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VecchioJo is always dying for a ride

I know where I’m going to die.

Actually, there are several places where I know I’m going to die.

We all have them. Those junctions, downhills, corners, sections of road where we know we’re pretty likely to end up bouncing off a bonnet, being scraped off the tarmac, asked if they were wearing a helmet.

The place most probable you’ll see the light scuff mark my pedal left on the tarmac and find one of my jettisoned bar-end plugs in the gutter, or not find as it gets slowly ingested back into the verge landscape is less than ten miles away. Root around a bit more and you might find my Oakleys, the lens could be a little scratched but you can keep them. It’s a fast and easy right hand curve with a junction coming in from the left.

You can swoop down it like a hawk onto prey, except some days you’re the prey and the hunter is a solid metal box, you can swoop down it like a hawk into the jaws of a tin wall.

Emerging from that junction the line of sight towards a descending you is poor, the arc of the bend means any traffic appears with little warning, and as the road leads from the south it’s more often than not straight out of the sun, perfect tactics for a Spitfire remaining invisible to attack until the last moment, not so ideal for a cyclist. It doesn’t play out well for anyone coming down the road to be fair. To complicate matters the junction is at an awkward angle on a hill, especially if you’re turning right across the flow, dogleg, tight turn, hill start, so any driver has to be fast with both their eyes and feet to execute an efficient exit.

 

There’s the hill bottom roundabout that can be sublimely negotiated with just the subtlest of a hip-wiggle if nothing is coming from the right, a decision that’s blinded by hedgerow and bank, hesitation is determined by glimpsing any fast flashes of colour in the bushes.

There have been moments in the past that now lead to a softening of the pedal stroke, a stiffening of the back, a covering of the brake levers, a heightened sense of surroundings, a jittery eye, a raising of hackles and heartbeat.

The world goes slow and hush, everything happens suddenly, you’re aware of nothing happening, insignificant details become suddenly intimate and burned on memory. The vast untapped treasury of knowledge in the back of the brain that’s had millions of years of trial, error, success and mistakes to evolve and develop a hard-wired survival instinct flips the black/yellow safety cover on the overdrive button and takes over control from the bit of the brain that thinks it knows what it’s doing.

The turning to the right you want to take just on the lee side of the crest of a hill, an awkward manoeuvre that can leave you in the middle of the road like a sitting duck, with a fairground target painted on your back and a driver keen to collect a cuddly toy for his bird.

That hidden bit of the brain fires of a thousand million synapses, the Ford Focus ST 1 is suddenly a sabre-toothed tiger turning to swing a spade of a claw in the fight, and it adjusts the gyroscopes and ailerons to swiftly, efficiently and silently glide the body through the situation. The conscious and instantly redundant front part of the brain only has the power to let out a prolonged and badly enunciated swear word.

That mini-roundabout on the way to the shops two miles away that has a 50/50 chance of mild terror any given day when you just need to fetch some milk.

And just so you don’t think you can learn from the incident it wipes all awareness of how you did it from your recesses, just to continue to make sure you’re not flattered into thinking you were pulling the strings.

When all of that fails, and it will, because buried inherent skills and a bit of plain dumb luck are sometimes no match for idiotic inept blind lumbering reality and it finally happens, people will call me stupid. But other cyclists will simply quietly nod and understand.

Tell them I knew, tell them I was happy.

 

That plummeting last sinewy glory run downhill towards home with a 30 limit that’s too easy to do 40, or 50 if there’s a tailwind, just at the bottom before you swoop up the short steep ramp to the traffic lights where two roads come from the left. Cyclists don’t go very fast. Spin the barrel, click, spin the barrel, click.

Approach that probable place, ease off for the briefest of moments out of respect, then lean hard on the bars, push forward with the thighs and pedal through the dead spot with defiant speed.

Jo Burt has spent the majority of his life riding bikes, drawing bikes and writing about bikes. When he's not scribbling pictures for the whole gamut of cycling media he writes words about them for road.cc and when he's not doing either of those he's pedaling. Then in whatever spare minutes there are in between he's agonizing over getting his socks, cycling cap and bar-tape to coordinate just so. And is quietly disappointed that yours don't He rides and races road bikes a bit, cyclo-cross bikes a lot and mountainbikes a fair bit too. Would rather be up a mountain.

15 comments

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crikey [1251 posts] 4 years ago
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Aye, all a bit over enunciated, but I agree.
There is a particular stretch of road which has proved to be the equivalent of riding through a safari park with lion food tucked up my shorts.
It's a big open road, descending gently into a town, with nice cycle lanes on either side of the road and the local residents are all, without exception, blind zombie loonies. I've discovered that the best approach is the full 'I'm chasing down the break now Mr Lefevre' sitting up in the middle of the road doing my finest TV Tommy Voeckler maximum visibility thing.

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mooseman [87 posts] 4 years ago
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Where Old Bath Road meets Charlton Lane, that's where...

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mrmo [2094 posts] 4 years ago
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mooseman wrote:

Where Old Bath Road meets Charlton Lane, that's where...

Personally i would move up the hill a bit to where the Old bath road meets Leckhampton road, just where the garage/gym used to be and where you just know some blind idiot is going to pull out in front of you.

