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A Cycle on the Celtic Fringe … Part 41

There is always an extra pleasure in cycling into a port city. The nature of a port city means that the final bit of the journey is inevitably down hill. It’s a good long descent into Sligo. A pretty descent. This is a decent descent into a decent city. I’d looked forward to getting to Sligo and the city didn’t disappoint me. My bicycle did. It did it in stages and the expression “going from bad to worse” was being demonstrated.

Leaning it up against a bridge, over a proper river, went well enough. As usual I was trying to remain anonymous but the laden beast is attracting attention. A large American family; two parents, one child; decide to take photographs of each other with it in the background. (The novelty value of someone actually providing his own motive power obviously appealed to them). I nip across to a bank machine where I await my first Euros. I ask for 100 and get them in two notes. It doesn’t seem enough. Her majesty appears on a £50 note in the UK but they are so easy to forge that no-one accepts them. 100 as five twenties feels much more substantial. Still, the machine worked. I’ve got money.

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The Americans have gone and been replaced by two men in jeans. I presume they know each other. They don’t. They’ve both been attracted by the bicycle made of steel. One is Irish and one is an Aussie. They are fellow cyclists and recognise a proper set of forks when they see them. They admire everything about the bicycle and then both point out the flat tyre.

How does that happen? I’d cycled forty miles over flints and roadstones; across a sandbank, through a dead poet’s graveyard and down several death defying hills. Yet, leave it to stand for five minutes and the back wheel is flat. Always the bloody back wheel! The one you have to fiddle with the gears and remember which side to put the spacer.

My new friends disappear pretty quickly, when they see work to be done, and I wheel the bicycle somewhere a little less in the way of pedestrians, to set about fixing the wheel. I’ve found a picturesque section of river and this provides a delightful contrast to the under-stated tirade of invective I address to a wheel that stubbornly refuses to become detached from the bicycle. So much for the quick release…

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I do manage in the end and replace the tube with one from a dodgy batch. I know straight away it isn’t going to work, but it’s my last tube. It simply won’t inflate the section of tyre around the valve. It may do for now, but I’m going to need a bike shop.

Then came the dispiriting part; getting the wheel back onto the bike. The whole wheel, including the axel, is half an inch wider than it used to be. It used to be a snug fit. Now it is a snug fit on a bike with forks half an inch further apart than on my bicycle. This may not sound much but the forks are made of 500 Reynolds steel, which is designed and built to be very light and very strong and particularly good and not giving in to being pulled by a mere human. You need to be Cactus Jack  or have a hydraulic jack to spread the forks. If you use both hands (there is no other way) to try to spread the forks, you only have your teeth left to put the wheel in with.

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I have no idea how I managed it. But I did. I’ve drawn a crowd of work watchers, crunched my fingers into a good impression of those belonging to Keith Richards , and coated myself with grease and oil. I’m also bursting for a pee.

I prop it up outside a hotel and contemplate booking in if only to have a wash. I need to get the machine back to Halfords though. My current problems are frustrating in a city. Out in the middle of nowhere they could spell disaster.

It is at that moment when my pain gets worse. The tyre simply explodes. A big pop. Enough to turn heads all along the street. And a hiss and the tyre is pancake flat again. I’m down to my last tube and am sure I cannot repeat the wheel changing exercise. I use some words that could be described as being of a coarse nature. In grammatical terms, they are often referred to as interjections. They can also be called expletives.

I use a great many of them.

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The owner of a coffee bar comes out to see what event of interest is taking place outside his arabica scented world. He looks like a cross between Oz Clarke and Rick Stein. He sees a badly dressed cyclist making some sort of appeal to him which involves crossed legs and waving black and white minstrel hands at him. He’s cleverer than Oz or Rick and points me in the direction of a mall with some toilets well hidden half way down. This is the turning point of my day. Things don’t suddenly start going right from here but they do stop getting worse.

I never would have found the toilets on my own. I emerge ten minutes later much relieved and with hands showing a few clean patches. Rick pours me a very good cup of coffee and I sit at his outside table. He tells me where to go to book a good deal on a hotel room. “Sure, there’ll be all sorts of offers on hotels. There’s nothing on in town this week.” He also tells me that there is an independent bike shop just around the corner. I finish my coffee and pay them a visit.

It’s yet another of the boutique type shops where a huge amount of attention has been given to the colour scheme but there is no-one to help. I ask if they have any wheels that will fit. They offer to sell me a new bike. I’m in the wrong shop.

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To be fair they give me some discount on the three tubes I do buy but when I ask if they might have a drop of oil for the poor wheel they offer to sell me a huge can of aerosol oil. At least that’s how I think they pronounced it. “If you leave it with us, we could have it fixed by the weekend.”

I look at the statue of famine victims across the hard and realise my problems are surmountable and some problems aren’t.

I don’t know how I managed to get the wheel off and back on again, but I do. I fear my guitar playing days are over. The fingers hurt just holding onto the handlebars.

I go back to see Rick who points out that the tourist office is half way up the hill to Halfords. The man in the office is polite and efficient. There are no great bargains, but I’m pleased to be booked into the hotel the bike exploded outside for 55 Euros.

Finding Halfords is easy in a car. It is on the last roundabout before you head out onto the bypass in every town in Britain. They are not so easy to find on a bicycle. The clock is ticking.