I remember getting my first ‘real’ bike (thank you, red Chopper, you will never be forgotten) and heading out of my cul-de-sac into the wider world. In the summer of 1978 I rode around on that thing from dawn till dusk, heading out to discover new rivers and creeks, new parks and forests, old abandoned houses and drunk hobos, arriving home way after supper time, dismounting that shining stallion in the time honored fashion of kids the world over, jumping off and letting it crash down on the front lawn and trotting in to get a telling off from my mum.
There’s a great song by the English band Elbow, ‘Scattered Black & Whites’, whose opening lines take me back to that time whenever I hear it.
‘Been climbing trees I’ve skinned my knees
My hands are black the sun is going down
She scruffs my hair in the kitchen steam
She’s listening to the dream I weaved today’
I used to listen to that song before every big race I ever did because it took me back to the time when I first fell in love with riding as well as the halcyon days of my childhood, which, not uncoincidentally, were at the same time. Some of those races, like the Tour of Oman, Qatar and some of the huge 200km plus days in tours in places like Thailand where the heat was up above 40km, felt like war. I really did feel like I was going into battle and I can admit that I was often apprehensive about what would happen out there. I remember lying on many a bed before a race, legs up against the wall, with that song in my head, trying to calm the nerves that threatened to overtake me. Some races just have a darkness hanging over them, a sense of brooding malice.
This article (poem) was written a few years ago in response to people asking me why I ride, why I would go out and suffer, sweat, hurt like that? Here it is on video, and below is the text, thanks for reading…
You ride because you love it. You ride because you need it. You ride because you want it. Sometimes you ride because you don’t love it, want it, or need it, you just do it because that is what you do.
You ride because it stops you putting on weight, you ride because it makes you well, you ride because you need the therapy, you ride because you need the escape.
You ride because she rides, or because he rides. Or you ride because they don’t ride.
You ride to find God, because you believe. Or you ride because you know there is no God and because everything, ultimately, is futile, and yet that matters so much to you and you may as we’ll ride anyway.
You ride because you love the earth. You ride because we’ve messed up the earth. You ride sometimes because you hate your self and heck, can you ride fast when you are angry.
You ride because you love taking an age to get your bar-tape perfect. You ride because you love the sound of a freewheel thrumming on a summer’s day, love even more the sound of a hundred of the things humming together in the quiet moments of a race. You ride because when the sunlight comes through the trees above and dapples the road and the rays catch the spokes, you almost think, however fleetingly, that you might just understand this entropic and essentially unknowable universe. You ride because it takes no language to be on a bike with someone and to look over to them and to smile and to get one back, and you ride because the bike is our language. And you ride because anyone who does not really ride, they can fully understand why the heck you ride.
You ride because this is our brotherhood, our sisterhood, our togetherhood.
You ride because if miss a couple of days, you miss the hurt, mis the pain.
You ride because you don’t quite fit in anywhere else.
You ride because you dared once to dream and you don’t ever want to stop.
You ride because you fell in love with the most beautiful, the most epic, the craziest, the most furious, the most poetic, romantic, brutal, life-affirming and soul-destroying sport of all, the sport that drives its flawed geniuses to destruction and its devotees to distraction. You ride because this is the love affair of human with machine and itʼs the one toy from childhood we get to keep, that grown men and women still get to play with, all over the world, no matter how old, no matter what culture, race, creed or ideology. You ride because itʼs the thing that gave you the freedom to leave your neighborhood and to explore the world around and when we ride, all grown up and adult, itʼs the same barnstorming thrill you had when you sped down your block, racing home from school against your best friend.
You ride because you still feel that same rush, that same freedom, the same breath of Sheer and Unadulterated Life. You ride because the bike connects this you, to that you.
You ride because you are you.
You ride because you ride.