Robert Hanks: The Cycling Column

I burnt up those towpaths on my lovely scorcher
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Mark Mitchell writes to ask whatever happened to the Scorcher, which is unnerving: it hadn't occurred to me that anybody was actually paying attention.

The Scorcher, for those who don't remember or never knew, is the extremely beautiful fixed-gear bike I was loaned by Will Meister, who hoped to convert me to the way of the fixer and advertise the fact that you could order a Scorcher through his website,

The term "scorcher" was used in America in the late 19th century to describe young men who zipped around on fixed bikes through backwoods and along trails. Gary Boulanger of the Gaansari bikeworks in Dayton, Ohio, designed his Scorcher in tribute to those days, and specifically to Orville Wright, of the Wright Brothers, a local hero who was a keen racing cyclist and nicknamed "the Dayton Scorcher". Will went into partnership with Gaansari to make a British version, on a frame built by Mercian of Derby; what I got was the prototype.

As I say, it was lovely, to look at and handle: a lightweight steel frame, painted red and cream, wide drop handlebars, nice Brooks leather saddle, with gold hubs and cranks - what Will called his "bling" model, not tasteful but eye-catching.

Having left it alone most of the winter, I started taking the Scorcher out a couple of months ago, zipping around local towpaths and parks, getting used to the idea of not being able to coast (fixed-gear bikes have no freewheel: if you stop pedalling, either the rear wheel stops moving abruptly or you feel a big lurch as the bike takes hold of your feet and starts pushing them round). It was on about the third or fourth outing that I began to lose my caution and get into the rhythm.

Riding fixed is an odd sensation: you surrender a degree of control, letting the momentum of the journey take over, which is why I am still not comfortable doing it in traffic, but this adds a new kind of pleasure to cycling. More importantly, fixed didn't hurt my dodgy knee. If anything, it helped: on my usual, well-geared bike, the knee would start aching long before my legs were tired; riding fixed reversed this, so that, for the first time in a couple of years, I felt I was giving the muscles a workout. No knee pain for a while now. Also, I got used to having other cyclists coming up to me and making little pained, envious noises.

So, that was all good news. The bad news is that Will has taken away the Scorcher, and I will have to find a replacement. The worse news is that Gaansari has folded, and there will be no more Scorchers. Hold on, I need to be alone for a moment.

That's better. On a more cheerful note, last week was Bike Week. This column contributed in two ways: first, hanging around the Cyclists' Breakfast in our local park, eating the free Tesco croissants; and second, more altruistically, teaching a nervous 12-year-old family friend to ride. I always enjoy the bit when they don't realise you've let go of the back of the bike and they just keep going. There's probably a whole column to be written on the technique: your own experiences, as teacher or pupil, will be welcome, as always.

A postscript to last week's column on military bikes: there is a Yahoo discussion group called "Warbikes", dedicated to "keeping the military bicycle alive", with photos of old bikes, questions of authentication (a lot of purported Second World War bikes are just Fifties models painted green).

Unfortunately, of late they have been invaded by spam e-mails singing the merits of online dating services. Now why would anybody imagine that men whose main interest is restoring vintage military bicycles would be short on female companionship?

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