Stalking the netherworld is an immortal two wheeled beast. This mythical bicycle has crushed a million pedal revolutions, pushed back borders through seasonal campaigns and tramped thousands of miles with nary a mechanical glitch. And where the fabric of reality is thin, causality dictates that this phantom shade must take a form in the physical world.
Stripped of everything useful, pared back to minimalist engineering and unleashed on a unwitting global audience through the shadowy power of marketing, this free rolling allegory has a label, a name triumphantly proclaimed whenever muddy mountain bikers meet. It’s called a Singlespeed but beware innocent readers – it should be thought of as one gear but with many, many problems.
And back in the real world. the Wanga has just been on the receiving end of two hours maintenance and some blubbing. The paint has either fallen off or been defaced by some interesting looking hieroglyphics scarred in by muddy shorts or – because the paint is basically anorexic – passing shrubbery. The rear wheel has a bend like a boxer’s nose and the entire bike is guilty of removing a ton of Chiltern topsoil without permission.
All this after just one ride.
But what a ride it was. Even before we started the assembledge of unridden frame and manflu’d rider took on multiple whining personalities. Firstly the build flung together new brakes, juddery wheel and a chain line best described as “ah fuck it, close enough” – all of this under the influence of a holistic building approach that favours hammers over patience. Next up the rider has barely slept for three days and eaten even less frequently. The stomach bug that was going round has more gone through and out both ends. Banging at the door and demanding satisfaction were trail conditions, that have gone from hard to soft faster than an octogenarian deprived of his Viagra.
Trapped in this searchlight of disasters, it should be no surprise that barely ten minutes had passed before it all began to go wrong. The first climb exposed my mechanical incompetence as the complex rear dropout arrangement drove the rear wheel into the seatstay. On the downside, this meant hopping off, inverting the bike and struggling with allen keys of multiple width to put it back on the straight and narrow. On the upside, this was good practice for the subsequent five times the problem surfaced.
So as the bike took on a teenage personality and refused to leave its’ room, the rest of the riding package modulated on an empathetic wavelength, as snot streamed earthwards and lungs refused to fire. The mud was also becoming a little perturbing as a thaw injected previously frozen trails with a stash of trapped water. Riding downhill became a Hobson’s choice of two options; either pedal in the manner of modern waterwheel or, fall off.
It was at this grim point when I received a puncture from the Gods of Fate. Who are known for hating singlespeeders mainly on the grounds of their inane smugness. And while I have some time for that in general times, it seemed a little harsh to poke holes in both of my tyres at the same time. Bastards.
On the fourth attempt to make the rear wheel point in the same direction as the front, I couldn’t help noticing a rain of paint by torchlight. So while I was initially worried about losing paint on the chainstay, this was soon alleviated by huge swathes of previously glossy frame covering splitting with the host personality. I’m assuming this is a California thing, where paint is thinly added by a small child only recently graduated from colouring in stick men.
It really felt as if I was riding with multiple personalities – all of them pissed off at being dragged out on such a grim evening. Pulling them all through the gloop was a trial to be honest and as the mud turned tyres to slicks, my thoughts turned to summer. Or Prozac because one of the two was going to need to be on hand before I tried this again.
I expect you may have become conditioned, at this point, for me to extol the joy of conquering adversity. The sheer pride in getting through a ride like this, the banked karma of riding when it’s shit, and the joy is just getting out and riding whenever you can. But it wasn’t like that at all – it was just bloody awful and undeniably crap.
This morning picked over the remains. Last time I saw so many chips it had a fish served with them. I could cover it with tape but I’d end up insulating the entire bike. The whole idea of singlespeeds is that they are supposed to work in all conditions, with not so much as a spanner wielded. And that, by travelling through such conditions, the general patina will be that of extremely shonky.
As Meatloaf nearly said, one out of two ain’t bad.