Day 10. How not to fix a broken wheel…. by breaking perfectly good one! (Tuesday 7th October)

Today Total
Distance 66 miles 723 miles (1164km)
Height gain 1194 metres 9792 metres (32125ft)
Calories 3000 28000

It has been said that the needs of the few sometimes outweigh the needs of the many. This was the case with my wheels. It’s clear that I can’t get them fixed here without having a full spoke replacement and tuning which will take at least two days. Yes I am a lot further down the country than I ever thought I would be by this time but I’d like to keep the 2 days I’ve built up as a “health” cushion….. It’s an age thing, just in case something drops off! So what to do…..

When I woke at 8am the bike was dry so I decided to employ an old trick I used to use on my old racing bike. I had to sacrifice the integrity, balance and spokes of my front wheel (the many), so that I could replace the few that had broken on the back as I could not risk cycling with ever weakening and unbalanced spokes on the rear. The thinner spokes in the rear could not keep the same tension as the thicker ones and would lead to the collapse of the entire wheel if nothing was done. The reason this plan should work is that with all bikes, most weight is on the rear wheel, it’s even more so with this one due to its 1920’s design, and although I carry up to 7 litres of water on the front (I sweat a lot ok!), this is nothing compared to Me and the luggage over the back wheel.

But just as I thought I’d found a way to fix the wheel issues I couldn’t believe it, after replacing two front spokes with the weaker ill-fitting ones, the thread made bigger and so fitting snuggly thanks to the good old plumbers tape, I could see the spokes were different lengths! The reason I hadn’t seen this was because the rear spokes are just 2mm longer. This meant I could only tighten the spokes in the front so much for risk of extending into the inner tube and puncturing it.

I managed to get the front wheel running almost OK with just a small buckle, but I couldn’t tighten the spokes anymore, tightening further may have also resulted in the plumber’s tape failing and the thread slipping. However, this should be OK as it will only handle a fraction of the weight of the bike. Then came the back wheel which I had similar problems with, the spokes were too short so I had to hope again that the tape not only fixes the destroyed thread in the spoke cap I damaged yesterday, but also holds the little thread there is left to grip. Again, the wheel is a lot better than it was, but there’s still clearly a buckle which I dare not try to remove completely in case the threads slip under too much stress. I still can’t believe it though, who builds a bike with spokes 2mm different on the front and back! It’s just not practical but I guess someone may benefit… “financially.” Actually, having done a quick search, most new bikes have three different length spokes on a bike…… Madness!!!!!

But by 11:30 the deed was done and I was ready to head off and right on cue it started to rain and not only that, the route kicked off with yet another climb, it was a 250m climb over about 3 miles which probably doesn’t sound like a lot…. but try it on this bike. To put that into perspective for those who’ve done the London to Brighton charity cycle ride, the climb over Ditching Beacon at the end is about 130m over 1.5 miles and most people walk that on normal bikes! I took a break at the top at a little village called Chavagnac which had a lovely church which an ancient tower next to a bizarre memorial.

It turns out that all over the South West of France they have these things called Honour flags. I thought that these had something to do with the French liberation but these things are just monuments to politicians and you see them in many little villages. I think a direct translation of “Honneur a notre elu” means honour your elected! It’s basically a tall pine tree with most of its branches removed except a few at the top that leave a small triangle of branches. Two tricolour flags are then placed on either side of the “message” which is written on a tricolour shield. The masts are then put in front of an “elected ones” house or a meeting place. It turns out this is quite traditional and goes back centuries…… but I can’t find out why…….

After resting here I had another 4 climbs like this today on a varied route which went though very minor and disturbingly bumpy country lanes, through woods with slimy roads and on to the smooth “wheel friendly” but “lorries too close for comfort” main roads…. But the best of all was that as the day went on the sun eventually came out and the temperature went back up to a little over 20 degrees, bliss.

GPS showing the hills continuing for a 3rd day…. but only upto 350 metres!

Although it was another hilly day, amazingly both wheels held and my bodging appears to have worked (although I’m hoping I’m not speaking too soon!) but it’s worrying that the gears are definitely getting much worse and I’m starting to worry that they are not going to make it again. But after passing many beautiful hillside farmsteads and little villages I decided to call it a day after just 67 miles but 1200meters of climbs and spend the night in Cahors.

In the hotel I added up the height of the climbs I’d done over the last three days. Amazingly it takes me up to just 700m short of climbing Mont Blanc!

For more detail on route click HERE.

(© google maps)