Ping went the rear wheel, followed a moment later by another ping, and then two more in quick succession. There was no pattern to the noise, not the usual once-a-revolution of a wheel, or the regular squeak of a chain's tight link. This was erratic, unpredictable and disconcerting and we learned long ago that any unusual noise on the bike usually means trouble.
At one of our stops I applied my totally unscientific approach to the problem. I grasped the spokes two at a time and squeezed. They moved. I did the same with the front wheel. They felt much tighter.
I worried, the worry was infectious and soon I had Judy worried too. Was the wheel going to collapse?
In theory it should have been fine. We had just had it rebuilt after splitting the rim in Spain. Now we had a new rim and new spokes, and a new problem.
This was in north Somerset a few days ago, and we rode on wondering what to do. The noise was still there when we crossed the Severn Bridge into Wales and as we climbed wearily the last 7 kilometres to a farm campsite near Chepstow.
The only cycle shop in Chepstow was closed the next morning (a Wednesday). It was time for action. We propped the bike on its stand in a very public square, and while Judy organised coffee I adjusted all 32 spokes in the rear wheel - tightening them by a third of a turn. They still felt loose, but I didn't have the nerve to turn them further.
We finished our coffee, looked at each other and gave it a go. The wheel was silent - the only sounds the whir of the chains, and the thrum of the tyres.
At Crick we stopped to take photos and a woman approached us. Hilary was a ranger for Sustrans - responsible for maintaining NCR 4 in her patch. She was delightful and we chatted about cycling, travel, life in NZ and Florida where she spends a lot of time. Most importantly, she told us a new cycle shop had opened just up the road at Caldicot
And there our problem was solved. The boss, Stuart, measured the spoke tensions and agreed they were low - very low, several at 10 somethings and one at 5 when they should all have been up around 20 to 25 somethings. While we had lunch, he tightened them and then tried to charge us a pittance.
The difference was immediate. If a laden tandem can feel lively, the Beast was transformed. Gone was the vague wobble in the corners, and we could feel every bump which was better than not feeling them. So far so good, as we rest up for a couple of days at a family friendly campground near Porthcawl on the south coast.
Upgrading the Beast
* Rear wheel rebuilt after splitting the rim in Spain.
* Spokes in rear wheel tightened at 300 km after rebuild.
* New front wheel with Son 28 Dynamo hub from Thorn/SJS Cycles who manufactured the tandem. This will enable us to charge our GPS and Judy's cellphone while we are riding.
* New Cinq5 electronic device (still to be fitted) which will provide a USB port for our gadgets.
* New Cinq5 buffer battery, to even out the flow of power from the Dynamo to the device being charged.
* New pump with a gauge to end the guesswork over our tyre pressures.
* Two folding stools for use at campsites.
By George, I think He's got it.
We are changing our attitude to GPS George. After the trials of Portugal and Spain, he is winning his way into our hearts.
As Judy the Stoker says,"George is now elevated to head navigator. If he's happy, we're happy."
We think there are several reasons why he has gone up in our estimation. We have configured his brain a little differently, the maps of Britain that we have downloaded for him seem to be of a higher quality than before, although they come from the same source (OSM) and we have lowered our expectations about his abilities.
Whatever the reasons, living with George is better than before.
Captain: "Is George happy (with the direction we are going)?"
Stoker: "He's ecstatic."
Long may it last.
Judy the Stoker's Quotable Quotes
"I've lost the will to live," on reaching a campsite after a long climb at the end of the day.
"I hope this is for eyes - it's in Portuguese," Judy uses expired eye drops.
"Pedalling downhill in that cold I could feel the wind on my legs - brrrrrr. Tells me I need to shave them."
"So we're getting close to Ireland then. What did we have for breakfast? Boiled potatoes," Judy ruminates that the previous night's leftovers get eaten at breakfast.
Rest Bay is just around the corner from Porthcawl. It's a popular spot for surfing though there weren't too many board riders out the afternoon we visited.