The other day I was listening to one of The Bike Show podcasts and broadcaster Jack Thurston mentioned something like “the age of innocence” with cycling, when a ride was simply about jumping on a bike and enjoying the feelings, whether the wind in your hair or a moment of escapism. I certainly remember the days.
This isn’t always the case these days. Now even a short ride needs a moment of forward planning, there’s mental check-list. On a simple level, have you got the tyre pressure right and is the chain lubed? But it can get a lot more complicated. But now with the news yesterday that Shimano are bringing electronic shifting to a second groupset, it seems the bike is becoming ever more sophisticated. These days you might have to check your bike computer’s got enough memory for the ride, that your drivetrain is charged, that your heart rate transmitter’s working, that the parts are properly torqued and you’ve got electrolyte mix in your drinks. I could go on.
Don’t get me wrong, if you have a race car or own a thoroughbred horse then high maintenance is the norm too. And a perfectly functioning lightweight road bike is the definition of efficiency, a pleasure in its own right. It’s just that the marriage of man and machine requires some counselling sessions in the workshop and increasingly, with a computer too. Even during the ride itself for many there’s often a squeak or click to annoy, maybe an electronic gadget is flashing numbers and you and if something develops a serious fault mid-ride you probably can’t bend it back into position.
As a child I remember never cleaning my bike. Instead you just poured oil on the chain and “the cogs” at the back. It was probably noisy, it was certainly filthy but it was always simple fun too.
If I started with a reference to Jack Thurston, I’ll finish with one too. I’d developed a mental image of the Londoner as a modern day “easy rider”, someone who didn’t fuss too much over the bike and for whom the simple pleasures of cycling were, refreshingly, still important. But then I noticed via Twitter that he’d bought a GPS device for the his bike and an eyebrow was raised. Sure enough soon came more messages involving uploads, firmware, flash cards and more. It was all getting a bit distant from a simple bike ride. And then this happened…