The Lying, the Itch and the Wardrobe [From BA 43-200]


"Riding inactivity resulted in too much internet activity... succeeded by a regular stream of packages of bike-related loveliness."

by Julian Birch

A Sunday afternoon and my two little ones are out at a birthday party. Not having to answer the call of “Daddy? Daddy? Daddy?” every five minutes in daylight hours is a rare treat. I should spend the time wisely.

My first job: replacing brake blocks. Rainy London streets have turned the emaciated old pads to little more than black soap with a metal core. It’s amazing how well you can concentrate without busy little hands losing little nuts, bolts, washers and springs or spreading the entire contents of your tool bag to every corner of the house and garden. I know they’re just ‘helping’ and I like to be inclusive, but the sight and sound of a chain whip getting wrapped around the glossy paint of my downtube can jangle the nerves, believe me. Patience isn’t always in a child’s toolbox—or mine, for that matter—but man and child both know the joy of doing things in their own time.

Okay. Fettling done and here I am at the computer with the hi-fi at anything but family-friendly volume. My inbox contains one ‘this weekend only’ ten percent discount voucher for a very large online bike shop. Come to think of it there’s plenty on my mental most wanted list. Add to basket, proceed to checkout—you know the drill. New gear, shiny bike bits; all just a click away... No, mustn’t.

Back in the day—not BC (Before Children), but pre-economic meltdown—I had been known to indulge in the odd bit of BRT (Bike Retail Therapy). When both Mrs B and Mr B shared work and childcare, 50/50 budgets weren’t quite so tightly controlled; not every single penny had to be accounted for. Before those merchant bankers lived up to their rhyming slang epithet, I frequently experimented with the dark world of BRT.

Any kind of riding hiatus was the worst—as destructive to fitness as it was to my credit card bill. If I couldn’t get my kicks riding, then BRT had to be the next best thing. Limited saddle time soon saw me restless and moody so I reasoned it was best for all concerned if I sought alternate therapy—scratched that itch. I easily talked myself into new purchases without such minor deliberations as whether I might actually need or afford whatever it was.

Riding inactivity resulted in too much internet activity that, sure as night follows day, was succeeded by a regular stream of packages each containing ‘essential’ items of bike-related loveliness. The postman would become my new best friend, especially in my race to beat Mrs B to the drop and avoid the “Ooh, a parcel!” cross-examination. On the occasions I did get caught, would I lie? Let’s just say I was occasionally economical with the truth.

I was a wily old fox and with sufficient planning most therapy items cruised in under Mrs B’s radar. However, further skulduggery was required for those items which couldn’t be hung straight on a bike. Until some suitable occasion when they might see the light of day and not raise suspicions of credit card use, they would be deposited in a secure hidey-hole. The prime locations were that drawer or that wardrobe. I mean that drawer chaotically stuffed with contents under pressure, primed to explode all over the unwary at roughly 120 PSI like a spandex-baited gin trap. And that wardrobe; its bulging doors hiding riding apparel and a whole host of other ‘essential’ paraphernalia, some of which had long since been forgotten about, all tightly packed along with the pungent aroma of inner tubes and stale air. Is it any wonder my wife baulked at exploring those claustrophobic holding areas filled to bursting with technical fabric?

But then like a cheap pair of shorts, the bottom fell out of the economy and along with thousands of others my wife lost her job. Suddenly I had sole responsibility for the financial health of Chez Birch. And as the Birch babies grew, that closet was requisitioned for duty in our eldest’s room. Daddy’s bike ‘essentials’ not seeing active service had to find new homes and eBay briefly threatened to become the new obsession. But necessity changed my habits; using gear until it falls apart is now strangely satisfying and commuting on a bike five days a week certainly puts everything through its paces. Thrifty has become the new shifty.

Anyway, whilst the sun fills the blue gaps between scudding clouds outside I really should go test those new brakes. Nowadays it seems how fast I can go is of less concern than how fast I can stop.

Hmm, that retro jersey is nice, though, and with ten percent off it’s pretty reasonable...

Who’s that knocking at the door? It’s the little ones and their mum, and it seems just in the nick of time.

Photograph by Phoebe Birch

Evan P. Schneider