Bicycling (South Africa)
Join The Ride
I RECENTLY BUILT UP A RAT BIKE, MADE UP OF SPARE PARTS. HOW IT LOOKS IS SECONDARY TO HOW IT RIDES; and I’m pretty certain it’s going to become a ‘thing’. // IT’S AN OLD ORBEA ALU FRAME, WHICH – WHEN I BOUGHT IT, OVER TWO DECADES AGO – WAS ONE OF THE FIRST AERO FRAMES TO BE MADE. But it’s been stripped down, built up and stripped down again so often that I can’t remember how many versions of this bike I’ve ridden over the years. Not only me; my eldest son used it as a student commuter a few years back. And once, I even rode it with Lance Armstrong (see faded, water-damaged photo right). // Two years ago, I thought it a great plan to sand all the paint off and turn it into a Warhol-esque art piece. But the sanding was harder than I expected. AND MY ART SKILLS ARE NON-EXISTENT, SO… BACK UP ON THE WALL IT WENT. UNTIL A MONTH AGO. // It was time to turn it into something rideable; and I had handlebars, a set of wheels, an old Rolls saddle from 20 years back, and a small budget. In Cape Town, there’s only one person you look to when it comes to reviving old bikes, and that’s Nils Hansen from Woodstock Cycle Works. He’s the demigod of single-speed conversions and retro revival. // TWO WEEKS LATER, I GOT THE BIKE BACK. NILS HAD INSTALLED THE REQUIRED BB AND A STRONGER SINGLE-SPEED CHAIN, and he had precisely fitted the chain to fit the sprockets, in lieu of a chain tensioner. It was clean, cool and beautifully ugly. // NILS SUGGESTED A RETRO SADDLE, BUT I INSISTED ON MY OLD ROLLS. THIS WAS GOING TO BE A PROPER RAT BIKE… BATTERED SADDLE AND ALL. // Three days later, it was out on the usual Sunday ride. I had carefully planned a flat route down south, nervous of how I would cope with just one gear. But it rode beautifully, and with no cassette or gears, it just whispered along, no matter what the cadence. // ON THE SHORT CLIMBS I GROUND MY WAY UP, USING EVERY PUSH AND PULL MUSCLE IN MY LEGS AS THE CADENCE SLOWED TO BELOW 50. On the flats I barrelled along at 40km/h, spinning out at over 100rpm; and I coasted down the hills, at peace with the fact that I could only relax. // I never thought I would enjoy it as much as I did. With nothing to do but pedal, there was a calmness and acceptance to the ride, even when I got cajoled into riding up the long Black Hill climb near Simon’s Town. // I’m not suggesting that gears and tech don’t make an enormous difference to our enjoyment of riding. And not everyone wants to do a ride where you’re hardly ever in the right gear. // BUT RIDING MY RAT BIKE BROUGHT HOME A SIMPLE CYCLING TRUTH: IT’S NOT HOW FAR, OR FOR HOW LONG, (OR WHAT)YOU RIDE… IT’S THAT YOU RIDE.