I blame Old Ned!
It was his “Next Year’s Classic Rides” thread that started it all for me.
Spurred on by talk of pie and peas and lots of old bikes I got my entry in months early and then feverishly set about doing anything other than preparing a suitable bike for the event. Eventually, just two weeks before the event I (almost) finished rebuilding my 1986 Daccordi and took it for shake-down ride. After a false start due to breaking the seat lug bolt I managed two hours of riding in glorious West Yorkshire sunshine.
The bike performed brilliantly and was ready for the PWVV. But there was a niggle at the back of mind that wouldn’t go away. I was riding a pair of perfect, period correct wheels with Mavic hubs/Fir rims/Vittoria tubs but I wanted to use the original wheels with Campag Record hubs on the PWVV ride to make the bike as original and Campag as possible. A quick spin of the old wheels showed they were running true twenty years or more after last being used – perfect….
Sorting through my few spare tubs I only found two that would hold air for more than an hour! That would leave me with no spare on the ride. Nevermind, I thought, I’ll treat the old steed to some new ones and plumped for Vittoria Corsa Evo SC 23mm as these were the modern equivalent of what I raced on in the 80s. These arrived the day before I headed off for a week long holiday and with no time to start gluing I just mounted them on the wheels to stretch a bit while I was gone.
Driving 500 miles back from my hols on Good Friday my mind was mulling over the last minute tub gluing and gearing issues. Arriving home I took one look in the garage and thought “s*d it I’ll start tomorrow”.
Saturday – 24 hours to go: Woke up with a splitting headache but no matter there’s work to be done.
Heading into the garage I set about trying yet again to get a Super Record rear mech to handle a 28t sprocket but gave up and then decided to take all the sprockets off two Suntour freewheels and make the ideal 6-speed with a 24t bottom gear. I diligently set all the sprockets and spacers to one side keeping them exactly as they were on the freewheels. I assembled my chosen sprockets/spacers but the two largest ones (splined) were loose. OK, torque up the threaded sprockets, still no joy, a bit more, nope. Aaaagh! Right, take it all apart and start again. Same result. Now I’m starting to panic – my next best hope is a newly acquired untested Maillard with a 21t biggest sprocket!
My head is pounding now so for a bit of light relief I set to trying to remove the old glue and tub tape from my wheels. No amount of solvent abuse is getting this stuff off – it’s been on there for decades! Nothing for it but to scrape the worst lumps off with a cone spanner and hope for the best. I’d set out with great intentions of doing a proper gluing job on these tubs but with less than 24 hours to go that just wasn’t an option. So I put a layer of glue on the tubs and left it to dry while I went back to the freewheel.
Taking all the sprockets off again I looked carefully at everything and realised that although the freewheels were both Suntour New Winner, they were different in subtle ways. Some sprockets had bevels on the reverse side, some spacers were a bit thinner and the bodies were different too. By now everything was jumbled up and getting sticky from the tub glue but in the end I managed to get six sprockets on and all nice and tight.
Right, back to the tubs. A quick and dirty job with tub tape on the rims was my only option and I would have to hope that they stayed on down the descents. I’d always used tape in the past and never had any problems. Pumped up to 8 bar they seemed fine.
Things were coming together, freewheel sorted and screwed onto wheel, tubs glued on, gears tested on workstand and somewhere in all that I managed a quick login to the forum and a ‘phone call to Old Ned to arrange a pick-up from a convenient spot just off the M62. After the long drive the day before I was glad of his offer of a lift.
Sunday – 6am: Woke up, fell out of bed, got a pounding in my head.
Big bowl of cereal, a banana and some juice was the breakfast of choice as I reviewed the stuff laid out on the table ready for cramming into jersey pockets. Second spare tub (already one under the saddle), two emergency sealant/inflator canisters, energy bars/gels, allen keys, spoke key, 8mm spanner, money, ‘phone, A4 laminated map of the route! Should I take a rucksack to leave in the car with a change of clothes for post-ride banter? No, I hate riding with a rucksack and its six miles to my rendezvous with Old Ned.
