The Bike as an Icebreaker
Updated: May 31, 2018
(Oli) The first day the wheels of our adventure-to-come were truly in motion was leaving Ruth’s parents’ house in Bradford on Avon and setting off for Bwlch, Wales, where we were due to house sit for a couple of weeks in the beginning of February.
By that point I’d be six weeks clear of the operation. Which is the recommended healing time. After six weeks I could begin re-strengthening a fit knee. The Brecon Beacons felt like as good a place as any.
Having packed as if for a journey around the world, that morning in early February was my first time riding with four fully laden panniers, a handlebar-bag, & a roll bag. And, because not everything had fitted in first time; I also had a backpack with flask & food & various other loose bits and bobs that I had frantically chucked in before bed the night before. I heaved myself off the kerb, waved at Ruth, nearly fell off, and pedalled away feeling the strain of a load I hadn’t wanted to weigh for fear of what the scales would say.
Flat ground felt like a hill. The pedals resisted turning and the headset and steering felt weird. I felt equally nervous about downhills as I did the ups. Bradford on Avon is a town built on hills. Would this thing actually stop at junctions?
Of course it was all fine.
A few minutes later the bike was leaned up against a wall at the train station and I was waiting for my train to Abergavenny.
Within moments a woman had approached me smiling; ‘It brings it all back.’ she said.
‘What does?’ I asked.
‘The loaded bike.’
Jan had toured from Alaska down to Guatemala in the 70s. She was full of enthusiasm when I shared our plans.
‘You’re going to have the best time.’
I voiced my concern about the weight of the bike compared to what I was used to.
‘You’ll be flinging it around before you know it.’ she said.
Which made me feel a whole load better.
'Any advice?' I asked as my train pulled in to the platform.
‘Trust your instincts. And rest-days are important. You’re going to have a year you’ll never forget.’ She smiled warmly & held the doors as I struggled to board the train. I waved through the window feeling totally at ease again.
Turning around in the carriage I felt less at ease. Great Western Railway do have a carriage with allocated bike spaces but they can’t have measured bikes when designing it. It doesn’t really fit a bike, and besides that there was already an utter monster of a downhill mountain bike sitting pretty in this one. Its handlebars jutting out into the aisle & its back wheel in the carriage doorway. I was wedged in a vestibule purgatory between a couple of wheelie cases probably bound for Bristol Airport, a buggy, and this mountain bike. But at least I was on the train. I figured I would just hold the bike upright as best I could and apologise for blocking other passengers.
After a couple of stops, a concerned, friendly looking guy appeared from the carriage behind me.
‘Sorry, mate. I was trying to keep an eye on the bike but fell asleep. Where are you off? Do you need me to shift things around a bit?’
Between us we balanced my bike whilst removing panniers. A two-man Tetris moment; we
pivoted it on end to turn it around. Lifted his over mine. Dropped my saddle and slotted it in beneath his handlebars. And then slid my panniers in between the two bikes. We then bungeed the hell out of them so they didn’t fall against the toilet door and trap an unlucky user.
After the bike choreography was over we sat down and got chatting. His name was Matt and he later helped me get off the train at Newport. He thought the trip sounded brilliant but laughed out loud when he tried to lift the bike on the station platform. Matt looked like he could hold his own in a scrum & was used to bombing it downhill on a chunky MTB with double suspension - no flimsy affair - but the loaded tourer made everything else seem dainty in comparison. We compared bikes once more & laughed again. He shook his head, shook my hand firmly, and smiled; 'Two wheels is two wheels; if you love bikes you gotta love them all.’
And that was just the first morning cycling fully loaded. Before our trip had even begun.
Since then the bikes have continued to start conversations and draw friendly attention. Whenever we’ve had hollow legs and felt too tired to continue, or stopped to shelter from a headwind, somebody seems to appears out of nowhere like a fairy godmother. Every time this has happened it's led to an interesting conversation. And every time we’ve said goodbye we’ve felt rejuvenated and ready to ride once again.
Our bikes are made by Jake and his team at www.bristolbicycles.co.uk.