Turbo Charged

Anyone who’s ever been carpet shopping with me knows the score: I don’t know what I want. I get there by a process of elimination… “don’t like that, don’t like that, don’t like that….

I can knock out what I don’t like quite quickly, leaving a much smaller sample to choose from: and even then it’s by no means certain that I’ll actually pick anything that’s left on offer.

I mention it because I’m fast approaching the business end of the Ride 2 Cure tour and some hard decisions have to be made, the hardest of which is which bike is going on the LCFN road trip.

I’ve been secretly swithering over this for the past six months: get it right and it’ll be the tour of a lifetime: get it wrong and it could be the tour fae hell. So I’ve been mixing and matching, switching configurations and all the time looking for the combination that offers maximum reliability at optimum speed. You might think that the speed’s not important but losing a couple of miles per hour over 2222km is the equivalent of an extra day on the journey, and with it additional stress on an old body.

So let’s roll the clock back twelve months: when I accepted this challenge, I was riding my Mk2 Trek road bike that had about 8K miles on it and had been through numerous mechanical overhauls. That bike was always the default because it was light and it fitted by bodyshape like a glove. But there was a nagging doubt at the back of my mind that doubling the number of miles on it, before I’d even left Brisbane, was a risky strategy: yer cannae afford to have a major mechanical in the middle of nowhere.

And that’s where the Rohloff speedhub came in: an absolute beast of a piece of kit, the Rohloff hub on the gold bike has seen me through the worst winter since I started, and it’s not missed a beat since the shifter problem back in late November. I’ve stuck four thousand miles on it since then and it’s been brilliant: except for punctures…

I’ve always run the most bulletproof tyres on the market as a matter of course: Schwalbe Marathon Plus. That used to be the only option but then a year or so ago they introduced the Marathon Plus Smartguard that are reckoned to be virtually indestructible. I punctured two in three days a month ago, one on the front on a hedge thorn at 1C with just a couple of hours of daylight remaining, then the back one on a shard of glass with heavy rain imminent 12 miles from home. I couldn’t be arsed with the fix the second time because the speedhub is a faff with punctures so I rode the bike back home on a flat tyre and fixed it in the kitchen.

And I made a decision….

To sack Marathon Plus Smartguards.

Of course if you’re going to discontinue using the most bomb proof tyre on the market, then you’re basically just moving the problem: it’s like squeezing a sausage shaped balloon at one end and watching it pop out at the other end.

But I’d already decided that I wasn’t staying with tubed tyres: confidence shot to pieces.

A few months ago, while I was researching the best route for Brisbane to Adelaide, I came across a route that some guys had ridden on touring bikes from Sydney to Adelaide. The route looked great on paper, with the cross country roads as quiet as quiet could be once they got away from suburbia. But punctures were a real problem. I seem to recall that on one particular day, they had six. Fuck that!

I decided that I had enough time to give solid tyres a shot. I so nearly went for solids when the gold bike was new but Neil, my mechanic, talked me out of it. That’s what ultimately led me to stay mainstream and get those two blowouts last month: not Neil’s fault: my bad luck, but hey, the die was already cast…

The Rohloff hub sits on wide 20mm rims and the only solid Tannus tyre that goes on a 20mm rim is the equivalent of a mountain bike road tyre at 75psi. On the rutted, patched and potholed roads round here, the red Tannus tyres ride well, and I actually do like the feel: but they come at a cost of between one and two miles per hour, and my gammy knee from twelve years ago hates them. The extra effort required to get them moving at pace really annoys that knackered knee.

So I had to make a decision, except it was really a no-brainer: I cannae possibly go to Australia with 32mm Tannus tyres on the gold bike: option eliminated.

So ten days ago, with a sore knee, I dug out the old road bike, the one that already had a load of miles on it. Two miles out and heading uphill out of town, the derailleur hanger snapped. Totally sheared off. Fortunately it was downhill all the way home but was exactly not the kind of mechanical I needed at this stage in the game. It was the very reason I went for the Rohloff: to eliminate derailleur problems.

So the next morning the bike went into the workshop and Neil hit me with an opportunity. It had always been my intention to get that bike reconditioned as a top notch road bike for Jane: but there was so much wrong with it after a winter sat in the shed that Neil and I agreed on a deal. I’m not gonna spill the beans just now because I want to make the announcement on the LCFN page on Facebook in a couple of weeks, but suffice to say that the bike that’s going to Australia for the R2C tour will be the most amazing machine: certainly the lightest thing that I’ve ever ridden (possibly coming in at under 9kg) and fitted with narrow yellow Tannus solid tyres configured at the racing equivalent of 105psi. There will be no knee problems on this beast: and it will go like a rocket.

And it’s Jane’s bike: I’m just borrowing it for a few weeks.

So now you’re thinking “so what’s he done with the gold Rohloff bike”?

Let me roll clock back 25 years…

I don’t want to rake over the coals, but suffice to say that in the late summer of 1993, I decided that I was going to ride my bike (a Flying Scot) from Manchester to Glasgow in a day for Action Research (for Children). And the plan was to do it nine months later in June 1994. There was only one problem: Ross was just three and the joint custody arrangement meant that he was with me on Monday and Wednesday evenings, and all weekend from Friday to Sunday. Yeah, I got the cream in that arrangement: I can’t remember when we swapped Monday for Tuesday but we definitely used to go playing pool on a Tuesday night, him just about peering over the top of the table with his stick.

Anyway, I digress: planning to ride 240 miles in a day off only eight months training requires some lateral thinking outside the box: so I bought myself what was then Cateye’s top of the range turbo trainer, stuck the Flying Scot on it and wedged the back wheel between the wall and the kitchen door into the lounge so the wee man wouldn’t lose a finger. The living room floor was littered with toys at the weekend, Ross right in amongst them, and I bagged the miles. The routine was incessant: an hour in the morning (sometimes before he got up) then another hour in the afternoon. And every other day of the week I bagged thirty to forty miles: always on rollers. The first hundred mile ride I ever did was in my kitchen on a 1% gradient. And I followed that with a 5 hour ton in five hours outside Safeway at Stewartfield, again for Action Research.

I duly completed that Manchester to Glasgow ride in a day: I even managed to fall off at Carnforth (my own stupid fault), cracking a bone in my elbow in the process, and I rode the remaining 175 miles one handed. That’s the same drive and commitment that’s heading to Australia in four months’ time.

That turbo trainer has been in the loft for ten years.

Not any more it isn’t.

It’s now got the gold bike on it, the only problem being that the gold bike, being a cyclo cross frame, is four inches longer, wheel to wheel than a standard road bike, so I had to engineer a custom bracket to get the front forks secure and stable: sorted.

I’ve not been out on the road all week: music on, the hundred best driving choons of my life on shuffle at high volume, and the turbo in the back garden in the pouring rain/sleet/snow. There was a day, I think it was Tuesday, when I thought briefly “I can’t do this anymore”. I was soaked, it was freezing, and the sleet was sheeting down: and I still had another hour to do. That was my darkest hour. I stopped, briefly, stretched my legs, then thought back to the darkest days of the Fenwick Muir. As miserable as it was, there were only fifteen miles to go so I closed my eyes, imagined I was actually back on the Fenwick Muir in the middle of January and got that session finished. In terms of Australia, it was a big, big moment.

The result is that since Monday, I’ve ridden a hundred and fifty miles round the back garden: on the Rohloff bike, on Tannus tyres, with the lightest possible impression on the turbo roller (to overcome the 75psi problem) at almost 20mph. And nae sair knee.

Phase 2 of the Ride 2 Cure tour is well and truly turbo charged.