Last Tuesday found us cycling the Great Glen Way in Scotland’s West Highlands. We were riding through forest above the village of Invermoriston when Edita’s bike chain snapped.
For many people – many of you, perhaps – this would be no big deal, but for us it was unfortunate. We are not even cyclists, let alone bike mechanics.
The first I knew of it was a voice some distance behind me.
If only I could. She might as well have asked Louis Armstrong for singing advice.
The man in the bike shop had given us a multitool and a spare chain link. The multitool had more tools than a politician’s dinner party, but we had no clue which one we were supposed to use for repairing the chain.
Even a magic wand is no use if you don’t how to use it. In the end, we tried to repair the chain using brute force, by prising open one broken end and ramming the other one into it.
There was no hammer on our multitool, so we found rocks useful for banging the repair together again, but it seemed unlikely to hold for more than a few turns of the pedal. I resisted the temptation to wave the multitool at it one last time with a cry of “Expelliarmus!”
Our hands couldn’t have been blacker had we shaken hands with a coal miner. We wiped them clean in soft grass and set off again.
The Great Glen is one of the most obvious features on a map of Scotland. Four narrow lochs extend in a diagonal line from the west coast south of Fort William to Inverness on the north-west coast.
The Great Glen Way is a walking trail which climbs into forested hillsides above the lochs. For some reason (most likely idiocy), we decided to do it on mountain bikes. We rented these from a bike shop in Inverness, intending to return them to a partner shop in Fort William three days later.
We were in forest high above the village of Invermoriston on the shores of Loch Ness. I started wheeling my bike down the hill, but Edita decided to get back on. She travelled for a kilometre down the hill, but as soon as she turned the pedals the chain snapped again.
It was our good fortune to be at the top of a very steep hill when the incident happened. Edita was able to get on the bike and roll the rest of the way to the bottom without having to touch the pedals.
Our second piece of good fortune was that there was a pub, the Glenmoriston Arms, at the bottom of the hill and it was lunch time.
Even so, we were in a bit of a pickle. Invermoriston is a tiny village with only a few houses – not the sort of place where you would expect to find a bicycle repair shop. Without transport we would have to walk the bikes all the way to Fort Augustus, the next big place, and hope we could get the chain repaired there.
Luckily there was food and beer. I’m not familiar with the etiquette of bicycle hire – whether you can expect a chain to snap a day after hiring the bike, and if so, whether it’s possible to get rescued. But in a fit of despair, I decided to ring the bike hire shop, Ticket to Ride, to see if they could offer any advice.
“We’ve made it to Invermoriston, but now we have a broken chain.”
“What should we do?”
“I gave you a multitool and a spare chain link,” the voice replied.
“You did, but it doesn’t contain pliers.”
There was a pause. “You don’t know how to use the multitool?”
“No more than a seed drill.”
“Just a moment, we may be in luck today,” he said. “Let me check something and call you back.”
I wandered into the pub and found Edita watching YouTube videos about how to fix a bike chain.
“It looks easy. It took this man only 1 minute 30 seconds,” she said.
“Alex Honnold made climbing El Capitan without a rope look easy.”
“It’s not the same.”
Luckily we were interrupted a few minutes later by the man from Ticket to Ride calling back.
“We’re in luck. One of my colleagues is in Fort William picking up the bikes. He could stop at Invermoriston on his way back to Inverness. He’ll be about 40 minutes though. Do you mind waiting?”
“We’re in a pub,” I replied, which is another way of saying “no rush”.
And that was our third lucky break. We had barely finished eating our lunch when Colin arrived. He replaced the chain and showed us how to repair the chain link for next time (“assuming we do another of these stupid bike trips,” I muttered to Edita).
It did look straightforward once he’d shown us which bit of the multitool to use, but that’s a problem with a device with 57 separate tools. Working out which one to use is like opening a combination lock. It helps when you know the code.
Colin also refused all payment, including a pint. But if you fancy a long bike ride in north-west Scotland, I can highly recommend Ticket to Ride in Inverness.
The following day we cycled into Fort William, our chains still intact. More details about this trip will follow in other posts. At the moment we’re still in Scotland, busy hill walking, a far more sensible pursuit IMHO.