A Tangle of Straps
The car’s bluetooth display flashed into life just as I was telling Mick about the virtues of riding steel bikes.
Mick: “It’s the lads.”
The lads were driving behind us as we headed for our annual weekend away, no wives, no kids. I put them on loudspeaker.
The lads: “How’s it going Rubber Ducky?”
Me: “Fine, was just tellin’ Mick how I love leading a convoy. What do ye want?”
The lads: “Missing anything?”
I check my rear view mirror. No sign of the lads. Damn, should have noticed. These trips lend themselves to ‘messing’. Like the time I lost the Gorey 3-Day in a sprint, and they overtook me in the car just as we were about to reach home. Or that time in Dublin when they coaxed me into the ‘yellow – no traffic – box’ and let the lights turn red. Messers.
Me: “Right where are ye? I can’t see you in the mirror”.
The lads: “You can’t see us? Sure you were the one that said you were happy not to see us with the bikes on your stupid rack?”
Mick gulps. I slam on the brakes and skid to the side. The car cuts out, the phone with it. Our heads turn back together to look at the space where our bikes used to be.
Mick sidles out of the car like a man who just had a fright in his trousers and shuffles to the back of the car. I know what I am about to see. A big empty space where our bikes should be. Where are the bikes? Oh my God what if somebody is hurt? When did it happen?
I jump on the phone and speed dial the lads.
Me: “Is anyone hurt?”
The lads: “Well Nial is very hurt that you never thanked him for getting the bags out of your car, but no, you’re ok, honest, no one’s hurt.”
Mick (haltingly): “How’s my Cervélo?”
Me: “Where are ye, I’ll drive back to ye.”
The lads: “You mightn’t want to do that. Is Mick in earshot?
Me (moving away): “No.”
The lads (quietly): “Look there’s a truck driver from Wexford here who says he isn’t too happy about having a pushbike stuck in his radiator.”
Me: “Not mine?”
The lads: “Look that doesn’t matter. Just get Mick to the hotel and sit him down”.
Me: “Oh Lord.”
Me: “Nothing, the lads are saying they’ll sort it and meet us at the hotel.”
The lads: “Go onto the hotel…” then I overhear “HEH, hold on big man. Don’t do that. Come on, we can talk about it…’ Ah come on… don’t throw… at least not the…”
Me: “What the hell is going on?”
But all I hear is the sound of a truck pulling away and one of the lads shouting “you big hairy git”. Then the line goes dead. Oh God, this isn’t getting any better. I turn to Mick, who’s still looking at the space where his bike used to be. He’s gone deathly grey.
Me: “Come on Mick, it’ll be fine, the lad’s said they’ll sort it out and meet us at the hotel.
Mick: “Your stupid rack.”
Me: “Ah come on Mick, you helped fit it.”
Back at the house I had shown Mick my fool-proof way on how to remember in which part of the clasp you fit the strap. “You put the alligator’s tongue into his neck and out his mouth, then pull tight”. But now I’m not so sure. Does the tongue go into the Alligators mouth? No, surely not. Mick was right. Stupid bicycle rack.
We get back into the car. My hands shake as I start the ignition… I grip the wheel, check the rearview mirror… ah stop, there’s no avoiding that space where those bikes used to be. Worse, Mick looked back too.
Me: “Mick, listen, I’ll sort it”.
Mick: “Why didn’t you get a tow-hitch rack?
I thought of my bicycle rack and its multitude of straps. I remember feeling so ‘pro’ driving to races in my Mark III Escort with my shining steed for all to see. Those were the days, racing to races, when you could confidently attach a single strap to the rear bumper knowing it would remain tight. Cars moved on though, and as bumpers and fairing and panels succumbed to plastic I fitted more and more straps. Two to the inner underside of the bumper, two fitted to the sides of the boot. Only the top ones remained the same. Were they worn, did it snap from the top? Wait, was my bike on the outside?
Mick pipes up: “I really liked that bike. I convinced myself I’d eventually go faster when I saw Dan Martin ride one in, in, 2014. That’s many miles ago now. How many spins do you think I had on that bike?”.
This was beginning to grate, I wanted to shout “for God’s sake mine was a Mercian”. But it was all my fault. Maybe I should have gotten one of those tow-hitch racks. They say they’re easy to fit, but no, I prefer straps all the same. The twang on the top straps when they’re tightened to the hilt; playing musical notes on the tightened side straps; huffing and puffing to pull down the bottom straps behind the fitted bikes while on your back. What’s wrong with that? Everything. I had six straps on the back of my car just because I looked ‘pro’ in 1983, and now I have no bikes and no rack.
Mick (mumbling): “I’ve a Cervélo…I had a Cerválo … Dan can you sign…”
Me (non-chalantly): “What’s that Mick?
Mick: “Look, I really wanted to get Dan Martin to sign that bike. No one forges Dan’s signature like they do Sean Kelly’s.”
Me: “Ah Mick, look I’m sure it’ll be fine. What’s the worst that could happen? Bars might be bent, saddle torn? I swear I’ll get you new wheels, like old stock new wheels. It’ll be as good as new.”
Mick: “The frame’s cracked, I know it. The forks will have taken the impact and burst the head tube. If the saddle hit anything the seatpost will have pulled the collar right off the frame. Chainsstays wouldn’t have stood a chance.”
Me: “Come on Mick, steady on. Look we’re nearly at the hotel, I’ll get you a drink”.
We park up, go to the back of the car. Both of us bow our heads at the place our bikes should have been. Stupid bike rack. I open up the boot. No bags. Nial had got them earlier from the car.
Me: “Mick, sorry about this, and I really want to pay for the drinks, but my wallet was in my bag.”
Mick (resigned): “Yeah sure”.
We walk in, get our bearings, reception, lobby, bar, the lads, stairs. Hold on, the Lads. The lads, falling about the place, beer being snorted out of glasses, slapping the bar, looking like they’re about to wet themselves with laughter.
Me: “Yiz …. ”. “How?”. “When?”
Mick: “My Cervelo!”
The lads: “Ye’re a pair of eejits. Do you remember when we pulled in and Nial got your bags. Do you remember me holding on to you and reminiscing abut the Gorey 3 day. Ha, you’d talk about that sprint all day you. Nial took ages, he couldn’t release those bloody straps, they were on so tight. That rack’s some awkward thing to try to fold up on the back seat mind. All I had to do was get ye into the car without you looking back. Next time just buy a tow hitch rack.
‘Next time?’ I thought.
I imagined the lads snoring in their twin room. Me just pushing the door ajar. Next time lads, next time indeed. Just you wait.