BobMMM (1)

The obligatory post cake selfie

There are days when there is nothing better than leaping out of bed ready to take on a lovely ride in the spring sunshine on Gracie the trike. Today was not one of those days. I was feeling tired and lethargic and I wanted to stay in bed. If it wasn’t for the fact that I’d lured Keith to come on the ride with promises of eating his body weight in cake I would have probably stayed in bed for another few hours.

I met Keith in the car park of the leisure centre where we signed on, chatted to all and sundry and indulged in some preliminary cake eating. Keith seemed happy that the early cake quota on this ride had exceeded his expectations.

We left the car park at the head of the pack and instantly found the first obstacle. Men in fluorescent jackets had been busy closing one of the roads in town by erecting all kinds of barriers and signs. The road we had been instructed to take on the route sheet was very closed to traffic, luckily it was not closed to pedestrians. If we were being law abiding citizens, we would have taken the diversion or pushed our bikes along the pavement. It was, however, early on a Sunday morning so we took the most obvious course of action.

Once we were reunited with ridable road we bowled along at a nice rate chatting about the trivia of life. I slowly became aware that we were way out in front. There was no one coming up behind us. This was strange. I’m much more used to people flying by me at this stage as the fast-paced ones disappear up the road never to be seen again. It doesn’t matter how much I like to kid myself that I’m in that group, I’m not and when riding Gracie I never will be. I was certain that someone would come past when the road went vaguely upwards. The extra weight of a Trike and my inability to go up hills almost assures this. It didn’t happen; I was starting to get suspicious now. I wondered if I’d printed of the correct route sheet or maybe I’d missed an instruction. I even wondered if the rest of the field had been wiped out by a stray asteroid.

Reality intruded on my revelry, the left side of Gracie started to feel a bit soggy. I tried to ignore it but it was followed by a little metallic bumpiness. I slowed and someone behind me told me I had a puncture. The tyres on Gracie are quite a tight fit, I bought them for the colour, everything else was a minor consideration. Keith and I spent a strenuous five minutes of so deploying the full range of tools and swear words to prise the tyre from the rim. If we’d had grappling hooks and crowbars we would have used time. Everybody came past us as we cursed and swore. At least that confirmed we were on the right route. Eventually we won the fight and got Gracie reinflated but that didn’t stop me fretting quietly that the tyre was going down, I’m never that confident with my puncture repairs, I’ve had far too many failures.

BobMMM (3)

Eating cake to the memory of Bob

We could have tried to catch up with everybody or we could have continued at a leisurely pace admiring the spring scenery as we passed though the countryside. It was too nice a day to rush so we took the easy and more enjoyable option. Had the pubs been open we would have been very tempted for a spot of refreshment. We passed some very nice looking (but closed) pubs.

I’ve often wondered if two people on two wheels is faster than one person on three wheels, today the answer was trike overtakes tandem. This is a useful bit of knowledge for when I’m playing cycle top trumps.

Somewhere outside of Ditchling Keith started to smell the cake and slowly speeded up. I watched as he slowly got smaller. I wasn’t going to chase him, there would have been no point. I guess that a couple of hours riding alongside a Trike can make someone a little stir crazy. I caught him up at the cemetery that was acting as a control. This was the whole point of the ride, to visit Bob. We ate some cake to his memory.

BobMMM (2)

Bikes hiding behind a hedge so the South Downs don’t see them

Keith confessed that he had never been up the Beacon and as we were crossing the bottom of it, it seemed rude not to. I had no intention of taking Gracie up there; it was not something we relish. Luckily there was a group of Rovers who were going up so he would be in good company. I said I would ride slowly so he would catch me up somewhere on the way back.

I spent the rest of the ride spinning gently through the countryside in a world of my own making waiting for Keith to affect the catch, just like the sprinters teams do to the lone breakaway in the Tour de France. The closer I got to the finish the more convinced I became that Keith and the Rovers were bearing down on me. I was being the plucky breakaway rider soloing home and they were the big teams hunting from another victory. They never caught me and I got the pick of the cake.

