Two weekends ago, a couple of friends came over, and we built up a bike. Over a few cups of tea, we overcame a few problems, shared a few tips and cobbled a decent fixed gear from a pile of parts.
If you’ve never done this before, I’ll let you into a little secret: it’s not as hard as it seems. Next time that something starts creaking, you upgrade a part or even want a whole new bike, consider doing it yourself.
Start small, do some research (Bicycle Tutor and Sheldon Brown are cycle-repair bibles) and see how you get on.
Carrying some sort of food is wise on any long ride, to stop what cyclists call bonking (which marathon runners call “hitting the wall”, and I call “running out of puff”).
A quick bite can perk you up surprisingly quickly if you find yourself flagging.
There are all sorts of premade gels, jellys, bars and snacks to choose from, but if you’re going on a long ride a few times a week, these can get pricey.
Making your own bars is one solution. It’s much cheaper, but it does take a little time.
I took this shot a couple of months ago, while I was freelancing in the West End – the natural habitat of the bike courier.
It was a very special sighting of rare tricycle-couriers flocking through Fitzrovia.
Unlike their nimbler, two-wheeled counterparts, these specimens have inherent stability. This is well demonstrated by the one at the back, who is smoking a roll-up as she rides.
This alleycat is one of the most professionally organised I’ve ever seen. With helicopter-shot footage, pro-style podium and legion of staff, it beats the charming-but-shambolic affairs I’ve taken part in, at least on paper/YouTube.
It ran through the streets of Auckland in New Zealand, with five checkpoints, or six if you ran a brake. That’s right, being safety-conscious did effectively rule you out of the winning spot. Odd decision, that.
Red Bull Eye in the Sky was a fixed gear, track bike race around Auckland City, New Zealand.
There were 5 checkpoints around the city and riders had to collect a token at each checkpoint.
If a rider was running with a brake they had to visit a 6th checkpoint.
The thing is, Auckland isn’t a very good place for a race like this. Being built essentially at random over two thousand years is an advantage, if you’re a city looking to host a good alleycat. All the accouterments of high-level sponsorship can’t make up for the fun of London’s claustrophobic and chaotic street planning.
Someone called Rainier Schaefer took 1st place with a time of 19.22min, in case you’re interested.
I spotted this heavily modified Apollo MX20.2 at the weekend. It’s unusual, but it looks like fun, no?
It has the original 20in front wheel, but the back has been replaced with one from a toddler’s bike.
The rear brake is still there, but grabbing the lever does nothing but make the caliper clutch uselessly at thin air. There also seems to be a slight problem with pedal strike, but at least it has a freewheel.
I can only hope that somewhere there’s a tiny pink kid’s bike with a 20in rear wheel, it’s stabilisers desperately reaching towards the ground but missing by a good 6 inches.
The Tour begins tomorrow in Monaco with a 15.5km time-trial forming the first stage. What will follow for me and you is almost a month of fantastic television.
What will follow for the competitors is almost a month of the hardest, most competitive riding they will ever face.
So, on the day before, how does one prepare for such a grueling event? To find out, let’s turn to the most accessible of all professional cyclists, Lance Armstrong (thanks, Twitter).
* Wake up in glorious, sunny Monaco.
* Strap on a pair of LIVESTRONG-themed trainers and head down to your bike.
* Do a few circuits of the Stage 1 time-trial course, learning every curve and dip.
* Meet Laurent Fignon, a.k.a. The Professor (have blurry picture taken).
* Grab a bite to eat with Bono of U2 fame.
* Write thoughtful blog post entitled Why I Ride.
* Unveil latest in a string of artist-designed custom Treks, for use in Stage 1.
* Go to sleep and dream of yellow jerseys.
Tomorrow, Lance will be focused on putting in a good first day, ultimately aiming for that eighth win. I’ll be spending the first half of the day in Thetford Forest getting muddy, and the second half glued to the television.