Friday, 25 February 2011

My Story...

Everyone has a talent, some of us are gifted musicians, some of us understand complex engineering principals with ease, and some have obscure and specific talents, like the ability to pick a perfectly ripe avocado - obscure and useless, but a talent nonetheless. Growing up, my talent was colouring in. Scoff if you will but my ability to colour within the lines and wield my trusty Derwent with the perfect amount of pressure so that colours were gloriously even was second to none! Why am I telling you this? Well, early in my life this seemingly useless talent proved to be the calalyst that introduced me to a life long passion - cycling. When I was about eight, the local real estate agents did a pamphlet drop, the pamphlet had an enclosed competition - colour in the picture to the best of your ability and be in the running to win a shiny new bmx bike! The pamphlet had a picture of the bike and I drooled over that beast like a horny teen seeing his first Playboy. There was no doubt about it - that bike was going to be mine. It's a bit of a stretch for my memory but I think the picture was a house, being a real estate agent comp, I suppose that would make sense.

I coloured in that house like a child possessed, like I was channeling one of the greats, Da Vinci or Rembrandt, and a few weeks later I was told that I had won. There was a little presentation ceremony one Saturday morning and I finally got my paws on the  prize - it was like I had won the lottery. That bike was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen in my short time on this earth. I have no idea of the brand, unlike now, the concept of a fashionable brand was lost my eight year old self. But I do remember it's rubbery grips, it's black tyres, it's chrome handlebars gleaming in the sun; but most of all I remember it's metallic blue paint job, the over-sized tubing of the frame was awesome in it's sky-blue glory. I rode that bike with pride and with energy for a long time. It was my first bike - and it was the beginning of a life-long enthusiasm (my fiance would say obsession) for cycling, in all it's various forms.

I never was and never have been a club cyclist, growing up cycling was never competitive. Getting on my bike was for transportation, it was for fun, and it was thrill seeking - jumping poorly made two-foot plywood ramps in the street. My next bike was a Shogun 12-speed mountain bike, this el-cheapo was a far cry from todays advanced hardtails but it took a beating. I rode that thing like it was a competition level dual-suspension, up and down stairs and through bmx tracks, and it rarely gave me any problems. With this bike I was able to get myself to and from high school and down to the local shops quickly and easily. This was the only independence I had as an adolescent boy - and I loved it! My next bike (I was about sixteen) was a Shogun Ninja, this was my first foray over to the other-side (or should I say lycra-side) of road riding. This experiment didn't last long (I think I sold it about six months later) but getting this bike was a huge deal. I had my heart set on the $800 Ninja and I drooled over it for months until I eventually saved up enough pay checks from delivering the local paper. If this whole process wasn't a priceless lesson in financial management I don't know what was.

Around this time I became mates with a kid at school who introduced me to the emerging world of downhill mountain biking - it didn't take long before I was hooked. I took the proceeds from the sale of the Ninja and pooled that with money I'd made building bikes in the sporting department of the local Kmart. For the grand total of $1200, which was a lot of money to spend on a bike in 1996, I bought myself a Pro-Flex 555. For those of you unfamiliar with Pro-Flex's ground breaking range of mountain bikes in the mid-late 90's, these were special bikes. The suspension never really worked the way you wanted it to; but these bikes did the one thing that any 16 year old kid wanted most - they made you look damn cool. The oversized tubing stood out from a mile away and bright yellow elastomer rear suspension got heads turning. My mate had the next level up, the 857(?), it was resplendent in it's fluro yellow paint job, Steve was the envy of the whole neighbourhood. We rode those bikes like kids possessed and even went to a few races, but after watching some guy remove half his face from face-planting onto a road our enthusiasm somewhat waned. I will never forget that Pro-Flex though. I remember selling it was quite a comical task, I had to push down on the seat-post with all my might to demonstrate to the eventual buyer that the rear "definitely had about 2-3 inches of travel", the rear was as stiff as my current Giant hard-tail and hardly moved a millimeter - but he bought the story and eventually bought the bike. I would pay a lot of money to get that baby back!

Inspired by a family friend to take on the challenge of Melbourne's famous 'Around The Bay in a Day' I scoured the pages of the Trading Post (unfortunately there was no eBay back then) for a suitable road bike. Options were limited and I was in a hurry so I settled for Repco Olympic 12, a top of the line bike - in 1985. Sadly it wasn't 1985, it was 1999 and this bike was had seen better days. The Around The Bay is a fairly challenging ride, 210 kilometers in total, it takes a bit of training and experience to ensure completion before the sun goes down. Not only was my bike a bit of a dinosaur, I was helplessly under-prepared, I had no idea about endurance race fluid and food intake, and I was going it alone - the family friend had ditched me, I don't blame him, being held back by a slow companion on a long ride can be frustrating. So needless to say I was out of my depth. At about the 190 kilometre mark I was completely depleted of energy, I had no money and no food on me, up ahead I saw another struggling rider throw an unwanted orange to the side of the road. Swallowing my pride, I stopped and ate that orange, which gave me the energy I needed to push on. I finished the ride in about eleven hours, the sun had gone down and I was exhausted. I was proud of the achievement, but unfortunately this wasn't to be the beginning of a glorious road cycling career, like I ambitiously thought it would be.

The Repco lived on for a few more years after that, being used as a commuter bike, but was eventually superseeded by a Giant Talon Mountain Bike. Yep, I have gone back and forth between road bikes and mountain bikes about as many times as Lance has won TDF's. I bought the Giant to compete in an adventure race and this renewed my love affair with single track that continues strongly today. I am at peace hurtling through the bush, dodging trees, maneuvering through burns, and jumping gaps. There is nothing quite like it.

I currently have a bike courier inspired SE fixie that serves well as a commuter, it's fast and strong, and requires very little maintenance. And my current weapon of choice for attacking Beach Road and competing in the occasional road race or charity ride is a Fuji road bike.

So that's my story. I can't really say that I'm a commuter, or a mountain biker, or a road cyclist or a hipster on a fixie - I guess I'm a little bit of all of those things. I just really like cycling, in any and all forms. Cycling is more relevant today than it's ever been - it's experiencing a resurgence as an alternative transportation mode and more people are riding now than ever, I can tell, new bike stores are opening in Melbourne almost weekly.

This blog is a commentary on the world of cycling. Cycling trends come and go as often as I get punctures on my commute to work, and as a sport there is never a dull moment. The UCI Pro Tour plays out year after year with as much drama as an episode of Neighbours, and the dominance of the Aussies in the off-road world is awesome. As cyclists we are a pretty strange and eclectic bunch. From the hardcore roadies, to the Brunswick hipsters. From the mental downhill bikers in the You Yangs to the chic commuters riding their beautiful retro cruisers. I intend to write about it all - but only when I'm not on my bike.

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