Birthday ride – with a twist: 65 years, 65 miles, 65 year old bike

Poor quality picture (hides the rust)

People often ride their age in miles to mark birthdays. I think that a better approach would be to use a formula like: 2(100 – age). At least that would give a decreasing yearly ride and only 2 miles at age 99.

However, I joined in this year (a day early) going with conventional wisdom, but with a slight difference – 65th birthday, 65 miles, 65 year old bike.

The bike is an Elswick (possibly an Elswick Hopper) – the rear hub (original) is dated 1954 but the chap I bought the bike from bought it new in 1955. It comes with the benefit of a fairly comfortable and well-sprung saddle but the more major disadvantages of:

  • rod brakes (which, in the entire history of cycling, never worked very well)
  • just three of Sturmey Archer’s finest gears (quaintly marked L, N and H)
  • a riding position with all the aerodynamics of a brick, and
  • a ‘robust’ 41.2 pounds (18.7kg) that’s 2.6 times my ‘best’ bike.

Based on all of that, I make no apology for having chosen a relatively flat route around the Oxfordshire countryside.

I set off just before 9am feeling that having a Garmin on the bike looked a bit odd – and that wearing a ‘Galibier’ headband was probably even stranger (but I’ve not managed to get my hair cut post-lockdown yet – it is rather long and needs to be controlled). I’ve ridden up Télégraphe and Galibier, but would not fancy them on this bike.

I had a generally meandering route (Clanfield, Lechlade, Carterton, Bampton, Standlake, Pusey, Hatford, Fernham) taking a few deliberate long ways round to clock up the miles. It worked well – the first 20 went quickly and the next 20 fairly happily too. I have great respect for cyclists of 60 years ago considering what they managed with the equipment available to them but the Elswick is no racer and the last 25 miles were seriously hard work – not made easier by a fairly heavy downpour that was not forecast until hours later.

I wonder if, in its 65 years, the bike has ever had a longer ride?

In all, 66.5miles with almost 1500 feet of climbing (107km and 455m). I didn’t stop other than for answering the phone but the 4 hours 40 minutes it took were the hardest I’ve had in the saddle for many a moon.

It’s not a bike I’d want to use to recreate my ‘everest’ or my ride to the alps – but I did find myself wondering if I could get it up Ventoux (but not to recreate the Cinglés – perhaps just once by the Sault route?).

I hadn’t weighed myself for a while but I did before I left for the ride – spookily I clocked in at 65 kilos (65.8 to be precise – 145lbs). I wonder how often a cyclist finds himself riding an ordinary bike that is getting on towards 30% of his own body weight.

I’m happy I did it – but it was tough. Next year? A birthday ride? Probably – but only on the Elswick if I can incorporate lunch at a good pub on the way round. Otherwise, it’s carbon for me.

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