I celebrated my thirty-sixth year on this here mortal coil with a super muddy nocturnal blast through the deserted moonlit lanes and equally creepy farmland. Enjoying a life-long fascination with the supernatural and some would say a macabre streak cultivated through cult horror films and a childhood spent in the North Essex/Anglia borders characterised by acres of disused airfields, open farmland and one notorious for haunting.
Admittedly, crossers are arguably the most proficient tools for such charging through woodland trails and unmade roads. However, mine are safely tucked away in storage so the Univega provides plenty of planted, albeit not quite so frisky fat-tyre fun. Sadly, many favourite haunts are no more thanks to ever eroding land access and over zealous farmers. Arguably the scariest encounters involved a large black canine that appeared from nowhere before vanishing without trace back in January 1999.
I was visiting family that weekend an as I swooped into the back roads lugging the proverbial kitchen sink, my Lead acid lighting system caught something very sinister in its beam. Emerging from the ditch was a black shape, larger than a dog but smaller than a wolf and lightening quick; its gaze burning deep into mine before the creature disappeared without trace. Trick of the light?
Possibly but a decade or so later and I’ve never encountered anything remotely similar. The easiest thing to do was claim another sighting of Black Shuck, a demonic ghost dog that reputedly arrived with the Vikings and terrorised the region. Rationally, he was probably folklore created by smugglers and others with vested interests in keeping their operating on the coastlines clandestine but over the years there have been numerous encounters and sightings reported by very sane and sober folk.
Returning from this latest orgy of muddy fun compelled me to replace the Univega’s faithful Stronglight touring triple, not because of fatigue, wear or other demise but the fag paper clearance between crank arms and curly chainstays runs so close as to preclude even a slender neoprene chainstay protector. Largely unproblematic through the summer months, winter booties and/or chunky overshoes have begun chafing the frame’s lacquer top coat.
The default option was to upgrade to a modern two-piece crankset, something along the lines of Deore. However, seeing as (a) I’m contrary and (b) there’s at least 6,000 good miles left in the venerable square taper UN52, we needed something that slotted straight aboard the 113mm axle. A five arm STX unit with moderate use and very fetching 50tooth CNC machined outer ring was sleeping beneath the workbench once upon a time but was nowhere to be found. This being the season of the witch, I’m warming to the idea that crew of cadaver from John Carpenter’s The Fog came and mistakenly claimed it as treasure.
Unable to strike gold online in the guise of New Old Stock 96/97 LX, Sugino impel, or even Suntour’s mighty XCD, some back o the envelope economics reasoned this Alivio was the most practical medium term solution. Featuring 175mm cranks and very practical 48, 38 and 28 tooth rings that alone demand more than the £28 asking price.
The aforementioned motley crew have probably made off with my marvellous Czech made headset press too. Should it not magically reappear very shortly, I will outsource installation of the Teenage Dream’s lovely new headset and fork upgrade to a local, mobile mechanic. It has to be said, the postal strike isn’t helping matters either, delaying much needed cheques and other resources into the bargain.
Without taking an overly political stance, I genuinely understand the postal workers frustrations but feel the union hasn’t learned the lessons of recent industrial relations history. The sea change of modernisation is to some extent inevitable and rather than macho posturing, the union should be fighting to negotiate the best redundancy deal possible for its members many of whom are exceedingly vulnerable in the modern economy. However, in the short term, elite riders among the dispatch mob will potentially dine on £850 a week feasts as Christmas drawing closer before the consequent famine come January.
Now, inexplicably the Univega had a flat (front) tyre- it was fine when I put it to bed the other night-indeed fine yesterday morning but nipping in to replenish the supply of dog biscuits saw it as flat as the proverbial pancake. Having inspected the tyre casing, rim tape etc, it appears our quasi- feral cat (known affectionately as the beast of Bodmin) had been scratching the sidewalls!
Returning to my opening, seasonal theme, New Orleans’ notorious French Quarter is another favoured Halloween destination of mine-I’ve not got there yet but I’m sure an Alley-cat (unofficial messenger racing) would have me packing my suitcase, cameras at the ready. The former soviet block of countries have their fair share of spooky, deserted places from disused military bases being reclaimed by nature through to Ghost cities and I don’t just mean Chernobyl….There’s one such example I’m hoping to visit forty miles outside of Prague this Easter…..all things being equal.
Shaun Audane is a freelance writer/product tester with over twenty-eight years riding experience, the last twelve (120,000 miles) spent putting bikes and kit through their paces for a variety of publications. Previous generations of his family worked at manufacturing's sharp end, thus Shaun can weld, has a sound understanding of frame building practice and a preference for steel or titanium framesets.
Citing Richard Ballantine and an Au pair as his earliest cycling influences, he is presently writing a cycling book with particular focus upon women, families and disabled audiences (Having been a registered care manager and coached children at Herne Hill Velodrome in earlier careers)