In hindsight, I’m glad I got up this morning, even if my only motivation was to not let a mate down

3 rivers (3)

Don’t you just love a friendly welcome

I have a frequent day dream that I’ll open a letter from an unknown source after a chance encounter and that would lead to a life of adventure. These days of course it would be by e-mail but that doesn’t detract from the dream. The invitation came from Helen via Facebook and was due to an encounter in Estonia, it was for a day of adventure in three different rivers, Cate had been invited as well so we headed north with a tin full of cake and a car full of towels ready for a day of wild swimming.

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A killer Swan in the first bloom of youth

We met up with Helen and a few others in a car park by the River Great Ouse. The “No Swimming” sign looked a little ominous but a few of the gathered crowd were decidedly scathing about this addition to the riverside. More worrying was the adolescent swan that was very keen on protecting his patch of the river from anything that moved. He hissed at ducks, dogs and would be swimmers in equal parts. Eventually he bowed to the pressure of numbers and went downstream to terrorise smaller prey.

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So nice, so tranquil, so swim!

We slipped into the water by the bridge. This is the bit I never like. I try to explain to people that I don’t like getting wet but I’m happy being wet; no one seems to really understand this concept, either that or I’m unique in this regard. The water was pleasantly cold. It was cold enough to know it river water but not so cold to require a rapid and instant exit. We headed up-stream against the gentle current past one or two boats and a campsite. A few Swans watched our progress ready to pounce if we got too close. I was loving it, being in a river is so different to being in the clean, clinical environment of a pool. I could taste when the mud was disturbed, I could feel the flow of the river and I could see the ever changing scenery of the river bank. I felt that I could carry on swimming upstream for ever. Eventually though we had to turn round and head back. What seemed like a gentle current on the way up was now giving me a massive push on the way back. I took long strokes and waved at a few passing walkers feeling invincible whilst swimming with the flow. It was almost a shame to get out.

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Cate: dressed for a warm spring day

Wild swimming is a breakfast and cake sport. It should be either preceded or succeeded by one of these. In this respect it’s a lot like cycling. There was a café a stone’s throw away that served a proper breakfast: Fried slice, fried egg, sausage, bacon and beans. This is exactly what is needed after a swim like that; Muesli just wouldn’t enhance the experience.

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The River Cam and not a punt in sight

Our next stop involved an encounter with naturists and the River Cam. We got changed for the second swim on a private area by the side of the river. One side was inhabited by naked people and the other by swimmers struggling under dry robes with swimming costumes. It was an amusing juxtaposition of naked men watching people getting changed without exposing themselves.

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Helen, who organised the day, rising majestically from the Cam

There where steps into the water that made the whole getting wet with slightly more civilised but no more pleasurable. Everyone was saying that the water was colder than the last river but I couldn’t feel it myself. They may be more attuned to the minor variations or this may be part of the wild swimming rituals that I’m yet to be initiated into; I just don’t know.

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River beasts

We swam up stream past fields of picnickers enjoying the warm spring day. Every now and again we passed punts and canoes being inexpertly guided down the river, All they had to do was keep the boat in the wet bit but a lot of them felt compelled to hug the bank. We turned at the three willows after a bit of debate as to whether one had been chopped down. The way back was litter with Saturday punt traffic. I did wonder if the young couple appreciated moving through a bevy of swimmers, it rather shattered the pre Raphaelite splendour of the scene. A bit further down we came across some juggernaut punts. They were huge and carried many tourists, some of which wanted to ask us questions like “What are you doing in there?” I enjoyed this swim but felt a little chilly as I got changed under the watchful eyes of the naturists. We idled on the grass for a while to warm in the sun. The day could have ended there and I would have been content.

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A small reach of the River Nene

Our third river was the Nene, we arrived mid-afternoon and made our way down to the river past a chocolate box church. A small crowd of safari swimmers had gathered on the bank next to the platform ready for some aquatic fun. Some jumped in, I really don’t know how they do that, I have to slip into the water slowly, making as much fuss as possible. Three of us headed up stream in search for a bridge that we didn’t find. The current was stronger here and that made to going harder but much more satisfying. The gentle push of flowing water heading is a constant gentle reminder that this is living water and not a sterilised indoor puddle. The fast return swim was a joy, one stroke seemed to last for ages and the river bank flew by in a blur. I could get used to this. It was almost a shame to get out, but if I hadn’t I would have missed out on the fabulous chocolate cake that someone was handing out.

3 rivers (11)

Here Be Cake, all hail the Cake!

