I’ve been away from home for the last two weeks, providing the opportunity to ride my new bike on unfamiliar roads, over unfamiliar hills. The topography round here differs to the flatness of Cambridgeshire, with many short, steep hills to strain the legs, empty the lungs and test the gears on my bike. Testing the gears has brought to light a problem with the my new bike, which was point blank refusing to shift correctly. One ascent of Streatley Hill, the top of which is 17% and a bit of a monster, was made particularly hard as I was unable to select my 27 sprocket and the 25 was rattling around all over the place.
Out one afternoon I overtook an old man riding alone. I was going too fast to know whether he acknowledged my cheerful “afternoon” but soon met him again at the top of a small hill where, once again I was swearing at my hopeless gears.
“Are you alright?” he asked cheerily as he stopped next to me. The man was probably about 80, wearing the sort of pale grey coat many old men wear and a pale purple fleece hat perched on the top of his head like an effeminate gnome. His bike was silver and heavy with sturdy wheels and a rack on the back. The only concession to the modern cycling attire were a set of rather racy looking clear glasses.
I explained my problem and, whilst he couldn’t help, he suggested a nearby shop where he took his bike for service and, after a brief chat, he wished me luck and went on his way, powering over the crest of the hill, out of the saddle and painfully slow. A minute or two later, my gears now acceptable for the few miles back home, I set off in pursuit, catching him before the next village, where I thanked him again and ground my way up the next 12% hill, hoping he wouldn’t overtake me with a concerned wave.
And that was that really. I got my bike fixed then tackled Streatley Hill again, this time very slightly more easily with my bottom gear now working.
The next day, out for the final ride before returning home, I saw the man again. In the same place he had stopped for me, thought this time going in the opposite direction. He sat up and waved, “Hello!” he shouted with an enquiring look. “I got them fixed, thanks,” I shouted and rode on.
I doubt I’ll ever see him again, but this interaction proved the goodness of mankind and the occasional solidarity of those who regularly choose two wheels. Whilst he was wearing his fleece hat and grey mac, and me in Lycra and Oakleys, we were the same. Brothers of the road, if you like.
So don’t ignore the next cyclist you pass, whatever they’re riding or wearing. We all know the pleasure, we all know the risks. Even if we can’t all adjust our gears.