SOCKTALES – March 2018


I knew that – I just never tried it; weight!

Socktales appears in every issue of Ride, and is written by Steve Shapiro. When not potting in his shed, Steve can be found in his natural habitat, penning award-winning poems or pondering the wisdom of the Chosen Gear.

In all these years of passionate pedalling, books and magazines constantly drew my attention to something which should have been so obvious: if your general parcel of man and machine tip the scales more modestly, you will begin to shimmy up the hills with more speed and less effort. That’s why the more expensive offerings tend to supplement what they lose on the beams and balances with what they gain at the cash register. Nowadays it might explain the otherwise inexplicable rise to prominence of plastic-like carbon fibre which, to my mind, is more about mass than it is about stiffness. There is something so banal about carbon fibre with its lack of tactile reward and the anthem of cheap, mass-produced, sound effects emanating from its engagement with environmental elements but it is reputed to be desirably wanting in terms of mass.

In recent months, and not for reasons of conscious dieting, I have shed a long and seemingly durable reservoir of waist padding. I would prefer not to go into this source of unexpected mutability but it is real and friends of mine have suggested as much as 10kg. But because of little intimacy with bathroom-measuring devices, I am unable to confirm this, possibly generous, assessment. But the change is quite tangible, in front of the mirror and on the bicycle. And, in spite of the usual contradictory and hysterical hogwash on another publication’s online teaser, being lighter works. I like it when I’m riding.
Now, added to this unlikely superfluity of performance capacity, I have finally changed the 42 small front ring of my aluminium road bike for the more fashionable (and sensible) 39 toother and… shoe!

Last weekend I rode with a friend who enjoys considerable skill and athletic prowess (which I attribute to me having beaten him in an MTB race 25 years ago and his determination to overcome the humiliation). Now, with me in my dotage and him at his prime, he steamed past me on the climbs but seemed to struggle to hang on to his lead. So either I’ll have to put on weight again or he is going to have to work harder.
Alas, it’s probably too late for me to hope that this will palpably elevate my performance to a point where anyone else might notice it… and that’s why I’m telling you! We’ll see.

In the meantime, the rise in popularity of e-bikes is beginning to shove me backwards on theclimbs. This, increasingly ubiquitous, revolution is fast becoming inescapable and, although I consider it cheating, I have heard some surprisingly enthusiastic affirmations of its place in the grand scheme of things. Of course, we know that, ultimately, it is the effort which makes the cycling experience worthwhile.

My friend Carlos, who sometimes defines ‘hardcore’ on anything with pedals, has surprised me with half-apologetic panegyric for these abominations.

He is part of a Table Mountain night-ride bunch and, on the last of these usually challenging outings, a prominent celebrity in Cape Town cycling culture presented himself on one of these shiny electric beasts. Carlos was blown away: the aplomb with which this senior citizen cleaned the technically vertiginous challenges left him dumbfounded. That little bit of extra power completely changed the rules and he was obliged to put it into his files for the future.
I reluctantly have to opine that I too think it might have a place extending the pleasure lifespan for ageing mountain bikers and, apparently, there is still a useful measure of exercise on offer.

other day with a grizzled veteran who lives in my street who was using a Specialized variation of the new machines to prepare himself for the 947 which he planned to tackle ‒ unplugged, of course. He made a very calculated and convincing argument for his new training toy, before zooming up the usually enervating incline which passes my house. He had just done the Kirstenbosch and Table Mountain trails and had paid his dues.

In these challenging times, with cyclists facing increasingly brutal criminals wishing to cash in on the resale value of 100k purloined, pedal-driven, stealth bombers, one has to wonder how the thugs are going to deal with the very heavy e-bikes: a little button hidden somewhere on the frame could allow a quick disconnection of the electrical drive system and escape could be rendered highly unlikely, although ultimately market value will give rise to an otherwise unimaginable thug increase in intellectual productive capacity. As far as general bike theft is concerned, and where weight is not an issue, I have a few ideas about heavy chains cemented into garage walls, or welded to a car chassis but my main suggestion is far simpler: why not ride a fairly heavy, even somewhat scruffy, old veteran for all your training rides? You will have to work a lot harder and become fitter and stronger and then you can get out the stealth bomber for big events on closed roads or in criminally uncontaminated areas of the country (if there are any). I am going to put an aluminium carrier on to my old road bike, which will be useful for me and make the old girl far less attractive in terms of fashion and status.

Maybe I should restore the 42 chainring.