First published in The Ride Journal in 2012 in the UK.
We moved a few times when I was growing up. I never minded it. The constants were there to smooth any disruptions. Home was home – family and home made food, no matter where the building. And the garage was The Garage. The size was more or less the same at each house. To me, The Garage was the location of the freezer and, most importantly, where the bikes and the tools were. Apparently at some stages it actually housed a car as well.
I went back to my parents recently, after ten years in the wilderness of Australia and not many visits to Yorkshire while I was there. Home was still home. The Garage was still The Garage. It was one of the first things I needed to do. Go into The Garage and smell the grease of years of repairing mountain, cyclocross and road bikes. Now there is also a Royal Enfield smell.
The chaos of The Garage still reigns. Wheels here, cables there, soldering irons under there. All exactly where they should be, it seems. If I ask my Dad, “where is the…”, of course “it should be under the… behind the…”. And there it is. Of course.
The Garage was a school. A place to learn that it is always, always, bloody freezing when you decide to clean the bearings of your bike. And, that those loose bearings would always, always, decide to embrace the sudden freedom from their bicycle captivity, with gusto. Scuttling away, under the… behind the…out of reach and covered in grit.
A place to learn to look after your equipment and enjoy looking after it.
I learned the basics and then more complex stuff of taking apart, cleaning and putting back together pride and joy. With Dad always on hand to recover the inevitably cock up when it happened. Again.
It was all relatively simple back then, though maybe I am getting old. I am told I am, sometimes. A few different sizes, but spanners were spanners and hammers were hammers and we didn’t have much intricate Campag to worry about. They fixed most things. And with a bit of grease acquired from Dad’s place of work to sort out those gritty bearings, cleaned with some liquid from a plastic bottle that smelled lethal, felt lethal and probably was, lethal, acquired from the same place of work, the push iron would be ready for the next ride. After Dad had got rid of the niggling headset slack that I could never manage to do without the quill stem being fixed in one rigid position.
The same trinkets were there in The Garage. The Tonka truck, with a melted plastic tyre from being too close to the fire one Christmas, which invariably would get a little spin when it was just too hard to find that bearing with the fingers that couldn’t move from the cold. The number plate from the old Mini Cooper. The flyweight Mavic Gel 280’s with Campag Chorus hubs with Sachs-Maillard 26-13 7 speed freewheel and Vittoria tubs – I blame that solitary Campagnolo pair for my obsession with the Italian works of art today. And the various frames, with one always on the old Turbo Trainer that uses fans as the resistance, creating noise akin to a jet engine. Apparently it got hot in The Garage on the Turbo, I never tried it.
The Mavics on Campag held an almost mythical appeal. European. I never saw them used. I don’t recall why. Perhaps it was my Dad’s mid career cycling break when he was running more marathons and only really being in contact with the bikes as my mechanic support. But they looked and felt fast. Even covered in dust. The Campag hubs shone through whatever murk had built up on them. I would often pick them up off the floor during a tea break and give them a gentle spin. It seemed they whirred with a continental accent. They didn’t, it was just the magic of The Garage.
I remember most of the bikes. There was the beautiful Mercian, when I was too young for anything but a mini BMX – a Raleigh Boxer, becoming a Raleigh Mag Burner a few years later. A Geoff Roberts, with Reynolds 531 tubing and the red and white MBK.
It was the first road bike I was able to get my leg over. Just. It was the bike I rode into a wall while trying to emulate Stephen Roche’s manner of looking under his arm to see who was being him. It didn’t work for him in Liege and it didn’t work for me. I still have a little scar on my leg from the graze.
My first road bike was a polished aluminium Peugeot which creaked every pedal stroke through the tubing. It had Shimano’s indexing new system on which fascinated my young self. This bike I inherited from my Dad. Somehow.
There were numerous others. A Dawes tourer, several cyclocross bikes, my first mountain bike on my birthday – a Shogun Trailbreaker 2 with a 24” front wheel – my second a Trailbreaker 3, then Marin Pine Mountain…
Now there are a few new toys in there, which only add to the history. A Planet X with it’s carbon tubs a sign that Dad is still going strong on the bike and in The Garage. A Trek on the Turbo, which I borrowed for a ride with Pa on that trip back home. And still a tourer and a cyclocross bike nestled in with all that.
The Garage isn’t just a concrete block stuck on the side of the house. It is the heart and soul of the bicycle family.
I live in Barcelona now. In a small, apartment, with no garage. But I have done the best I can to make the patio a sort of garage. It’s about a quarter of the space of The Garage at my parents’. It has to double as the washing line area, the outside tea drinking haven – which still has to be loose leaf in a proper teapot as ever it was in The Garage. Or wine or beer and tapas on the hot summer evenings – that was never happening in The Garage back then.
I can’t do the big jobs on the, Campag shod, push carbon. It has to go to PAVÉ bike shop for that. But I keep a little of my soul, working on the new old Zeus, Charge fixie or Scott MTB and doing the simple stuff. It’s different grease and my fingers don’t freeze. I haven’t changed the bearings on the Zeus yet. I am sure if I do, I will have to call my Dad and ask him if he saw where the stray ones went. “Under the…behind the… “ as ever, in The Garage.
All images are available as fine art prints (Giclée or Ilford Premium Pigment Prints) details here