A fellow cyclist once told me something very true ‘It takes a couple of years to get into cycling.’ That time seemed a long way off when I think back to my first club run…
When I joined Dumfries Cycling Club they used to meet outside someone’s house. It must have been strange for the neighbours to look out and see twenty, sometimes thirty men clogging up the street with their shades and colourful bandanas making them look like semi-retired ninja turtles.
I arrived on my Giant. It was my first ‘serious’ road bike and I thought it was a flying machine. In reality it was a bog standard aluminium frame with some bottom end shimano and dodgy factory wheels. I finished the flying machine off with Aldi shades and woolly, red arm warmers. I looked like I was dressed by my mammy and sent out to play. The only thing missing was my Tupperware of ham sandwiches and a clementine.
I remember seeing young Daniel there, a friendly face. He was a former pupil of mine and had always been encouraging me to go along to the club. During study periods he’d tell me about the club runs and he’d rhyme off the places they went – ‘Moniave, Scaur, Drumlanrig…Ae’. Then he’d mention the mileage 40, 50, 60 miles!
To a non-cyclist it seems incredible. Even now if I happen to mention to someone ‘Oh I just went for a wee spin and did about 30 miles’ people look amazed – unless they’re cyclists themselves of course (‘wee spin’ is part of the cyclist’s vocabulary).
Someone shouted out a route and I remember hearing place names; Irongray, Rouken Bridge…the Statues. Road cyclists never mention the in between stuff which, I was about to find out, still had to be cycled! These were some of the places Daniel had mentioned but now instead of them sounding like magical names, I was actually going to cycle to them.
Of course I thought I was fit. After all hadn’t I cycled 20-30 miles on my own and felt good on my flying machine? Cycling in a big group for the first time however can be pretty bewildering and soon I was at the back. Why were all these cyclists passing me so effortlessly whilst I was panting and red-faced? My Aldi shades had steamed up and my woolly warmers were making my arms feel like they were stuck in a kiln.
Not far along Irongray Road, the sky heavy with late September rain, I punctured. Puncturing with twenty riders waiting for you made me even redder. Luckily one of them came and gave me a hand. His name was Murray, someone I got to know pretty well over the years. He was a genuine Clubman who could be pernickety but knowing nothing about road biking, pernickety was just what I needed on my first day!
‘move your chain onto the big ring and the hardest gear…check round the casing…you’ll need better tyres…blow up the new inner a little…use my pump…’
All this excellent advice (now second nature to me) made Murray sound like a Puncture Repair Audio Book but over the years I’ve seen every member of the club puncture and follow the same procedure each with a different style;
- The storytelling puncturer (repairs interspersed with anecdotes)
- The no-levers required puncturer (thumbs like concrete)
- Teenager’s bedroom puncturer (caps, tubes, levers everywhere)
- The miserly puncturer (only one spare and it’s covered in patches)
- The OCD puncturer (everything wrapped neatly and colour-coded)
Puncture fixed we started to roll again or in my case, roll back the way. We turned left onto the first hill known locally as the Statues. This was a short brutish climb over a wonderful remote hillside dotted with sculptures by Henry Moore. I didn’t have time to admire them as I was about to get my second lesson of the day – the CATTLE GRID!
The other club riders paid little heed to these monstrosities except to shout ‘Grid’ then ride on. I on the other hand was confused. Won’t this damage my lovely Giant? Should I walk my bike over? Wasn’t there a road round them for non-cows?
At the foot of the climb I dismounted for the grid then started pedalling furiously till I caught up with two riders chatting away. How could they talk when my heart rate was off the dial? Further up the climb and I hear distantly but unmistakably another shout of ‘Grid!’ I remember thinking ‘Oh Mary, mother of God!’ Standing in front of a firing squad or the annihilation of planet earth would be more pleasurable than another GRIDDDDD!
Club riders have memories like the proverbial elephant and they soon get to know where the dangers of a road are including the different cattle grids out there.
- The smooth grid – well crafted by someone who knows how to weld and sees cows as essentially peaceful beasts.
- The rusty grid – buckled old railway girders with grass and baby trees growing through their cavernous gaps. They perceive cows as invading enemy tanks.
Well it was the rusty variety which loomed up ahead, rainwater oozing from its sides like a salivating monster. I decided to man up and pedal on gingerly. I went down. My Aldi glasses were smashed and my front wheel buckled. It was the end of my first club run.
The two riders who’d been chatting stopped and helped me up and opened the quick release to allow my wheel to move freely. One of them was Ian ‘Harky’ Harkness. He and I were to become great cycling buddies, riding thousands of miles together over the years. In typical Harkness style he never let me forget that first day I tangled with the Grid or my wooly arm warmers!
They put me back on my bike and I headed home, a pathetic sight with my Aldi specials minus a lens, muddied arm warmers and a misshapen front wheel making me look like a plump circus clown on a wobbly unicycle.
Half way back I heard a bike behind. It was young Daniel. My grid incident had been passed along the line and he’d come back to keep me company into Town.
On Day One of being a Club Rider, I’d learned three eternal cycle codes;
- How to change a puncture
- How not to tackle cattle grids
- Even when they’ve got good form, cyclists will give up their treasured Saturday Run to make sure you’re okay.
At the age of 16 my pupil taught his old teacher the essence of being a Clubman – camaraderie.