We finished the day back on the Great Ouse. The river bank was dangerously close to a pub and the will to swim was sorely tested by the proximity of beer. In the end I thought that I’d just have a small swim, maybe though one arch of the bridge and back by another. Once I’d done that my enthusiasm was renewed so I headed off up steam leaving the rest of the party behind. Soon I was happily moving through still water watching the dabbled evening sunlight through the river side trees. I was in a personal heaven. It was everything I loved, solitude, scenery and swimming all in one beautiful moment, this is why I swim.

3 rivers (1)

Not a ripple in sight

 

Man of Kent 200

Posted: March 26, 2017 in Audax, Cycling
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ManofKent (2)

In an ordinary suburban street…

I really didn’t feel like doing this ride. I woke up but failed to get out of bed. I prayed it was raining to give me a legitimate excuse to stay in bed but the prayers didn’t help. Eventually I dragged myself into an upright position and went through the motions. If I hadn’t prepared everything last night I probably would have stayed in bed. The object of my lethargy was the Man of Kent 200 a one hundred and twenty five mile Audax ride around Kent. Last time I’d done this ride on Gracie the Trike but Gracie had been visited by the puncture fairy so I had decided to do this one on two wheels instead. It’s been a long time since I’ve done a long ride on two wheels. It should make a refreshing difference.

I met up with Mark at the start; Mark and I are veterans of many an Audax ride and more importantly we ride at about the same pace. We often put the world back in to shape whilst meandering down country lanes.

The first and longest section of the ride took us from the village hall to a vicarage for breakfast. I would like to think that the ease of the ride was due to my extensive winter training regime but I suspect that it was a lot more to do with the howling tail wind. It pushed us eastward with ease but we knew in the back of our minds that we would be battling it later. There was only one hill of any significance but the wind assisted climb seemed much easier on two wheels than three. After the climb was a long wind assisted descent to the first stop. This is how I always think cycling should be; moving at speed with the minimum of effort.

ManofKent (3)

My bike was at the bottom

The vicarage didn’t disappoint. A bacon sandwich was slapped into my had the moment I walked into the garden. I like that sort of service. The bacon was followed by a croissant and a chocolate biscuit just to make sure that I had all the major food groups covered.

The next section was still with the wind and this made life easy. We made our way quickly to a cup of tea and a large chocolate brownie in a garden centre café. We all knew that this was the end of the eastward journey, things were about to get a lot harder.

ManofKent (4)

Quality carbohydrates

The wind hit us about a mile from the garden centre. Things went from lovely to very Dutch in a matter of minutes. Now was not the time to be cycling alone and struggling with the wind. Now was the time to be in a group, to hang on to a back wheel and take shelter, and to do your fair share on the front battling against then elements. Mark and I teamed up with one other and we battled the wind with grim determination and bloody mindedness. There was no chat, no batter, just gritted teeth and a constant fight. We came to a junction and the other guy dropped off the back, he apologised saying that he couldn’t keep with the pace. This made me feel a little smug and then guilty at feeling smug.

There was a long descent along a beautiful valley near the end of the section; I assume it was a descent because the road tipped downwards. The wind counteracted any advantage here. I assume it was beautiful as one of the other riders told me it was, in the summer, when there is no wind. Today however, I didn’t see much apart from Mark’s back wheel or the road ahead viewed through squinted eyes.

ManofKent (7)

More quality cardohydrates

The next stop was in a station café, out of the wind and surrounded by the comforting smells of mediocre café food. We did wonder whether the small steam trains would take us back to the HQ but apparently the tracks didn’t go in that direction and it would probably be cheating. At least we felt like we had broken the back of this ride and were heading for the finish.

The route changed direction and the effect of the wind lessened. This was a blessed relief after the battle of the last few hours. We trundled along easily to the penultimate check point. Here we joined forces with another group. We were the youngsters in the pack the other four were in their late 60’s and early 70’s. This didn’t diminish their ability to stay on the pace. As we got closer to the HQ the pace increased. It was probably the smell of the tea and the aroma of peaches in ride pudding that did it. As we hit the final stretch it became an out and out race. There was no way that I could have been accused of letting the 67 year old win, he did it all by himself. It was a good sprint to the finish with neither of us giving any quarter.