With a total of six pockets in one short sleeved and two long sleeved tops I had space to spare for all my stuff. OK, I looked like a domestique on the drinks run but at least I wasn’t wearing a rucksack.
Off at 6:50am into the grey cold morning fog that so often starts a Colne Valley Sunday to meet Old Ned. Bike seemed fine but it was clear on the long and sometimes steep climb out of the village that 42/24 was not really low enough for the ride to come. A slightly damp bike and rider were safely stowed in Ned’s car and we were off!
It rained on the way over the border into Lancashire but by the time we got to the start it was dry. I resisted a cup of tea at the sign-on (bladder the size of a golf ball these days) and wandered around looking at the assembled bikes. It seemed to me the “vintage” were far outnumbered by the modernistas but there were some old gems. A red Ellis-Briggs from the 1950s, a Bob Jackson, a Mercian and even another Daccordi.
Soon we were ordered to the start line for a massed-start of the “vintage” bikes – although I noted a few interlopers on modern bikes with us. As we set off I was nearly blinded by the reflection off what I found out later was the chainset on Goldie's Viscount - tasty! It seemed a sizeable bunch but soon fragmented with the likes of Bobbinogs chipping off the front never to be seen again. Man, he flew round!
The first few miles were steady away up a gradual rise as we all girded ourselves for the first test of the day – Nick O’ Pendle. As we crested the rise before the drop into the village of Sabden the mighty Nick reared up before us on the other side of the valley looking fearsome in the gloom. With a gulp I descended into Sabden and headed for the climb.
Try as I might I couldn’t stay in the saddle on the steeper bits – the gearing was just too high for my weak old legs. Climbing out the saddle I gradually caught and passed a few early pace-makers and was soon sprinting up trying to catch no. 93 and his mate. As I caught them no. 93 repeated his earlier move of riding over to the far right of the road forcing me right into the gutter as I passed them. How he didn’t hear me coming up behind gasping like a leaky old steam engine I don’t know.
There was no sign of Old Ned as I crested the rise so I decided to wait for him and watch a few riders struggle up. Soon enough Ned hove into view and passed up the chance of a breather so as not to get a chill. That was when I realised my mistake in waiting for him. As soon as he went over the top he dropped into a classic tuck and proceeded to leave me far behind as he caught and dropped two modernistas in a masterful display of descending prowess. I gingerly made my way down having never recovered my nerve after a speed wobble, crash and broken wrist in 2010.
Once I hit the flatter ground on the valley bottom I chased like a man possessed and finally caught Old Ned three miles later just in time for the next climb! The lower slopes were not too steep and we rode together for a while but I eventually pulled away taking Ned at his word when he muttered “don’t wait for me on the climbs”. Waddington Fell goes on and on but I felt a lot better on it than on the Nick. Having learned a lesson from that first climb I went straight over the top and made a better fist of descending this time. A few miles on very good roads brought me to the halfway feed-stop in a leisurely two hours.
The demon descender rolled in shortly afterwards less than impressed with the Waddington Fell climb. A banana, a gel and a top up of the water bottle were followed by tweaking Old Ned’s handlebars before we set off again.
Not far out of the village I came face to face with a total muppet in a car who decided to overtake the cyclists coming towards me despite the narrow road and other on-coming traffic. I swerved into the chippings at the side of the road, breathed in and prayed the tubs didn’t go bang. Somehow I made it through and soon a nice little group of us formed up with Old Ned piling on the pressure up front towing us along in team time trial style. I felt certain we were flying along but as I glanced down at one point I noticed I was still on the 42t chainring. It seemed a lot of effort for what must have been so little speed.
Fantastic roads and some spirited riding brought us to Whalley and the last of the big climbs. I’d read the “race book” a few times and knew the start of the climb was a nasty double-back up a couple of steep hairpins so I slipped into bottom gear and spun the pedals to keep the momentum going. The climb stretched out before us pretty straight and not too hard but there were speed humps on the first part which totally ruined any rhythm – grrrrrh!
