Friday got me to the “It looks like a bike, dunnit?” stage, which was me lying to myself. Saturday was the real work of cutting brake and gear cables, and the horrorshow of setting up cantilever brakes. Sunday was “It’s gotta be rideable by 3pm, ’cos you gotta haul arse up to Wedding and see Dasniya perform.”
Sunday. Many videos of Calvin Jones of Park Tool later, a rideable bike.
So many ways to measure and fit a chain. So many ways to set up and index front and rear derailleurs. So many ways to wrap bar tape. So, so, so many videos on YouTube. Only one Calvin Jones.
And of course, not finished. Riding to Wedding and back rattled everything into place. The gears, they went *ching* like Kelis’ Milkshake. The brakes can throw me over the bars with one finger. Still a little skippy and noisy and squeaky though.
And the new riding position is a bit of work. I bought a fizik – or rather, fi’zi:k – Vento Argo R5 saddle ’cos the cutaway down the middle on my old one was nice but not in the right place, and this one is wider (for my weirdly spacious sitbones) and shorter, and very much does not stab me anywhere from butthole to pubic bone. I also bought fizik seat post and bar stem, ’cos I’ve loved using their bar tape the last couple of years. My new position is about the same length on the bar tops but slightly lower on the hoods and drops. This bike has always been a size or two too big for me, and getting low without getting stretched out or loosing the cyclocross agility I need has been a messy process, compounded by the shit cable routing for the front brake.
And today, with a very big box of discarded packaging, another box of old and destroyed bike parts, I decided to sort my drawers of bike shit. So much shit. So many old parts. I now have two drawers of very fucking highly organised and actually usable parts, two sets of serviced and ready to thrash wheels (one for cobbles and one for cyclocross), one sexy refurbished bike and pretty close to getting back out on some training rides.
It’s seen better days. Like the day before I bought it, for example. Original parts are now frame, forks, and handlebars. The latter I considered replacing as well this time but I like their fit and buying highly specialised fit stuff online without measuring and trying is a high risk activity for me.
So. First set of Fulcrum wheels rebuilt by me and bearings replaced in the shop ’cos I have not yet cried my way to spending 300€+ on a bearing press. Second set of Fulcrum wheels also rebuilt and laughing my way through flushing one set of grotty bearings and regreasing them ’cos I can’t afford another trip to the shop right now. Very tasty Challenge Chicane cyclocross tires on the former, with tan sidewalls (Which is high fashion. Allegedly.) and the Strada Bianca ones on the latter. Dead fucking sharp.
Old parts stripped from bike and in a box. New parts I’ve been collecting for months in another. Bike frame cleaned, much WD40 huffed, vague ennui slash sadness at the crappiness of the BB30 bottom bracket, which I considered replacing with an adaptor and a threaded one, which would mean a whole new set of cranks, which realistically isn’t a bad idea but fucking hell we’re very in “You spent new bike money on your old bike. Again!” territory right now, so, no, creaky fucking BB fucking 30 it is.
I did buy a chain whip and cassette remover ’cos I wanted to be able to swap the cassette between aforementioned dope as fuck wheels (“You could just swap the tires, Chica?” “I could just not? Dickhead!”) and woo! tools! My baba was very in the room yesterday. Not sure if he’s proud or confused about me, but he was very professionally interested in wtf I was doing.
Yesterday, then. Bike stripped and me all, “Fukken really? This again? Oh god why?” And today so far, past the grotty cleaning stage and starting the funtimes rebuilding stage, pretending the subsequent running and setting cables stage is no big deal and will not take me an upsetting amount of time.
My fingers and hands are serving high femme mechanic realness.
There was a big gap this year when I had a little money for and no way of getting books. All that talk on social media of supporting artists during pandemic quarantine by buying their books hit up against furloughed supply chains.
Completely off topic here, I discovered yesterday I’d been using the entirely wrong word, furlong instead of furlough (and lifetime usage of either is in the single digits). And then I discovered furlong is 1/8th of a mile, so now I have Vin Diesel, or rather Dominic Toretto in my head going, “I live my life two furlongs at a time.”
Back to buying books. And no, e-books are not an option. I like paper, I like the feel and smell and aesthetics of books, I like how line lengths, page size, fonts, typography, layout, margins, the density of ink on paper, all that, I like how it creates a specific way of reading. So, no new books for some months and a rapidly dwindling pile of that variety which take months or years to read (Spivak, I’m looking at you.)
And then my favourite bookshop let me know books were available again and damn did I go hard. First, the Jhalak Prize announced its 2020 long and short lists and the winner, and I’m doing that thing again where I’ll end up throwing cash at about half the long list.
What is the Jhalak Prize (’cos clicking links scares me or something)? It was started in 2017 by Sunny Singh, Nikesh Shukla, and the sadly defunct Media Diversified and is an annual award for British and British resident writers of colour in any genre. And it’s consistently a banger. If I had the cash, I would without question by everything on the long list as soon as it’s announced.
