It’s a funny old thing this life, I pulled this photo out of a box of stuff my parents had in the loft, and it made think about all the stuff I did as a kid, and the excitement I got from getting out on my bike. I reckon I’m 6 in the photo, so 34 years ago give or take a week or 2, but that sense of freedom that being on your bike gives you is evident.
I remember that Raleigh Tomahawk and the battering it received like it was yesterday, I particularly liked the brake cables patched up with red insulation tape, which when you look at the state of the brakes was an exercise in futility. I loved that thing, wheelies all the way down the road, bumping up and down every curb I could find, zooming down every hill.
I look at my little lad Ollie now and I see that same gleam of mania in his eyes, his little legs pedalling like buggery to go as fast as possible nothing has changed…only his bike stops.
What is it that makes us want to ride? That word freedom is high on the list I reckon.
When I was a kid I didn’t get ferried round by my parents if you wanted to get out, visit your mates, have an adventure it was you and your bike, together you could go anywhere, do anything. As I got older that didn’t really change, I progressed onto road bikes and pedalled further, most of my school mates lived at least 10 miles away. I was always out, wearing a groove in the blacktop.
I still love the sensation that a fast road bike gives you, the sound of the tyres barely skimming the tarmac, the easy surges of acceleration and the sense of once your tank is empty, no matter how light or efficient your machine is it’s just down to you and your determination. I think that sense of achievement, of self sufficiency can’t be underrated; it’s the sense of well being that makes me bearable, and the removal of which that turns me into a grouchy sod.
That dependence on a piece of machinery has led me down the road to OCD tendencies when it comes to bike maintenance, I’m afraid I’ve turned into a bit of a bike polisher. I’m often found in my kitchen or in the shed with my bike in bits, making sure everything is just so. It’s like by taking this collection of tubes, castings and bearings to pieces and knowing every little detail I’m going to somehow find what makes the whole thing tick, come alive, finding its beating heart.
I’ve yet to unearth the Frankenstein monster, but those of you who have seen my downhill bike may understand…
1991 was the first time I rode a mountain bike, I went out for a ride around the local (Pennine) hills with a couple of mates (and their mates) and in amongst the assortment of road bikes there was this Marin with knobbly tyres, I took it for a spin off-road and knew I had to have one (even though it was way too small). Getting on that bike made me feel like a little kid again, I felt like I wanted to go and bump kerbs, do wheelies, be 6 again.
That’s 20 years ago now…there have been lots of bikes come and go from my shedbedroomkitchenloft, and there have been times when I just haven’t been able to ride for prolonged periods, through injury, location, work or just being too busy (young kids are a full-time job), but I still keep coming back (slower and even less proficient each time).
I think maybe it’s the addict in me, it’s that sense of the next time it will be better, searching out that moment when me and my bike are greater than the sum of our parts, when the most powerful engine that exists, the mass of the planet tries to suck me into its metallic core.
It’s that moment when you go from pedalling and into freewheel (or is that free fall), when your tyres go from buzzing to floating over the ground and sometimes, just sometimes you get that sense of stillness, quiet and harmony, and you become a powered human being effortlessly riding gravity itself.
I think it’s the pursuit of these seconds of clarity that keep me (and maybe you coming back).
So next time you see an old codger struggling up or down hill, don’t be too harsh they're just out getting their fix.