ManofKent (8)

It wasn’t going our way

Invicta Hilly

Gracie waiting whilst I fill myself with tea

Gracie was being a little petulant today and refused to get out of the car without a struggle. I should have realised that this was a bad sign but as usual I carried on regardless. We had driven here to take part in the Invicta Hilly, the smaller version of the Invicta Grimpeur, The first long ride that Gracie and I did together. The big version consists of two loops, one clockwise and one anti clockwise. The hilly is just one anti clockwise loop. There was a lot of climbing and I remember from last time that it got quite painful by the end. The smaller version was definitely the one for me today.

It all started well, the Hilly participants were waved off at the allotted time and I made my way out the gates near the front of the pack. I was under no illusions that I would be the fastest round. That will never happen with an extra wheel on a hilly route. I was surprised how long it took for the first few to come past. I was well into the first climb before it happened. This made me happy as it suggested that the minimal amount of winter training had paid off.

The first control came at the top of Yorks Hill. I sat there for a while and contemplated the first descent. Descending on a Trike is a stressful experience at the best of times and Yorks Hill is steep and evil. The road surface was rutted and covered in mud. I decided that a screaming plummeting descent was out of the question and went for the timid cautious approach instead. It still wasn’t a pleasant experience. I got to the bottom shaken and stirred but mainly happy to be alive.

I caught up with a group of riders in front and followed them to the foot of the next hill. It turned out that I went to school with one of them. I didn’t recognise him at all but apparently I was still the same, something that I doubt. Catching up and chatting took the sting out of the next hill, we even passed someone who was attempting the ride on a Moulton.

We reached the top of the next descent. This was a lot more benign than the last one. It was on a wide road with a good surface and no bends. This was a good road to drop down with childish glee. I assumed the position and let the plummet commence. Then the wobbles started. Little wobbles at first but rapidly escalating into violet throwing off the Trike type wobbles. The whole of the front of the trike was vibrating wildly. I tried pulling hard on the brakes but that only made the whole thing worse. I started fearing becoming part of the road surface in a sudden and violent way. I brought Gracie back into the fold with a combination of brute force and intermittent braking. I pulled into a layby and cursed loudly. I’d been on the margin between upright and road surface; that is quite frightening.

Climbing the next hill I noticed that the quick release on the front wheel had come loose. I’ve no idea if the wobble had caused it or it had caused the wobble but I was willing to bet that it hadn’t helped the situation. Maybe that was why Gracie was being so petulant this morning. She was obviously offended that I’d not given her the attention she deserved.

tallinn (2)

A small cold aquatic playground

Sometime in the late autumn swimming in cold water was very appealing but now whilst standing on the Baltic coast looking at a makeshift outdoor swimming pool in Tallinn it felt very different. The water was about as cold as it could be before being solid. The air temperature was even colder. There was ice on the ground and the odd flurry of snow in the air. The reality was very different to the romantic notion of the autumn.

Cate and I had been cold water swimming throughout the British winter to acclimatise but we’d not really experienced water quite as cold. I’d entered the three freestyle events and the breaststroke whereas Cate had entered the fly, the breaststroke and the 50 free. Neither of us was really too sure what we had let ourselves into. The time had come to find out.

Day One

Day one started with the breaststroke and Cate was first. We arrived a little early and the place seemed deserted. Slowly as the time for the opening ceremony approached people drifted in from all over the place. I was expecting the sort of atmosphere that was present at the last event we were at, but that was not the case. I’m sure that the cold, snow and complete lack of shelter had something to do with that.

We found the British supporters at the side of the pool ready to cheer anyone from the UK. It was made up of all of the British competitors, their friends, lots of big flags and very loud voices. The aim was to make as much noise as possible whenever one of us was swimming. I may be biased but I think we were possibly the best cold water supporters in the world. We cheered Cate to a medal position in the 25 breaststroke.

There was a long gap to my attempt at the same distance. The snow had turned to rain and the rain had got into my down jacket to make it a cooling jacket rather than a warming one. The cold was getting to me and I’d yet to enter the water. I was shivering before I got changed; this was not a good state of affairs. Stripping down in a cold tent didn’t help the situation. I stood nervous and shivering by the tent entrance waiting for my heat to be called.

