Going to the garage and getting ready to ride is an oddly enjoyable interlude in my day. It’s a calm, neutral space where I’m neither fully in nor fully out, suspended between one reality and another.
I’ll already have gone through the process of choosing the right mix of clothing – never easy in a climate as variable as ours – so I when I close the front door behind me, I at least look like a cyclist. But it’s only once I’m in the garage I start to feel like one.
There are the basic pre-ride checks: tyres, chain, a few crucial bolts, brakes, the quick-release skewers that hold the wheels in. Usually, the tyres need a few PSI to achieve the desired solidity, which the old track pump delivers with a few quick strokes.
Then it’s time to get myself ready. Unlike normal civilian clothing, cycling jerseys and jackets have pockets (usually three) stitched along the back. This may seem strange, but it’s actually incredibly practical. You can carry a surprising amount in them, they don’t restrict your movement, you don’t need big saddle-bags or panniers and, best of all, you can put things in and take things out of them while you’re riding along. You start with the basics (reaching back to grab a banana or cereal bar, for instance) then progress through finer motor skills like extracting a camera or phone, to the ultimate tests: unpacking and putting on a rainjacket, then taking it off and stuffing it away again. The potential for disaster is considerable – I’ve seen pros come a cropper with an errant sleeve tangled in the chain – but once mastered, these are invaluable skills and the mark of a true roadie.
In my back pockets, I always carry: a mobile phone, wrapped in a plastic bag; a mini-pump; and a CO2 canister. My racing tyres run at 130PSI, and getting that amount of air in with a small hand-pump is no joke, believe me. One shot of compressed gas, though, and you’re back up to pressure and rolling again in no time, providing of course you haven’t frozen your fingers to the valve. If the clouds are threatening, I’ll jam one of the aforementioned pack-down rainjackets into a pocket, too. The rest – spare inner tube, tyre levers, patches, tools – are already snug in a little pack slung under the saddle.
Put on helmet and glasses (clear or yellow lenses on gloomy days, Terminator black the rest of the time) then swap red Crocs for stiff-soled cycling shoes. And if you want to know why they’re called cycling shoes, just try walking in ’em. Last of all, gloves, carefully tucked into sleeves if it’s chilly. Can’t stand a draught. If it’s really cold, there’ll also be wind- or waterproof overshoes to pull on – well, over my shoes.
Wheel the bike up the drive (which makes it sound a lot longer than it is) onto the road, swing a leg over, check up and down the street, then click into the right pedal. Once the left foot snaps in too, and I’m rolling down the hill, the transformation is complete.
RITUAL IN RHYME ROYAL
In quiet contemplation I prepare
Myself. This is the sacred space between
All that I leave indoors, and life out there.
A thousand times I’ve run through this routine
That clears my mind, unites man and machine.
With mobile, gas and pump all safely stowed
I’m ready for the rigours of the road.