What an alarming vesture a pair of bicycle shorts is.
The dipsomanic free-for-all that is Christmas brought with it the customary bearing of gifts. Anyone keeping track may recall that cycling accoutrements were very much the order of my day. Unfortunately, there was some sort of mistake with regard to the jersey I’d put in a request for (the Giordana Tech Silverline). If I hadn't already been laden with the spoils of my recent battles on eBay, and if the Altura branded jersey that erroneously materialised on Christmas Day hadn't been a bit too ‘enthusiast’ for my liking, I might have taken it on the chin (or should that be the torso?). Fortunately, my mother is a very understanding woman and was quite prepared to return the offending item and furnish me with the money instead.
But she got the cycling shorts spot on. I hadn't been so specific with this requirement – all I insisted on was that they had to be black. Black they are, save for a reflective A (for Altura) stamped down the side of each thigh, but they’re a scary article of clothing. I hadn't realised that bicycle shorts incorporated such a substantially padded gusset. When not being warn, the fabric hangs shapelessly off this polyurethane cushion and it can take a while to figure out what goes where. I'm not really looking forward to wearing them, if I'm honest, and whilst in training will probably cover them up with something more flattering. But they are a necessary acquisition, for how can I convince in the peloton without them?
Next up was a saddle bag, courtesy of my de facto Mother-in-Law. Apparently, when she acquired it, she was concerned that it couldn't possibly be what I really wanted on account of its inconsiderable size. She need not have worried, for I’d asked for the Ortlieb Micro Saddle Bag fully aware of its scale.
It would be a very foolish thing to enter a cycling event without the wherewithal to deal with a puncture. I’ll be thoroughly sickened if I do puncture on the London to Brighton, but a spare inner tube, and the means to fit and inflate it, are the nuclear deterrent of cycling. Actually, that’s utter flannel, because being prepared for a puncture will have no impact on whether one punctures or not, obviously. This mobile kit is the type that you hope you’ll never have to use, and will only have to if one is unlucky enough to puncture when one’s too far from home to do anything else other than deal with it there and then. What makes the inconvenience of carrying this gear bearable – and I know people who prefer to take their chances – are the satchels available, designed to fit under the saddle or up against the handlebars. They come in various sizes, depending on what eventuality you want to contend for. I'm only interested in conveying the bare minimum: a spare inner tube, tyre leavers, glueless patch kit, a CO² inflator and concomitant cartridges (the latter set-up yet to be acquired). I can fit all of this in the smallest available bags the market has to offer, probably with enough room spare to carry a modest multi-tool.
So the Ortlieb Micro Saddle Bag looked like the most handsome, compact and waterproof option there was, and reasonably priced too. I ended up with the black/grey variant – I’d only asked that the orange/signal red be avoided – and I'm very happy with it. It fits pleasingly to the underside of my saddle, via the medium of two screws and a plastic bracket, and there’s a handy mechanism that allows the bag to be released from its moorings, should my bike ever need to be left unattended in less than salubrious surroundings.
Then there was bar-tape. I’d been very specific about this. I told my Mother to order ITM branded bar-tape, to accord with my ITM handlebars, or not to bother at all. (I do not want for much and I'm quite difficult to buy for, so am actively encouraged to present requests come the festive season, and can be quite pragmatic about this. In my youth this meant that my Aunt or Grandmother had to suffer regular trips to Replay Records in Bristol in search of obscure hip hop LPs. Some 20 years later and I've been reduced to asking my relatives for bar-tape.) Kudos to my Mum again, for she managed to deliver exactly what I petitioned for. I was particularly amused by the fact that the tape hadn't even come in a box – just a cellophane bag – although I did feel I’d obliged her to engage with some sort of seedy cycling underworld, where presentation is considered an irrelevance.
I hadn't stopped there. I’d informed my brother (my other brother, not the one who rides for Carlos-Weltschmerz) that I could do with some detachable lights, but only because he was struggling for ideas. This was preferable to him wasting his money on something I didn't want or need, so I was happy to oblige. The thing was I’d submitted a late request to my Mother for some Altura Classic Crochet Mitts (in case she struggled in finding ITM bar-tape on the black market) but sensed that this submission had been surplus to requirements. With this in mind I told my brother to commune with my Mother, hoping this would guarantee me the gloves, but backed this up with a half-hearted request for some lightweight detachable lights, just in case, and supplied him with a list of agreeable models. To be fair to my brother's had a lot going down of late, but I suspect he took the path of least resistance and ran with the detachable lights idea from the off. Moreover, when he got to Halfords, he saw only a limited selection of lights, bought what he thought was best, but not the right kind. When I took them back (with his approval) I could see where he went wrong: he’d spotted the sponsored display for the Cateye brand and thought that was it, that was all Halfords had, which was not actually the case.
So rather than exchange these discrepant lamps for the appropriate Knog or Lezyne models that Halfords did in fact stock, I solicited a full refund and bought those Altura Classic Crochet "Mitts" at the first given opportunity. (It bothers me that Altura label them as 'mitts'. What’s wrong with gloves? This is an example of the infantilization of language that has come to plague modern society.)
The weather has been unseasonably mild of late so I might get to wear them sooner than I think.
I’d anticipated adhering my new bar-tape myself, for what is a man if he’s incapable of appending bar-tape? However, after I’d removed the existing bind and made the necessary adjustments, the newly acquired tension in the brake cables caused them to pull against each other whenever the handlebars were turned. Further, I wanted the assurance that I’d properly secured the brake levers in their new position. So I made enquiries in the bike shop that not long ago opened down my road – Crown Cycles in St. Margarets – to discover that the proprietor was prepared to put things right for a nominal fee. I'm glad I did because he pointed out that the astriction to the right cable was pulling the rear brake out of alignment. He’s going to put that right by changing one of the cables, and then he’s going to take great care over fastening the new bar-tape.
He liked the bike. He dated it back to the 1980s. He suggested that I might like to think about changing the rear cassette because the existing one is more geared towards touring. I don’t think I’ll bother, though.
[POST-SCRIPT: The cost of the work the Guy From Crown Cycles did for me wasn't as nominal as I’d been led to believe it would be. I had a suspicion that this might turn out to be the case after he’d identified the problem with the tension of the cables and what needed to be done to put it right. Not only was there the extra cost of labour but he’d be replacing one of the brake cables so as to provide the requisite slack. I was a little put out by this but, on collecting my amended bicycle, I was very happy with the job he’d done – with the wrapping of the bar-tape in particular. He ingratiated himself further by telling me that he thought the Carlos was a very nice bike, the handlebars, stem, headset and frame all being choice components, with only the wheels being considered slightly below par – and that was relative to the aforementioned componentry; its Achilles Heel, if you will. Because, in truth, my abject failure to find any detailed information on the internet relating to Carlos had made me wonder whether or not the bike was as good as I'd been given the impression it was (and I don’t mean "good" as in Colnago good, or Pinarello good, but well-made and capable and fit for purpose). The Guy From Crown Cycles then asked if I didn't mind letting on how much I paid for my bicycle. I told him and he answered that I’d done well for myself. Like I said, he thought it might be an idea to replace the wheels at some juncture, and maybe the brakes too, but this was a testament to the quality of the bike as a whole and it was very much worth spending money on to iron out these weaker links. That’s something to think about for the future, for sure.]