Skip directly to content

Cycling again - return to youth

It's seven-thirty in the morning and I find myself staring down. An hour earlier, I was staring out through the bathroom window, watching the sun rise over the frosted landscape. All hope of a warm, sunny spring morning for my first time out had evaporated, just like the same frosty dew was doing before me now. And now I'm sitting here, contemplating. Wondering what kind of insanity led me to this moment. “I'm too old for this!” I mutter to myself, realising that I seem to be having more frequent conversations with myself these days. “Well, there's nobody else listening!” I chuckle to myself, continuing the monologue to the audience of two rabbits and a bored looking wood pigeon. At least I thought he looked bored.  


 
The bike beneath me is a Giant Propel. Seven kilos of the best carbon in the world and made by a manufacturer I'd never heard of until a couple of weeks earlier and with good reason. The last time I'd ridden a bike was almost twenty years earlier, I had ridden the smallest size Holdsworth mountain bike I could buy, with the saddle set as high as I could physically manage it. I think they call this appearance ‘old school’ now, but then I could be wrong. In my teens, Holdsworth were top end hand built bikes. But by now they were mass-produced.  


 
That bike lasted me until it basically fell apart. The only other time in my life that I had ridden a bike regularly was when I was sixteen. I had inherited my elder brother's Falcon racer when he had started going to work with our dad. The Falcon was steel, weighed a tonne by today's standards, but it was my only means of transport. From the summer of leaving school I rode it to work almost every day for the next two years of my life. Oddly enough, I only have one real memory of riding it that has stayed with me to this day. In the first few months of riding to work, about a mile from home, I used to turn left onto the main road into the city. Almost every morning as I approached the junction, an older lad would fly past me before I made my turn. I decided that I would try to catch him and give him a bit of a race. Of course, the first time I attempted to catch up with him, he seemed to sense my effort. He would quite literally drop me and disappear off into the distance leaving me under the belief that I might actually be cycling backwards. Or at least that's how it seems by memory all these years later.

While I may have had the stamina for it, I was basically not even remotely bike fit. Not even close. But tell a sixteen year old to “leave it be!” and they’re likely to tell you to sling your hook, or words to that effect. I had been humiliated, or at least that's how I saw it. I was determined now, and one way or another I was going to beat that guy, even if I broke myself in trying. Every day, I would turn onto the main road behind the other cyclist and every day I rode as hard as possible to try and catch him.

It took me almost three months, but eventually I had the legs. I was getting closer and closer to his rear wheel every day and on the finest sunny morning in memory, I found myself slipstreaming him for the best part of ten minutes. It was the best feeling, because - for the first time ever - I was able to ease up and rest in the air pocket behind him. Every time he attempted to drop me, I hung onto his back wheel and refused to yield. It happened as we passed a junction about a mile from the city centre. He glanced left and I knew this was my chance, possibly the only chance I'd ever get. I made my move.

I exploded out of his slipstream with every ounce of energy I could call upon. I passed him on his blind side before he was aware I was there. I kept going and refused to look back for fear that he would be right on my back wheel. Ten seconds later, I had expected him to have passed me with a “as if I'd let you!” look on his face. But he didn't pass. I couldn't help myself, I quickly glanced behind me. He was about eighty yards back and appeared to be going flat out. I was spurred on, mostly by the belief that my lead would be, at best, all too short lived. I drove hard. My lungs felt as if they were burning. Another twenty seconds and my legs were simply screaming at me to stop. I couldn't. I glanced back again. The other cyclist was now over two hundred yards behind. I couldn't see if he was still chasing me, or if he had broken and given up. I didn't care. I felt the elation of the only kind of victory you feel when you're a teenager. That gloating “I simply destroyed you!” kind of feeling. And I was thrilled. I was ecstatic! 
 
I was so thrilled that I rode flat out and fast all the way into the city and through the main carriageway by the docks until I finally pulled up at the traffic lights about three miles further on. I was still thrilled as a large tipper lorry pulled up next to me in the adjacent lane. Yes, I was thrilled. Right up to the moment after the bike stopped and I suddenly realised that I couldn't get either foot out of the toe straps. The tipper driver’s expression was quite a picture as, sideways, I disappeared from his view!
 
And now, some decades later, I find myself staring down at a racing bike beneath me. I must be mad!  


Dean Sheppard, Staff Writer
 
(To be continued)