Saturday arrived like a bus: randomly late. None of us were ready, but clearly it wasn’t going to wait, so we had to just jump on and see where it took us. After the excesses of the night before we ate whatever we could face, and set off for our first race of the weekend – the hill-climb.
The course seemed to contain a lot of descending for a hill-climb (sounds more like a UK downhill course – ed), a series of sharp drops and climbs leading us gradually upwards. To my surprise I passed Doc quite early, and later caught Matt who had turned rather an unusual colour. I didn’t feel so hot myself. It was far too early and I had drunk far too much the night before, but I continued to grind out the ascent. After 14-minutes of wishing I was somewhere else, I finally reached the top and celebrated with some gasping. Dave was the next of us to the top. He had started a minute after me and took Dead Bike team honours for the event, beating my time by two seconds. Matt finished and left a Jackson Pollack reproduction in the bushes. Doc and Si turned up eventually, Si having impressively taco-ed his rear disc (which takes skill in a hill climb event) and Doc having no good excuse that I could see.
Back at the campsite we settled our fragile stomachs with a fry-up and turned our attention to the reason for being here. Sifting through the junk we had brought, it began to look like a pretty sizable task we had set ourselves, so we started with something a bit smaller – reinventing the wheel. Surrounded by the plentiful natural resources of the forest, we decided that the rear tyre would run well if it was inflated with pinecones rather than the more traditional air. Looking back, I think we might have started drinking again by this point. The pinecone wheel completed, we started work on the rest of the bike. The first choice of frame, a Trek 850 with a driveside drop-out that looked likely to live up to it’s name at any moment, turned out to be incompatible with the only chainset we had, so we were forced to use our second frame – an old Kirk Magnesium, stripped of its powder coat and left to rot in a shed for several years. Its original cromoly forks were refitted using headset parts from the Trek, and an unusual flexstem was installed. Straight bars went on next, fitted with Alivio Rapidfire shifters (with non V brake levers), the mankiest Onza grips we could muster, and gloriously mismatched bar ends (one of which was long enough to double as a toilet roll holder).
It turned out that we only had one chainring that fitted the Specialized cranks. This seemed a pity as we had about five front mechs to choose from. Ah well. The 36-tooth ring coupled with a seven-speed cassette would give us a spread of gears that anyone in 1975 would have given their right arm for. A short-cage DX rear mech with grungy, orange jockey wheels was put on shifting duty, and a Kalloy seat post held an old embroidered Orange saddle with more skid marks than Brands Hatch.
The pinecone wheel was installed, and the front wheel fitted with a worn grey Umma Gumma tyre that had lived for the past few years in a compost heap. To comply with EU safety guidelines, rubber gloves were used for its installation.
The brakes went on; ordinary cantis at the back and V’s up front for some serious stopping power (provided the non V lever didn’t complain, that is). The chain was assembled from the best bits of three other chains we had, as well some spare links left over from new chains past. A full set of reflectors was fitted to make the thing safe and legal. Cables, bottle cages and some rather nasty skewers and quick releases were added and suddenly we had a bike. We all stopped and held our breath. This was an historic moment. As the last bolt was tightened, the bike seemed to glow with an almost religious aura. Or maybe that was just the beer.
During the building of the bike, Diane and Jon ‘the Cheese Weasel’ had arrived (honestly, the internet is the strangest place to meet people). The online relationship between Doc and Di has produced more cartoon violence than an entire series of ‘South Park’, and led to much speculation. As such, this, their first meeting, promised to be an event in itself. Initially they both seemed cautious, perhaps even nervous. It seemed that the much-anticipated explosion of violence and/or passion would have to wait.
But first, there was the small issue of the test ride. Straight away, the revolutionary pinecone wheels proved that biodegradable puncture proofing comes second to comfort and traction in the desirability stakes. Their performance wasn’t helped by a dead spot where a couple more cones would have been a definite advantage. Clearly more thought would have to be given to the exact size and number of cones used in the tyre. After five or six runs up and down the road, the tyre came off its rim with an impressive shower of shrapnel. Jon did well to bring it to safe halt without any injury to by-standers. Pinecone technology clearly has a long way to go.
Doc, having cleared the tyre of cones for ammo, put a regular tube in and took the bike out for some more tests. With slightly more predictable things happening at the contact patches, a few more peculiarities in the ride came to light. Chief of these were the unusual characteristics of the frame. Time, neglect and mildew had clearly taken their toll and while the Kirk still boasted girder-like rigidity in the vertical plane, it had developed the lateral stiffness of tapioca. The result was the feeling that the back wheel was bored of following the front and wanted to strike out in a direction of its own. Under heavy pedalling loads the frame wobbled like a Rolf Harris instrument. Add to this, the bizarre behaviour of a flexstem with three dimensions of movement and the handling was unpredictable at best.
Doc and I watched with increasing unease as everyone else took turns to wheelie, endo and jump the bike, aware of what each landing would be doing to the already fragile machine. We were the team who would race it in the relay the next day, and the possibility of it breaking at a nasty moment was looming large in my mind.
At this moment there was a loud crash behind us. Matt had taken the Dead Bike for a spin and must have got cocky or something. He was now lying in a crumpled heap of man and machine. We laughed for a while and waited for him to get up, but he didn’t. The weight of the machine had him pinned to the ground like an enraged Hulk Hogan. He waved a foot pathetically (from behind his left ear) and groaned. We disentangled him and examined the damage. One bar end had bent so badly that it had punctured the bar.
Having seen what Dead Bike was capable of on a flat fireroad, we began to contemplate the damage it could wreak on a stretch of singletrack. I seriously began to consider packing up and leaving in the night.