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Thoughts Like Music
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Cycling, Vol. 1 
20th-Oct-2009 09:28 pm
bicycle
atticus_frog mentioned that she'd like to see a post on my recent cycling adventures. I'm starting this on Monday, 3 August, we'll see how long it takes to get finished.

My cycling history starts quite young. I know my sibs and I had tricycles from an early age and rode them until they basically fell apart from exhaustion. I proved clumsy at bike riding as everything else and learned to ride without stabilizers/training wheels only by sheer luck and determination from my mum and grandparents.

By the time I was ~7 years old, I was a big fan of bicycling. I spent a good amount of time running around the area where I grew up, on road, in the woods, and so forth. There were lots of spills and I have to say that sometimes I can still remember the exact details of rather bad crashes. One of my most obvious scars comes from falling off a bike while racing down my grandparents' driveway. I managed to embed quite a bit of gravel in my chin. My mum did a bangup job with steristrips to try to keep the scarring down, but my inherited tendency to keloid scarring means that I have a bit of corrugation on the underside of my jawline.

We would venture north of the Carolina border into Virginia in summers and take part in the Great Peanut Tour. (Some old pics from it can be seen here and here and here.) Everything always seemed to go easily and the worst thing to deal with was pumping air back in if you'd left the bike all winter.

When we moved from the country to the big city of Atlanta, suddenly you couldn't just ride down the middle of the road or race cars or leave your bike by the creek to chase ducks. The roads were full of cars, the cars weren't full of people you knew, and the bike wouldn't still be there if you didn't lock it up. Plus, we lived in a subdivision that consisted of the longest, steepest hills. By the time you got up to a main road, you were too hot and tired to bother doing anything but just coasting back down again. (It's not called Hotlanta for nothing!) So, the bikes mostly sat collecting dust and spiders in the garage and that was that.

Once we moved again, back to North Carolina, we were again living in the country, but I was mostly an indoor bookworm by this point. The hills weren't quite as bad as near our Atlanta house, but they were steep enough and I was away at boarding school enough of the time to make dragging the old bikes out not really worth it.

And then came university and then came the Chicago grad school experience...and cycling just wasn't part of it.

When I moved to Scotland, my US car was sold and I didn't buy anything after the move. ybunny didn't have a licence or a desire to get one and everything we needed was close enough to walk or take the bus to. Since he used his bike to get to work and enjoyed the odd pleasure ride, I decided I'd take my cue from him and get one of my own. For ~£175 I got a ladies street bike (not a racer).

That bike was of the devil. Or at least one of his minions. The tires wouldn't stay free of punctures no matter how careful I was. We lined them with Kevlar and still got slow leaks. It was heavy and the gears changed only with a lot of prompting. I had thought I wanted a bike that would have worked okay in Holland perhaps, but didn't work out well in hilly Aberdeen. Plus, I was pretty hypothyroid. Not great if you intend...well, doing anything other than lying on the couch.

So, the bike hung out in the cellar and I only ever pulled it out occasionally because I felt guilty for spending money on it and not using it. But, everytime I used it something would go wrong, I'd curse the bike and back in the cellar it would go.

I bit the bullet one weekend and said, 'Right, I'm going to use this bike if it kills me.' ybunnysuggested taking a leisurely cycle along the disused Deeside Railway Line. It was great! The tires held up for once, we felt great about continuing when the paved section ended and went all the way to Drum Castle. On the way back, delirious with excitement that I'd managed to get all the way to Real.Live.History! under my own power, I braked incorrectly coming down a steep-ish rocky hill. The front wheel turned on a stone and over the handlebars I went. When ybunny came back to find me, I was, as is my wont, laughing at the absurdity of it all. After ascertaining that I had no broken bones, he helped me get back on my feet. We took off for home...me with my bloody knees and elbow and a rip in my trousers that gave everyone who passed on the way back a shot at my knickers.

Back into the cellar the bike went.

About a year later, I decided that kill me or no, the bike had to be used. We headed out for the Bay of Nigg. Heading up the hill on the Coast Road, my rear derailleur broke so dramatically that it managed to twist upside down and weave itself into the spokes of the back wheel. After 30 minutes and using a clover stem as a pair of pliers to hold a pin for the chain in place, we finally limped home. I said I'd never ride that blasted bike again.

So, we started work restoring Tom's old mountain bike. This bike was much used by Tom until he was hit while riding it by a motorcyclist. The bike was mostly okay, but the motorcyclist's insurance declared it enough of a loss that Tom was able to buy a new bike (from here on out, the 'red bike'). The old bike (the 'yellow bike') was kept up enough to work as a spare, but not really kindly treated. A friend borrowed it briefly from Tom but normally it lived in the cellar as well.

By late May of this year, it hadn't been ridden in about a year's time. We took apart the bits that needed replacing (the v-brakes in back, the front derailleur) and Tom put on new bits while I cleaned up the frame and degreased the chain and front and rear cogs.
We worked our bums off and after hours of greasy, tedious work, we took the two mountain bikes out for a first ride. I threw my leg over the yellow bike and tried to get on the saddle. I felt like my rear was about 10 feet off the ground. 'Can you lower the seat?', I asked. 'Sure,' said Tom.

Except, he couldn't. The friend that had borrowed the bike had raised the seat to about as high as it would go and then left it in the configuration he liked when he returned it. (This could send me into a rant about returned things as you find them, but this post is long as it is.) We tried the obvious things, pushing and pulling on the saddle to try to torque it loose, hitting it a few times on the side, and putting some lubricant on it. No luck.
We dragged it back down to the cellar and tried gripping the tube with pliers, but no luck there either.
We gave up and left it for the evening.

