So its the late 1970s, I’m working in the north east through the week and coming home at weekends, my younger brother, our Ned, still lives at home and has got into cycling, he buys an expensive Motobecane road racing cycle to ride to work every morning and because its getting towards the winter he fits some front and rear lights on it, all is good in the world so far.
So its a Saturday morning and Ned and our dad go to play golf, for at this point in my life I do not play the stupid game, my playing of the stupid game is to come later, much later, don’t let other people tell you that you get wiser as you get older for it was only when I was older that I came to play the stupid game of golf, however for now I do not play the stupid game, so they go off on a Saturday morning and I am left kicking my heels.
Presently I wander into the garage to have a look at his new very expensive bicycle and I stand there and gaze at it and wonder how the hell something like that could cost several months wages although I must admit it looked the part with its many gears and multiple front rings and I wondered how fast could a bike like this actually go, I mean how fast would you be able to get it up to if you were in that top gear, must be quite fast really and I wondered if someone like me for instance, could get up some speed on that thing and what that would feel like.
And the next minute I’m sitting on the bike and thinking that, well, he’s playing golf and he wouldn’t know if I took it out for just a short spin around the block and he probably wouldn’t mind at all what with me being older than him and so on, why its not like he’d know or anything is it ?
And then I’m wobbling down the driveway on it and trying to get my feet into the stupid pedal straps that he’s fitted and when I achieve that I’m slowly peddling down the street but picking up a bit of speed, this is a pretty good bike actually and I slip it onto the big ring and we’re suddenly shifting quite fast and there’s a bend at the bottom of our street which has always been there but sort of slipped my mind in the last ten seconds, and the road has been recently re-gritted with lots of loose shale…
But fear not for I lean the bike over and we zip around the bend like a professional what with this bike being a proper road racing bike and all that and I push down hard on the pedals to get some more speed into these wheels…
And then I’m flying.
No, I mean I’m literally flying, through the air, just like a bird and its not such a bad feeling, its the sort of feeling that you could get used to and probably enjoy too and the world is moving in slow motion, I’m horizontal to the road surface moving forwards at some speed and there’s something cartwheeling behind me and I suddenly realise that this has to end soon and its probably going to hurt what with that road having been recently resurfaced and everything.
And I’m right because it does hurt when you hit the recently resurfaced loose shale road as you descend from a bicycle horizontally at some speed, it hurts your hands and your knees as the skin is ripped from them by the newly resurfaced road and it really hurts when your chin hits the same recently resurfaced road and some of your chin stays on the road without you, “Oh dear” I recall saying, “my but that smarts”.
And when I stop slithering along the newly resurfaced road there was a large slaver of blood along the shale surface and a bicycle laying on top of me, except that it didn’t really look like a bicycle anymore.
You see, what they don’t tell you about very expensive road racing bicycles when you pay several months wages for one in the bike shop is that they are very light in weight to make them go faster but the very fact of them being very light in weight gives them a little structural deficiency being as they don’t ever think that you’re going to go over the handlebars and cartwheel it down the road, oh no, thats not really anyones intention at all, so they don’t design the bicycle taking that into account.
But when you do go over the handlebars and cartwheel the bike down the road the forces of forward motion have to go somewhere and as Newton once discovered when an apple fell on his head, gravity tends to be a painful thing when you try and oppose it, for you, and for the bike which by now had a pair of front forks that bent the wrong way, a handlebar that was sort of the wrong shape on one side and a front wheel that wasn’t so much of a wheel anymore, more of a hindrance really.
So I picked both myself and the bike up off the floor and with blood gushing from several wounds like a Monty Pythons Holy Grail sketch I walked the fifty yards back home, propped the bike against the house and went in looking for sympathy from my mother who swiftly gave my twenty year old bleeding head a hard slap around the back of it and asked me if I knew how much our Ned had paid for that now useless piece of light alloy propped against the house ?
I got even less sympathy from our Ned and our dad when they came home from golf and what morsel of sympathy there may have been soon evaporated even further when our dad realised that he’d have to take me down to A&E to be repaired.
A lot of stitches (I still have the chin scars forty years later) and acres of sticking plaster put me right and I was forced to recompense our Ned by taking his tangled bike down to Watson & Cairns bike shop on the Monday morning and asking if they could repair it at my own expense as good as new please ?
And the man said yes he certainly could because he remembered selling it just the month before, he seemed to find it quite funny that by the time he’d repaired it he’d basically have sold it twice because new forks, handlebars and a wheel weren’t going to be cheap, oh no, still it was all my fault and I’d agreed to pay for it all out of most of next months wage and all.
I picked it up a week later, all fixed and sparkling like new and I paid the man with all of my wages that month and it was only as I was leaving the shop pushing the bike that he said “Oh by the way, do you know what caused the crash ?” and I replied that no, I had no clue what had caused me to fly for some quite impressive distance and he said “It was this” and handed me the remains of what had been the front light for the bike.
“Tell your brother” he said, “not to fit a light to the front forks, not with a round bracket onto an oval front fork anyway, they tend to swivel round and jam into your front wheel and what have you…”
So it was all his bloody fault after all and do you think he gave me my money back for the repair, did he buggery, the scars that I see in the shaving mirror every day remind me of this story, and I secretly seethe again…