The Folding Society

Watch the Birdy

By Dick Hanson

The Boat at Ashleworth is a favourite pub with cyclists in the Cheltenham and Gloucester area. Tuesdays and Thursdays in particular, are evenings when you are likely to find everyone from Lycra-clad to utility cyclists enjoying the wonderful range of real ales. A round trip of 30 miles makes it a pleasant evening excursion; the return journey often having a certain 'otherness' about it, especially in the dark!

For some weeks now Chris Read and I have made this our regular Tuesday evening ride. As Chris' front lights could double as a lighting rig at a rock concert, the dark lanes hold no hidden terrors for the unwary. However, on Tuesday 18 December Chris couldn't make it and I decided to go on my own. I chose the Birdy as it was all ready to go, already dirty and had a fitting for the brightest front light I had. This was rather glow worm against Chris' searchlight. I had forgotten that last time I went out to the Boat at night on the Birdy, the front light had slowly started to point skywards as the handlebars were obviously rotating. This was cured by tightening the clamp bolt. More of this later.

The evening was not too cold but rather damp and overcast. At 7.30pm the amount of traffic on the exit from Cheltenham was still horrific, but luckily I know various ways of avoiding the main roads using a combination of cycle paths and quiet routes. The lights of the town were soon receding behind me as I sped along the old Gloucester Road then through the lanes to the village of Down Hatherley. It was along here that I realised there was no moon behind the clouds as the lanes were exceedingly dark.

A short stretch of the A38 brought me to Norton and the turn off to Wainlode Hill. I was slightly disconcerted here by the Road Closed signs blocking the lane. Earlier in the month this road had been closed for bridge rebuilding, but that was all finished, what was this now? During the previous closure cyclists and pedestrians could still get through, so I ignored the signs and carried on. It seemed particularly dark along this stretch as I strained my eyes for any obstruction, the dim beam of my light hardly picking out the road surface. Eventually I came to a Flood sign and expected to be enveloped by dark waters any minute even though it hadn't rained for days. (My previous experience of floods and the Birdy are related in Issue 66 of Folding Society News).

No water appeared or any other reason for the Road Closed signs and I was soon sailing along by the River Severn, the only moving thing in the black English countryside. At the far end of this lane were further Road Closed signs for traffic coming the other way and I learned at the pub that a few days previously there had been at least a foot of water where I encountered the Flood signs. The reason for the water was a mystery.

I was soon over the Severn at Haw Bridge and down the lane to Ashleworth from Tirley. This is a superb ride and at night has an eerie feel as you can hear the water fowl calling on the flooded fields as you cycle past. Following a cheery hello from a fellow cyclist going the other way I was soon rolling into the Boat car park.

Releasing my SPDs and turning the bike to place it under cover of the summer outside drinking area, there was a sharp crack. With that the handlebars went all wobbly. Moving the bike under the outside lights I found that the weld at the top of the handlebar stem had cracked right across. Here I was, the furthest point from home, with rather unstable handlebars. Should I try and do something, or phone home and ask my wife to come and collect me?

Never one to admit defeat, after a little thought I realised if I tightened the handlebar clamp bolt, the bars would be held reasonably securely from one side. This I did before going into the pub. All the while I was thinking, 'Is it wise to cycle 15 miles in the pitch dark with handlebars which may come away in my hands!'. Thoughts of what other aluminium bits might break off also passed through my mind. I then realised that the loose handlebars on the previous journey must have been caused by the weld weakening before it finally broke.

Having tightened everything up I went into the pub and had some 'Rudolf' winter warmer and a pleasant chat. Coming out an hour later, the world seemed a rosier place. I gingerly mounted the bike and carefully set off, wary of pot holes or any other obstruction that might jar things. Spotting such things was getting progressively more difficult as my batteries were beginning to get a bit low.

The journey continued uneventfully and I progressively became bolder in my pedalling. I even realised, in a foolhardy move, that on the empty lanes it was easier to see the damp road glistening with the front light switched off! However, I was very much aware that I should press down on the bars as much as possible and also not pull on them up hills. Peculiarly, my light when on, continually turned slowly from the road to the sky and had to be periodically corrected through a turn of the bars. Obviously we must put a rotating force on the bars all the time we are cycling.

All went well until I reached the outskirts of Cheltenham where I cycle through an industrial estate to avoid the traffic. It was about 10.30pm by this time and I was looking forward to a nice hot bath at home. Suddenly a car coming the other way stopped and the driver shouted something. Automatically I pulled on the brakes to find out what he wanted.

Everything happened at once. The driver was questioning me as to the whereabouts of a lorry company, my handlebars were waving all over the place and my feet resolutely refused to release from the SPDs due to the surprise of the wayward handlebars. This all happened in a flash, but it seemed to go on for ever. One foot came free of the SPDs but the bike was leaning the other way and a large sharp curb was looming out of the darkness as I began to topple over. Somehow or other with a supreme effort I managed to flip the bike the other way and came to an unstable halt still upright (maybe I should get a BMX).

I don't know who was more surprised, he or I. Anyway, I couldn't help him with his enquiry so he drove off. I was only about three miles from home so I decided to carry on as I was. After a very shaky 100 yards I decided that this wasn't on, so I paused under a street light. The weld must have cracked further when I braked, so more turns on the handlebar clamp bolt made things relatively rigid again and I reached home without further incident.

In my hot bath, thoughts of a visit to AVC, the Sale of Goods Act and 'fit for purpose', ran through my head.

Dick actually bought his Birdy Red from me about 18 months ago, so his reference to the Sale of Goods Act is a bit worrying for me! The Birdy was back in action at the Origami Ride on Saturday 12th January, now fitted with a Comfort Stem (higher and with less reach). Dick says he much prefers the new stem, so perhaps the need to change to this was a blessing in disguise!

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Copyright (C)2002 Dick Hanson/Ferrets Anonymous
Last updated: 13 January 2002