Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Little Things That Matter


Bergen, Norway

The Allen key fitted snugly into the bolt on the seat post. I turned it. Tighter. Tighter. Crack - the bolt sheared.

We’re talking a tandem here, and the bolt not only held my saddle in position, but also Judy’s handlebars. I gave them a nudge and they shifted out of alignment. Quite easily. Too easily. There was no way Judy could ride the bike like this. 

It was almost the last straw. Twenty four hours in the air and a two hour stopover in Dubai. We were in serious red eye territory - so exhausted I was having to talk my way through the process of reassembling the tandem in Oslo’s airport terminal. 

“Inflate the tyres. No, no. Not like that. Fully inflate them. Tight as… remember we have a full load with all our camping gear, stove, sleeping bags and stuff. And that Rohloff hub. It needs fresh oil to guarantee the gears run smoothly. Double check those bolts on the back rack are tight. Same goes for that bolt in the seat post. Whoops. Too tight. You idiot. What did you do that for?”

Take a deep breath. Think. 

“Do I have a spare bolt? No. Can we ride the bike like this? No. Can I ‘borrow’ a similar bolt from elsewhere on the bike? No. Hang on. Aren’t there a couple of spare bolts handily stored on that spanner? Right diameter. Too short. Really? Come on. Must be able to get a couple of turns on that - just enough to bridge the gap. Yes. Just long enough but don’t over tighten it this time or I’ll strip the thread. Let’s wiggle Judy’s handlebars. They seem tight. We’ll give it a pass but I must remember to get a longer bolt.  

Bergen waterfront

Several days later we are in Bergen, on Norway’s west coast. The tandem has been left behind in Oslo while we holiday before starting our cycle tour. Now while we have time we must get that spare bolt. Also, some fuel for our cooker. It’s a Swedish Trangia which burns methylated spirits. I have carefully written down the Norwegian word for meths - Rödsprit - but we have no idea where to start looking. Maybe a gas station? 

We find an Avis car rental place and a helpful man tells us the nearest petrol station is two kilometres away. Too far on foot. I pull out my notebook and turn to the page with the word Rödsprit. He immediately knows what we are talking about and consults a colleague.

We retrace our steps to a mall and find a paint and decorating shop called  Clas Ohlson. There in Row 104 are bottles containing a red-tinted liquid. Now for the bolt.

Judy has maps.me on her phone and takes us on a walking route to the nearest bike shop -  1.5km way. Out of the small city centre the streets are emptier and more peaceful. Graceful old buildings line the way, and we walk through a lovely park with our ears tuned to the sound of running water. People are sunbathing. A smart cycle/pedestrian bridge crosses an arm of the harbour and can be raised and lowered to let boats through.

The doors to the bike shop are securely closed. Maybe it’s lunchtime. As we try to decipher a sign, a man sweeps up on a fixed gear bike.

“Great. Are you about to open up?” we ask.

“No, I need a new front tire.”

AirBnB, Bergen. Cosy, nice surroundings but the owner had a nasty bug and we both 
expected to catch colds.

 We look at it. The tube is starting to poke out  through the tyre wall. He looks at the sign.

“They’re closed for a week,” he says. “No reason.”

We ask him if there is another bike shop nearby and he Googles. “About a kilometre, up that way and turn right. I might see you there,” and off he rolls at speed.

We follow on foot, and sure enough he’s there puffing up his new tyre when we arrive.

A salesmen leads us out to the workshop. A mechanic rummages in a tray and shows us two bolts - one is longer than we need. The other is exactly right. For 10 kroner we take them both. Always pays to have a spare. Sometimes it’s the little things that count.

The Statsraad Lehmkuhl is a three-masted sail training vessel based in Bergen. It serves as a school ship for the Royal Norwegian Navy.



Near the top of Floyen, one of the peaks within easy hiking distance of Bergen's centre. The walk, or the funicular ride, has become popular with tourists keen to visit the location of a grisly murder in Jo Nesbo's fictional bestseller, The Snowman.


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