“Really? On that yoke? Well, good luck to you.”
Those were the words of the ‘holder’ (the time trial official who usually supports the bike and already clipped in rider at the start of a time trial) when I said my target was to beat the hour. This comment may have been due to my tricycle reducing his role to the status of an observer standing around for a chat and acting as a windbreak. He helpfully stopped the tailwind pushing me over the line before the clock counted down to zero and indicated it was time for the pain to commence. Indeed his chat nearly made us miss the cue. “Go!” the timekeeper yelled, and so I set off hoping I could steal some minutes from the hour on the near 19 miles Munster Time Trial course on my cherished 1957 Mercian Tricycle. Why, oh why, I was lining out in such a prestigious event is beyond me, yet you know they say about what happens in a mountaineer’s mind when they see a mountain they haven’t climbed? Anyway, the championships, organised by North Tipp Wheelers somehow spoke to me. My bike tipped the scales north of 35lbs and it was copiously endowed with wheels. Surely they wouldn’t refuse me, it was unlikely that the Commissaire was familiar with the UCI regulations concerning 60-year-old tricycles.
“Not at all,” said Eoin Woods, “the more the merrier” when I entered. I was not sure if he was referring to the number of wheels or the fact that there was another entry. Now that’s the spirit, especially at a time when the calendar has been denuded of events and a bit of bike camaraderie is required after months of solo cycles and Zwift races. Now that I had established that I could enter, I needed to find out would I be able to navigate the course on my chosen mount. There was a roundabout at the halfway turn that I was aware of and I needed reassurance I’d make it around. It was time to refer to the oracle, the Tricycle Community website. Here is my condensed synopsis of their 50 posts of wisdom in one paragraph: “Approach the roundabout at maximum speed, clutching rosary beads or any other religious icon depending on your persuasion. If the bend is 110 degrees or less bring a picnic or light refreshments. Adequate Medical Cover is recommended as the curve of the bend approaches 240 degrees. When the curve approaches 270 degrees a thorough knowledge, with particular emphasis on rules regarding lane protocol, of the rules of the road is essential. At all times the tricycle pilot should carry a copy of their life insurance and contact details of their next of kin. A document saying they are ‘compos mentis’ while not considered essential can prove useful in tricky situations. Calves or any other body part should not be used to enhance inadequate brakes, a leather knee protector can also prove to be a useful accessory. The hardened tricyclist should carry an analog watch (preferably Smiths mounted on the handlebars), a comb, and a self-congratulatory smile for the finish line (for who would know what’s a good time on a trike!).” ‘Triking’ always provides me with an excellent and satisfying sensation regardless of the occasional near-death experience and today was to be no different. There was a moment of anxiety when the Trike was whisked off for a bike check and the friendly and somewhat confused Cycling Ireland commissaire said the gear was too big. He had thought I was in the juniors, obviously, my new hairstyle has restored that youthful ‘devil may care’ look I was once known for! I wasn’t alone however, the whisking off of bikes did interrupt the preparation of some, so it will be a handy rule of thumb to assume bikes checks in the future and a reminder to have some helpful tools to hand.
The gear that I was using that was deemed too big for the juniors, which was 56×13 or 115 inches in old money, was employed most of the way to Nenagh, albeit conservatively. Being one of the late starters the tales of woe regarding the return journey resounded in my ears. The brutal headwind, riders suffering from ‘dark thoughts’ and ‘dying’ on the way back. While hopeful of breaking the hour I had no desire to leave my wife widowed and my children as orphans either. Which brings me to the roundabout. The thing was so big it took 3 pedal strokes to get around it. Made it! but now I had to get back to the finish. Would I do so in time? A glimpse of my wristwatch (the Smiths is still a fantasy but a very acceptable birthday/Christmas present) confirmed I had been quite conservative on the way out, now it was time to ‘let rip’ and expend all my reserves of energy.
Setting the 13 sprockets to snooze mode, I angled the bar end gear lever to horizontal as the course seemed to become more vertical. The final rider passed me by. The stretches I had chosen to lengthen on the way out now did so by themselves. Rounding corners constantly revealed more roads to be covered rather than the hope of mercy. A squall caused raindrops to dapple my cycling shorts, the headwind dried them quickly. Forever the optimist, you have to be when you spend a lot of your time approaching corners on three wheels at speed, my thoughts didn’t darken, perhaps I was doing ok? A quick glance at the watch face, 4 minutes to the hour, yet no sign of the finish line. Then I saw a parked car and many spaces for the next one. COVID restrictions asked people to leave early, there were to be no congregating crowds, just the bare essentials, like a flag, chequered, and whipping in the wind. The chain dropped onto the 13 sprockets and drove it on, and on, and job is done, 59:07.
Out on the course other riders, far better, faster, stronger than me had zipped their way through that very headwind. The winners deserve congratulation, Munster champions or medallists, and I have even more admiration for my fellow tricyclists, the para-cyclists on hand-driven trikes. Just have one question though. Elbows?!! Thanks to the members and volunteers of North Tipp Wheelers, Cycling Ireland commissaires, marshals, ambulance and photographers Richard Quinn, John Coleman, Vic Nott, and Tracy McKeon who made the 1st of August 2020 in Tipperary like a normal summers’ sunny rainy windy day in Ireland.
More of Brendan’s stories and witty cycling journalism can be find on http://www.oldvelos.com/