If going to Neil in the first place (to get bits replaced on a bike that was less than six months old) was a sign, then the failure of the road bike frame eleven months later was a real wake up call. But because the bike was still within warranty, Trek replaced the frame free of charge. The failure, and this is probably significant given the beating that LCFN gives its machinery, was that the screw hole where the derailleur hangs on the frame had wobbled loose. So many gear changes, so many potholes, so much shit coming up off the road: in less than twelve months, the (external) derailleur would no longer sit true.
The replacement frame has seen 12,000 miles of action, the longest served of all of the LCFN bikes. But the gears go out of true within a few weeks and then you have the choice of messing about with tools (and getting it wrong, putting the next day’s ride at risk) or living with it. By living with it, I mean clicking the rear shifter about three or four times and feeling it only shift once. Eff knows what gear I’m in half the time. It’s a serious issue if you’re halfway up a steep one and you go click, click, click and nothing happens, I can assure you.
That’s the downside of derailleurs. Cheap, easy to mess with, and even easier to go wrong.
Remember how I said that Neil was always a bike ahead of me?
He could see the rate at which I was going through components. New jockey wheels, new hangers, new chains, new complete drive chains. Been there, done that. That’s been the norm for about three years. Every time the bike goes in the workshop, it costs me a hundred quid. That’s the real life cost of LCFN: it’s not Neil’s problem: I’m a mile muncher and I break stuff.
Cue a conversation that he and I had around the turn of the year: ’16 going into ’17. “You need to consider going for hub gears. They’ll cost you upfront, but you’ve save a fortune in the long run”.
The only thing I know about hub gears is that my brother had a (new) bike with a three speed Sturmey Archer gear when I was a kid. Sturmey Archer were the name in gears back then: we’re talking 40 years ago. They had a three speed hub and five speed hub. I think our kid had a three.
The big advantage of a hub gear is that everything’s internal: everything sits inside the hub on the rear wheel and the shit cannae get at it. I’m led to believe that as long as you do an oil change every 3000 miles, the gear will run, free of failure, for 60,000 miles. I’ve only done 35K miles so you’ll get my drift.
So Neil and I bounced a few ideas around over a few months, but they were all expensive. I don’t do expensive. I do functional and get by: and in any case, I was still on a bike that that only twelve months old.
Then our mam died.
I was brought up to never ever buy anything unless you’d saved up for it. My folks never, ever bought anything on tick. If you don’t have the money, then you can’t have it. That was the message.
But our mam was a charitable old dear, and she would have approved of LCFN if she’d not lost her marbles to dementia. So I decided to invest the pennies that she’d earmarked in her will for her errant son in a bike that will see me through till I’m too old to do this anymore. Our mam was not a woman of means. Everything she earned, she’d worked for, and everything she’d earned, she put away for a rainy day. The day it started raining, she moved into a nursing home, and in a flash, all her money was gone. Except for the last few pennies that the Tories couldnae get at.
I’ve invested those pennies in the gold LCFN bike.
It was Neil’s idea. He suggested Rohloff. They’re a German company: a family run business: they make the Rolls Royce of hub gears. Guys who tour the world over extreme terrain in extreme conditions, thousands of miles from any kind of support, swear by Rohloff. Their marketing blurb says they’ve never had a failure out in the field. How Lewis Hamilton would love that, eh?
So my mind was set: a Rohloff speed hub it was. On a Gold cyclo cross frame that Neil had already got his eyes on. We were on our way. Again. But the Rohloff normally comes with a twist grip gear changer on flat handle bars and I wanted drop bars…
Cue another suggestion from the ideas man: there’s another company in Germany that do a traditional thumb shift changer for Rohloff gears: left shifter up and right shifter down. “I like that”. Let’s do it. So in the grand scheme of things, with Brexit supposedly just around the corner, we have:
- Bike frame: Netherlands
- Hub gears: Germany
- Gear shifters: Germany
- Everything else: probably China
I road tested the new bike today, albeit on mountain bike tyres. Neil offered it to me for the weekend but I didn’t want to get it dirty before he’s finished building it (we’re still waiting on bomb proof tyres and mudguards): how vain am I?
I had been hoping to have the wheels in the house at the start of the week because…
Gail, Callum and Cerys came for their tea!!!
When Finn (who’s a chef) found out the night before, he asked what I was making: “Spag Bol of course”. I always make Spag Bol. I’ve probably made Spag Bol two hundred times and never made the same one twice. “Dad, you need to use a recipe”. “Fuck that, I just make it the way I make it: every one different”.
Cerys and Callum went back for seconds: that’s all I’m saying. 😊
But before I started cooking, we all walked up to Neil’s bike shop (Cerys walked on the wall by the way – I think every kid in Stewarton has done that, on that wall), with Eileidh Bear riding piggy back on Cerys’s shoulders. Eileidh Bear has two sister bears, and each has some of Eileidh’s ashes in a wee pouch. And if you squeeze their toes, then Eileidh starts giggling. It’s as adorable as it is gorgeous.
So Eiliedh Bear went up to the bike shop and got to ride the Gold bike before the LifeCycle Man. Totally apt: Eileidh and I have been together for 25,000 miles, the same number that I set out to achieve when I started.
Y’see the future of LCFN is a gold bike: a bike of hope for kids with cancer everywhere…
Goldielooks and the three bears.