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.

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.

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.

Breakaway

Speed2 copy

 

What I want
Right now
Is a faster bike:

Not just quick enough
To torch all records
Round a routine loop;

Slide inside
An long-impregnable PB
Like a letter under a door;

Gun down that distant stranger
And pass them in a blast
Of thrumming, taunting air.

No. I need one
Built to outrun
A world I no longer understand:

With wheels that spin up
Instantly
Then roll like silk forever;

Geared to answer
Every surge and counter
From any in pursuit

Light as moon-dust, river-stone smooth,
So close to nothing air and gravity
Would be forced to let it go.

A machine my roaring, laboured mind
Can assemble and bring out at will
Climb on, clip in

Then let it rip
And know without a backward glance
None has the power to follow.

Separation

A page unturned
A bow unstrung
A match unstruck
A song unsung
An unbacked horse
An unheard choir
An unmade bed
An unlit fire
A cake uncut
A book unread
A keg untapped
A word unsaid
A handless clock
A limbless tree
A roofless house
A shoreless sea.
A silent scream
A soundless shout.
A lifeless life.

A day without.

 
 

Bad weather and meetings away from home have conspired to keep me off the bike the last couple of days. A poem for anyone sundered from the object, activity, place or person that means the most to them today. N.

Sonnet: Do or die

I love the bike: the ride, the road, the air
Have been my life so long I can’t recall
A time I didn’t do this thing. What bare
And sterile days those must have been; so small
In scope, so tame and desk-soft: indoors skin
That never felt the rain’s lash, glowed like flame
From eight hours out in August. Can’t begin
To picture him, that stranger with my name.
So what should I do now, when every day
Brings ten fresh invitations to that dance
We all must do; how long until I lay
The losing card in this rigged game of chance?
I’ve reached a crossroads; asking whether I
Still need it all enough to want to die.

Clean

 

Poor bike. Looks like
You just came last
in the Tour of Flanders,
or spent the day
on the road to Roubaix
and, en route, passed
through all the seven circles
of cycling hell.

But mud and crud
Aren’t all that I
Must try washing from you:
A deeper taint
Now dulls your blue paint;
The rumours fly
And history’s rewritten
As more men tell.

Yet still, I will
Keep faith with you,
My partner for so long.
You are no fake:
Their crimes do not make
What we’ve been through
Any the less. We did it
And did it well.

 

Took the road bike on my own little ‘Tour of redemption’ today. As I’d hoped, the weather was foul and the roads were filthy – real hardcore stuff – and I chose a route with plenty of hills (not difficult round here!) I’d just finished reading Tyler Hamilton’s illuminating, and heartbreaking, book The Secret Race and desperately needed reminding just what it was I first loved about this crazy sport. Thing is, my road bike is the same as the one Hamilton, Armstrong and the US Postal Service team rode at the ’99 and ’00 Tours (which is why I got it) That big sponsor’s logo on the seat-tube, which I used to be so proud of, now seems like an indictment: from what I’ve just read, USPS should probably stand for Users of Suspicious and Prohibited Substances.
Anyway, had a brilliant ride, and came back with the bike looking as though it had just been dragged out of a canal; this poem came to me while I was washing it down. The truth I discovered today was that whatever Armstrong et al may or may not have done, they can’t make my light, fast, beautiful bike heavy, slow or ugly. The bike is bigger and greater than the sport of cycling, and I can still enjoy the one without the other. All is well. N.

 

(NB The Tour of Flanders is a legendarily demanding one-day ‘classic’ race held in Belgium every spring. The weather is usually appalling. Roubaix is the unlovely industrial town where the almost-as-tough and even-more-famous Paris-Roubaix classic ends. Both races include lots of cobbled roads, and the list of past winners is a roll-call of the sport’s serious hard-men.)