Here in the north of England, in my little corner of Lancashire, there’s a hill climb well known to cyclists.
It’s called Jubilee Tower.
It’s no Alpine ascent – the very best reach the summit in less than 7 minutes – but it’s the local test of fitness for any cyclist worth their salt. The crux of the climb is the long straight section early on, which drags at a persistent 13 or 14%.
It plays that psychological game that straight roads do, where perspective and gradient join forces and play havoc with your heart rate.
Either side of the straight bit, there’s a variation in gradient and terrain that makes it tougher than the sum of its parts. It’s hard to ride Jubilee in a way that doesn’t hurt.
The other thing about that straight bit is the descent of it.
The view across the valley pans out in front of you and you accelerate, with the natural braking zone of a ninety degree bend at the bottom. Once you’ve ridden it a few times you play chicken with the bend.
You know where you should brake, but there’s always a temptation to leave it late.
I’m fairly sure Garmin wouldn’t advise using one of their devices as a guide to when you should or shouldn’t brake, but 50mph is such a tempting target, isn’t it?
Sometimes I overthink things.
In the drops, and bent over the bars aerodynamically, I watch the rattle and shake of the front forks. I wonder how often these things fail. I think about how many times I’ve descended the straight bit and ponder the law of averages. I mentally picture the aftermath.
The P word springs to mind (whisper it…puncture…).
My glance flicks back to the Garmin and the speedo ticks up, 46…48…49…49.5…50…and brake! I swing into the corner in survival mode. Smiling.
The problem is, since I last descended Jubilee Tower I’ve seen this:
And now ‘massive wheel failure’ is part of my vocabulary.
The cliché of cycling commentary is the description of the pro cyclist and the ‘suitcase of courage’ he or she delves in to when the going gets tough. Well, I’m very much an amateur, and I don’t so much have a ‘suitcase of courage’ as a ‘mental library of peril’ to dip into at sketchy moments.
Massive wheel failure is now front and centre.
(Image: Sean Hogan via Flickr CC)