And second, a bunch of weird old books I’ve been hitting my bookshop up for availability and prices for absolutely years turned up. A couple I’ve been asking about for five years. No, I cannot say no.
Some of these books have been sitting on my reading shelf since last year; some of them I finished months ago. I’m not doing that way too intense essay per book and annual Book(s) of The Year thing anymore, pumped the brakes on that. I still want to remind myself and celebrate a pile of authors who, all of whom did that indescribable magic a book can do. Some of these (’cos that’s my tendency) are hard, painful reads. Even these have beauty and joy and hope in them, and I reach for that. All these authors are my teachers and I’m grateful beyond words to have enough space in my life that I can read and appreciate and celebrate them.
Thankfully Tempelhofer Feld wasn’t packed today like an open-air concert as it has been the last couple of days when I went for a ride (and bailed, ’cos fucking Germans not taking shit seriously and making exceptions for themselves the last month is the default, legit scary, and the reason we’re in this mess). I’ve been working the various single tracks on the fields, practicing self-preservation through solitary endurance. I’m a little worried the city is going to go on lockdown, and fuck knows what I’ll do to satisfy my need for high-quality suffering if I can’t ride, also bike is in dire need of new components. Highlights of today though, finding a series of run-ups and drop-offs that I actually went, “Nah, I’m gonna hold on that till I’m more stupid.”
I can’t believe I’ve ridden there for so long and completely missed what I actually knew was there 🤦🏻♀️🤷🏻♀️. I’ve done thousands of laps of Tempelhofer Feld, on the default boring outer loop, on the inner pavé, all over on the single track, and I knew there was this section around where the old DC-3 is, the north inner field directly down from the north gate, that had some good steep ride-ups / run-ups, and something in a bunch of trees I’d never ventured into, and all that time I’ve been missing the forest around Flughafen Tegel, which is proper, fast up and down slippery technical cyclocross, and who’s a stupid intransigent bitch whose neurofuckery makes her do the same thing over and over?
I needed an easier and entertaining ride today, ’cos my week has been two hard rides and strength work that left me sore, and I didn’t want to go round and round, especially when this storm is moving in and 25km/h winds with gusts around 60km/h wouldn’t make for ‘easier’. And I’ve been enjoying the northern pavé (around the circus tents area) where I can work on sharp turns and hard braking / acceleration. So I decided to make a kind of flip-flop back and forth reverse-c shaped loop (which ended up being around 12km per loop) with some exploring of that bit I have no explanation for why I’ve not ridden it until now.
And fucking fuck yes. Fucking pump track! Small one, tight, better on a BMX or Slopestyle type bike than a cyclocross, proved to me I absolutely do not know how to pump, which is dope as fuck ’cos that means I get to learn something new and I am legit excited as shit by that. And there’s all these other trails I did not ride (so many!) and the ones I did, very fast occasionally technical single track, with sharp ride-ups (run-ups when they’re muddy), plenty of technical turns, the type of clay-y sandy mud that gets greasy and slippery, plenty of changes in terrain, there’s excellent loops of 4–8km, and I will be making that one of my weekly rides. Also slightly ridiculous riding it on 33mm cobble / pavé tires with effectively no tread and hella gripless on anything remotely ‘off-road’ but I don’t have the euros for another set of tires and stupid fun is stupid fun.
This time last year, I got spat on by that squall moving through. I finished 2019 with a ride yesterday and began 2020 with a ride today. All strangely subdued. No snow, not for the past few years, and not like those first years in Berlin when it’d be -10° or colder. I haven’t worn winter pants for three years or more. Riding in the sun, windy enough to bring the chill below zero, but not the kind of cold I’d have to shower to heat myself up from. I kept it calm today, just doing the laps, no pushing. I came home and watched Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado smash it at Baal cyclocross.
Finishing the year and starting the year doing the work.
2018, I wore a heart rate monitor for all my training, riding, climbing, yoga, whatever. It felt a bit much. 2019, I stuck to riding only. All of which I keep notes of in a training diary in my calendar, ’cos I’m like that. So, 121 rides last year, and 150+ ‘yoga’ (core, strength, stretching, body work type, as well as actual yoga). Less riding than 2018, fewer long rides, virtually no climbing, and other year without doing a ballet or any kind of dance class in a studio, in front of a mirror.
Interesting stuff: The month of May, with almost no going into the red, and plenty of green and blue zones, that was Ramadan. The hole with nothing in it, June and July, that was me having my face peeled off in Spain. The first big ride, in October, was the Women’s 100, and the second was riding the Berliner Mauerweg on Tag der Deutschen Einheit. In retrospect, I can already see in my gappy training that chronic fatigue from a year of over-intensity and stress (surgery was only a part of it) was getting to me, November and half of December is that burnout.
Bike is currently in need of complete rebuild and new components, most of my cycling gear is similarly needing to be retired, but whatever. I keep riding. Every ride has had something in it for me, and it’s been so, so good for my mental and emotional health, as well as keeping my physicality ticking over. And it’s winter, a broken, very much not cold and snowless winter, barely ever below zero, but even that, riding in the cold, wet, dark grot makes me smile.
