The Dancer


So there I was, in the middle of the countryside, flat tyre, no money, no cell phone, and the only spare I had featured a standard length valve which, no matter how much I wished it, wouldn’t poke through the deep section rim enough for me to get the pump onto it.


A glorious December morning, sunshine, blue skies, a hint of frost, just the kind of weather to get me out of the house, away from the Mac, away from blogs, video, PDFs and the entire web. A hearty breakfast of porridge and a couple of mugs of extra-strong fresh coffee and I’m getting my gear on, looking forward to a great ride. Shades on, and I’m away.

The bike’s feeling good and after over a week of not riding, I’m feeling frisky and keen. Although the wind is non-existent, it’s as if there’s a tail wind as I zip though Pinkneys Green and head towards Henley. The Red Lyon Lump as I call it presents no problem, even though I haven’t truly warmed up yet. Past The Black Boys at Hurley and start the Remenham Hilll climb.

Last time I was out, the rain had produced rivulets down the side of the road and roughly here was a pheasant, feebly flapping rain soaked wings in a pathetic attempt to hold on to life. Today though, fingers of warm sunshine poked through the trees as I got out of the saddle and danced up the hill.

The bike moves under me, swaying from side to side; rhythmically, metronomically, legs push down and pull up, keeping those pedals turning smoothly, no wasted effort. Out of the saddle, dancing on the pedals, dancing, dance, dancer. A dancer. The Dancer. She interrupts my meditation and a vision of that dazzling bundle of vibrant energy takes my breath away.

Over the top I go, overtake and drop a touring cyclist, and drop like a stone, descending the ski-slope, legs a-blur, eyes watering, it feels like I’m in a Spitfire descending so fast the aircraft will vibrate to pieces. Over the bridge and there’s starship Starbucks, my regular refueling point, so regular the Barista already has my regular cappuccino going though the system before I’ve even got my gloves off.

Back on the road again, I’m destined for the Hambledon Valley, that picturesque place of pilgrimage, the most quintessentially English of countryside. But the back of my bike suddenly feels sluggish, floppy, dead. I look down and see a tyre squidging underneath me. Oh well, punctures happen.

I pull over into a bus stop and whip out my spare. Wheel out, tube out, run fingers around the inside of the tyre, tube in, valve going in first. But the valve is too short for the deep V section of my wheel rim, I can’t get my pump on to it. Perplexed, I consider my situation. Quite how I’d selected the wrong inner tube, I’ll never know, and there’s no point in beating myself up about it. The old tube went flat slowly, so maybe it’d take half a dozen stops to refill with air from the rather cool and effective micropump to get me back to Henley, but then what?

Then two other cyclists pitch up and ask if I’m OK. A three-way conference about what to do and my new best friend Kadir donates his spare, his companion has two and a repair kit. I love the world of two wheels; motor or human powered, it’s full of kindness, generosity and gallant behavior.

Grateful for Kadir’s precious gift, I take care inserting it, but the Dancer’s on my mind and the spanner slips and I rip my knuckle open on the spare rear cog. I don’t really feel it, a gobbet of blood wells up and I shake it off into the ground.

Relieved to be on my way again, I dance away, picking up speed, reaching a comfortable cadence. I don’t believe it. I’m two minutes into the ride home and bump, bump, goes the rear rim on the tarmac. I know without looking that the tyre is flat as a pancake and I know the cause. Despite checking I hadn’t found the shard that caused the first one and it was still embedded in the tread, piercing Dunlop’s vital innards.

I pull over at Mill End, a T-junction. I again remove the rear wheel, strip it, and find the sharp assassin. Once again I’m in a quandary. Once again a two wheeled savior offers help. Half a dozen glueless patches, one of which seals the hole, allowing new life to be pumped back in. Once again I set off, chilled now and needing to get warm.

Once again I’m dancing, up past Danesfield House. Once again she’s on my mind.

The Dancer.