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It's not all about the bike

If it’s not all about the bike, then what? For "Jim" it’s about his engine, for Lance, well, no need to delve into that one again. Our main man in marketing, Ed Brazier, found out the hard way this weekend. Just remember all those lightweight carbon frames, deep section aero wheels and whiter than white Yak leather shoes, doesn't necessarily mean you won’t get dropped by a man with a Tesco bag zip tied to his saddle rails.

I met up with an old friend of mine on Friday - we'll call him "Jim" to protect his identity - and cooked up a plan to ride on Sunday morning. The weather was set fair after a long wet winter, and by some miracle our various work and family commitments permitted us a few hours to get out and ride. Jim's racing the UK Gravity Enduro series this year as a build-up to the Trans Savoie Alpine Enduro in August, but has been ill recently and needed to get some miles in his legs. For my part, I'd trained really well up to a trip to Finale Ligure last Autumn but came back with a dislocated shoulder, so my winter has just been about getting back to the bike.

I'm a relative newbie on the road and I'm still learning the ropes. I'm lucky though - working here gives me access to a huge amount of bike bling and plenty of good advice. My road bike is a Pro Carbon with Sram Force and CT45 wheels, and like all my bikes it's kept in immaculate condition at all times. It's probably way too much bike for me at this point, but it is an awesome bike to ride and I've got big plans for it this year.

Jim's bike, on the other hand, needs a bit of TLC. He's borrowed some winter hack from a mutual friend and has been punishing it twice a week as part of his training regime. Sunday morning dawned and I was ready in my Planet X Retro kit, when Jim turned up in some Oakley baggies, 5.10 MTB shoes and a down gilet. He'd been up early 'fixing' his bike but there was not much evidence of that...

The bars were festooned with every kid of accessory - or at least the plastic fitting for accessories, not all of which were present. His bar tape was held in place with a cork bunged into the end. He had an improvised saddle bag which consisted of a Tesco carrier bag zip tied onto the saddle rails - which had been shredded on his previous ride when he punctured and realised you can't open zip ties once they're done up. Predictably the drivetrain was on its last legs but the real crowning glory was the Bergtec Penthouse Flat downhill pedals (440g each). This was going to be an interesting ride.

We weren't in any hurry and the weather was beautiful, so we took it easy on the spin out from Sheffield into the Peak. My Pro Carbon was gliding along in silence, the only sound being the satisfying thrum of the CT45s as the speed built up. Jim's bike sounded like a bag of rusty spanners in a tumble dryer and I was seriously concerned that it wouldn't get all the way round. I knew straight away we had work to do on our etiquette; I was rolling away from Jim on the downhills with the Pro Carbon's superior weight and aerodynamics, and he was not confident enough to hold my wheel at high speed. On the flats we did our turns, Jim making a big hole with his puffed up gilet, but he didn't seem to mind.

I took the lead up the first few climbs but there was a problem… Jim was clearly fitter and stronger than me. After a while I couldn't hold on as he stood up and mashed those Bergtecs, his clunker screaming in agony as he pushed a way-too-big gear. I was starting to regret giving him so much abuse about the state of his bike earlier in the day - he was teaching me a lesson in humility.

I guess it wasn't that tough a ride by 'proper' road standards - 51km with 985m of climbing - but at Jim's merciless pace it was more than a match for my weak winter legs. By the time we were climbing up through Grindleford on the way home I was in serious trouble and the wonky back wheel of Jim's bike was disappearing over the horizon… I blew up completely. Thankfully he was good enough to wait for me at Fox House where I had a bit of a sit down under the pretext of enjoying the sunshine.

Don't get me wrong, we had a great ride. It was brilliant just to get out in the Peak, never mind the weather and the company of a good friend. I daresay we also provided a comedy spectacle for all the real cyclists we encountered on the way. But there was further evidence - as if any were required - that it isn't all about the bike. Nor is it about your kit, the way you look or the way you ride. Jim couldn't care less what he looked like or what his bike sounded like; he was just having a good time riding his bike and I expect he took some pleasure from burying me up that climb too. What really worries me is what would have happened if I hadn't been riding a beautifully honed carbon race bike with carbon wheels and all the trimmings…

10 March 2014