DO YOU have a good friend your family hates and who tags along on holiday with you? You know the one I mean. The mate with it’s own travel box?
My bike has been going to Mallorca with me and the family since 2005. It’s my trusty pal. I know it’s strengths and weaknesses. I can fix any gripe and we work so sweet together.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t travel very well. The box weighs in under the limit on two scales at home, but until new baggage allowances came in, it never got past the check-in desk Stazi’s ‘specially calibrated’ scales without extra charge.
After coughing up the cash, I’d then have to drag it to the ‘out size luggage’ section and join the queue of plump golfers with their clubs, boasting of the mighty greens they would conquer and the pints of beer they will have earned by doing so.
Yet, the pain still wasn’t over. When we arrive in the sun, the box dictated the size of hire car we would need to get it to the hotel or villa – kid’s hunched in the footwells with the box taking up most of the rear of the car. By the time I’d unpacked the bike and made sure I had everything I needed, it has caused so much family grief that I needed a couple of long rides to be forgiven.
This year, my wife, the kids – even the cat (who wasn’t even coming with us) – begged me, through their gritted teeth, to look again at bike hire. Nope, I need my trusty steed. Nothing else will do.
My way of thinking is that whatever the grief of getting the bike to a location, it still beats the potential hassle of bike hire. I’ve always imagined bike hire places in Spain to be fly-blown sea front shops with faded photos of the 1983 Vuelta.
I’ll be offered the last frame in the shop – a bright green, five-year-old Trek Madone by a hairy bloke, sporting a stained sleeveless vest and a smouldering Ducados dangling from the corner of his mouth.
The first hill of the day would either reveal the bottom ring to be permanently ‘mañana’ or the chain would be jumping around like a cricket in a field full of crows.
“Well,” said my wife. “There is bike hire through someone called ‘Stephen Roche?”
Hmmmmm, it that the actual Stephen Roche? The Stephen Roche that pulled off a triple crown in 1987 – in his case the 1987 Giro and Tour de France and the World championship road race?
I knew that Roche has long had a successful cycle holiday company on Mallorca, but I assumed he was not in the business of renting out his pristine bikes to people not booked onto one of his tour holidays.
Stephen Roche Cycling Holidays offer group riding in the spring and autumn seasons. Even in the height of summer, they still run small guided rides. Luckily for me, they also have enough bikes to rent them out to those that know their way around the island.
I emailed Rachel in their Mallorca office and, for 28 euros a day, I reserved a Pinarello Gan with Ultegra group set. Rachel sent me a form to fill in with my bike measurements from saddle tip to handlebars and from saddle top to pedal. All that I had to do was slip my saddle and pedals into hand luggage.
And itt really was that simple. I arrived at the airport like a normal person, gave that little smirk to the check in staff that you give when you are unchargeable, had a coffee and got on the plane.
Stephen Roche Cycling is based at the rather swanky Ponent Mar hotel in Palma Nova – a family resort just south of Palma sandwiched between the posh Portals Nous (all private villas and yachts shaped like trainers) and the tattooed tanning shop that is Magaluf.
Pride of place in the cool and quiet air conditioned office sits Roche’s 1987 Battaglin bike complete with the gorgeous Campagnolo delta brakes.
It’s strange to see the very bike that many of us know so well from photographs. I once took a disturbing photograph of a friend of mine, in Rob Hayles garage, actually licking the stem of Mark Cavendish’s Specialized Venge.
With Rachel watching me, I respectfully stroked the top tube of Battaglin and moved on to admire the understated and tasteful Roche collection of clothing and accessories.
With goody bag in hand, I was led downstairs to the smartly dressed mechanic Kiki waiting in his tidy workshop. A whole rack of new Pinarellos gleamed under the fluorescent lighting and mine was already on the stand waiting. The patient Rachel had passed on my prissy request: my Pinarello Gan had been prepared as promised with UK brake set up.
I have a friend who broke his elbow a few years back in Mallorca, when he forgot that the right lever works the rear brake on the continent and skidded into a van [Was that John ‘The Attack of the Bush’ Mac? – Ed].
It took just minutes for Kiki to attach my saddle and pedals, then check with me that the set up was spot on. I was given a Continental saddle pack with levers and tube, as well as another spare tube for luck.
“What happens if I have major failure?” I asked. “Call us and we will come out and collect you.”
Fair enough. With that, I shook hands, slapped on the Oakley’s, glided up the ramp into the heat of Spain and I was on my way. Again, it really was that simple.
Spurious techie stiff now. I was expecting a real voyage of discovery in terms of the bike. Not only had I never ridden a hire bike before, but I had never ridden a carbon bike or one equipped with Shimano, for that matter. Where have I been for the past 20 years? Not following the herd would be my answer.
I was expecting that the ride would feel different, but straight from the off the bike felt virtually identical to my own best bike. The measurements were spot on and, although the cranks on the Pinarello were 175 as opposed to my usual 172.5, I would be hard pushed to say I felt the difference.
Maybe the carbon frame felt slightly stiffer than my trusty Ti out-of-the-saddle; maybe the longer cranks might have tired my hamstrings a little towards the end of the longer rides, but to be honest both observations were pretty subjective – I can’t be sure of either. The shifting was impeccable – but as it was Ultegra and almost brand new I assumed it would be.
I experienced one small niggle that I hasten to add had nothing to do with Stephen Roche Cycling. Many years ago, to quote Robert Frost, ‘two roads diverged in a wood.. and I took the one less travelled by…’
I did the same and chose Campagnolo. It was a bit of a shock (after 30 years of enjoying brake levers that only move back and forwards) to find the Shimano brake levers shimmying under my fingers as I braked. Is that normal? Really…? Crikey… How do all you Shimano people put up with that?
I soon got used to the quivering brakes and learnt I had to apply more pressure to hold them down rather than the feather touch I’m used to. Still, having tried both I would still take the road in the wood that leads to Vicenza every time. Feel free to fight each other to the death in the comments section…
Moving on, my three days of hire bike riding were pure joy. I like to lurk around the unfashionable end of the MA10 coast road between Andtrax and Deia, as well as the beautiful little loops around Calvia and Puigpenyent.
Plenty of Spanish riders were out in their 2017 colour of choice – Day-Glo pink. I met a Dane, who had made the mistake of going out with a single bottle and no shops open along his route. We had a little post Brexit make up moment when I donated most of my second bottle to him.
He admired the bike and I resisted the temptation to fib and say it was mine. On the way back one day, I’m ashamed to say I spotted a fellow Brit sporting a race number on his frame.
What kind of pretentious pranny takes their bike to Mallorca with a race number still attached? In fact, to my new way of thinking, what kind of person take his bike to Mallorca at all when they can hire a bike instead?
I don’t mind admitting that the Gan was an old friend by the time I rode it back to Kiki and I felt a little sad to say goodbye as I patted the frame with gratitude (no licking). Now, I know I can hire with confidence my bike is never going to Mallorca again. I will definitely be swanning through passport control with just saddle and pedals every year.
Many thanks to Rachel and Kiki at Stephen Roche Cycling Mallorca. For more information, visit stephenrochecycling.com