Reuben was born, as far as I am aware, in the village where he lives. He lived with his parents until they died, and is still in the same house. He keeps a dog, and, although he is careful about security and always locks up before going out, the dog-flap is quite large enough to admit a human of considerable size.
He has always been a cyclist. He never had a driving licence, though rumour has it that he once, briefly, owned a car, to the terror of his neighbours.
He gets by with a bit of poaching, and odd-jobs around the village.
His bikes are a mixed lot. His best bike was stolen from his shed, so he rides a nondescript road-frame. The time-trial low-profile frame he bought from somewhere and equipped it with a 24” front wheel. He had to use a BMX calliper on the front to reach the rim. Someone suggested that perhaps it was built for a 26” wheel, but he got a friend to cut down the forks and re-braze the ends. It certainly looks pretty radical now. An ever-changing selection of hack bikes, bought as bargains from here and there, complete the stable. Mechanicals are not his strong point, so they tend to leave his hands in a worse state than that in which they arrived.
Reuben’s nephew is often persuaded to deal with the trickier aspects of maintenance. For example: Having said that he needed a wheel truing, he arrived with a bagful of spokes, a hub, and a worn rim. On one occasion it was pointed out to him that the binder bolt was missing from the stem of his bike. Reuben said that, yes, he knew, and, in fact had removed it himself – the stem was seized into the steerer, and he was hoping it would eventually work loose if he rode around like that.
He had tackled the occasional 100 or 200k audax event. His tactic was to follow the other riders, as he found routesheets strangely impenetrable as to meaning. He has been known, in fact, to get lost during a 25m time-trial, more than once.
The pinnacle of Reuben’s randonneuring efforts was the completion of the Bryan Chapman 600 in Wales. He had never ridden so far before, though he was a notably strong cyclist. His nephew and others bombarded him with advice. A clubmate told him he would need a cape.
“I gave mine away,” He said, then, reflecting, “I’ve got another with a tear in it, though.”
Another said he needed lights. He had seen a chap somewhere with a homemade, double-sided Sturmey-Archer hub dynamo (two welded together). He spent weeks worrying, trying to remember who it was, and where.
The day came and he cadged a lift, very early on the morning, to the start. Assembling his bike, he discovered that the old Eveready with its plastic handlebar clamp did not fit with the barbag. He was dissuaded from attaching it to the fork, and it went in the bag.
We set off (yes, I was riding too – my first 600). It was hard work keeping Reuben down to our speed. If we had allowed him to drop us, our chances of finding him again would have been remote. We explained the need to conserve energy. On a mountain road not far from Aberystwyth the temperature dropped several degrees and a sleeting rain began. We stopped to cape up. Reuben, in a short-sleeved jersey, looked puzzled.
“I didn’t bring a cape,” He said.
We watched him turning a peculiar shade of purple, and shivering, as we descended. One of our group had mechanical problems and so we stopped at a bike shop on the edge of a town. The owner donated his Daily Mail to Reuben, who shoved it under his jersey.
Our journey continued. We took it in turns to shout at Reuben each time he started to increase the pace. It grew late and dusk came. It was time for lights. Reuben’s best effort was to strap his front light to the top of the barbag, from whence it beamed faintly up at the trees. He switched the rear one on; it seemed okay. We set off and it went out. His nephew rode alongside, tapping it. It flashed a few times, then finally stayed on, only to fade gradually to nothing within half an hour.
The lights of the control at Menai were welcoming indeed. It had started raining. We ate, and dozed for a while, then set off Southwards. I remember the strangely disorienting effect of bike lights dancing like flames as I climbed in front of a group on the Llanberis Pass. Reuben’s light, of course, was pointing elsewhere.
It was daybreak when we reached Dolgellau. I decided on an hour’s sleep and retired to a bunk. Being woken almost instantly, as it seemed, and having to pull on cold wet clothes, ranks as one of most memorably unpleasant events of my cycling career.
Downstairs, Reuben was sitting, glassy-eyed, his head drooping, then jerking up, repeatedly. I consumed a sizeable breakfast, wondering, vaguely, why he had not taken a bunk.
The rain had stopped. We continued. Reuben lost us on the climb out of Newtown, but we found him again on the descent. Eventually we came to the Wye Valley, and, suddenly, lots of traffic. Two youngsters on cheap mountain-bikes were climbing ahead of us. I tried, but failed, to catch them. The cars showed signs of impatience as we ground up the hill. A little later Reuben stuck his left leg out, pedalling with his right. He did it again. He repeated this, and waved his leg around in the air. He was suffering from hotfoot. It slowed him down, and the rest of us were pleased that we did not have to shout at him any more.
At the finish, we had food and a doze, and then set off on our various journeys home. Before we left, Reuben asked,
“How much did the bed at the hostel cost?”
“Nothing.” Was the reply.
“Oh.” He said, deep in thought.
I got the bug. He never rode another one.