Now it was dead, killed by – the weather. Yes, amigos, it was slain by the rain. My bike has been one of the many economic casualties – admittedly, a very minor one – of the inundations that have caused so much grief and misery across the country.
It happened like this. It was Friday afternoon, shortly after a detailed lunch with my father, and it was bucketing down. As I cycled up Whitehall, I saw a puddle ahead; well, not so much a puddle as an inky mere that spread six feet across the road. I wonder how deep that puddle is, I said to myself, as Old Bikey whizzed me nearer. I wondered whether I should steer round it; and then I thought, nah. This is my road, a Transport for London road, serviced to the most exacting standards. To steer round a little pool of rainfall was not only wimpy; it was positively disrespectful to the superb roads-maintenance team in our Surface Transport division.
So I clapped my spurs to the side of the machine, and pointed it straight to the bit that seemed darkest and most sinister – and, as ever, Old Bikey lunged forward with joyful acceleration. You may vaguely remember the story of the Lacus Curtius, the mysterious and terrifying pit that opened up in the Roman forum, and how some young buck decided to save the city by leaping into it, fully armed, on a horse.
Well, I think I know how he felt. Down, down, down went the front wheel for what seemed like a very long time, before jack-knifing on some storm drain or sunken U-boat or other obstruction at the bottom; and then, sploof, I went over the handle bars before making brief but thorough contact with the wet tarmac; and, boing-oing-oing, I bounced up again – as we old rugby players have learnt to do – a millisecond before the taxi behind me could organise a swift election, and I had taken the bike off the road to assess the damage.
I had not a scratch, but it was clear that Old Bikey was unwell, in some fundamental way. Nothing was obviously broken or even bent, but as we went along it made a terrible mewling noise, like some stricken animal, and when I turned one way or the other the rear wheel would lurch in the opposite direction, as if it objected to the very principles of my leadership. It was like trying to run a coalition with the Lib Dems.
The first bike doctors were stumped. They span the wheels, checked the gears, twanged the brakes – and after a lot of frowning over their stethoscopes they said it was nothing too bad, just something to do with the ball bearings in the pedals. I tried to believe them. I crossed my fingers and carried on. But by now my steering was so wonky that a casual observer might have formed the impression that I was riding a bike while under the influence; and we couldn’t have that.
I went for a second opinion, to the medicovelocipedal equivalent of Harley Street, where they did an ultrasound or whatever – and they found the problem. After eight indefatigable years of jouncing and bouncing over potholes and cobbles, with a load – including clothes and rucksack – of approaching 17 stone, the bike’s great heart could take it no more.
Something fatal had taken place not in the replaceable periphery, but in the irreducible core of the machine. I had managed to snap the frame itself. One of the lower wishbone struts had sheared in two – not at the join, but right in the middle. Couldn’t we solder it? I asked; but I knew the answer from their faces.
So I grieve for Old Bikey, like the owner of some superb steeplechaser that has snapped his fetlock in a freak mid-season accident, and has had to be put down. My sorrow is assuaged by one small detail about this bike – a point I have not yet shared with you – the only defect it had. My friends, it was made in California. Now is the time for a bike that won’t expire beneath me, a bike that won’t snap. It’s time for a British bike.