after plowing my lonely furrow here for what must be about a year, i’ve decided to extend the roster from just me to include a host of fantastic writers who will be contributing to the site from here on in.
we’re gonna give it two months and see how it goes. expect some great writing on all kinds of topics coming your way very soon indeed!
onwards and upwards!
thanks to my friend Damian Barrett for putting me onto the latest Velocast podcast, episode 35, in which i get a mention from Cillian Kelly in regards to crankpunk and the doping problem in Asia.
check the link below, Cillian goes all punky at about 27 minutes…
you make a decision and a choice. every time you clip in. it is the enactment of your will. drop through the gears. arse on saddle. flex in the thighs. the body leads, the mind follows. in a world where demands are made and must be met, be they taxes, departures, working hours or any other obligation that tethers us to the bind, strips us of our sight and leaves us blind, when you ride you enter the environs on the outskirts of liberation. you are on the approach to freeness. you’re fighting against the curse of our times – doing nothing. a movement against inertia. you are making a statement. heard through action. every pedal stroke a word, every kilometer a sentence, every hundred a chapter. writing a book with your being. letting the world know that this tribe will not pass by into the dust. that you will not desist. no matter what else it is you do, you are doing this, conscious or not. the mind leads, the body follows. it works both ways, it becomes one and you know you are of the earth just as you leave it, however fleeting, like a seed on the wind, to grow, to build, to become a fulfillment, forcing into the bend, easing out of the curve. impossible in the limitless of what you can achieve, for a singular moment. maybe two, if you are very lucky. but you made this. it is not luck. it is the enactment of control, of self, and, lest it be forgotten, left to gather cobwebs like so much else we once believed in, it is the exhumation of a dream. relinquish and release, relax, through the tension and concentration of stress. the sweat. the tightness. the ache you love. when you get closest to realizing the magnitude the words fall away, thoughts vacate. [now] becomes real. and it comes again and again and again, every time you leave that door.
a life on two wheels.
not sure why bit for some reason PEZ keep letting me rant away.
you can read the latest installment here
this article originally appeared in SPIN magazine…
We all like to think that we are two-wheeled Ninjas, like lycra-clad shuriken slicing through the air. It’s not just about being fit and lithe, it’s also about The Look. Everything has to match, to look just so.
Bar tape has to complement the frame, the wheels have to bling a little, whether they be stealth discs or of the louder variety. A new team or club and with it a new jersey means we need a new helmet, right? Obviously!
And when your better half complains, well, they just don’t get it. Scuffed shoes? Need new ones. New SRM console in blue? Better get matching cable housing.
I am the same, my better half would say! In fact, most cyclists are. Looking pro is about feeling pro – the two go hand in hand. But is there a tipping point? Is there a moment when the delicate balance between being in the sport for the fitness and competitive benefits gets skewed, and the sheer buzz of – dare I whisper it? – shopping takes over?
I’m going to say, not for me. I’m hardcore, baby. I train hard and race hard. It’s intervals twice a week, 90km TT training on Wednesdays, hill repeats on Thursday and epic rides on the weekends.
Get me out shopping in the city with my girlfriend for clothes or shoes or whatever else she drags me round for and I go into a catatonic state after 2 hours. Put me on a bike for 6 and it’s a different story, I’m tired but not drained, more elated and very much alive.
But then again… why is it that I go into the same bike shop just about every single week and look at the same stuff every single week? And still feel a little buzz, a little tingle up my hair-free pins? How odd is that? Same with the big web-stores, I can click away on there for aeons.
In a way, consuming is such an intrinsic part of our priveliged, modern lives that it’s not surprising that we like to think about buying and then to go actually purchase these little objects of our heart-thumping desire. And in a sense, cycling, known annoyingly in some circles as ‘the new golf’, is the perfect sport for the habit of consumption.
Look at soccer. What can you really buy? Shoes. A ball. Shinpads. Whoo! Er, no, not exciting at all really. Tennis? A racket. Shoes, again, and some little furry balls. Again, you can only have so many, there’s no real built-in need to shop in most sports.
But cycling, like golf, requires lots of little bits and pieces, and some bigger ones. I used to laugh when I saw golfers with golf belts, golf socks, golf pants, golf everything. I mean, who needs gold socks to play golf? What a rip-off!
And yet look at cycling, it is exactly the same, everything is sport-specific. Clothing, obviously, but also now socks, watches, glasses and even headphones. In the old days when I was a kid, you couldn’t even buy the stuff the pros used, it was too elite, too secret, too. People didn’t have the same expendable income and free time to obsess over the stuff and then to actually buy it. It was almost unheard of.
Now though everything the pros use is available – at a price. The industry is quite clever in that way, in that it exploits something that is central to endurance sports. Namely, the idea is this: “If only I had more time to train, I would be as good as John X. And if only I have these wheels, and that frame, and that power meter, wow! I’d be great!”
See, in soccer, a very healthy 20 year old kid who is half decent can come up against a 50 year old – say, Maradonna – and have a kick around, and within 30 seconds you will see who is naturally better. But in cycling, it is stamina based. Yes, it is still largely about genes and DNA but we tend not to see that.
Instead we believe we can be as fast as the fastest guy around, if only… If only I did this, or knew what he ate, or had the equipment he had. Many cyclists are constantly on the look out for the secret - the training method, the short cut, the aero advantage, the lighter gizmos.
It’s not intrinsically wrong to think that way, but it is potentially damaging to your development.
Why? Well, when you get into constant upgrades, you lose sight of what is crucial to becoming a better rider – namely, good old fashioned hard work. It really is that simple.
