In November 2008, I bought myself a Pashley Guv’nor as a birthday present. A replica of a 1930s ‘path racer’, it’s everything my Trek Madone isn’t: made from Reynolds steel, it weighs 35lb, has three-speed Sturmey-Archer hub gears and a Brooks leather saddle, and all the sprightly handling and acceleration of a fully laden furniture van. It’s a complete anachronism, a conscious rejection of all the advances in materials science and technology that make modern road bikes so efficient and exciting to ride.
But I absolutely loved it (sorry; him) and together we clocked up over 3,000 miles – including a couple of time-trials – during the 2009 season. All winter I looked forward to spring, when we could take to the road again. Then came the diagnosis on my knee. A heavy bike with three gears seemed precisely not what the doctor ordered for someone with osteoarthritis, and living in a hilly area. With infinite reluctance, I took The Guv’nor back to the excellent Future Cycles where I’d bought him, and asked them to get whatever they could for him.
That was three months ago. There were a couple of nibbles, but no takers. So on Sunday, I went to the shop and busted him out. The money would have been useful, but I feel altogether richer simply by having him back home.
This morning, we went out for a ride. Not far, not fast, but wonderful nonetheless. And despite all the miles we’d done together before, I felt that today, I finally ‘got’ him. My mistake had been to ride him head down, flat out, for as many miles as possible – in fact, as though he was just another road bike. But he’s not. My mistake has cost me dearly; I’m sure that, even if it didn’t cause it, riding The Guv’nor too hard probably hastened the onset of my OA. As William Blake observed: “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom; for we never know what is enough until we know what is more than enough.”
I have no choice but to go easier on him now; my knee simply won’t let me do otherwise. But if I’m careful, I can still ride The Guv’nor after all, which is a truly marvellous realisation. And if I have to put up with a few twinges in the hinges, I’ll consider it a small price to pay. Cue a sonnet.
RIGHT YOU ARE, GUV’NOR
They were hard men, the ones who used to race
The Tour de France on bikes like this. They gaze
From books and photographs: each stern, lean face
Is grimed and etched with suffering. The days
Of crossing mountain passes on one gear
Are gone; spare tubes wrapped round the shoulders, too,
With goggles and wool jerseys. Now I hear
The tales of their two-wheeled derring-do
And know a little of their world. And yet
This bike is also England, from a past
We’ve chucked aside but still can’t quite forget;
When we knew how to build a thing to last.
A grand machine inspired by history:
Reminding me how cycling ought to be.