48,353 pedal strokes


My world consists of pain. My legs hurt. My wrists hurt. My neck hurts. My arse hurts. All I can see are gears on the wheel in front of me and the tarmac blurring past. I know the road I’m on, but don’t know for sure whereabouts we are on it. The wheel in front stretches away, the gap increases from 5cm to 15, then 20 then 50. Thigh and calf muscle strain as I try harder and invisible elastic brings us back together, so close tyres almost kiss; if Kaye has to stop, there’ll be the mother of all pile ups.

We’d done nearly 30 miles: my standard 25 mile route with an extra loop thrown in, seeing as how Kaye was flying fit, she having done 65 miles the previous day and competing in the notoriously demanding “Dusk ‘till Dawn” mountain bike race next weekend. The extra loop had us turning left at Mile End and already aching legs took us up the achingly gorgeous Hambleden Valley, that quintessentially English valley set in the rolling chalky flinty downland of the Chilterns.

Meandering up the valley, the occasional car trundled past. Wonderful houses, one with the gable end one massive window. Past The Frog at Skirmett, a place on the menu of menus, to be sampled at some other time. We follow the undulating climb all the way to Frieth, then descend into Marlow. From there a 20mph slog to Bourne End where Kaye takes the front and I’m a fag paper width behind her on final pimple-sized mountain into Maidenhead.

We’d started the day easily enough. A gentle potter to Henley. Well, that was the intention. Ambling through Pinkneys Green, then down to Hurley, past the Red Lyon of Red Monday’s fame. We caught another guy on fixed here, on the descent to http://www.blackboysinn.co.uk/, a very pleasant venue but not for two hot and sweaty cyclists!

Then we hit Remenham Hill. I get out of the saddle, dancing on the pedals, when Kaye gets a wriggle on and leaves me like I’m standing still. Swish, swish, swish go her tyres on the tarmac, and she pulls away from me, I’m gasping in her wake. I try to respond, to accelerate somewhat, increase my speed by even a mile an hour, but there’s nothing there, no zip, zing, my get up and go has got up and gone. Then the other bloke we’d caught also went past…

..crap. I resign myself to a slow, tough, haul up this bloody hill; in either direction it just saps all energy out of me, this way or that. Get into a rhythm and keep it going. On a fixed wheel bike there’s no top dead centre, as long as there’s momentum, then the upcoming pedal will force your leg over the top, and the down stroke begins. You’ve just got to keep going, keep standing on the pedals, one after the other. For some bizzare reason, I always think of Gerald Ratner when struggling over this lump.

Gradually the gradient eases, cadence increases, I can sit back down and muster what power I have to get over the brow. Kaye’s waiting and as I pull along side she takes the piss; fair play. We descend in to Henley, she freewheeling, my legs a propeller-blur as they try to keep up with the fixed wheel. Descending on fixed is an art, the consequences of trying to freewheel are too horrendous to contemplate. Kay’s on-board computer is indicating 40mph, which is pretty good going on a 76 inch fixed!

Two Starbucks cappuccinos and sticky buns later, we’re back on the road, refreshed and ready to finish off the remaining 36,682 pedal strokes….