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U3A Writing: The Ten-Bob Bike

John Rickets goes for a disastrous ride on a ten-bob bike.

The card on the students’ notice board attracted my attention. It listed a dozen books I would need for the following year’s course but the price was too high. If I waited a few more days the price would drop as the vendor was leaving at the end of his course and would be anxious to raise a few pounds to tide him over until he started teaching. I eventually got what I wanted at a decent price.

As I turned away with my armful of books he said “What about the bike? I’ve been using it to cycle to college every day. I’ll sell it to you for a fiver.” It was standing in the corridor chained to a radiator.

“You must be daft. Nobody will give you a fiver for that old wreck. It must be twenty years old if it’s a day.’’

When the last day of term came, I faced the task of hitch hiking home for the holidays, as I couldn’t afford the train fare. I was moaning about this in the bar when a voice said “My bike is still for sale.”

After much bargaining in which I pointed out that this was the last chance of a sale I bought it for ten shillings.

It was an old sit-up-and-beg which had a Sturmy Archer three speed gear. As a child I was a cyclist. The furthest I had ever been was to Stratford on Avon and back from where I lived in Birmingham had been about sixty miles. It was five years since I had been on a bike but I was confident that, taking it easy, I could do the hundred and ten miles from Twickenham to my home in the south of Birmingham. I studied the maps and wrote down a route with all the road numbers printed in. I reckoned that I could do at least ten miles an hour and should arrive in about twelve hours.

I set out in the evening reckoning that the traffic would be less during the night and as we were in the middle of a mini heat wave it would be cooler and more pleasant. I had not ridden very far when I realised that I had forgotten how hard and narrow the saddle of a bicycle was and how soft and sore my backside had become. By nine o’clock and some thirty five miles further on I could stand it (or sit on it would be the better expression) any longer and I went into a roadside pub where I used my last money to stand at the bar and have a beer.

At closing time I mounted my steed again and pressed on. Though I was still sore it did not seem as bad as before. Maybe it was the beer or possibly I was getting used to the pain. I pressed on though the night taking frequent rests and walking all the up-hill parts.

At about five o’clock in the morning with the first pink streaks of dawn showing over the hills. I reached the aptly named Sunrise Hill. I had done about seventy miles. I walked up the hill on creaking legs and mounted with joy for a freewheel down the other side. It was bliss sitting back and letting gravity take me. Faster and faster I went until I got a bit worried at the speed. I used the brakes but nothing happened except that my speed increased even more.

Suddenly ahead of me I could see a bend in the road, an almost right angle bend. I knew immediately that without any means of braking I could not possibly get round that corner, so I did the only thing possible and put the bike over. I watched as it slid away from me and crashed into the stone wall. I slid after it and rolled into a ditch. I lay there for a few minutes to get my breath back. I was just getting to my knees when a voice asked “Are you alright?”

A lorry had been following me down the hill and the driver had seen what had happened. He had stopped the lorry and had come over expecting to find a corpse.

As I climbed to my feet I assured him that I was alright. I did not find the bruises until later. Both wheels of the bike were badly buckled and it was obvious that I could ride no more.

“Where are you going?” asked my good Samaritan.

“To Birmingham”

“What part?” he asked.

“West Heath”

“I’m going to the Austin at Longbridge, I’ll drop you there if you like.” The bike was thrown onto the back of the lorry and, at about six o’clock he dropped my outside my mother’s house.

It was far too early to think of waking up the household so I sat on the front lawn to wait for a more suitable time. Sliding over the road had torn my trousers to shreds and blood from the cut on my head painted my shirt scarlet. I was tired from all my cycling and soon fell asleep. About ten o’clock in the morning my mother came out of the house and found a bloody tramp asleep on the front lawn. She was no happier when she found it was me.

“Fancy arriving like that! You could have , at least, gone round to the back.”

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