The proposal is simple: just NuStu and me out on our fixed steel steeds. No gears, no fears.
Unsurprisingly its a grey day which doesn’t matter in the slightest as the calm and unassuming magnificence of the Surrey Hills coupled by conversations of life, kids and kit are set to keep us friendly company over the next 4hours. We hope. Preparation is essential and enjoyable to say the least. Having enjoyed a whole Saturday out with family and friends, my hope of excusing myself early in preparation for the ride with some self-respect fails miserably as I sneak away like a giddy school boy. Geeky-ness I am reminded is often mistaken for passion.
For starters, there’s breky, mugs of hot water to line the stomach making way for chocolate porridge, mucho oats, spiced up with blueberries and bananas. Let them sit and they blend so well. Add to that a stack of Vogel’s very best with lashings of peanut butter and honey and we’re almost there. Washed down with juice, its as if the bikes themselves have transported their cosmic elements into the linings of my stomach and I feel good. The second meal is packed neatly into the jersey pockets. Lunch is a concoction of cheese sandwiches with more nuts, snickers, mandarins and the quintessential bunch of bananas…mental note, got to get jelly babies next time around.
Prep the night before, ‘check’ and I smile to myself. Lack of prep in the morning leads me to discover second puncture of the week, a very unwelcome ‘check’ that smile off my face. Then Joyce’s wise words resound: ”We don’t always feel like doing what we want to do, but it is not necessary that we feel like doing it, only that you want to do it.” She spurs me on as I get messy.
To unsuspecting eyes Richmond Park remains a local oasis many a London visitor misses out on. More familiar souls will know it for it’s unassuming splendour. From every day pedestrian, nature lover, runner, in-line skater, book lover, trekker, wedding maker and naturally every cyclist who is blessed for its formidable training circuit and arteries which lead out to the great yonder. Today the B-family, or at least two of them, have come to pay homage. NuStu is there early and waiting; we’re going to have a very good day.
Much like a steady locomotive, the two-B’s roll out the iron gates, over Kingston Bridge, past Hampton Court and into the southern wild. The black steel Cotic hums as I tuck in behind my Baroudeur brother, sitting upright to enjoy the straights and grinning as we make the turns together. I am thankful for the CX tyres harmonising with the steel frame as she hugs every pot-hole we encounter, thus saving body from the weight of harmful knocks. The ride instead is smooth. Theres’ a beauty in riding fixed as many will testify to, but rarely is this invention taken out to explore on much greener lands. Why keep something so alive confined to the streets of London, when it can breathe and come out to play in the country? We press on. Each geared bike we pass brings a smile and we say hello to their riders. NuStu is clearly disgruntled by the inability of most to return the greeting on what is turning out to be such a splendid day, and I agree, it’s not on. The lack of courtesy does not dissuade a Baroudeur, as he persists in his mini-quest. I soon become a reluctant recruit in making it our mission for the day to get some kind of humanity out of the people we whisk by. We pass two, three, then four bunches and nothing. NuStu continues to offer one hilarious observation after another and I’m all over the place cracking up and bent over my handle bars. I hope the police don’t stop me now. How can I explain myself? Eventually, we are rewarded as a group of cheery riders whisk by with hollers of ‘good morning’ and bursts of ‘Chapeau!’ We raise our hands like triumphant stage winners passing the finish line. After all its the weekend.
Five geared cyclists pass us. We pass them, naturally with a genuine ‘hello’, and only one picks up the gauntlet as we enter the canyon, the man in red. I find myself leading us up and this is not where I want to be. I’m not used to this, but today is a different as the body gives the green light and my heart says thank you as I turn the big gear. My head turns to see the response, NuStu and our new found friend will not let me go. Not without a fight anyway and there’s one more climb ahead. The legs kick and I break away, creating more yards between us. We descend from the light into momentary darkness with only the sound of grazing horses to remind us we have not fallen off the edges. As the trees break above us and light returns to our sights we enter onto a false flat made clear and clean with tall hedges either side that seem to touch the now clear blue skies. As a cyclist, this offers you a clear shot at your target and today, it looks like I’m their target. Can I hang on? I feel the rhythm once more in my legs and I let me lungs replicate the pace. Halfway to the top now, NuStu comes out of the saddle and drops our companion giving me the signal to release the throttle and I’m away. There’s a satisfaction of knowing there’s more in the tank and the others are running on empty. We’re on top of Ranmore and moments later the man in red joins us. He smiles. It’s all he has to do to indicate he’s had enough. The man in red will wait for his friends, and thanks us for the chase. Job done.
Ranmore is a fine place even in this English mist. We are flanked by open fields and in the distance a lonely church steeple. Horse riders and church goers greet us as we enter their realm and it’s only a hair-pin and a killer drop that keeps us from Box Hill. From the tranquil country lanes we hit the bustle of a major carriageway and navigate like insignificant mosquitoes to our climbing goal.
I look at the clock and take a moment to calculate my time. The head reminds me, this is supposed to be a training ride, but the heart tells me I should know better. Once more we pass riders with the satisfaction of achieving this ride with only one gear. It’s no big deal when you’ve got your rhythm going. It’s like a musician getting it all together in the studio; one moment it’s the morning of the 5th and the next it’s the evening of the 6th. To my right NuStu emerges from the first bend and attacks; knowing his strength at breaking away I can’t risk napping and pounce out of my saddle ready to dance. Curses are exchanged as we hit the rocky turn of the second bend and our steel frames battle it out. I make it onto the straight and keep dancing. This is it, I know this straight. I’m mad enough to lengthen the gap and go for my personal best. Three more riders are relieved of their duties as we overtake and I look down to see a flock of brown wooly sheep grazing beneath us. How futile this must all seem to them. If they could speak, they’d tell me to kick back and munch on this lovely green stuff. I smile at the thought and race to the top. NuStu is out of his saddle, elbows at right angles pulling himself up but there’s this assuring calm that comes over me and I stay true to the rhythm that has got me thus far.
We take a moment on top of the hill. Family are coming and I welcome the warmth of gathering over tea on such a cold day. On returning to Richmond I mention the relaxing rhythm of our day. A James Earl-Jones like figure looks directly at me, smiles and responds: “Absolutey”. Thank you Mr. Jones.