In chapter 13 I alluded to how my old Adidas Sambas made for a ‘perfectly serviceable pair of cycling shoes’. They do, and they’re actually more suited to pedalling than they are the kicking of footballs, contrary to their designation. I bought my Adidas Sambas for five-a-side football but never performed well in them. During one of my work affiliated footballing tenures I opted to wear my Puma Top Winners instead, with pleasing results. Originally intended as casual wear, their repeated use on the field forced me to retire these pumps prematurely, although I never once featured on the losing side the whole time I played in them. I should have bought two pairs – at least.
So now, over a decade since they were purchased, the Adidas Sambas have found new life as cycling shoes. Unfortunately, their age is starting to tell and the rubber has degraded in the intervening years. Because of this, new shoes have been added to the list of accoutrements I’m gathering in preparation for the London to Brighton. Better move quickly, though; the event is just three weeks away.
I eschew the use of cleats, which precludes me from buying the conventional, and more readily available, cycling footwear there is on the market. Relying on toe clips and straps will completely undermine my authority as a cyclist in many people’s eyes, but so be it. For me, it’s a question of aesthetics and I don’t think the Romani would look right with clipless pedals – something I’m quite willing to sacrifice performance for.
In my experience, properly fitted toe clips and straps still offer a fair amount of traction anyway, and if I can find a shoe with stiff enough a sole then I shouldn’t be dissipating too much energy. I’d like an old pair of Sidi or Vittoria cycling shoes, which do occasionally reveal themselves on eBay. These old style shoes are deceptively… shoe-like, and later models even accommodate cleats. More modern footwear of this flavour does exist – made by companies such as Dromarti, Quoc Pham, Exustar – but they’re beyond my financial range. I could wear MTB shoes; however, they’re clunky, chunky affairs, not designed to be used in conjunction with clips and straps. Initiative is what’s called for, and an element of risk.
I thought I’d found a solution when I discovered a pair of resolutely stiff brown leather trainers in TK Maxx. Made by an obscure European manufacturer, manufacturing under the name Jorcel, it appeared that they’d manufactured a shoe that fulfilled my manufactural requirements. At £25 a pair a more impulsive fellow would have bought them straight away, but I am ponderer extraordinaire and recoiled towards my laptop to research, study and pontificate.
I decided against them. I thought they might jar against my more current cycling attire. If I was wearing a woollen jersey and riding in the L’Eroica, or partaking in the Tweed Run, sporting tweed, then the brown traditional leather uppers would have been a good fit. But you may recall that I ditched those crochet mitts for fear that I might look a little too muddled in my appearance. I like anachronism but, like colour, it must be blended well.
Let me consider my race visage for a moment: a steel bike with some contemporary features; a cycling jersey designed in the 1980s utilising latter-day fabric in its reproduction; black lycra cycling shorts; white socks; a helmet, probably white, if not black. Remove the helmet from the equation and it will look like I’m riding for La Vie Claire, the modern elements of my bike too subtle to disturb the impression. But it’s not as dated a look as one might think. I suppose you could say the 1980s represented the sartorial birth of modern cycling. It’s not like with football, where the size and fit of the uniform are in a constant state of flux: cycling apparel needs to be tight. So all that’s left to change or falter is the material and the amount of adverts that cycling’s governing bodies allows teams to have printed on their jerseys.
And the colour. In the 1980s nearly everyone wore black cycling shorts, regardless of the colour of the jersey. It was an actual rule on many of the tours, and a sensible approach; cycling shorts should not be made available in any other colour. Black also predominated when it came to shoes (although it appears Bernard Hinault favoured blue when he rode for La Vie Claire).
Nowadays anything goes, and shoes may even be tailored to team colours, but white seems to be the colour of choice for many riders. (It was Mommersteeg who had asked me what I thought of white cycling shoes over drinks in a pub in Barnes, implying either that he had a pair or that he was thinking of buying some.) So if I don’t want to look like some sort of 80s pastiche on a bike then maybe white’s the way to go? Or if I do opt for black then I should look for evidently modern qualities.
(A new, old pair of Sidi cycling shoes - courtesy 'Velosniper')
The issue was not resolved in time for Carlos-Weltschmerz’s second official training session, which was poorly attended. It was scheduled for the Sunday of the Spring Bank Holiday weekend, so maybe this was to be expected. Our assembly was dependant on the weather anyhow, which turned out fine.
It was just Wenborn and myself, then, and we met in Wimbledon at the Starbucks shrouded in glass. After a strong cup of filter coffee, Wenborn led the way and I tried to hang onto his back wheel for as long as I could.
By the time we reached Epsom, 9 miles later, I had my concerns. I felt okay but I was aware that we were only about halfway to Box Hill, and thus a quarter of the way through the day’s full ride (these statistics disregard the 8 miles I’d already cycled to reach Wimbledon). The A24 (Dorking Road) followed, an undulating trail that saw my companion laying down quite a pace. Once we crossed over the M25 and joined the Leatherhead Bypass – still the A24 – these conditions persisted, and it was only when turning down Old London Road that we were offered respite.
The Zig Zag Road up to Box Hill itself was manageable, although it did require me to sink into the second to lowest gearing obtainable on my 14 gear bike. The sense of achievement, the distance travelled, a cup of coffee, and the view over Surrey, Sussex and the South Downs, helped me to forget about the apprehension I’d felt back in Epsom, but this was mere delusion.
Going down Boxhill Road was good and as we crossed back over the M25 the situation gave me no cause for concern. What followed were a series of dual carriageways and the run of the traffic lights. The A217 took us as far as Rose Hill Roundabout, whereupon we joined the A297 until such point that it merged with the A24. We then remained on the A24 until it segued into the A219, which would take us into Putney. I tried to keep up with Wenborn but he was out-pacing me. Most of the roads were in poor condition – or at least the sides of them, where cyclists must keep – which put a physical strain on my body as it tensed up before every visible pothole. ‘Wimbledon 7 miles’ was succeeded by ‘Wimbledon 5 miles’, but the two intervening 1.609 kilometres seemed to have lasted an age. I had run out of water, although there was barely a stretch of road safe enough to tackle my bidon anyway. My saddle was no longer comfortable. My body bored of its posture.
Then, Putney within touching distance of my imagination, we began the climb up Wimbledon Hill Road: one third of a mile that had me on my knees, almost completely spent. The only reason I didn't dismount was because it struck me as being eaier not to - that pushing my bike up such a steep gradient would require only marginally less effort, and that if I debarked I might never be able to get back on. So I made it up that mountain and fumbled my way to Putney, whereupon Wenborn and I stopped for beers. By the time I’d made it home, my Romani Prestige had covered just over 51 miles, albeit with three breaks along the way.
This is the longest I have ever cycled in one day and I thought it would be easier. That I had concerns after just 17 miles of cycling conveys to me that I could have been a little off-colour from the outset, although I wasn’t aware of it at the time. In retrospect, it would have been a good thing to have eaten something when we got to Box Hill, because it was on the journey home that I evidently began to flag.
There were a lot more hills than I’m used to and perhaps my recent excursions have been a bit too flat. I now plan on putting in some time doing laps of Richmond Park, where I know there are the climbs that might lick me into shape.
Looking at the experience a little more positively, my bike behaved impeccably throughout; gear changes were fluid and without tribulation. Also, my body felt fine the next day – no aches or strains – and I was never in any trouble with regard to my breathing; merely fatigued and lacking in strength. But it has come as a bit of a mental shock. I don’t know what the gradient is on Wimbledon Hill Road, but it can’t be any more formidable than Ditchling Beacon.