I’d ridden 1500 miles through pretty horrific conditions in only 12 days. Now, in northern Colorado, with 1275 miles still to go, it crossed my mind that I should probably change my chain.
Before flying to Canada, my SRAM Eagle chain set had 500 road miles already on it. I was now more than halfway down the Tour Divide (a mountain bike route the follows the continental divide the length of the US) and had experienced such torrential rain that the word ride could just as easily have been replaced with wade or swim. I had left Canada on 9th June and ridden south through Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Now my brain was so addled by lack of sleep and quality nutrients that the task of changing a chain seemed insurmountable. I rode on.
I reached the Mexican border 20 days after starting out from Banff, a stone lighter, decades wiser, haunted and euphoric and still on the same chain. I checked the wear. 0.75. The wonder of this didn’t compute at the time (not much did). I put my bike in a box and flew to Peru.
When my bum had recovered sufficiently and my heart and lungs had adapted to the altitude in the high Andes, I rebuilt my bike and gingerly put pressure on the pedals. When my chain didn’t slip under the pressure of 25% gravel roads, I packed a kilo of peanut butter, bags of oats and piles of polenta into my bike luggage and committed myself to three more weeks in the mountains. The nearest bike shop with a replacement SRAM drive was in Lima, a 10-hour bus journey away.
I racked up a further 500 miles riding Peruvian gravel and dirt, sleeping under the stars and feeling the heat of the midday sun bouncing off glaciers and onto my face. When I lost my easiest gear (and I couldn’t afford that with Tour Divide fatigued legs and steep loose surfaces), I spent a breathless moment twiddling a barrel adjuster at 4500m and got it back. Just like that.
At the end of my soulful month long retreat to South America; it was as though both my bike and body had self healed.
When Apidura asked to have my bike (named Jimmy the Shand in case you’re of an age to know what that means) on show on their Eurobike stand, I put my trusty stead back in a box, battle scars and all, and flew to Munich.
The 100-mile ride to Eurobike from Munch airport was going to be this bikes last journey before a complete overhaul but while in Germany I got chatting and plans evolved in the way they often do. On the penultimate day of the show, instead of going home, Russell and I rode south in the pouring rain to begin the Torino to Nice Rally.
Torino to Nice is a 700km gravel route that goes over some of the highest cols in the Southern Alps. I didn’t have an objective or agenda. I was fully prepared to have to take the train the entire way but 6 days later, I found myself on the beach looking at the Mediterranean Sea. I transferred my slack jawed gaze to my bike lying there on the pebbly beach and felt utter incredulity and bewilderment and it’s tenacity. There was some magic at work here.
From Nice I flew to Norway for Velofest, a small grassroots celebration by Johnsen Frameworks of bikes, beer, music and friendships but with the inevitable maritime climate creating challenging riding conditions too. We would earn our right to party by riding in the rain first. And how it rained. And rained and rained throughout the 4 hour technical muddy, rooty, rocky ride. More than once, my poor bike was up to its axles in mud, it’s now mythical chain being slammed unceremoniously from one end of the cassette to the other. It was then, during the 4 km return ride to our hosts tiny hometown on a section of steep coastal footpath that my chain eventually slipped. Just once and not dramatically.Tic. All I could do was grin.
I’m not one for blatant blanket product shout-outs but when something works as well as my bike did it deserves some recognition. The bike industry is complicit in our throw away society. They change specs deliberately and regularly to make perfectly good objects obsolete. Product companies interested in profit pray on our consumerism and take full advantage of our magpie like tendencies to acquire the new and shiny things our beady, greedy eyes settle on. Things are no longer built to last. Bike components are rarely around long enough for us to make acquaintance with let alone develop a deep, respectful trust and admiration of. It’s not going too far to say that this is how I feel about my SRAM Eagle drive.
I don’t know what magic was at work to allow me to ride nearly 5000 miles on the same chain in some of the most challenging mountain bike conditions I’ve ever endured but it happened. I’m looking at the evidence right now. A tired, dirt encrusted cassette and chain, faint evidence of its golden glory days here and there but now officially retired. Although, I do just need to get a few things from the shops…