So the title is a JONATHAN RICHMAN reference, but it’s essentially the story of how I came to ride bikes. And it is a big story so I have to spilt it in two.
I actually owned my first road bike at 11 — but we called them “racers”. Naturally before that I’d been rocking a BMX — all single-speeds with coaster brakes — but then I got it in my head I needed an upgrade so I put my BMX on the footpath with a sign saying “FOR SALE”. The buyer knocked me down from the sign’s quite artisticly represented “$50” (lovingly hand-painted on the biggest and fattest stretch of found-cardboard around) to something like $38.50. I caved, being a lover not a fighter even when it came to economics. Then with some more saved funds, some begging and borrowing — my dad and I went out to K-Mart at Toombul Shoppingtown and put $180 down. It was a black 10-speed and I have no idea what make it was. But I do remember it was a Thursday late-night-shopping and I felt incredibly guilty as I rolled that brand-new bad boy down the mall because ever single kid we passed gave me this look of amazement, trying their best to conceal their jealousy. If it was up to me they could have all had brand new bikes too — but of course it wasn’t.
Despite my love of that bike — we only got about a year together. I remember it taught me one crucial thing — the glory of the sense of speed. It was almost a religious experience to travel that fast down a hill so exposed. Any bike rider will tell you it feels like flying and I will never forget where I was when I felt that feeling for the very first time.
But then everything changed. First of all our shitty Australian helmet laws came into force and my Dad was such a fuddy-duddy about safety. I remember when I took my “pads” off my BMX he made me put them back on saying, “Do you want to have kids one day?” My friends all heard this and laughed themselves silly once he was out of esr-shot. So dad bought me a bright orange Stack-Hat — the most stupid-looking helmet ever and a design tragedy. It was heavy, bulky, could be seen from Space, possibly growth-stunting and universally ridiculed in the school-yard.
(Stack-hat art – not my photo obviously)
So helmets made riding a bit like a chore. Most of my friends didn’t wear them and certainly didn’t have a dad that would get in his car and secretly follow you just to bust you when he caught you not wearing your helmet and drag you home for punishment — so I was a bit of a leper in any bike crew.
The other big change was the real clincher. Dad and I moved to the madness of inner-city Sydney — and city kids didn’t ride bikes in that jungle. I tried a few times but it was just nonsense so that 10-speed got sold to a friend at school who lived a great deal further out in the suburbs and I literally didn’t touch another bike for at least 10 years.
And when I attempted riding again, it was quite disastrous. My sister’s old roadie had somehow ended up in my possession and I excitedly rode it around the two blocks closest to my house. And after climbing the rather pathetic hill just before home, I staggered off and threw the bike across the lawn. My heart was going nuts and my lungs acted like I had a 5 pack-a-day cigarette habit. It seriously felt like an asthma attack — an affliction I thought I’d grown out of. And to make matters worse I was locked out of the house. Once everything calmed down I threw the bike under the house and there it stayed for another few years melting away with rust.
But then I started dating a woman who commuted to work by bike — and as a night-shift worker — packing shelves at Coles until 2am. And I was staggered by the distance she covered and the one time she came home all cut up and grazed after a minor witching-hour crash. Her commute was only about 8km each way, but to my tiny brain that seemed epic. I was so worried about her bike riding — an instinct I now revile it should be said — I would regularly set my alarm so I could “surprise” pick her up and chuck her bike in the back of my shitty Corolla hatchback and be all fuddy-duddy just like my dad — driving her home.
But a tiny bit of me was inspired and I dragged out my sister’s rapidly disintegrating machine and we went on some rides together, many of which resulted in moments when I was seriously close to vomiting. And she would regularly laugh at me in that state when I was slumped over, head-spinning and in spew-town. Somehow that grief of humiliation motivated me to steadily gain some skills and eventually I managed to go for a decent ride and actually enjoy it.
