One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in life is that by nature I am not what you might call a hands-on sort of bloke. You want something written, ridden, photographed or talked about? I’m your man! You want something built or fixed? I’d strongly advise you to look elsewhere.
So when I bought a half-price Cannondale SuperSix Evo hi-mod frame the other week, after realizing that all I’d need to turn it into a fully functional climbing and descending beast on which to tackle the Pyrenees this summer was a groupset and a few finishing bits and pieces, there was never any question of me building it up myself.
Lacking the knowledge, patience, time or tools for the job, I went straight to my local bike shop – Rule 5 Bikes in Brighton – and asked the ever-amenable owner Paul if he’d build it for me while I watched him, took photos and then blogged about it. After muttering something about the inconvenience of finding a clean T-shirt and tidying up his shop, he agreed.
If you ever get the chance to watch a good mechanic build a bike for you, take it. Seriously. For half a day I watched with growing excitement as my bike slowly took shape. Actually I’m not sure ‘excitement’ quite captures it. There was a deep-seated sense of contentment building inside me as I watched all those meticulously engineered bits and pieces being skillfully brought together to create something so much greater than the sum of its parts – something with which I knew I’d develop a profound and hopefully long-lasting relationship.
I lost count of the number of times I found myself saying: ‘I am so pleased you’re doing this and not me…’ as Paul added fork, bars, brakes, bottom bracket, cranks and gears to my new frame. Of course he made it look ridiculously easy – almost too easy at times. I heard myself blurting something like ‘Measure twice and cut once eh Paul?’ with a forced chuckle as he calmly prepared to saw through the steerer. But of course he already had measured twice and of course the length was perfect and the cut as clean as a whistle.
Even if I’d owned the array of specialist tools required to put it all together - and knew how to use them - there would have been times when I’d have given up and sought help. The rear brake cable, for example, is internally routed and the frame came with a thick cotton guiding thread poking out of each end of the top tube to help you feed the cable through. But Paul had to find a way of doing this without the help of the thread after a ferrule came off (I think…I’d drifted at this point). After some frame-stroking with a magnet and a few abortive attempts to poke through a new guiding line, Paul had to remove the headset and tease out a little plastic thingy at the back of the frame with a Stanley knife blade before eventually managing to persuade the cable to appear. I wouldn’t have had the courage to take a blade that sharp within ten feet of my new pride and joy!
And then, in the time it would have taken me to read half an instruction manual and scratch my head, it was all done. The cables were in, the derailleurs calibrated, the surfaces treated with the right preparations (I had no idea there were so many different types of grease!) and the bolts tightened to their designated newton-metre values. It was time to ride my immaculate machine for the first time.
As I gingerly pedaled off towards what turned out to be a PB trial run up Ditching Beacon, it struck me that I’d never felt so attached to a new bike so quickly before. Of course that could be because it’s the most exotic bike I’ve ever owned but it might also have something to do with the fact that I was there to witness its construction (I nearly wrote ‘birth’ there…time to calm down a bit, perhaps). If only building the fitness and strength to warrant owning such a thoroughbred machine could be done in such a pleasurable and vicarious way.