When you go on a club ride any weekend in japan, or Taiwan, or, dare I say, Singapore, you will see bikes that would make the Pro Tour guys salivate. There are machines worth more than any car I ever owned! They are incredible and great to look at, to pick up, to imagine racing on.
Now, go to any elite bike race where the guys pay for their own machines and you will see some top end bikes but most will be a little tatty, a little scuffed, and some will be absolutely battered. Drive trains will be clean but the undersides of the bottom brackets will be a bit mucky. Bar tape will be fraying and cable ends may be coming apart.
To these guys, the bike is a tool, not necessarily a possession. Again, neither is right nor wrong, but for those seeking to improve who are also addicted to upgrades – the Secret Shoppers – it might be an idea to reassess their cycling philosophy.
Why do I ride? What am I doing this for? Will those $5000 wheels really make me faster?! The answer, more often than not, is no. Only one thing will really do that – and that is suffering!
With all the clutter of modern life, all the accumulation of stuff, it might be an idea to trim a little, to get back to basics, and, if your goal is really to get better, to foster that Ninja philosophy of improvement through repetition, to aim for simplicity and efficiency rather than its opposite.
The proof, as they say, is in the pudding, no matter how expensive that outer layer!
when Danny MacAskill came to Taichung to make a film for his sponsor, Lezyne, i was fortunate enough to meet up with him and see some of the stunts live.
what blew me away was the dedication he put into everything he did. one of these tricks took almost 2 hours to nail, but he wouldn’t let it go. then he did it and we went out for a beer.
my adopted city looks great in this video too – enjoy!
the rain started to fall on top of the 21.
big fat drops of wet, splattering in patches onto the smooth tarmac atop the 8 kilometer descent, a beautiful descent, long and mesmeric, three hairpins and the rest a fast, flowing groove through the jungle.
but not this time, this time it was slower, more cautious than usual, the road beginning to gather water as the rain became uniform.
the sky had been turning since the first big hill. looking out my window before i set off there’d been no hint of it, blue and cloudless as far as the peaks in the distance, but 15 kilometers in the bruising began, a thick smudge of malice daubed in the west, growing.
it was trouble coming, i knew, but once you’re out you’re out i figured, and pushed on.
i felt good, going hard, the riding coming together. felt it in the thighs, in the power in my backside.
flow, on and on and on.
10,000 hours, they say. that is a heck of a lot of time.
by the bottom of the hill it was very dark, the gloaming brought to bear early, too early for me. the trees hung over the road like dirty silhouettes done in coal. I was still two hours out from home but already wishing i was there. the road barely visible now and the wind whipping, i settled in and drove the cranks around and around, pull, push, steady, relax the neck, ease the shoulders, a mantra beat out with each stroke, a revolution with each turn, not a revolution that echoed but still, i heard it, heard it through the dampness, heard it through the wind.
carry me home, legs, carry me back, you wonderful, thrumming things, and you, bike, how dare you be so perfect in this imperfect world? and always a nod to gravity for being so finely balanced to allow me this much pleasure.
repetition will set you free. repetition will set you free.
repetition, yes sir, it will set you free.
with one hour left to go i was set with a choice: long and flat and fast back to town or up the backside of the 136, 8km of climbing and then a twisting, devious downhill over slick, bad road. i chose the latter, i don’t know why. the second i turned the corner to the foot of the climb the deep black-blue above came to life with a million volts and a hounding thunder that rocked my ribs.
through the trees and up and up and finally the wind was gone. just me, the bike, the rain and the sparks above. no car passed me by, no motorcycle. all far too sensible for that.
at the top, above the town, the light returned through parting, begrudging clouds. 6pm now, it was that kind of light – the honey kind, coating, caressing, hinting at that which we feel but cannot see. it makes everything seem possible, anything forgivable.
coming back to civilisation the sun began to slink back to earth and the wires above glinted and gleamed in its quietness, the ground breathed in wisps of vapor, riders on scooters and town bikes glad-wrapped in rain jackets looked like translucent jellyfish floating at speed, and, like a giant double cliche, two perfect arcing rainbows, more intense in their colors than i’d seen before, shot up from the earth and almost had me chasing them.
i laughed to myself, then out loud.
yet again, the bike had delivered me.
i’ve been away for a couple of days to Hualien on Taiwan’s east coast, climbing some parts of the famous Wuling mountain. i was there with former teammate Yin Chi Wang to do a photo-shoot with some Japanese journalists. this is one epic, not to mention stunning, climb.
here below is part of a report i wrote on the climb after completing the Taiwan KOM Challenge 2 years ago. this year’s event will be held on November 9th, entries opening soon, watch this space for more on that.
‘Itʼs a 90km beast of an event that lives in central Taiwan, and goes from a sleepy, cosy little town by the name of Hualien, meanders through the magnificent Taroko Gorge amidst and sometimes through enormous slabs of ancient rock so delightful that they entice riders, even mid-race, to let out gasps of wonder, and up and up and up to the summit, all 3,275 meters of it.
With an average of 7% for the first 104km the speed there is quite high, but it’s the last 8km that knock you out. 17% average with pitches up to 27.8%. In the closing kilometers the air is thin and the life is sucked from your bones.’
*all shots taken with an iPhone 5 and the Optrix waterproof camera-case
at least, i think it’s a bag of bacon, it could be mice innards, or whatever peregrine falcons eat, or roadie flesh, or whatever downhillers eat.
either way, it is just brilliant. Gee Atherton for Red Bull Films, and a pro falcon, in Antur Stiniog, North Wales.
watch and wonder.
*and a shout to Rachel McPhail, my friend who sent this to me, cheers!
and the behind the scenes video: