One of the things that has given me most pleasure recently is that I have bought a new bike. Now I am going to waffle on about this, so those of you with no interest with cycles can look away now, except that I do wander onto other topics.
For the last 12 years all of my leisure cycling has been off road on a number of mountain bikes. My current one is a full-suspension Marin that is wonderful over the rough stuff but a bit of a camel on the tarmac. Lately however my thoughts have been turning to the idea of going back to a road bike.
I think this is because of the running and appreciating the way you can get into a rhythm that fills you up and in some way makes you content. Off road the experience is very different. You are constantly changing speed, direction and effort and the joy comes from having to concentrate all the time as you can never take the riding surface for granted.
Anyway after convincing myself that I would not be wasting my money on a fancy, the big problem was to work out what sort of bike I wanted. These days everything can be very specialised (no pun). So it was a process of elimination. Didn't want a tri bike - us non-swimmers do not do triathlons. Didn't want an out and out racing bike - I'm a bit old and want a bit more comfort. Didn't want a touring bike - I wanted at least some sense of responsiveness. The answer was a multi-purpose crosser.
Next decision was what material: titanium, carbon, aluminium or steel? In my price range the most common material is aluminium, with lots of advantages of lightness and stiffness and modern looks. But I was tempted by the idea of being a bit retro - steel is still a good material.
This all sounds like a logical way to buy a bike but logic has little to do with it, because what I really want is some sense of imaginative engagement. This might be a strange thing to ask of a machine but, as every bike I have owned has had its own personality, it is not that unusual. Bikes are customisable, tweakable and can be worked on. They might be the last machines that expose the way they work (everything else is moving to printed circuits and becoming a mysterious black box) and there is an elegance in that. You can see the form following the function.
So I brought something because I liked the idea of the company and their way with names: a Planet X Kaffenback.
Planet X are a small company from Yorkshire who design according to their own ideas of what works. There is a strong sense of people having the freedom to try things out. This can be seen in the website of
On One, their more idiosyncratic twin company. Their forum almost has a community feel and, in the best sense, personal.
They also have an attractive way with names. Kaffenback perfectly describes the focus of my Saturday morning rides. In addition their wheels have DN6 rims, which sounds sort of high tech - except it’s their postcode. However the thing that did it for me was that they call their tubing Max Wall, and the decal has an image of the great man.
For those of you who don't know, he was a comedian, born in 1908, the son a music-hall entertainer and thus steeped in that tradition. In his act he used to wear a rumpled formal jacket over black tights, with outsized shoes. He had a funny walk, with his bum stuck out and sometimes almost balletic movement. Above all he had an amazingly creased face that could crumple and gurn. At the end of his career he became a great Beckett actor to such an extent that sometimes I can see his face when I read the words.
I can remember seeing him in a variety show when I was about 11 or 12. The bill included Wilson Keppel and Betty, and Billy Cotton. If anything makes me realise how old I am it is the thought that I saw these people, from a different age, who you can only imagine in black and white (or more accurately faded brown and white). At the time I could have had no ideathat I was watching the end of a tradition.
I now love the idea that I have some direct connection to, some glimpse of, this past. When I think of this I also remember my grandfather, who shortly before his death locked himself in a room and recorded a number of music-hall songs.
I know I am taking about a cultural tradition and not something primeval but this reaching back reminds me of a few lines from a Stephen Spender poem:
What is precious is never to forget
The delight of blood drawn from ageless springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth;
Never to deny its pleasure in the morning light, Nor its grave evening demand for love;
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog the flowering of the spirit.
Now how did I get here from buying a bike?
I think all you can say is that for someone who uses the name Highway Kind - "didn't he ramble."
Oh and by the way the bike is great fun