In Which Mal introduces Mr Whiskers (and we all enjoy another Slow Leak)

I had been looking forward to a good ride all week and I could hardly wait to clip the red rattler on the carrier and head off to the trail. It had been a very busy week at work and I felt like I deserved a few hours off with my cycling friends. In fact Mal had contacted me to let me know that he might be bringing along another new rider for us to humiliate, so all in all, it looked like it was going to be a fun afternoon.

Since Bob was planning to race in the evening he had requested that he be given permission to complete a shorter ride so that his aging legs could cope with the strain. When I thought about it I realized that lately Bob had been actually completing shorter rides than John!

At 1pm sharp I commenced from my customary starting place at Mt Evelyn and a few minutes later I met up with John at Wandin. The two of us proceeded on to Woori Yallock to meet Mal and his new recruit. As we cruised along we were able to cast our minds back to the days before we were cycling legends. In those early days we used to dread every little hill and suggestion of head wind, but now we have learnt to ignore such trifles and pedal on regardless (at least for the first 15 minutes anyway).

The hovering cloud of bush flies above the trail ahead indicated that we must be nearing Woori Yallock (the fly capital of the Yarra Valley). We pulled into the car park to find Mal waiting with his Pit Bull special. He had also kept his promise to bring along a new rider. There, precariously perched on an aging bicycle, was his bewhiskered friend. Looking more like a gold prospector with an attitude than a lycra clad riding nut, his friend introduced himself as “Greg” and threatened us with dire consequences if we exceeded 15 kph.

When I asked Greg where he got the bike from, he told me that it was apparently another one of Mal’s “spare” bikes – and they try to ridicule ME for having too many bikes!

I guess Greg needn’t have worried about the pace of the ride because we had not gone more than a km or so before Mal announced that he had been afflicted with the latest cyclists’ curse – the dreaded “slow leak”. Sure enough we could see that the huge behemoth of a tyre that he had fitted on his rear wheel, was indeed slowly deflating. This immediately gave me a sense of déjà vu, but it was certainly good to be an observer to someone else’s misfortune for a change.

After several minutes of spirited pumping Mal announced that he was ready to continue, but we all knew that this would not be the end of the story. Greg (Mr Whiskers) looked on with a somewhat perplexed expression. He seemed to be silently saying “and you guys actually enjoy doing this every week”.

The ritual of reinflation was repeated at ever diminishing intervals as we slowly made our way towards Warburton. Bob joined us near Launching Place and the peloton shuffled on with laboriously slow progress up the hill. We could not help but notice the increasingly dry state of the track. Indeed it is becoming more and more like the “Talcum Powder Trail“. Bob started to mutter about the dust ruining the sheen on his calves, but we all pretended not to hear him.

After Milgrove Bob and I were slowly riding up the bitumen section of the track, waiting for the others to catch up. Suddenly we were rudely overtaken by a couple of 18 year olds on mountain bikes. I think they shouted something like “move over grandpa” as they dodged past Bob. We watched them for a couple of moments as they opened up a lead of 30 metres or so up the hill. At this moment I glanced at Bob to see how livid he was, and said something like “Go on Bob, you know you want to”.

As I expected he did not take much encouragement, standing up in the saddle, inflating his dusty calf muscles to their true size, and bursting off up the trail in hot pursuit. I did not want to miss the fun and also set off in pursuit of the teenage terrorists.

As expected the two young guys had a maximum speed of about 20 kph and were very quickly caught up, first by Bob, and a few moments later, by me also. We sat close on their heels and exhorted them to try a little harder. Apparently they were already trying their hardest because our challenge went unanswered. Bob upped the anti by laying down a bet – the first to Warburton got to keep the other’s bike. By this time I think the young guys were starting to realise that we were not quite as old as they first figured. After a few moments of taunting, Bob burst past and disappeared up the hill out of sight. It was very satisfying to me that I was also able to pass them and set off in pursuit of Bob. When we both arrived at Warburton we were able to savour the moment (and hope that the guys did not go off to collect their mates).

Eventually the rest of the peloton, including Mr Whiskers, arrived at the Coffee Shop and finally got to enjoy the spoils of the ride. John must have worked particularly hard since he needed not one, but TWO iced coffees to prepare for the return ride. While we were enjoying our refreshments, the Pit Bull was busy exhaling air from its tyre. After 20 minutes the tyre was completely flat. Mal proceeded to remove the tyre, using coffee spoons for tyre levers and soon found the source of the problem. A large thorn had penetrated the Kevlar and steel reinforcing and pierced the tube. He had no alternative but to look for a bike shop to facilitate repairs, so off he went on his spare bike in search of a bicycle saviour.

While he was gone we got to considering how we could best help Mal in his hour of need. The best suggestion we could come up with was to partially deflate his front tyre so that it would be more in balance with his rear tyre. Not to fully let it down, but just to let enough air out so that it would not be apparent until he started on the return ride. This would give Mal a great opportunity to demonstrate how he had mastered his bad temper. Bob did the deed on the valve and the rest of us waited for Mal to return.

A few minutes later Mal returned with a puncture repair kit and proceeded to patch the tube. Eventually the bike was reassembled and we were finally on our way. By this time Bob had obviously grown uneasy and had proceeded to ride on his own all the way back to Launching Place. We took off down the hill and waited for Mal to notice his front wheel. By the time we got back to Milgrove Mal still had not noticed, so we had to start dropping hints “Are you sure your front tyre is OK?”. Mal replied “Yeah , no trouble at all”. Apparently Bob’s lack of courage had meant that he had obviously not let enough air out of the tyre to make a difference. What a waste of a good joke.

The remainder of the ride back to Woori Yallock went without further incident, however Mr Whiskers started to make regular comments about the severe pain that was starting to afflict his nether regions. We were able to reassure him that what does not kill us, actually makes us stronger. He did not seem convinced but did manage to complete the ride without falling off (something that Bob has yet to master). We had to admit that this was something of a formidable effort for a first ride (about 36 km).

Since the afternoon was getting warmer I think John was starting to regret that he had started from Wandin, but I encouraged him by telling him that I would give him a water deluge when we reached the water trough near Seville. He did not seem very pleased at the thought and we pedaled off together towards the lowering sun.

Everything was going fine until we started the climb up to Killara. I was rudely disturbed by the ominous sound of twisting metal and a jammed rear wheel. Fearing yet another major crash I fought to free my feet from the pedals and just managed to avoid losing more skin. An examination of the bike showed that a large piece of branch had somehow flicked up into the spokes and had lodged itself securely between the rear forks. At first glance I thought that I had again inflicted severe damage to the bike, but after removing the wood, it appeared that the only damage was a stretched spoke. I could only be grateful that the incident had happened at relatively slow speed. If we had been racing downhill I suspect the wheel would have been ruined (and I would probably have ended up back in the casualty ward.)

The rest of the ride went by (fortunately) without further incident, although John had to stop every 100 metres to inflate his lungs. I eventually arrived back at my car at about 5.45pm, much later than usual, but already looking ahead to our next ride. I guess riding is like that.