Friday, 21 May 2021

My Own Little Bike Shop

People are very resourceful. The strategies for surviving lockdown have been many and varied. More books were read, more TV was watched and more video games were played. Sales of booze, fags and confectionery grew substantially. Although, as an antidote to being cooped up, many people went out more, going walking and cycling (having first dusted down the old trainers and the old bike from the shed). Plenty of people also got involved in new projects around the house. Whether DIY, writing, painting, knitting or art-journaling, what mattered most was the immersion and the sense of purpose it gave.

Over the past year of lockdowns, I’ve engaged in four big projects. I completed my second collection of poetry and I wrote the first draft of a novel. During the first long lockdown last year, I built a bike from scratch. And during this year’s long lockdown, I built another. I got a great sense of purpose from each of these projects But I gained much more than that. I also developed and extended my skills and abilities. And in each project I ended up with an artefact that I could look at with pride and say, I made this.

I began to learn bike-maintenance because I had to. Some twenty years ago I started to go on solo multi-week cycle-touring trips; at first on this island and then to different parts of Europe. I loved the freedom and flexibility of this type of travelling. But as I discovered, you have to be able to fix basic problems yourself as there may not always be a bike shop around when you need it. So, bit by bit, I learnt how to fix bikes. And through this I gained the confidence to undertake tasks that previously I would have left to a bike shop. Indeed, you can’t always trust a shop mechanic. Some years ago a local shop returned one of my bikes with a dangerous bodge, instead of fixing it properly. When you do the job yourself you can be sure that it’s right. My garage now doubles as a bike workshop; the walls and bench are lined with bike parts, bike tools and bikes.

As a birthday present, I bought myself a Trek Domane SLR frameset. This lightweight carbon frame and forks had the great advantage of built-in shock absorption. For my first new build on a carbon frame I took great care, paying close attention to the torque settings. I fitted Shimano Ultegra components throughout and custom-made lightweight wheels from DCR. I ended up with a splendid carbon endurance bike that weighs just 17 pounds; a whole three pounds lighter than the Granfondo titanium bike that I’d built a year ago.

The Domane is my first full-carbon bike and I am very proud of it. The bike is designed for endurance riding; it is agile and fast. Because I had a bad knee injury, I did little cycling over the winter. So I have only recently started to do some longer rides (the maximum so far has been 53 miles). The bike’s lightness and shock absorption help you to be less fatigued over longer distances on our poorly maintained roads. The Domane now joins my stable of five other bikes in the garage. It also happens to be worth more than my car. In our new Covid-limited world, pastimes and hobbies are more important now than they ever were.

Monday, 10 May 2021

The Break

It wasn’t the sort of down-time that we were looking for. My dearest T has broken a bone in her foot. She was leaning forward to pull the curtains and overbalanced, getting a sharp pain along the outside of her foot. It was very sore, so we rang the GP. Amazingly enough, she asked T to come in to the surgery straight away. The GP examined the swollen foot and recommended that T get an X-ray. Then she rang the Minor Injuries service and booked T in.

Shortly after T got back home from the GP, a triage nurse rang, asked about the injury and gave T an appointment an hour later at Daisy Hill Hospital. I drove T to the front door and she limped into the hospital on my late father’s walking stick. The Minor Injuries Unit is attached to A & E, and I think most hospitals in NI have one. I wasn’t allowed in with her, so I had to park and wait for updates by text message.

T didn’t have very long to wait. She was seen by a doctor and sent for an X-ray. When the images came back, the doctor pointed out that T had fractured a bone in her foot. But not just any bone. T had a small extra metatarsal on the edge of her foot and this had broken. Having this extra bone was very unusual and the doctor brought in several medical students to look at the X-rays.

The treatment was the same as for any broken bone. T was fitted with a large grey plastic boot and two elbow crutches. She was given two weeks supply of Co-codamol and Clexane anti-coagulant injections and sent home to rest. T would be reviewed in two weeks time at the Minor Injuries Unit and was given an appointment. I picked her up at the front door of the hospital and helped her into the car. The whole process had taken just three hours, much quicker than any visit to A & E.

When we got back home, I helped T into the house. She hobbled along the hallway on the crutches and sat down in an armchair. I went to make her a cup of coffee and some toast. At the back door was our semi-feral cat. He hadn’t arrived as usual that morning. I got him some food while the kettle was boiling. Then I noticed he was limping too, holding one of his forepaws up as he hopped to his bowl. Blimey, I was the only one in the house who wasn’t incapacitated. I had better take good care, they were all depending on me.