The Alfine 11 was homesick again and went back to Shimano. Dan said it would be weeks before it was ready to come home and he could not live without his bike. I suggested using his old bike, the twenty year old Kona. The suggestion fell on deaf ears.
A new wheel and chain arrived and Dan revelled in assembling his brand new Singlespeed. What I wasn’t prepared for was the joy I would feel too.
Winchester, up onto the South Downs Way (SDW) then back home to Netley along the Meon Valley. That was the plan. This time, we knew the route, I had a decent bike and I’d been riding all year. I’d also swiped Dan’s golden On One Mary handlebars.
This time it felt exciting. I felt neither fear or nervousness. As I passed the 15th century Chesil Rectory Restaurant, with a board naming it as one of the most romantic pubs in Britain, I thought for a moment how nice it would be to have a meal there. I imagined dressing up in my bestest, straightening my hair and putting on some makeup. Then I thought how much more fun I could have instead.
From afar, the Downs look deceptively gentle and undulating. The killer climbs hidden from view luring you in like a goosedown duvet. Not long after crossing the M3, we slipped onto a bridleway. Barely six inches wide with nettles on both sides there was no way I could avoid being stung. “Not much room for horses here,” I said as I ducked to avoid a low hanging branch. Dan seemed a bit closer than usual as we ascended towards Chilcomb and a bit more tired too. He pushed the last few metres. When we stopped at a haybarn for a flapjack and a sit down, I was surprised. It was the exact spot we’d stopped last year. I remembered how tired I was then and we’d barely gone 12km. It was good to sit in the shade. The sun blazed in a cloudless sky. It was 25C. We wore shorts, t-shirts and factor 30. Three men on mountain bikes tore down the hill, one man was missing his right arm, a spare sleeve tucked into his shorts. I put myself in his position, thinking about the logistics of getting a sweet in his mouth on the go.
“I’m loving my new Marys.”
“And I’m feeling the difference without them.”
I was thinking he was feeling the strain of riding the singlespeed. All talk of aesthetics and simplicity had ceased.
“I think I’ll keep them. I like a bit of bling.”
We rode on. The scent of Blackthorn blossom filled the air. Chalk paths seemed whiter against lush green wheat fields. A buttercup meadow shrank as a tractor cut grass. Silage spewed into a trailer. We opened gates and closed many gates.
“Look how fast I have to spin to keep up with you,” he said, sweat droplets streaming down his face. We sped along a narrow tarmac lane from Exton beacon, into Exton for lunch at The Shoe Inn.
With views of Old Winchester Hill, this pub attracts many. Bicycles lined the walls and hikers came and went. Goats cheese en croute with roasted red onion and beetroot for two and a portion of chips (in a bowl). Sensibly priced, full of flavour and beautifully presented, it was easy to see why the pub was buzzing.
Pedalling through the Meon valley to the railway line, was easy going. Dappled sunlight filtered through the trees, white blossom fell like snowflakes from the hedgerows creating a polka dot floor. The central section of the line was torn up by horse hooves and muddy. I moved from left to right and right to left keeping to the dry firm path. It was busy there, horse riders hacking, families riding bikes and seniors walking.
After Wickham, it was familiar ground when we turned into Whiteley Wood. Muddy at the start then uphill to the fire road. We took another break. Dan ate two very squashed cheese rolls and I had a second date and walnut flapjack. I gave him the last nibble. He needed it more than me.
We often stop at the secret garden in Old Burseldon to look out over the Hamble and we did that day too. There was only a couple of narrow footpaths and one short steep climb to go.
I almost came a cropper catching the Marys in a wire mesh fence. They were a bit wider than what I was used to so I rubbed along the laurel hedge instead. Then I tried to skid around a tight bend and failed, my pedal’s spikes tore dashed lines on my calf and it hurt more than the nettles.
Caught by traffic on Hamble Lane, I lagged behind as Dan surged homeward. I saw him, heaving on the pedals, arse out of the seat as I cruised the last few metres home. I simply love the Singlespeed.