The next day, we tried drilling a hole in the stem and sticking a screwdriver through it to torque it that way. Not even a millimeter of shift. We used the hole as a guide point and skillsawed down as far as we could. We bent the sides together and tried to move it then. Still nothing.
We gave up for the day. Late that night, I read that ammonia can eat through aluminium corrosion. We ran down to the cellar to try that.

The next morning, we try to move it again. Nothing. Tom goes out to buy a pipewrench. I take to it with a hammer. After hammering on the top of the stem for 10 minutes, still no movement. But, finally, it shifts just a little. I stop as I don't want it to go down into the frame, but am overjoyed it will move. Tom returns with the pipewrench and with the start I've made is able to work the stem out.

We buy a new stem and attach the saddle again. We head out to cycle up some of the disused Formartine Buchan Line. My arms begin hurting when we reach Newmachar. We head home. Within a mile of home, the red bike's (Tom's) rear wheel began to stop working properly and would free wheel when pedaling forward as well as backward. We coast/walk home.

At this point, I'm pretty frustrated. My efforts to get two bikes that both work, at the same time, are stymied over and over. I jokingly say, 'Let's just buy a new bike'. When Tom doesn't shoot the idea down completely, we start seriously thinking about it. After a week of cogitating and comparing and test-riding, Tom gets a Gary Fisher 'Hoo Koo E Koo'. The colour: rootbeer. Definitely intended to be Tom's bike. The red bike, a Gary Fisher 'Tessajara', becomes 'my' bike. Actually, both stay Tom's. The new bike will stay as primarily a mountain bike, while we kit out the red bike to work more as a hybrid touring/mountain.

Tom heads off on the rig. I head down to the cellar to have my own go on the new bike.

I love it.

I love it with a passionate love.

Mmm, rootbeer bike.

I decide that it is time for a trial by fire: a solo trip to Banchory. I make it and continue on to Kincardine O'Neil. By the time I get home, I've done over 50 miles. Average speed 9.5 miles an hour. Slowcoach, that's me.

I've been trying to learn how to do more and more bike repair. Currently, I can change a tire, repair a puncture in the inner tube, fit a saddle, restring/wire a derailleur line, remove and repair a chain, clean disc brake rotors, and (with help) remove the rear cassette and replace the fly wheel plus replace a front derailleur. I still haven't had to do anything of this while alone, thank goodness. Tom's much more technical than I am.

With two bikes that are in good working order, we've been able to do a lot of long trips this past summer.
You may have seen the log as I threw it onto Twitter or Facebook, but here's the lot all at once:
Aberdeen to Kintore, 36.7 miles
Causey Mounth Partial, 12.4 miles
Slug Road to Stonehaven, 36.0 miles
Kincardine O'Neil, 51.6 miles
Tarves/Oldmeldrum, 53.8 miles
Kincardine-Buchan Line Partial, 21.25 miles
Chapel of Garioch, British Cycling Quest, 52.5 miles
Banchory, British Cycling Quest, 37.2 miles
Udny Green British Cycling Quest, 40.0 miles
Aberdeen to Ellon, 40.8 miles
EDIT: Forgot the most recent one- Aberdeen to Balblair, 36.4 miles. Total thus is 416.65 miles. Also, these are in no particular order.

We did all of these in about 45 days time. That's a total of 380.25 miles.

We plan to continue on longer rides: the next hurdle will be to pass the 100 mark and cycle to Corgarff Castle. That would put us at 110 miles. Not sure whether we can do it all in one day. We'll see. :)

You're probably unsurprised that all of this is actually background. The original request for this post was more for what I think/feel while cycling. Unfortunately/Fortunately, depending on your point of view, that will actually come in a later post.

Now, considering that it took my over 2 months to get that up, who knows how long the next bit will take...
comments 
(Deleted comment)
24th-Oct-2009 08:33 pm (UTC)
Thanks.

I would imagine York would be a bit better. (I love York, fyi.)

I'm hoping to get to the 120km mark, Tom's definitely able, it's just my slowcoach self. :)
21st-Oct-2009 12:55 am (UTC)
This makes me miss my bike very much. :) Boston is a strange mix of bike-friendly and anti-cycling. Perhaps I'll get a new one for myself for my birthday (as one for Christmas would be rather pointless in the snow).

Thanks for sharing all of this - that first bike you got in Scotland sounds like it really was demon spawn!
24th-Oct-2009 08:34 pm (UTC)
It was pretty bad.

I imagine Boston would be a bit wild...they seem to be always ripping up downtown and it always it is the worst dealing with construction stuff while on a bike.
21st-Oct-2009 08:26 am (UTC)
I used to have tyres that were never puncture free. It was a nightmare. Then Andy found puncture proof tyres which are just awesome (although a little bit heavy).
24th-Oct-2009 08:36 pm (UTC)
I'm using some Specialized Armadillo tyres and I love them. (Also, kerb and tyre seem to be two British spellings I can never seem to remember.)

They are a bit heavier, but I find they don't make me too much slower as they're hybrid tyres instead of proper high knobbley mtb ones.
24th-Oct-2009 03:09 am (UTC)
one of the most enjoyable posts of the last two years. thank you. kit and i rode down the CA coast this summer-- over the course of 4.5 days we rode from Monterrey to Santa Barbara (loaded with our camping gear to boot!). twas a beautiful experience. someday, i would love to go on some of the rides you've done.

again, thank you for the lovely writing.
24th-Oct-2009 08:37 pm (UTC)
Aww, cheers!

I'm quite impressed with the photos Kit had on Facebook of your trip. I'm actually a little jealous. We couldn't possibly do 4 days without having to take a day out on account of rain.

I'm hoping to get back to some actual writing when things settle down around here. :)
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