Thwarted

No torment so sweet
As a brand-new bicycle
Confined to the house
As the rain falls.

The spotless silver chain,
Those glossy black tyres
That smooth, gleaming paint:
I cannot do it –

Something within me rebels
At the very thought
Of knowingly exposing her
To what’s out there:

Bleak roads all awash
Seeded with needle-tipped flints
Slathered with churned filth
Potholes like bomb craters.

Fear not, my lovely.
The moment will come
When, under blue skies,
We finally get acquainted.

 
 

The calendar says it’s spring. The daffodils, primroses, snowdrops, celandines, windflowers and assorted amorous birdlife all concur. The weather, however, is refusing to get with the programme. Profoundly bored of the endless wind and rain now; longing for dry roads and warm, sunny days. N.

A bold Leap

Neat, compact;
Genius packed
Tight in three-hinged beauty;
Built for daily duty
On the greasy, gritty
Streets of some great city
But destined for quieter days
Country ways
And trips to the sea
With me.
And as I stare
At it, sitting there,
In those modest dimensions
I see grand intentions,
And wondrous tales waiting to be told
As its possibilities unfold.

 
 

Marked 29 February by buying a Brompton. Been considering it for a while but it’s not a cheap bike and I couldn’t quite muster the courage. Now the deed is done and it’s sitting in my workroom, taking up as much (or as little) space as, say, a bedside table. It really is a thing of beauty and wonderfully engineered; every time I look at it, I notice another exquisite detail that just makes me smile. Can’t wait for some more clement weather now. N.

Sensory deprivation

A slug of moulded plastic, trailing a single wire.
A simple (so they blithely tell me) sensor
That, somehow, feels the thousandth-of-a-second tug
From a passing pea-sized magnet
And from that infinitesimal impulse
Calculates my ground-speed
And telegraphs the blessed motor
All stop or full ahead.

Until it fails.

And in that moment,
Heart in shoes,
I am crushingly aware
That I have no idea
How any of this works:

I cannot make, mend or even comprehend
The least of all the myriad devices
That make my world go round:

No wheels, axles, cogs or clues;
They go about their work
Silent, motionless, inscrutable,

Leaving me on the roadside, wondering
Exactly which of us
Is truly in control.

 
 

Suffered my first away-from-home system failure on the e-mtb yesterday (error code 503 means a speed sensor issue, for any interested Bosch Performance CX users out there). Fortunately it happened a) fairly close to the main road; b) less than four miles from the bike shop; and c) during opening hours. All painlessly resolved thanks to Danny and his excellent crew; but a reminder of our profound, unthinking reliance on technology that we (or at least I) increasingly can’t fix ourselves, and don’t really understand. N.

So much speed

Speed2 copy

and roaring, pouring air;
Suspended by magic and iron laws
Between dawn and a day from hell.

But no matter
What I conjure
From this concatenation of curving tubes
Precision parts and spinning spokes

It will not suffice:
There’s no machine, no human power
That can outrun the onward rush
Of fate, events and time.

Yet while there is a road
Breath and blood, a rising sun
And I have strength and will enough
I’ll ride and rage, hurt and hope.

L’amour du vélo

Trek-Domane-SL-6-Disc-Road-Bike-2017

Can we call
What we feel
For this melange
Of odd-shaped tubes and angles
Machined components
And spider’s webs spun in silver steel

Love?

An asymmetric passion:
Always together
But no shared laughter, tedium or pain;
Enduring the same wild weather
Yet it knows no cold or drop of sweat;
And passing through
Those freezing instants
When time slows and life shrinks
To fractured bits of inches
And scattered shards of seconds
It alone is left untouched
By fear, and all that follows.

But still

This bloodless, wordless better half
Makes us greater than ourselves;
Transports us back to lighter, swifter days,
Revives old glories
Banishes our ghosts
And pries time’s grasping fingers
From our limbs and hearts.

And if to be as one
Wanting nothing more
Content and all complete
Is love
Then I have found a form of it
And will go with it
To the end.

