• Bought: 2007. Used nearly every day though placed in storage for two years.
• Back wheel: Now on third. 1st was stolen, 2nd damaged (see below).
• Front wheel: Now on 2nd. 1st was stolen.
• Seat: Now on 2nd. 1st was stolen.
• Basket: Flexible metal replacing the original. Held on by binding wire.
• Rear seat: Yes. Used by the wifey when we go shopping. I think this is the most romantic thing we do together in Beijing. Pillion is officially illegal in Beijing but millions do it anyway.
• Bell: Yes. Essential in warning people you are coming through. People do not take offense to this.
• Twist grip gear change: I have a grip like cast iron these days grrrraaa.
• Heaviest weight in one time: After a supermarket shop every Saturday. Suzie will be on the back with two bags of shopping, the basket will have the heaviest load and also two bags precariously balanced from the handlebars. This may include an economy pack of twelve toilet rolls or a large box of milk sachets.
So I’m cycling into work. I must have done thousands of miles on my trusty old mountain bike and today I’m on the Qinghe to Xinzhongguan route. The pollution has cleared revealing a deliciously cold and crisp blue sky Sunday afternoon. I picked up a nasty cold last week and it’s just mustard being able to breath in some fresh air and clear my head.
Over the railways lines to the half-way point of the journey there is a sudden crack to the rear end of the bike. Looking ’round there’s just in time to see something black fly off the back and into the road. No worries, there’s always loads of detritus around and my old machine has had plenty of knocks and bangs over the years.
After a few seconds though, a distinct lumpy feeling shudders through the frame. For sure it’s those damn back breaks sticking again. Pulling over I try and sort them out but alas the bike is still as lumpy as ever. For every rotation the back wheel tries to grind the bike to a halt.
“Hold on” I think. “My favourite bicycle repair man Mr Xu is only five minutes away. He’ll sort it out in seconds for sure.” (fanfare!)
Coaxing the reluctant bike onward, I finally reach Mr Xu and show him the problem assuming that he can quickly adjust the brakes with an Allen key like last time.
Mr Xu is a short stocky man from the neighbouring Hubei Province. Though he’s out there at the side of the street from the early hours until late, he always seems to have a smile on his face. Like all repair men, he has a beaten up old cart with a welded locker that’s crammed full of old tools. He’s clearly been doing this for a long time.
Mr Xu immediately takes off the back wheel and gives it a quick once over. Unfortunately, the assumption of a speedy recovery is short-lived. The outer rim has been battered and the tyre has ballooned outwards. At that, he throws the wheel on the floor, holds it down with his foot and sets about hacking into the spokes up with a hefty pair of bolt croppers. Mercy! He then keeps the centre hub of the wheel, throws the rest of it to one side and promptly jumps on his moped speeding off into the distance.
No chance of getting to work on time today then!
To my relief, ten minutes later Mr Xu appears in the distance with a new wheel rim over his shoulder. He screeches to a halt, jumps off, parks himself on a small stool and gets to work. Placing the rim between his legs he completely re-threads a cluster of new spokes. It’s amazing to watch. He spends an extra five minutes making sure it’s all correctly balanced, adjusting each spoke by a fraction of a turn with an adjustable spanner. His worn black oily hands work magic revealing years of experience.