One year, New Mill Male Voice Choir cycling section asked me to join them for The Yorkshire Rider Mountain Bike Challenge. How difficult could that be? And it was for charity. Maybe I was knocking on, but not that old.
We’ll need to try out the route they said. The chain on my road bike broke within five minutes, followed by long walk home and a trip to buy a chain repair kit. Next practice, on a mildly undulating strip of mud and rocks, I lost my grip, fell off, hurt my elbow and bust a toestrap. Remounting, the rear mech rattled and scraped against the wheel spokes.
I told my wife I wasn’t doing it. But she’d baked a cake. Have a piece and sponsor this idiot she’d asked her workmates. ‘I’ve got you £30 and they’ll want to know if you’ve done it.’
I’m still not doing it. I’ll give the money back. No, I’ll do half and give half back. Oh, shoot, I’ll do it.
A friendly bass offered me a bike, ‘I’ve borrowed one from a mate so you have my old one. The rear brake’s a bit sticky and the chain slips.’
‘Well if you’re not riding it, neither am I.’
I gave the hire shop a ring. Collect it Saturday. £20 to hire, £50 deposit, add on £12 to enter the race, £7.50 for a chain kit, cost unknown for the mech. Over three times the sponsorshop. They told me how to take the wheels off, use tyre levers and replace an inner tube. Then I had a test ride. Easy. Gears here, the brakes work, seat was a bit low, needs adjusting. Five minutes and I’d got it? Ha ha.
I didn’t look out of place at the start. ‘Where’s your front brake?’ a baritone asked. ‘I’m sure I had one yesterday,’ I replied. But I couldn’t see the cantilevers. ‘You’ve discs,’ said a bass. ‘Oh good.’
We started in the second row. The third row was past me before I’d got to the end of the village. Right on the first track and the saddle dropped. I got off and tightened it. The gear was too low to get going again and until I got on I could’t change gear. By the time I was riding again, all the women and children, veterans and wheelchairs had gone passed.
Every few miles, small groups bunched round upended bikes, tools and grease everywhere, and guys walked sadly holding broken chains. All my downhill were fights. With the bike, the stones, the steepness, and the brakes. My forearms were on fire.
Then a break on Holme Moss, lovely dry sunny and windy. My saddle suddenly lurched forward, really loose like a sea-saw. Second tenor Barry fixed it with a spanner from his large rucksack of tools. He had a fan club, which lurked round corners unseen. ‘Come on Barry,’ they shouted. Then their faces would pop up over a wall.
The first fourteen were the easiest. Regular chocolate bar and water stations, encouragement from the marshals as they gave me a tick. At sixteen I ran out of gas and the last ten were a blur. Walking up the hills, in fear of my life down, wobbling up and down on the saddle, legs and arms aching, bum sore. I was speechless at the finish, except when some pencil neck tried to blame me for losing a checkpoint tick.
The winner was over fifty and did it in two hours, eight minutes. If he’d’ve gone round again, he’d’ve lapped me.
There were two fliers under the windscreen wipers inviting us to take part in races the following month. I tore them up. A bass came across, ‘Can I put you down for next year?’
‘Ooo, let me think . . . ‘ Even the most irrepressible of do-gooders would have known to give it a rest and quietly walk away.
The bike shop returned my £50. One of them engaged me in friendly banter, ‘My mate did it last year, came seventh and in fixed gear. Takes some doing that.’ I bet it did.