 

Bolt from the blue

IMG_9496[1] IMG_9498[1]

Suddenly, a new power rises,
Liberating, tapping into
Unseen fundamental forces,
Bringing aid and hope of rescue.

Unexpected, out of nowhere,
One small spark. A new connection
Made, potential to kinetic,
Answers all my burning questions.

Surging, urging onwards, upwards
Higher, faster, far beyond my
Obstacles and limitations,
All the pain discharged, forgotten.

I will seize and ride the lightning
Take control then be conducted;
Follow where this current draws me
Remade and regenerated.

 

Behold the Volt Connect – the solution to my wrecked knees, made possible by a wonderful early birthday gift from my folks. It’s an e-bike, with an electric motor that gives me a choice of three levels of boost up the hills, but cuts out at 15.5mph (which in practice means on the flat and downhill). On the ‘High’ boost setting, climbing is virtually effortless, and takes all the strain off my joints. On ‘Eco’ mode, the battery is good for 70 miles or so, which is plenty for me! It’s very early days, but I’m a complete convert, and I think it’s going to be genuinely life-altering. Will keep you posted. N.

(BTW, the metre is trochaic tetrameter, best (or at least most famously) employed by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in ‘The Song of Hiawatha’. I like it for its sense of relentless, forward energy, which seemed to go well with the subject!)

End of an era

Guv 2

And so we reach
The end of our long road;

We saw the moment coming
Like rain over the sea

And for a while
We dodged and weaved

Found secret shortcuts
And pretended we could win.

But there were things
We never could outrun

Thought swift and strong
This race was never ours:

I will give best
To ruined bones and time

And let you go
For good.

 

I’ve had to let The Guv’nor go. My osteoarthritis has been giving me hell this summer, and riding this bike, with its hefty weight and only three gears, was doing me more harm than good. Given the state of my knees, it was probably a mistake to buy him, to be honest (perhaps I should have titled this End of an Error?) but we had some fantastic times together, and I have no regrets. I’m pleased to say His Nibs has found a truly excellent new home, but it’s still a wrench. Part of me has gone with him. N.

Glory days

To think that once
We’d gather while the saner world
With its small ways
And dull, diminished dreams
Slept on

And roll out

Knowing we’d be gone
Till those same silent streets
Smouldered gold in a hickory reek
And weary shadows yawned and stretched
Into encroaching dusk;

Returning

Cheeks and bellies hollowed out,
Legs freighted with a double metric tonne
Of England’s lanes and hills;

Unconscious of our glory
Complacent in our strength
And never yet supposing

That our one day’s ride
Would turn in time
Into a weekend’s work;

That knees and hips would find their voice
And raise a chorus of complaint
With backs and shoulders

And all our talk
Would be of what had been.

A different road
Through distant days.

 
 

When I was 15, Bruce Springsteen’s anthem Glory Days was just a great song. It still is, of course; but 30-some years on, I feel as though I’m in it. My friend Mike wasn’t (as far as I know) ‘a big baseball player’ but he was a fine bike-rider, and a great companion on the road. Looking back, I can’t quite believe we put in some of the miles and days we did. Couldn’t do it now, but wouldn’t have missed it for the world. N.

Restoration

To see it now
In all its buffed, perfumed
Straight-from-the-shop perfection

I can almost forget
The weary, oily wreck
It was a week ago.

Tight, smooth, noiseless,
New parts softly shining,
Stripped of winter’s grease and grime

Spring-clean and ready
For long escapades
On sun-shimmering roads.

My one bright hope
That under all the filth and ruin
Not everything is lost.

 
 

My day-to-day work bike has been in the shop this week for its annual service, in the expert hands of Harvey and Luke. After a hard winter, it needed the chain, cassette, brake pads and gear cable replaced, so it wasn’t cheap; but it’s essentially a new bike again, with all the sensory pleasures that brings, and worth every last penny. And heading out for the first shake-down ride yesterday, I felt like part of me had been restored, too. N.