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notfastenough [3725 posts] 4 years ago
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Great piece, but I do hope this isn't a prophetic forecasting of your premature demise...

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AJ101 [277 posts] 4 years ago
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notfastenough wrote:

Great piece, but I do hope this isn't a prophetic forecasting of your premature demise...

Exactly what I was thinking as I was reading it. I hope there's still plenty more words and cartoons still to come!

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step-hent [725 posts] 4 years ago
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A great piece, but a bit extreme isn't it? Going downhill fast is my favourite part of riding a bike, and I'm not averse to playing the percentages on a quick but tight stretch of road, but if I'm certain I'm going to come a cropper at some point on a given section, I'll just go another way or knock the speed right off. I love cycling, but there's no need to die for it...

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stever [68 posts] 4 years ago
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I may have just made that coffee to strong, but I'm a bit jittery right now. I've already used 2 lives on my spot. Once when I shipped a too loose chain riding fixed. The second when my wedding ring unexpectedly pinged off a chilly and shrunken finger and I watched it bounce across the road stopping just shy of the drain. That's not counting the traffic.

Mine's a 35-40mph downhill with a choice of attack spots... 1. Traffic joining from the left (halfway down, maximum velocity) that thinks it can just nip out 2. Traffic turning across you heading to the same junction - appears from nowhere behind the bend. You can sometimes get warning by peering over the hedge at the top, depends how trim it is.

Cover the brakes, look ahead, enjoy the rush. Take your pick.

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giff77 [1275 posts] 4 years ago
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Great piece once again.

For me there are two stand outs.
1) the road dropping into Lochwinnoch from Kilmacolm. A brilliant drag that guarantees 40/50 min. Half way down or thereabouts a road joins from the left where some muppet will pull out not realising that you are hurtling towards them quite rapidly. The look of shock on their faces as you sail past taking a moment to glare at them through your mirrored shades and mouthing some obscenity before you tuck in in front of them knowing that they are stuck until you hit the village. Fortunately to date have not had to deal with anyone turning right out of this road or turning into it while coming out of the village.

2). A mini roundabout that most drivers try and squeeze you out when exiting the first exit. Have learnt the hard way to hit the roundabout dead centre of the lane and deal with the abuse 100 yards up the road.

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Simon Walker [61 posts] 4 years ago
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Kirkstone pass heading towards Ullswater. Fast, flowing, and deadly if you miscalculate or hesitate for a millisecond.

But on any given day I can't help myself.

There is also Roger Ground towards Hawkshead.

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mooseman [87 posts] 4 years ago
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mrmo wrote:
mooseman wrote:

Where Old Bath Road meets Charlton Lane, that's where...

Personally i would move up the hill a bit to where the Old bath road meets Leckhampton road, just where the garage/gym used to be and where you just know some blind idiot is going to pull out in front of you.

Yeah, there too, always reluctant to scrub off any speed but you're right.

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SteppenHerring [342 posts] 4 years ago
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You just need to be careful and aware.

If you come over Ranmore from Westhumble and then turn left to descend into Dorking, there's a council "recycling centre" about 3/4 of the way down. Prime place for people to turn in and out of when you're at 45mph+.

I scared the crap out of myself last Sunday descending Coldharbour Lane when an unexpected patch of wet mud caused my back wheel to let go (I was trying to slow gently). My son was behind and swears my back wheel slid out over a foot. Managed to stay up though. That was self-inflicted.

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Arno du Galibier [80 posts] 4 years ago
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Junction between Higher Lane and Macclesfield Road on the way to Kettleshulme. Google Streetview shows exactly the type of situation I'm talking about. The quick witted *may* be able to divert left into Higher Lane at the last minute... Or so I like to kid myself.

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DaveE128 [914 posts] 4 years ago
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Arno du Galibier wrote:

Junction between Higher Lane and Macclesfield Road on the way to Kettleshulme. Google Streetview shows exactly the type of situation I'm talking about. The quick witted *may* be able to divert left into Higher Lane at the last minute... Or so I like to kid myself.

https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@53.310408,-2.034124,3a,75y,75.77h,64.16t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1s5I7Sgy9zaCr9KrGgJ2tBAQ!2e0

See what you mean! Definitely one to keep as far right as it's safe to, to maximise visibility and possibility of diverting into Higher Lane.

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Colin Peyresourde [1819 posts] 4 years ago
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Everyday coming down from Islington or going up it from Clerkenwell. The traffic parks up all over the place and people doing silly buggers, but it's a stretch you can also open up on and really let fly.

On the way down the lights will usually catch you, but sometimes you get a free run, though there's a box junction which is just waiting for a 'didn't see you moment' to happen.

On my way home the lights at Theobalds and Grey's in road is where it kicks off most days with most cyclists not really understanding the concept of lane discipline and parking themselves in the left hand lane when they need to be in the right. If you don't get a good start, or come late to the party the do-ce-do can be a little fraught with cyclists trying to get right, taxis left and mopeds everywhere.

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Martin Thomas [384 posts] 4 years ago
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You're talking about where Saddlecombe Road meets that little wiggly lane out of Poynings aren't you Jo? Here's to many years of defiant peddling through it.