The above picture was taken in the Summer of 1994 or 1995 during a time trial. I’ve no idea of the exact date but I do recall that it was taken somewhere in Worcestershire. It had been raining heavily before and during the race and the course would be described as ‘sporting‘, in other words there were a few hills. I’m going up a gradient in this picture. When this image was snapped I’d have been ‘pushing it’ so hard that I must have been at my physical limit. I wonder whether that aneurysm was bubling away inside my head?
The last time I was on a bike was on Wed 24th July 1996, three days before my brain haemorrhage. I had been a keen cyclist. I’m not exactly a mechanically minded person but I was fascinated by bikes. I liked the idea of being able to go where you pleased totally under your own will and effort. The self-sufficiency of owning and using a bike was a constant source of satisfaction for me. Training rides , especially on dark winter evenings around the lanes, suitably attired and illuminated, breathing the cold, damp, cleansing air that smelled and tasted of undergrowth and fresh dirt and winter fields was a source of constant pleasure. The darkness of the lanes being cut by the main front beam and the almost total blackness behind except for a red glow from the tail light a quick look over the shoulder being exhilaratingly unnerving. Sometimes the only sound being the whirr of the chain on the sprockets and the sticky hiss of two tyres against wet tarmac, the mind on auto pilot, eyes fixed on the light ahead. Pushing and pulling on the pedals, feeling the familiar burn inside the thigh muscles as you upped the tempo on the hills. Then the satisfaction of the homeward stretch anticipating a shower, food and rest. Winter evening rides were really something special back then. Spiritual.
I used to maintain my own bikes. I had three of them. One for racing, one for training and touring and an old BSA bike which I’d had since 1975…the only original part of that bike was the frame as everything else had been replaced over the years, a sturdy heavy thing great for muddy winter rides and reliably satisfying to be on, a real work horse of a bike. Most club riders then had a hacking bike and the BSA one was mine.
I belonged to a racing cyclist club at the time; racing cyclist because we all raced, whether it was time trialling, road racing or on the track. Like in any organisation you tend to gravitate towards people you instinctively know you’d get along with and I became part of a group of 4 or 5 like-minded blokes who used to ride out together. We all had varying degrees of ability and fitness, strengths and weaknesses. What we lacked in natural ability we made up in dogged persistence. We got ourselves as fit as we possible could. Trained and raced together. A steady weekend ride could easily develop into a mini road race, each taking a turn at the front of the group until you had to swing off to the back of the line to recuperate for a few minutes.Such bursts of effort could last for miles or just as quickly peter out back into our steady ride. This was the rule of our group, we were racers not tourists. Tough spontaneous training like this did wonders for the fitness levels. I used to take Sean out on leisurely bike rides through the local park and on more adventurous rides along the Tissington Trail. Great fun.
Bike technology was changing fast with the improvement in clip less pedals and aerodynamics, new braking and gear systems which left a lot of club riders struggling to keep up. However there was an air of thriftiness around club cycling in those days. Bike parts where always being handed down or borrowed or resources pooled to buy stuff in bulk. There was also a professional rider linked to our club who rode for a pro team and once or twice a year he’d bring in all his old cycle tops, shorts, hats and various bits and pieces to hand down to the riders. Cycling wasn’t a fashion parade and if an old piece of equipment worked and was comfortable and reliable then why change it. As a BCF coach once said in a seminar that I attended, “ you can tart your bike up as much as you like but it comes down to the man riding it!”. .
In the months and years after my Brain Haemorrhage I never really thought much about cycling. I was just happy to be alive and getting through a day was enough to be working on anyway. I knew that with only half vision there was no way that I was going to get back on a bike again and I was scared that my head would ‘pop‘ again under any strain. I never renewed my club membership or kept in touch with my former team mates. I took no further interest in it whatsoever. I never watched it, I never read about it, I totally ignored it. The recent success of British cycling has passed me by. Successes that would have had me putting the flags out have barely raised an eyebrow. I wonder why this is? I really cannot understand the reason for my sheer indifference to something I once loved.
A couple of years into my recovery and adjustment my wife had asked me what I was going to do with all my cycling equipment. I must have been in a very low state of mind at that time because I said to her to get rid of it., “What do you mean”, she said, “Dump it”, I replied. And that’s exactly what happened to my bikes and equipment. I insisted it had to go. It was taken to the local recycling unit and “dumped”,along with numerous wheels and bike components. I’m sure that a few people couldn’t believe their luck that day and quickly reclaimed the bikes and other stuff but maybe it all ended up being melted down. , who knows. So that bike you see in the picture was thrown away along with my other two, including the 1975 BSA model. Regrets?…..I don’t know; I suppose with hindsight I should have sold the equipment and made a few quid out of it.However, I think that by my almost ritualistic disposal satisfied some kind of need within me to rid myself of something that I had once loved and could no longer face; a little dramatic, but my way of ‘hanging up my boots’.. So what’s the reason for this post? Well…. I used to ride a bike.