When I was young we called them racing bikes, or racers. I guess aesthetically they were the same thing as modern day race bikes but I suspect that’s where the comparison ends. Other than when I was about 12 years old I honestly never had a need or a desire for a road bike and like most people considered it an area of interest for a small group of people like rambling or playing cribbage.
At the age of around 4o I joined my first gym. When I say I joined, what I mean is my wife one day presented me with the gift of a gym membership for a local high quality Spa Hotel and to be fair I knew I was a little unfit. What I hadn’t appreciated was just how unfit I was and looking back it was both shocking and ignorant of me to allow that to happen. I can remember my first fitness test and struggling to breathe through my five minutes of treadmill running. The 33% body fat reading that placed me firmly in the “uber obese” category on the assessors chart and embarrassment I felt at watching the retired gym users around me routinely turning up every day for their tough one hour pre breakfast workout. The icing on the cake was one individual who introduced himself to me in the changing rooms and on hearing that I had joined a few weeks before commented “well let’s see if you are still here in a few weeks”. Written off before I started it would seem.
Shortly after this some old Hampshire friends, who were now living in different parts of the country, decided to arrange a get together in the Peak District and to base a weekend of eating and drinking around a day of mountain biking. I didn’t own a bike and my friend rented one for me to use. I was a regular gym user now and was pleased to include myself amongst this group as a fellow cyclist. Or so I thought. It was a nightmare. I struggled to keep up from the very start and I had never cycled up hills like it. Ever. I was wearing trainers and they had cycling shoes. I had a borrowed helmet the size of a nuclear mushroom cloud, a kabool coat as protection against the rain and cotton trousers as I thought they would be durable and more weather resistant. I’ll admit it was great fun, in small doses and of course especially some of the downhills when they weren’t too technical. But it was just way too much for me and I can remember vividly running out of energy completely to the point where I had to walk. I think they call it bonking nowadays but at the time I called it knackered. That night I could hardly stay awake and as a result I failed to enjoy much of the commaradarie that took place and even less of the beer. I retreated home disappointed with myself but recognising I hadn’t quite as progressed as much as I need to and vowed to work harder.
After about 8 weeks I felt like I was making more progress and decided to get my first mountain bike, a Specialized Rockhopper Disc. It wasn’t that I wanted to go mountain biking, it was just that I thought they were the modern day equivalent of the racer, the de-factor bike of the day. I loved it. I excitedly rushed out and bought accessories for it, even proudly standing in front of the sports section in WH Smiths to flick through and then buy MBR magazine and such. Things got better, I met up with a group of local dads and started going on cross country rides on the odd Sunday morning and loved clocking up about 13-15 miles and getting home feeling hungry, tired and exercised. I was also starting to keep up with the other guys for much of it, and in my eyes they were proper cyclists..
It was at this point that a holiday in Mallorca coincided with the Tour De France and Lance Armstrong was making a well publicised come back to the sport he has obviously dominated for a number of years. I knew about Lance but he was the only cyclist I had ever heard of, with the possible exception of Chris Boardman. At the end of each day, to escape the heat of the late afternoon I would take a time out to watch the last remaining kilometres of the Tour as I was now calling it and I found myself engaged by the battle taking place between the Spaniard Alberto Contador and Armstrong. Both were team mates in official terms only and it was clear that Contador didn’t like playing second fiddle to the America celebrity. Little did I realise I was watching quite a significant point in both their careers at this time. The British rider Bradley Wiggins was also competing although I must admit I didn’t really take much interest in him despite him doing very well.
When I returned home I decided to buy my first road bike and opted for the ride to work scheme purchase. Taking advice from my wife’s cousin who worked at Specialized I jumped in with the £1000 Secteur road bike and was advised that due to its 105 group set represented great value for money. I had no idea what all this meant of course, but I nodded, signed the forms and suddenly it was there in my kitchen. So for the first ride I had high expectations and I must admit it was a major disappointment for many reasons. It was hard to steer, was extremely uncomfortable and don’t get me started on how to work the gears. A thousand pounds, wasted and I must admit I was feeling extremely flat about it. Despite this, I decided to persevere and had some major face to save following the impact of the purchase on my finances. I remember venturing out for my first 10 mile ride and had to walk it most of the way up the hills of the Fosseway. I also had to get off on a flat part at one point as I felt sick and sat dejected on a tree stump contemplating how I was going to get home. Another cyclist even slowed down to ask if I was ok, a bit embarrassing at the best of times even before you take into consideration the considerable years he had on me.
Within months I found myself at the start of the Wiltshire BHF charity bike ride, faced with the prospect of a 47 mile bike ride. These were distances I only ever made in a car and I knew this was going to force me to train harder, ride more frequently and equally push myself mentally way beyond my comfort zone. I of course completed the ride and didn’t as expected require a week off to recover. The opposite was true as I had now been bitten by the bug and now wanted to find an opportunity to break through the 50.
And there it is. My journey into cycling and one that is no different I am sure to many middle aged cyclists out there who are discovering that getting old doesn’t mean accepting less of yourself. To this day, and bearing in mind I am just a weekend rider, I will always take the time to find some words of encouragement to any rider of any age, size, gender or level that looks like they are taking themselves out of their comfort zone. To them I am a cyclist, someone perhaps they would like to be and couldn’t be. To me, they are a cyclist, and someone I still am and that I am proud of.