If a non-cyclist is foolish enough to introduce a cycling topic in conversation with me, I try to remember to ask him or her to stop me when they've had enough and before they have to make a polite excuse in order to run screaming from the room. Of course, if it's a conversation with a fellow cyclist, then we just witter on contentedly until fatigue finally sets in or someone starts putting chairs on tables, whichever comes sooner. Either way, when it comes to talking about bikes, I'm riding without brakes.
But there is one conversation about cycling I really don't like to get into. This is the one that starts: "Did you tell me about this ride? Was it on the calendar?"
There are many variations on this theme. A common one is: "What was in that large box I had to sign for this morning?" Which is a mini-version of the dialogue that runs: "And why do you need a new bike?" This is actually a conversation that can be circumvented, but only at risk of the uncomfortable interrogation that begins: "So, how long have you had this new bike, and when were you proposing to tell me about it?" This naturally segues into a "And how are you paying for this?" inquisition.
The common feature of all these exchanges, of course, is that your interlocutor is a partner or spouse. And that her tone (for the voice will, in most cases, belong to a female) is querulous, bordering hostile. Knowing this, of course, means - because you care for her feelings - that you try to shield her from what you know will hurt or displease her. The problem with this strategy, however, is that she will misinterpret your solicitude as a ruse of avoidance and concealment, which leads to still more awkward discussions along the lines of: "So, if you made plans to go cycling with X two weeks ago, why didn't you tell me till the night before?"
"Because you would have been all huffy about it and made me feel guilty," is not the right answer. I know, I've tried it. The only course here - given that cancellation is out of the question (make it negotiable and you're screwed) - is abject apology, as pre-emptive as possible, with fervent protestation that you would much rather be spending the time sanding the kitchen floor or going to an antiques market, but you can't let X down, in fact Y and Z too, now. But you will be back by such-and-such a time, and you were thinking it would be nice to try that new gastro-pub.
But be warned: you're really spending your capital here, and for cyclists, this is, at best, a very limited fund. Northern Rock's balance sheet shows rather more credit than your average male cyclist's standing with his partner. I couldn't say for certain that I know cases where cycling, rather than, say, adultery, would be cited in the divorce papers, but I can think of a fair few where the fact that there was a bike-shaped object at one apex of an unhappy love triangle definitely contributed to the final parting of ways.
It's probably not about the bike. Cycling is just one activity among many, which, when pursued with a certain sort of dogged intensity by male enthusiasts, drives the women in their lives to distraction. It could be football, golf, fishing, computer games ... almost anything. But it seems sad that the bicycle should be a vehicle for what is perceived as men's flight from intimacy.
I am still in my first year of cycling with my local club and loving it. I have a second-hand Eddie Merckx, which I think would benefit from a new chain. Trouble is, I seem to remember my local bike shop informing me that when fitting a new chain, it is best to replace the rear cogs also, which makes the whole thing more expensive. Is this correct or just an attempt to make me spend more money?
Often, bike shops are right: a worn chain wears the teeth so that a new chain won't sit properly. The trick is to change your chain often enough that the wear on the sprockets is minimal (this is an accelerating process, the more the chain stretches). The chain is the cheaper part by far, and if you change it regularly, then the sprockets' life can be extended more or less indefinitely.
You can always try a new chain, but if it starts skipping in an alarming way, then you know the cassette has had it too. You may have to spend more now, but next time you can tell the mechanic that you really do only need a new chain.