Excluding re-readings of Iain (without the M.) Banks, Steph Swainston, Charles Stross, Alastair Reynolds, and a few others I’ve forgotten because a) too poor for new books, b) too sooky to want to read new books, and c) very much wanting the comfort food of old books, even when I discovered I was hate-reading. Turns out I hate-read. I’m surprised and shamed at my pettiness, but here we are.
New books I did read though:
Built: The Hidden Stories Behind Our Structures, by Roma Agrawal, one on the shortlist for the 2019 Jhalak Prize, which in itself is guaranteed dead solid reading every year. And Roma has a podcast now. Buildings and engineering. Nice!
Bullets and Opium: Real-Life Stories of China After the Tiananmen Square Massacre, by Liao Yiwu, who is the one Chinese political writer everyone should read, up there with Svetlana Alexievich.
Edges, by Linda Nagata, someone I’ve heard about for years and had never read. Strong reminders of Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space trilogy, high probability I’ll keep reading the series.
Fast Ladies: Female Racing Drivers, 1888-1970, by Jean Francois Bouzanquet. Large-format coffee-table-ish book of women hooning the shit out of fast cars. Obviously 10/10.
Geochemistry, by William M. White, which I picked up yesterday and haven’t actually started. One of my periodical forays into geology fun. This one’s packed with formula and equations, which is slightly intimidating.
The Gilded Wolves, by Roshani Chokshi, which I don’t remember much of, except it reminded me a lot of Genevieve Cogman’s Invisible Library series, whose The Mortal Word I also read. Chokshi though, didn’t work for me, despite wanting to like it.
Growing Up African in Australia, by Maxine Beneba Clarke, along with Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff’s (of the awesome gal-dem) Mother Country: Real Stories of the Windrush Children, both collections of autobiographical essays and both critical reading.
Last Days of the Mighty Mekong, by Brian Eyler, which I was expecting a lot more of, and got instead a weirdly messy history of the river like ’90s white Euro-American journalism.
The October Man: A Rivers of London Novella, by Ben Aaronovitch, this one set in Germany (or Germland as I’ve been calling it recently), and a very German take on “What if, Harry Potter, but he’s a black cop in London?” I also re-binged his entire series while in Spain at the rate of a book a day, “Yeah, seven books will be enough for 12 days …” (runs out of books.)
Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991, by Michael Azerrad, which I somehow decided was all about US hardcore. It’s not. A few bands I’ve never listened to, several bands I used to love, revisited while reading and was sad at how they didn’t touch me at all when they used to define the movement of my life. Very worth reading for a particular moment in time and place.
Permafrost. Hello, Alastair Reynolds. Not a novel, sadly, but we had the sequel to Revenger, this year, Shadow Captain, so, can’t be greedy. Basically he’s my Iain M. Banks replacement, and I love his terrifyingly dark Space Opera.
The Raven Tower, by another solid fave and Iain M. Banks replacement, Ann Leckie — probably neither would like being called ‘replacement’, but fuck it, me doing high, awkward praise. This is her venturing out of Space Opera into not-really-fantasy but no obvious spacecraft, and it’s both the best thing she’s written since the Imperial Radch trilogy, and her best stand-alone novel since her first. Very, very, very good.
The Rise of IO, by Wesley Chu, which I have almost no memory of, vague nudgings of recognition when I read the plot, but … nope, not much beyond that.
To Exist is to Resist: Black Feminism in Europe, edited by Akwugo Emejulu and Francesca Sobande, which I’m randomly picking at. Some essays, like dealing with being a black woman academic in Germany, are very head-nodding, yup, it’s all that, uh-huh, others are … Black, cisgender heterosexual (whether middle-class, academic or not) feminism that operates as though trans and queer are things that don’t need to be at all considered, are ancillary, not relevant — like white feminism of the same type — is a thing. Fucked if I know why, either. Especially because my experience of Black feminism / activism in north-west Europe is that it’s hella trans and queer. But maybe they’re not the ones in academia, getting to publish essays.
And that’s it. Potentially acquiring a stack of new books soon, potentially reading them, vague possibility I’ll blog them. It’s all a balance for me between enjoyable focus and going too far with it, pleasure becoming obligation, and all.
A couple of rides early last week, probably a bit ambitious, a hot spell I definitely wasn’t getting lycra’d up for, and back at it this week. It’ll be seven weeks tomorrow, still feeling it, still having to find my way through, balancing my complete readiness for thrashing it with a top half of a face that is very far from able to thrash. Doing it in the small ring then, nice and slow and not getting my heart rate up, even this leaves my forehead and scalp feeling weird in multiple ways. The other balance is between this healing process and needing to train to keep my crazy in check. Not having to worry about murder-bent Berlin car drivers while doing laps of Tempelhofer Feld is very welcome.