Sometimes Life Sucks So Hard It Blows.
Speaking of wheels, I needed to get my hands on a bike.
I popped down to my local bike shop in Glasgow to see what I could find. I explained what I was looking for, something that might carry me round the country despite my questionable fitness.
Joe the bike man suggested a hybrid bike. I nodded to show that I knew what that meant. I figured it was half-bike and half-something else. Horse, motorbike, biscuit …
The first bike Joe showed me had no mane, engine or chocolate topping. Besides these deficiencies, it was the greenest bike I’d ever seen.
Joe moved on to other bike models in more subtle shades, but I kept coming back to the big green monster in the corner of the room. My initial reaction had been ‘no way’. Now I’d decided I was getting it.
‘I’ll take the green one,’ I said and Joe congratulated me on my choice. Besides being green, the bike would supposedly serve me well in different road conditions. Joe said it was very zippy too.
I tried to imagine myself being very zippy, but couldn’t quite get there.
Still, it had twenty-four gears, which was twenty-one more than my Grifter XL had given me. I was happy to take all the gears I could get, given the country I was planning to cover wasn’t particularly known for being flat.
I took a picture of my new bike and texted it to my brother.
‘The Green Lantern!’ Stewart texted back.
Joe then sorted me out with a few other bike essentials. Things I hadn’t quite got round to thinking about, like a helmet, a pump, a lock, a water bottle, a puncture repair kit and a neat little saddle bag.
‘What about panniers?’ asked Joe.
Ah, I knew what they were, but I didn’t need them. I was intending to cycle round Scotland with a small backpack on my back. To be fair, Joe didn’t think this ridiculous, or at least he didn’t say so. I left the bike shop with his best wishes, my new bike and all the other stuff he’d picked out.
Cycling home along the canal towpath, I only had two near collisions with local youths. One said ‘sorry mate’ as if it were his fault and the other one called me a ‘bawbag’. Which was fair enough really as I was still getting the hang of this thing.
Life Cycle: A Bike Ride Round Scotland and Back to Childhood will be published by Birlinn in August 2013.
Raleigh ruled our childhoods, as with most kids of our generation.
Between the stolen Strika and the speedy Racer, I was the proud owner of a Grifter XL, a jet-black number with neon flashes, red crash pad on the handlebar and red mudguards. And, best of all, a three-speed gear shift on the right handle grip. That twisting, gear-changing action was the coolest thing. The Grifter XL was the motorbike of bicycles, the dark knight of my dreams.
As futuristic as it looked, it was one heavy beast. Mounting a kerb was a challenge, pulling a wheelie was nigh-on impossible. Even with the luxury of gears, riding a Grifter XL was like riding a bike through soup.
Still, it was utterly indestructible. I must have ridden a million miles on that thing.
Riding alongside me was my wingman, my wee brother Stewart, but he pretty much upstaged me on his Tuff Burner (another Raleigh number, naturally). The Tuff Burner was, quite frankly, the coolest bike that ever existed.
This was a thing of sheer beauty: blue frame wrapped in yellow pads and yellow mag wheels with blue tyres (blue tyres!). Had Willy Wonka been a bike designer rather than a sweetie maker, he would have dreamt up the Tuff Burner. It was the mad-capped mother of BMXs.
As a dad and a lover of good music, I love this. Kurt Vile’s Never Run Away.