DOWN AMONG THE SPACEMEN

(or, I blame Dave Minter for this!)

By Dick Hanson


The last thing I ever wanted to do was race a bicycle. Riding at full pressure over some distance equals pain in my view, something to be avoided, and I can't afford the steroids. Also visions of people collapsing and dying in the Tour de France convinced me that bicycles should be used for more leisurely purposes.

However over the last couple of years, news of an unusual time trial came to my ears originally from Brian Donnan, Cheltenham Pedersen enthusiast. This was the 'Tin Can Ten' a ten mile trial for hub geared machines. The event seemed not to be taken too seriously and people entered everything from full blown racing bikes to shopping bikes with wicker baskets. Last year there was even a folder - a Creswell Fold-it with a Sachs 7 speed hub.

I found the idea of this event rather intriguing, but never had any intention of taking part.

Enter Dave Minter, exuberant antipodean, bridge expert, racing cyclist, folder enthusiast, and half my age. From his arrival in Britain Dave has been keen to sample everything on offer - Origami rides, C2C on a folder, End to End on a unicycle, you name it.

I've shared three of Paul Evans' excellent Welsh rides with Dave (see reports on Welsh trains and Monmouth and Brecon trips). It was on these rides that he flattered me with his praise of my hill climbing ability on a three speed Brompton. Little did I know that this was all a ploy to butter me up for the 'suggestion'.

'Look', says Dave, 'I'm entering the Tin Can Ten on this old two speed Moulton, 'Why don't you enter as well?'. 'What!', I thought, 'Me in a cycle race'. 'But I've only got a Pashley roadster with a hub gear, far too heavy', I prevaricated. 'Mind you, I do have a five speed Micro', I foolishly added. 'That'll be just the thing', enthused Dave, 'Me on the Moulton, you on the Micro - a great Folding Society contingent'.

Over the next couple of weeks I thought it over, 'Why not, it's only ten miles, an average of twenty miles an hour to make a decent showing simple!'. I got the route plan from the Internet, joined my local racing club to get RTTC (Road Time Trials Council) affiliation and sent off my application. I even went out for a few fast (for me) rides on the Micro don't want to look like a pathetic old git.

Next thing I know, I get an e-mail from the recently joined racing club - 'Come and Try Time Trial, Next Thursday, Why Not Give it a Go'. Things were starting to get out of hand, I never actually anticipated mixing with real racing cyclists. Should I give it a go, what bike could I use? Well it would give me an idea of how I am likely to do in the Tin Can Ten.

I've only got one bike suitable for a 'serious' time trial, and that's a fixed wheel Falcon. I built it myself from an old frame that used to belong to my son, it was quietly rusting in the attic. I did toy with the idea of using my Moulton, but you know what these racing types are like, I couldn't face the embarrassment!

Thursday evening arrived and with some trepidation I purposefully set out on the fixed wheel to meet my protagonists. I could only collapse in a heap and make a complete fool of myself. Extreme pain seemed likely, but Tour de France type death improbable.

I set off to ride the eight miles or so to the start, dressed for the part as we racers do cheap track suit bottoms from a French market, tucked into my socks, and a rather fetching teeshirt bearing the Environmental Transport Association logo.

Arriving at the signing-on point, I was confronted with a group of spacemen, all body hugging lycra, streamlined space helmets and bicycles the like of which had never seen an Origami ride. Some had enclosed back wheels, some aero bars and the amount of carbon fibre must have kept the factory going for months. Needless to say, I felt slightly out of place. The spacemen were not particularly friendly, but not noticeably disdainful. All the while more spacemen (and women) were arriving, some even showing a passing interest in my single speed fixed wheel, which incidentally, was rather low geared for battling with spacemen.

The time keepers soon appeared and we signed on and were given our numbers. With some assistance from fellow riders we wrestled with safety pins the most dangerous part of the whole time trial. At this point it really came home to me that I was actually entered in a real cycle race! How did this happen?

The ten mile trial involved cycling from a place called Teddington Hands, straight down a main road to Toddington, round the roundabout there, and back again. Once we had signed on next to the Teddington Hands pub, we all moved off to the starting lay-by on the main road to Toddington.

Now the fun began. Riders set off at one minute intervals in numerical order. Each rider was held upright on their bike so that toe clips or SPDs could be engaged and a count down started from 30 seconds.

After watching a variety of young and old spacemen and women launch themselves like rockets - all standing on the pedals and flexing calf muscles, it was soon my turn, number 8. Up on the saddle, pedals pulled back to the best position, fixed wheel remember, feet in toe clips.

'Thirty seconds'.

'Is it best to go all out straight away, or keep something in reserve for the return leg', I panicked.

'Thought you'd be on a hub geared machine', commented the time keeper! What a time to be discussing the Tin Can Ten.

'Twenty seconds'.

'I haven't got one', I replied cryptically, in no mood to discuss my Tin Can Ten arrangements at that particular time.

'Ten seconds'.

'Five, four, three, two, one, go!'

I shot forward like a tortoise on speed, my cadence soon reaching its maximum on the low geared fixed. Hedges shot past and pain started to flood through my legs and lungs. 'Jeez, I've only been going for about half a mile, will this pain and heavy breathing ease off', I mused. I soon realised the answer was, 'No, it won't'.

The five miles to the island slowly passed in a trance of sweat, pumping lungs and pounding heart. Every now and again a swishing noise approached from behind - the sound of a well tuned derailleur being powered by a super spaceman. Each one had a shout of encouragement as they hurtled past.

Two marshals appeared at the roundabout. The first shouted, 'All clear, right round the roundabout', and as I exited, the second shouted what sounded like, 'Hup, hup, hup'. 'What does that mean', I panicked, 'Is something wrong, has my number come off?'. I decided it was just encouragement and ploughed on, strength waning and the thought of all that return distance at this punishing pace. Nothing in reserve for the way back now!

The familiar landmarks came at me slowly in reverse and I mused about how the beginners guide to time trials had said that 35 minutes for 10 miles was good for a beginner, 30 minutes was excellent and under that was superb. Was there a chance I would come anywhere near 35 minutes let alone 30? Another spaceman whooshed past.

Eventually a knot of stationary riders came into view, surrounding the timekeepers. I put on one last supreme effort and sailed through to cries of 'Well done'. A cruise round the Teddington roundabout to warm down and I was off the bike with the other riders to check my time and watch the rest come through. My first few steps off the bike were a drunken stagger and I felt rather light headed.

My time turned out to be 31:55, which I felt was not too bad for a complete novice on a single speed machine. I was however 20th out of 21, the 21st being first in their class of one mountain bike! The best were doing the 10 miles in around 24 minutes, which is an average of 25 miles an hour. Would I ever be able to get anywhere near that? Would I want to!

Footnote

The Tin Can Ten is organised by the Loughborough Phoenix CC with the V-RCC. This year it takes place at 2.00pm on Saturday 20th July starting from West Leake north of Loughborough. Your Folding Society team are:

Susan Barlow Pristine standard yellow Brompton
Dick Hanson Mike Hessey-tuned factory Micro - a rather fine deep yellow
Dave Minter Two speed Pinkerton-modified Moulton Stowaway (is it two bikes or one?) - colour indeterminate

More details of the Tin Can Ten can be found at: http://www.donnan.co.uk/cycling events/tin-can/

Recently I went to the Tin Can Ten circuit to check it out. I managed to cover the whole 10.8 miles at a leisurely pace and completed it in under twenty minutes. But I was on a high powered motorcycle.


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Copyright (C)2002 Dick Hanson
URL: http://www.foldsoc.co.uk/spacemen.html
Last updated: 9 July 2002