It was then that I bought a second-hand bike from the Weekend Shopper classifieds. It was a maroon Trek mountain bike. It was too small for me and squeaked and skipped gears and was generally shit — but it served me well. My overall fitness also improved as I had started hiking as well. I worked out a regular Sunday loop ride from my house in Windsor down to the city and then through Southbank, over the Story Bridge, through New Farm and home. And I did this same ride — which totaled only about an hour on the bike — fairly regularly for another 4 more years.
AVERSION TO PUBLIC TRANSPORT and SELLING THE CAR
In September 2002 I started a part-time job in the city. And this job became my career — and the job I still have. And as you may have guessed — this month is actually my 10 year anniversary at my current place of work.
I have this aversion to public transport. It’s complicated, it’s slow, I have to get really chummy with deadshits and I hate just waiting around (at a bus or train stop) for stuff to happen. I fucking hate it, but bizarrely overseas it seems fantastic and a real adventure! So for this job I decided I would walk to and from work — 40-45 minutes each way. And this randomly coincided with my first iPod. I bought it as a present for myself for that birthday in 2002. It cost almost $800 but it changed my life — another story.
A bit later I started playing indoor netball and got even fitter which made my power-walking to and from work even easier. So on the bike I was now venturing a little further and then a little further.
I sold my car in April 2007 to finance my first big trip overseas and when I got home I hadn’t spent all the money so I decided to buy a new bike. And I was talked into buying a hybrid bike from the dude at Victor Cycles. It was another Trek, a 7.3, and I chose that brand just cause it was so familiar. It was jet-black and had these cool disc-brakes. It looked so tough and I absolutely loved it for the 5 months we spent together. It was this bike that made me feel the need to get serious.
MY FORCED (FIRST) BIKE COMMUTE
That afternoon I rode home from work in the city — just cause I had to somehow get my new bike home. And cause I was too scared to ride in the city I walked the bike for about 800m up Albert Street and through the Mall and only started riding at the Roma Street Parklands. But this journey went quite well and halved the time of my usual walk. And so that day also marked the very last time I walked to work (as a given). And in those early days I refined and revised my bike commute once I got a bit better at bike skills and riding in traffic. A few weeks later I was on the bike door-to-door smashing through city traffic and filtering and drafting cars and it felt great.
And one Friday afternoon I had my first bike adventure. I was almost pissing myself as I stumbled and shaked uncontrollably around the office that afternoon knowing this ordeal was imminent. My destination was Dee’s folk’s place in Ormiston. That journey — in peak-hour along major roads and through an 80km/hr section with heinous merges — was about 35kms. I had at least 2 breaks and really suffered during the hilly bits — but I made it and the beer and food (and the glory) at the end had never, ever felt so good.
A ROAD BIKE
After a couple more of those successful journeys outside my comfort zone — I went to a bike store just down the road from work and told them I was looking to buy a road bike and was prepared to spend $1000. The dude almost laughed at me. These days you can buy a decent entry-level road bike for under a grand, but back then road biking was still a bit snobby and excessively expensive. So I went to a different store — just across the road — mostly in spite and hoping that wanker would see me coughing up my $2000. It was for my third Trek — a 1.7 (2007) and for those that care — alloy except for the seat post and forks, with a mixture of Shimano 105 and Ultegra. It didn’t have pedals like I knew and was used to — it had a weird Shimano contraption that locked your boots into the pedals like you were married with the bike. A system called “Clipless pedals”.
And of course that system would freak the shit outta me. But this was how all those road-bike riders who smashed past me on the bike paths did it and I wanted to learn and indulge in their secret. I clipped in for the first time on the bike path at Windsor and almost squashed a kid when I started falling over sideways unable to work out how to free my left leg.
And then I bought some lycra from the internet — because that was the next step you did if you wanted to ride (and be taken seriously). Lycra looked so silly, but felt so amazing and it also appealed to my logic, being so highly functional. It repelled all my sweat (which would make normal garments feel so wet and heavy and yukky after only 10ks) and it was light and it was so tight and aero. Having your clothes scream and flap about like they are having fits is not cool as you speed along. And I am man enough to say this: it made me look great. Serious, and like an athlete.