I stood at the poolside waiting to go. I was announced to the crowd and a big cheer. I was too cold to appreciate it. The announcer then instructed us in a thick East European accent to “Remove your clothes”. The cold air hit my skin. What the hell was I doing here, standing almost naked on the Baltic coast in the winter? I was not confident. My breaststroke is appalling. I’ve never been taught to do it properly, I just guessed, I don’t even practice my appalling technique. The announcer then told us to “Enter the water”. This was the moment of truth. I went down the ladder and felt the water. It grabbed at my very core and sent piercing shards of ice into my very soul. “Set!”, “Swim!”; I started across the pool with the icy water clawing at my skin, for the first two strokes I thrashed with my legs. It was not breaststroke. I calmed down a little and the legs came into the fold. My entire focus became getting to the other end and out of this frozen hell. I was last, I didn’t care, I’d completed the length and that was all I had to do. I hauled my cold body out of the water and into the icy wind. That’s when the cold hit.

I sat in a tub of tepid water hoping it would help but I just got colder. I shivered my way to the changing tent and decided that I would not be swimming the next event. It was the one I’d come to do but I didn’t care. I was not in the right frame of mind and body.

I got back to the hotel and after a few hours’ sleep I felt a lot better. Lack of sleep and cold are a deadly combination that lead to almost instant exhaustion. I can cope with one or the other but definitely not both.

tallinn (1)

Powered by beetroot

Day Two

I felt much more positive after a good night’s sleep in a warm room. I’d heard tales of yesterday’s two hundred meters freestyle and knew that I’d made the right decision not to take part. It sounded brutal. It was run in the dark and the water temperature had dipped lower.

Cate opened the account with an impressive swim to a medal position in the ice fly. The supporters club was on top form and cheered all the British girls to the end. I didn’t see the lads as I needed to get prepared for the 100 meter freestyle. I felt warm, I’m sure that the changing tent was warmer too. I got changed and then covered myself in a pair of fleece leggings, a robe and my down jacket. I felt the warmth of the clothes against my skin. This was so much better than yesterday. This time I felt ready. I knew what the water would be like, I knew how the marshaling worked, and I wasn’t cold. I was in a good place.

I have never received a cheer from the crowd before, let alone a cheer from wildly enthusiastic flag waving crowd that was standing on pool side. It made my heart fly. For the second time this weekend I was forcibly instructed to “Take off your clothes” and then “Enter the water”. This time the water was cold but not hostile; this was somewhere I’d been before. It didn’t hold any mystery.

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Cate and her WIN face

The first length was fast, the second was a little wobbly. The water was murky and there was no black line to follow. I was very aware of the lane ropes getting far too close. I nearly swam into the pool wall on the third length. The cold was starting to take its toll. The energy was being sucked from my limbs. I had a sneaky look round at the end of the third. I was definitely taking part rather than competing. The water turned to treacle on the fourth length, the energy seemed to drain from my limbs and the end of the pool seemed further away than ever. Eventually I reached the other side. I glanced up at the results to see that I’d swum a personal best. That made me happy.

I stayed in the hot tub for a long time. It was warmer today and I was expecting the after drop. Then I made my way to the sauna. The heat in there was so welcome. I sat there and breathed in the hot damp air, this was so much better. I was being warmed from the inside and the outside. It didn’t take long for normality to return.

I was there on poolside to cheer Cate to her third medal before heading off to get changed for the 50 free. This one held no mystery. I knew the ropes, I’d swum twice the distance, and I knew how to keep warm. This one was for the fun. I’d selected my brightest trunks for this race, it seemed only fair. I lapped up the whooping of the crowd. I felt it was a fast race and looking up I saw that yet again I’d scored a personal best. I beamed all the way to the hot tub and sauna.

tallinn

 

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Gracie, waiting outside whilst I filled myself with tea and biscuits

I’ve done this ride many times and it is always cold. Today was no different. The weather forecast wasn’t too promising either, with the prospect of snow later. I used my usual rule of if it’s not raining when I start I’ll do the ride. I’d chosen to do the ride on Gracie the Trike for a number of reasons, chief amoungst them being stability and the ability to carry a lot of spare clothing. I felt that I may be in need of extra layers as the day wore on.

The start was the usual mix of familiar faces, cups of tea and catching up with the news in the small world of Audax. I met mark in the HQ and as is usual we started the ride together. Again we were the epitome of Audax cyclists: one of us on a fixed with mud guards and panniers and the other on a tricycle, chatting our way round a ride and putting the world to rights.