I was with one other rider on the climb and as he had a computer I asked him how far we’d come. About 40 miles was the reply so just 13 left to go. He dropped me on the last bit of the climb just after the photographer. I was really struggling now and the false summits were draining the last of my resolve. Then it started raining too and I steeled myself for a grim last few miles.
Without a backward glance I set off down the hill expecting to see Old Ned come flying past soon enough. As the miles ticked past there was still no sign of him but I was starting to get a bit cold without a waterproof jacket on so I ploughed on. The dreaded M65 roundabout mentioned in the route description was no problem and soon it was on to a very nice road across the moors. A bit lumpy but I seemed to be getting my third wind so all was good.
As time passed I kept looking behind and couldn’t see any riders catching me and there were none ahead I could see either. Doubts started to creep in. When was the last time I saw a route marker? Had I missed one as I climbed that last rise staring at the tarmac two feet in front of me? Should I slow up and wait – at least consult the route map? Also, what was that annoying tick, tick noise that seemed to stop as I got out of the saddle and that other dull noise? Was the bike about to break catastrophically? A sensible man might have stopped but I wasn’t sensible - I was wet, I had just got warm again and I wasn’t going to stop!
A few more miles and still no sign of being on the right road and no sign of other riders. Doubtful again I still chose to do nothing and carry on and this time I soon passed a route marker. Phew! Through Haslingden I passed a rider “caping up” without a thought of stopping which was very anti-social, apologies whoever you were. Feeling that the end must be close I felt buoyed up and totally unprepared for the organiser’s sting in the tail – Hud Rake. The word Rake instills fear into any rider familiar with Northern climbs and I actually cursed out loud as I started up the steep little climb. Hah! thought I as I topped out onto the flat “I must be going well after all, that wasn’t bad at all”.
Round the corner and gulp, there’s more. It went up a fair bit more but was over soon enough and then it was a nice descent all the way back to Rawtenstall. At least I assumed it was Rawtenstall as I had no idea of distance ridden or even the time. Passing some familiar shops I realised it was probably a couple of miles at the most back to the start. Sure enough I soon saw the pub ahead and glancing behind some riders closing in on me. Ever competitive I had a little dig just so they wouldn’t catch me before the finish.
Rolling to a halt wondering where the crowds and the banner were I carefully parked up the Daccordi and headed inside to sign-out. Looking at my watch it was just before 12:50 so about four hours since setting off. I’d expected to do it in that time so I was pleased with that. Cheese and onion pie and peas were ordered at the bar and I was soon tucking in to the best tasting mushy peas I’ve ever had. Their warming effect as I guzzled them down was pure bliss. I was soon joined by (I believe) fellow Retrobiker Kerplunk, the guy riding the other Daccordi and the master himself Old Ned.
After some post-ride banter all too soon we were loading up the car and heading back over the border to Yorkshire. Old Ned kindly took me right to my door and I headed indoors for a mug of tea and a big piece of homemade Easter cake. I’d given up cake, biscuits and chocolate for Lent and I’d been looking forward to that cake all day – it didn’t disappoint.
Remember those little noises I noticed earlier on? With the bike on the workstand I soon realised there was a little twig stuck under the brake bridge which caught the rear wheel as it went round making the tick, tick noise. As for the other dull noise that was the wheel rubbing on the brake blocks in two different spots because two spokes had come completely loose. No tension whatsoever. That’ll teach me for doing everything last minute and trusting wheels I haven’t ridden for twenty years!
All in all it was a good day out and a pretty good route in the main. I wish I’d thought to check the thread on the forum the day before so I knew who was who and what they were riding. I’ll hopefully be back next year with either lower gears or more power! Oh and I won't have ten days off the bike beforehand either.
Hope to see and talk to a few more fellow Retrobikers on next year's ride.