The first time I wore it I made sure it was very, very early in the morning. Kit made me feel so exposed and naked. My junk was just out there! And I was used to normal clothing which has that two-layer vibe — which means boxer-shorts are a secret fail-safe layer of protection against a wardrobe fail and any public exposure to my shame.
And for the first 20 minutes I rode in kit I may as well have been a ghost because (as far as I know) no one saw me. But then I rolled around and no one seemed to care and the lycra didn’t fail and actually made things more cool (see above).
Mount Coot-Tha was my first challenge — the front side for anyone who knows this climb. I knew you had to conquer hills if you wanted to be a bike rider. So I set off with this goal. Heartbreak Hill, the stupidly steep hill past the Gardens, just ruined me that time — and the next three times. I had to stop for ages in that little shady driveway as the road turns left. But when I eventually got to the top I actually sought out a bike rider up there as well and excitedly told him this was my first summit. He was a bit, “whatever” but I was still fucking excited and oblivious to him trying to level my enormous achievement.
And when I got that record speed on the way down I was hooked on mountains. Climbing and the suffering it entailed was actually so rewarding. You were suddenly so slow and the road and your pain had your ultimate concentration and all your stupid esoteric problems dissolved away so you only thought about this exact one – pain. Perspective was suddenly understood.
Bike riding was now like slipping through the Wardrobe into Narnia. And just like Lucy getting new friends over there in Narnia — soon riding would expose me to a new secret world where I would meet some of the bestest friends I have ever had.
HOSPITALISATION (or “How I knocked myself out and woke up in a pool of blood”)
One Saturday I went for a ride and all was going well. 85kms, one magpie attack and only one abusive driver later I was back home sipping powerade and eating leftovers and humming away at Facebook when suddenly I got this cramp in my leg that just wouldn’t stop. I got up and tried to walk it out but nothing worked and the pain was becoming unbearable. I could feel myself about to vomit or pass out so I sat down in the hall near the laundry and in my hurry to be horizontal I just flopped my head down.
What happened next was suddenly a bit weird. I could hear this music I assumed the neighbours were playing which sounded terrible and I lay there listening trying to work out what it was. Eventually it kinda faded away and I noticed the cramp in my leg had disappeared too. Still lying flat on my back the lino-tiles felt so cold and smooth so I stayed there until I was feeling well enough to grab my phone which was on a bench only a metre away. I grabbed it and lay back down as I rang Dee just to see how long she would be but maybe also cause I felt so bad I might need company. She was out with her fam and they were at Hamilton about to get coffee and then her younger brother wanted to talk to me about his new shoes and all that distraction made me feel better — so I kept quiet about how evil I felt just moments before.
After I hung up I lay there for another minute or two just gathering the strength to get up when I looked over just as I was deciding to move. And it was then that I noticed my left arm was covered in blood. I instantly sat up and saw this massive pool of blood like a halo around where my head had just been. “Oh fuck,” must have crossed my mind.
So then I mashed at my phone’s keypad trying to ring Dee back as quickly as possible. When she answered I spewed out the following like I was auditioning for a cover of Snow’s “Informer” — “OMG! I just hit my head – there’s blood everywhere – can you come home right NOW?!”
She asked me a bunch of questions but all I could say was “blood everywhere” and “OMG!”. So while I waited for rescue I had all this time to reflect so I remembered you should put pressure on any open wounds so I got a towel and wrapped that around my head and then I sat as calmly as I could and waited like I was Dale Cooper in that episode of Twin Peaks. While I sat there I couldn’t help but see how dead cool I looked with blood all over me.
So then Dee and her folks burst through the door (maybe not quite as dramatically as Harry and Hawk and Andy had in episode 8 of Twin Peaks) and Dee’s mum examined the wound and decided it needed medical attention. While I got sorted she cleaned up all my blood — Mary-Anne is such a trooper. So they bundled me into a car and I got wheeled into the hospital by wheelchair because I had another cramping fit outside Emergency.
Much drama ensued but it ended up with brain probes, various needles in my skull and 7 stitches and a full head bandage. I was eventually set free and we walked home and stopped at McDonalds as a treat for dinner (avec bandages!)