At various points on the first leg we tangled with a sportive that was also running on our lanes. Sometimes they were cycling with us and sometimes they were on the other side of the road. Gracie managed to raise a smile from a lot of them. On one corner curiosity got the better of me an d I asked one of the riders which sportive and what route they were doing. After a little chat we felt that we had sold the benefits of Audax (mainly more cake) over Sportives with the cyclist promising to look us up on the web.

On another corner I overtook three sportive riders, they seemed to think that having an extra wheel was in some way cheating. They were very vocal about that. I almost offered them a turn on Gracie to show them that a Trike is in no way cheating. I didn’t because I think that Gracie should be paid more respect than that. She is, after all, an old lady who is still keeping up and in some cases passing the youngsters.

The original route took us up a steep hill to a control but the organisers had decided that the road was too dangerous for us to pass. They regaled us with tales of snow and slush and slippery conditions. I wasn’t too sad that I didn’t have to struggle up the hill for a tepid cup of tea and then follow it with a hair raising descent. I quite enjoyed my hot tea and cake instead.

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Mark, at the first control using Gracie as a bike stand

Mark and I set off on the next section as the snow started to fall. It was very light snow that didn’t settle. At least it wasn’t rain. Rain would have made the ride miserable. The sprinkling of snow was little enough to be distracting but not annoying. The route passed along the piece of road that persuaded me that Audax was a good thing to do. It is a lovely narrow lane through trees and past a pond. Even now in the depth of winter it had a certain charm. I may have been viewing it through rose tinted spectacles though.

There seemed to be more slight ups than downs on this part of the route. I’m a lot slower going up than Mark. I can usually catch up on the downs, providing there are sufficient downs. There weren’t. Mark slowly pulled ahead until he disappeared into the distance. It became clear that I’d be finishing the ride alone.

I learnt at the last control that I wasn’t the last on the road. This raised my mood a little as I felt at times that the entire field had passed me. I was now back on familiar roads, I knew all the lumps and bumps and had mental markers all the way home. I was able to retreat into my little world and try to ignore my legs complaining about being used so much. I was so deep into my world that I almost jumped off the Trike when someone passed me with a jaunty “well done!”

Eventually I pulled into the HQ ready for my bowl of hot soup, a bread roll and almost unlimited cake. The feelings of gloom at my fitness faded fast with each mouthful of cake. I felt I’d done quite well for my first ride out of the year on Gracie.

 

A Bike is Born

Posted: February 15, 2017 in Cycling
Tags: , , ,

I built a bike frame this weekend, I build it using bamboo and hemp with some epoxy resin and a few metal bits. Here are a few pictures of the stages of construction

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It all started with a jig that holds the metal head tube and the bottom bracket

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We then selected just the right bits of bamboo

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Measured them up against the jig to ensure they were just right. I’d selected a few spares as well, just in case I was visited by the catastrophe fairy

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Then the bamboo had to be cut to fit round the metal bits using a viscous cutting tool and an angle measuring thing (it has a name, I don’t know it)

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The masking tape was there to keep splinters to a minimum, splinters are painful.

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The hole is then cut at the correct angle to fit the tube. This is repeated for all the tubes…

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They can then be put into place on the jig to for the first triangle. A blob of epoxy holds the tubs in place but the tape holds them in place until the epoxy is dry. The cup of tea in the corner is a vital lubricant for the novice bike builder.

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The dropouts are then fixed into position on the jig…

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and slots cut into the chain stays and seat stays so that they fit into the dropouts.

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The chain stays are then fitted into place and fixed using epoxy

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As are the seat stays.

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It now looks like a frame but it doesn’t look like it will stay together in a strong wind.

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The frame is held together with hemp strips that are soaked in epoxy resin and then wrapped around the tubes

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Like this.

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Once the joint is formed it is wrapped in electrical tape whilst the epoxy sets

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Initially the epoxy gets warm as the reaction hardens it, then it cools. Once it is cool the electrical tape can be removed

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And there we have it, one bike frame born from a pile of bamboo, some hemp and a few metal bits. It needs to be finished and lacquered to become a proper frame and then equipped to become a real bike but that will have to wait a while.

This was all done on a weekend course with the Bamboo Bicycle Club