My inner tubes


I am increasingly trying to travel light through life. Each week as I pack for my 2-3 days working away I try to be more minimalist. One day I wont need a suitcase at all. I am increasingly becoming a throw-outer rather than a hoarder. Maybe this is because the further we travel through the journey of life, the less we feel the need to own, wear or carry. Our possessions can protect us, hide us, inhibit us, possess us. I increasingly want to shake them off, simplify. Carrying myself through life is hard enough without all the baggage.

When we travel, all we really need is our glasses, a credit card our phone and our medication. With these we can see, buy, text, google and stay healthy. We can carry our life support in our pockets. But, there is an exception. When cycling always take two spare inner tubes and your tyre levers.

I have recently resurrected an interest in cycling. In this I am following in the slipstream of a friend – lets call him Jerry – who cycles 100 miles a go, enters speed trials and has joined a cycle club. I did a similar thing two summers ago when he persuaded me to run some 5k and 10k races. In both cases my efforts at following have been rather puny, but none the less challenging for me. I entered several races and finished comfortably in the last 25% without quite making it to the bottom placings. And I honed myself down to a lean running machine able to grind out 8 minute miles at my peak.

But the development of my cycling fad has been stunted by my inner tube issues. My inner psyche is resilient enough and my inner strength survives if I don’t go too fast up the hills, but my inner tubes have been found wanting. And no, before you stop reading, this is not a medical problem brought on by anvil-like racing saddle. I refer to the good old fashioned front and back inflatables which keep your tyres hard.

I am a semi-serious bicyclist (does that make me a mono-cyclist?). I have a decent racing bike, but well under ¬£1000. I wear those strange cyclist gloves with no fingers (like poor people wore in Dickens novels), but I don’t wear those tight cycling shorts. I wear a helmet but a routine t-shirt. I have clips on my pedals, but ordinary trainers on my feet. My friend (we called him Jerry) has all the aforementioned specialist items, plus a pair of shoes with a device on their soles to clip into his pedals. Clever stuff.

So when he wheeled up for our inaugural cycle out, not only was he fitter, younger and leaner than me, he had special shoes and looked the part. And we all know how important that is for keeping your inner psyche inflated. Having said that he was kind to me and slowed down if I got more than 50m behind. In fact I set off full of gusto, keeping up easily I thought. I cycled extensively as a teenager in Oldham. I cycled everywhere locally, and once cycled to Blackpool (100 miles return) with a guy who was built like a whippet. More famously I cycled a similar distance one day to see my beloved in Leicester. This was on my own. A lesson in life here. Go your own way and travel at your own pace.

As I cycled with Jerry, I imagined that I still could exploit the benefit of all of those years developing my thighs and lungs as a teenager. Your inner psyche can take you a long way – but only so far. As we hit the long hills the burning sensation in my thighs and lungs became hard to tolerate. This is when you look frantically for a lower gear and you realise there isn’t one.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, the whole fitness and stamina thing was going to solve itself.
After 10 miles, as we cycled up a rougher track I felt that old familiar hard rattle of the rim contacting tarmac without the aid of pneumatics. I had a puncture. And Jerry had a spare inner tube! Hurray. We fitted it, I got 10 minutes rest, the drinks stop (lets call it The John Thompson) was only 3 miles away. All was well.

Or rather it wasn’t. After our energy-replenishing drinks (lets call them beers) we stepped outside to find my tyre was down again. I pumped it up and we set off home. I guess at least I had an excuse for being slower. A flat tyre can shave a huge amount off your speed, I reckon. We stopped a couple of times to re-inflate (and more rest). But then as Jerry disappeared over the horizon of a particularly long and never-ending tortuous hill, that old familiar feeling came back.

I was flat, deflated, and it was getting dark and looking like rain. There were no more spares and Jerry was out of sight. He did eventually realise and double back – but I sent him on his way. I had no more inner-tubes but I did have a phone. I called home. And felt like a 13 year old calling his mum to be rescued. 30 minutes later a cold, slightly embarrassed and disappointed amateur cyclist was picked up by roadside assistance.

So always carry two spares. Maybe the second one would have burst as well, but there must be some law of diminishing returns, or diminishing rubber, which says 80% of the time 2 spares will be enough.

I hadn’t quite learned this lesson when I set off last Sunday evening with just one spare in my rucksack (just a normal rucksack – not an official cyclists rucksacks). Maybe these things go in cycles (sorry). I pedalled off at breakneck speed through a local park. They had helpfully ditched a whole load of rubble on the paths in some misplaced attempt to shore up the surface.

My bike turned into a bone shaker as I tried to negotiate a route through. I failed. Three miles from home I had two flat tyres, one spare, one phone. I didn’t call home. I do have some pride. Anyway, it was a lovely evening for a walk. So I pushed home, a little sheepishly, ignoring all the people who were no doubt thinking I had run out of inner strength. Maybe they all had spare inner tubes in their pockets, but I didn’t dare ask.

What have I learned? That you don’t have to be brilliant to enjoy something. Nor do you need all of the kit. We don’t need to join a gym to get fit, we can toddle along doing the odd 3 mile run and occasional bike ride. Set your sights high, but only to challenge yourself, not to keep up with the next person. Chose your own route, go at the best pace you can, travel light. Always carry two inner tubes.

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