Sunday, 29 September 2013

Digital bike, analogue rider

An overused aphorism of recent times is William Morris's "have nothing in your house that you do not believe to be beautiful or know to be useful". Despite his libertarian Marxism I happen to agree with him on that one, which is why my lovely new toy hasn't yet seen the inside of the garage, and why I'm seriously thinking of mounting it above the fireplace.  For in the words of another renowned wordsmith, "isn't she lovely?" (Though I doubt whether Stevie Wonder is a libertarian Marxist. Libertarian rastafarian perhaps, which, even if the concept doesn't exist, has a nice ring about it don't you think?).

Yes, this is my monochrome wonder, a vision in black and white. Ebony and ivory indeed.

But enough of the duff references to crap pop songs of the past, time for a more detailed analysis of what's been 12 months in the planning and waiting. I finally took delivery of my new bike yesterday (or more to the point, I ran the 2 miles to Macclesfield railway station, took the train to Stoke, and ran the 2.5 miles from Stoke railway station to the Brian Rourke temple in Burslem, all so that I could collect the new machine and ride it [him, her? Haven't decided yet] home).  

It is frankly, a work of art. A masterpiece. It's two months late because Jason and Gareth at Rourke's have done amazing things with it. There are no cables whatsoever in front of the handlebars. The new Ui2 electronic gear changing system is all buried in various parts of the frame and seat post. It's the first Rourke steel bike to feature electronic shifting. The brushed steel effect of the groupset matches the exposed Reynolds 953 steel tubing of the seat stay and chain stay.

I don't feel entirely comfortable calling it a digital bike, as per the title of the post, as the frame is handmade to the precise measurements of my body, and it's been put together by mastercraftsmen. But the facts that a) it's got a computer diagnostic system associated with it where you plug in the groupset electronics to a computer to see which bits of the system are functioning well and which need attention (just like a modern car), and b) it feels of a quality way beyond my riding ability, combine to make me feel just a tad inferior.

Before I get too boring in praise of the most lavish present I've ever given myself, I'll just say this - what really matters, i.e. how the thing feels when you ride it, is amazing. A combination of the steel frame and some decent wheels take away 80% of the 'buzz' you get riding on rough road surfaces. I came back from Stoke yesterday on a route through Wincle that included several 18% climbs and similarly priced descents, and bike and man felt as one. It was lovely.  I'll report more in due course after some more rides.

In the meantime, thanks to 1) Jason and Gareth at Rourke's for making something special, 2) Robert Penn, for his book that pushed me in the direction of steel, and 3) Mendip Rouleur for lending me his copy of said book.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

The madnesses of now

Generally speaking, when someone asks me what era I'd like to have lived in (not a frequent enquiry I grant you), with the possible exception of the late 1950s, I can think of no finer time to be alive than now. Of course I look back at the late 70s and nearly all the 80s with great affection, but that's because of the age I was at the time. So I'm not an advocate of the notion that times past were"the good old days".

And yet, and yet....there are aspects of how we are today that I think we'll look back on in 20, 30 years time with as much bemusement as we look back at the purple polyester flares of the 1970s today. In no particular order, these include:

- the lack of availability and quality of wifi. To our kids' children it'll be as commonplace and accepted as electricity or plumbing. They'll guffaw at our pitiful attempts to connect on trains and our inability to do so in place in the same way we laugh at those enormous mobile phones of the early 1980s

- slightly more politically, we'll shake our heads in disbelief at the coexistence of the progressive deterioration of the lives of our elderly (unsavoury nursing homes, dispersed family, loneliness, a reduced allocation of health service resources) with the fact that we were paying to keep a vast army of people inactive (the unemployed), when they could have been working to address at least some of the elderly's issues. To suggest of course that people should have to do anything to justify their JSA or housing benefit would no doubt be greeted with howls of outrage from great swathes of the population claiming to speak on their behalf.  I can see there might be some practical challenges in setting up what I suggest, but the principle of doing something for your dole money? On that I'm unshakeable, and if that makes me an evil right-winger, so be it

- visible, prominent tattoos, or at least their prevalence in the population. Maybe I'm terminally old-fashioned, but I just don't think they make anyone look more attractive. Some tattoos I understand even if I wouldn't have myself - regimental mottos, ironman symbols, spouse names for example - but random designs on necks and feet? I think our children will think it odd, to say the least. By then we'll be finding less painful and expensive ways of expressing our individuality

- the strange cult of shopping. We all need stuff from time to time of course. But to go to a shopping centre or city centre and spend hours gazing at things you don't really need and can't really afford, surely that's a form of torture? I admit it keeps the glorious countryside much emptier than it would otherwise be, so improving the running and cycling experience - but surely people are going to wake up and smell the proverbial, realising they can have a more fun, healthier and cheaper day out than worshipping at their retail cathedrals?

- and talking of healthier, that we were so damn fat. Actually, I'm not sure that people will look back on now as a time of strange behaviour. I fear that the steady march towards obesity will continue until kids are educated about diet properly. And how to cook. And the difference between good calories and junk calories. I'm not being a diet fascist here - beer and chocolate feature regularly in mine - but you just need to be aware of how what you put in your stomach affects you long term

I could undoubtedly come up with more, much more, but I'd begin to veer into grumpy old man territory if I did. And I need no further encouragement in that direction. Exercise normally tempers the worst of those particular excesses, and I've been below quota on that in the last 10 days, mainly due to recovering from the Macc Canal run, which perhaps explains this post. There is, however, not a part of my body that hasn't been stretched beyond its usual shape, as my bum muscles in particular will testify. If that leaves you with an unsavoury vision, I apologise sincerely.
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