Cycling to work was supposed to save me money. When I first moved to Manchester in 2006, my weekly bus pass was £3, which was obviously a ridiculous steal. Now it’s £8.50 and still rising every couple of months. For that, I get unlimited access to a single route up and down South Manchester. Just one. For my annual spend of nearly £450, I get the pleasure of riding on a rickety, rammed bus, in baking heat, with the heaters on full throttle no matter what the weather. Two thirds of the buses at peak time won’t even travel the full route. Sometimes they don’t fancy stopping to pick you up. Now I really don’t have an issue with buses as some people do, you know, the sort who go on about “peasant wagons” and acting as if there is something intrinsically awful about travelling in a big box on wheels with people you don’t know. I just listen to my music and ignore the world anyway. It’s OK. However, when I feel like I am being rinsed for something, I don’t like it. £450 a year for one crap, overcrowded bus route, and then I still have to walk 25 minutes to my office through Ardwick anyway. Well no thanks. Not any more.
Since finishing my half marathon training back in March, I’ve decided to go about my commute another way. Now, I can whizz along on my bike from door to door in less time than it used to take me just to walk from the bus to my office. It takes me pretty much the same time every day, no matter what the traffic. When it comes round to September, I will no longer be filled with dread as all the students arrive and my bus journey time doubles. I get a bit more of a lie in. Everything is right with the world. But, am I saving myself that £8.50 per week? Am I buggery.
It turns out that urban cycling can be complete pain in the arse for the road bike user. I’ve never had a pure, unadulterated speed machine before. As a kid I had a big chunky mountain bike, yet I watched road cycling on TV and out I went on a “Tour de Bedfordshire”, before struggling to get any sort of decent speed on the tarmac as my massive, knobbled tyres dragged me back. And don’t even talk to me about trying to get up any of the (admittedly few) long drawn out slopes I encountered.
Four years ago, I had a bit of a revelation. I picked up an old 1980s Peugeot Premiere for £10 from a bloke selling bric-a-brac at the end of his garden. The poor girl was in a right old state. No brakes. No tyres. Headset loose. Broken saddle. Wonky gears. A slipping chain. These days, she still has most of these issues, but I made her somewhat roadworthy and she did me proud shuttling around for a bit, or for the occasional trip out into the peaks.
Finally last year, I went out and got me my first ever, brand new, shiny shiny thoroughbred racer. It’s a fairly entry level Carrera effort, but I fell in love instantly. Everything was suddenly smooth and almost totally effortless. If I have a decent bit of road under me, I can now honestly think of no better way to travel. It’s amazing. The trouble is though, therein lies the rub. That huge, flapping great big “if”. Get out of the city and everything is pretty much as good as it gets; fast, efficient, a pleasure. Ride across town to and from work and it’s a bloody nightmare. Broken glass. Potholes. Drain covers. More broken glass. Drinks cans. Debris. SO MUCH BROKEN GLASS. Less than a week into my new commute and I suddenly had a horrible juddering feeling underneath me, thududududududududud, as the rim on the rear wheel was running almost directly on concrete, jarring every bone in my body. Then had to I walk the rest of the way home pushing my lovely new racing bike at a quarter of the speed she should be travelling. The beginning of a long a drawn out battle had commenced.
It took me a while to get her back on the road as I threw myself into training for the We Love Manchester 10k in July, but when I finally did, I began to think my puncture was a one-off. The replacement tube lasted a while before I noticed I was having to pump it up every week, then every day, then before and after work. Something had got in there and was knackering it up slowly, but I patched it up, started to ride to work again, and then on only the second run to work it blew completely beyond repair.
I gave up cycling to work shortly after that, frustrated. Winter came and went, and then so did training for the Liverpool Half Marathon. My poor bike sat unloved in my hallway, begging to be let loose. No, I thought. I can’t risk it. I can’t be arsed changing that fucking rear wheel again. It’s always the rear wheel. Stay there where you can’t cause me any bother.
Then finally, her time came. I had no runs in the calendar for a bit, the clocks had gone back, it was springtime. I dusted her down, pumped up her tyres and rode to work. And then lo and behold, on the way back that very day, thududududududududud. The back tyre had gone again, a tiny pothole had blown it completely. With no spares on me it was another long walk back. Fed up, I switched the 700 x 28c tyres from my old bike onto the new one. The extra width meant I could fit a slightly wider inner tube, and I’d never had a full blowout with those badboys over hundreds of miles cycling. Yes, that’ll do it. New (old) tyres, and new inner tubes. What could go wrong?
Two more punctures was the answer to that. The first was just bad luck, the front tyre deflating a couple of minutes after I’d failed to avoid a patch of glass. Could have happened to anyone. Then a week later the rear obviously felt left out and started to deflate slowly, needing a good pumping twice a day, before finally popping completely as I stupidly rode over a drain cover. Another £16 on inner tubes down the pan, and another late arrival in work with my hands covered in oil and grease.
I suppose the point of writing all this rambling boring drivel down is as a plea for help, really. Am I massively doing something wrong? I know the simple answer would be, buy thicker tyres. Buy better tyres. Puncture proof ones. Maybe a thicker tread. But that would sacrifice what I love most about being on my bike; flying along on a smooth road on thin, tiny slicks. Maybe I will just have to accept that running these tyres, I’m bound to get a puncture every so often and man up about it. I’ve tried a few things to sort it, and the latest seems to be working (touchwood). The last time the rear tyre blew, I left the old inner in the outside of the tyre (valve removed) as a sort of barrier between my lovely new inner and whatever evil, horrible bastard tried to force its way through the outer. So far, so good, as I have managed around six weeks now without a failure. I’m finally beginning to save money on buses and, best of all, now have more confidence to travel a bit further on the bike without worrying about changing a tyre halfway up a fell, or having to push the bloody thing home 15 miles. The next month will be the big test though with lots of training as well as my daily commute, and then a time-limited 52 miles on 30th June. I’ll be crossing everything that none of that becomes a massive let down.