Chasing Bikes

I am sat here snuffling away like a small, nervous mammal rooting around in the undergrowth. Occasionally this pathetic and yet volubly liquid vocal discharge is dispatched to the aural boundaries, whilst a wheezing cough hacks its way out of constricted lungs.

Now I’m not one of those sad hypochondriacs with so little in their life that they must accost and bore complete strangers with a tedious list of their symptoms. I’m more your self deluding, pathological fibber with an unreconstructed mortality fear which “ I’m sure you’ll agree “ is far more interesting. Sulking will follow if you don’t.

But, be absolutely clear, this is not whining; as all of my mental angst is focussed on white hot irritation leaving no space for vanity melancholy. As only last week, after a successful re-insertion into the heady biorhythms of commuting, I triumphed over a proper roadie while he was trying and everything. So my current status of worrying about the aerobic impact of attempting a set of stairs is on the fucking irritating side of bloody annoying.

Sliding off a homebound train, fortified by a training curry (we forwent a fatty pudding in lieu of another healthy lager), my transit home was separated only by six miles, a random scrambling of the iprodder and a gentle turning of Biryani heavy legs.

All of two seconds in, I was almost blown into the bushes during an intense alien encounter. The terrifying thing from other worlds was vaguely humanoid although lacking both clothes and flesh to keep it warm. On closer inspection, it was not actually wearing it’s rib cage on the outside only because that job was given to some figure hugging sponsors billboard. He was transported at high speed past my dawdling form by grotesque clean shaven legs atop a spindly two wheeled attack ship, sporting strange frontal appendages and powered by anti gravity.

Nothing even slightly constrained by Earth’s natural sciences could possibly go that fast. But of course they could; I have inadvertently slipped into the orbit of a full on time trial and only a sense of understandable inferiority disengaged an insane reaction to engage the tractor beam.

These cycling Martians could very well have dropped in from Ursa Minor with their Flash Gordan Winged Helmets, Tri-Bars, super lightweight bikes most with about four spokes supporting both wheels and a Borg like constipated expression. We were all cyclists sure but only one of us sported a pair of grubby baggies, flappy t-shirt, courier bag full of leaden laptop, astride a road bike with “ shock “ flat bars.

The second one passed me. Grr, leave it, leave it, he’s not worf it. Third one came and went, somehow expressing contempt through stiffed back body language. Don’t, just don’t, you’ll either be horribly humiliated or die. Or both.

Obviously their race faces blanked me in the second it took to scream past my carefully crafted bovvered return expression, yet all would have been well had not a less than perfect physical specimen bloody well baulked me. The cheeky fucker passed about one inch to my right, and then cut straight back left using a move we commuters call death by taxi wheel

That shall not stand my man, although I had to for quite a while to deliver the maximum propulsion required to cruise up to his rear wheel. A spiteful headwind was slowing him still further so I tucked right in and prayed that the beer ration would stave off an upcoming muscle and lung mutiny.

Luckily he was a twitcher “ you know the sort, has a pathological hatred of being drafted and tries to break the tow with surly glances over his shoulder. Every time he tried this, I quickly sat down and adopted the expression of a man considering a myriad of post dining options including lighting a cigar or cracking opening the brandy.

This clearly pissed him off even more which played right into my hands since my legs were having to do a shit load of work when he wasn’t looking. Two miles in though, we’d been passed effortlessly by quicker riders and so obviously I’d latched onto the slowest man in the pack but even this effort was close to breaking me.

My salvation was a small Chiltern hillock lasting 38 seconds in a gear ratio of 53/28 (when you’ve ridden it 200+ times, these stats come unbidden) and my competitive gland was brazenly writing cheques that my body couldn’t cash. Knowing something is stupid but doing it anyway is what I’ve come to think of as middle aged wisdom.

It was the longest 38 seconds of my life. Clicking up one more cog, I made a stand for the front and was instantly knocked back by the very headwind my victim had been taking for the last few minutes. My body was rocking above thrashing legs in a parody of decent technique, but somehow I forged ahead.

I honestly thought I was going to die. My heart was banging away like an aging porn-star and felt as if it would explode out of my chest if I turned one more pedal stroke. My legs were screamingly tight and fading at the speed of vanity over reality, and mytri-barred nemesis was suddenly back into my peripheral vision. His purple face depicted horror, shame and possible violence as he closed the gap to a foot, then six inches, then three and then we were level, but the momentum was with Mr. Puce.

I was going flat out and any more of this silliness would see me adopting that posture in the grassy margins. He was desperate to win and I was going to lose; he was a proper racer and I was a pissed-up-the-wall wannabe;. he wouldn’t be able to live it down and I could just laugh it off. Time to quit, it’s been fun, but it doesn’t mean anything, honestly there’s almost nothing I could care about less. I’m going to stop now because it’s really, really hurting.

And just about then, an ancient gene flipped the Neolithic trigger and the tarmac was transformed to African veldt, the bike was a spear and old Potato Head represented my bison shaped lunch. Non essential stuff shuts down, vision darkens at the edges and only a tunnel of total focus remains on the rapidly approach hill crest.

At 200 yards from the finish, I knew I was beaten, at a 100 I wasn’t sure, at 50, the tiniest of air gaps opened up and as we blurred past the astonished bloke marshalling the turn, it was clear that my Bison was metaphorically toast. I was cruelly denied the satisfaction of how this made him feel as I peeled off left on autopilot, held it together until he was out of sight and then collapsed “ still clipped in “ into some enveloping road side vegetation.

I lay there for quite a while. The slow hand clap that brought me vertical was “ I assumed “ a sign I had passed over to the other side. But no, it was the marshal praising my heroic efforts against the slowest bloke in the club. Can’t tell you how good that made me feel.

It hurt so much just to get back on and pedal at the speed of broken, marvelling at how my entire body now ached. I am never, ever doing that again because it’s just masochistic bullshit allied to pointless competitiveness in the face of stupid odds. I have no idea how proper racers do this week in week out.

It was ace of course. But only because I won, which must mean that working that sodding hard and then losing has to be about as bad as it can get.

4 thoughts on “Chasing Bikes

  1. ian

    Good work fella.. doesn’t it feel good? imagine the other chap, drafted then done by some bloke smelling of beer and curry on a commuting bike… still, bet his bike shop of choice will do well out of the next set of lower weight/higher speed add ons

  2. To see full contempt just try turning up to one of those things on a full suspension thing – with wheels still wrapped in knobbly tyres, natch – and refuse to be held at the start.

  3. Alex

    I’m sure I’m still suffering a week or so later. I like your idea Nick but I’d have to augment the knobblies with a bar mounted harpoon. May as well mix business with pleasure 😉

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