Part one is here.
The first group ride I ever did was a charity ride organised by a former boss of mine and it introduced me to the wonders of sucking the wheels of a group — or “drafting” as it is better known. I was pedalling along on my own, in quite a bit of pain, when without much warning about 20 other riders just swarmed around me and I tried not to panic as I became part of that entity (but also NOT a willing part of that performance) — so I slowly filtered my way to the back of that group but for some reason I decided to stay in touch, just behind the last two riders. And it was then that I realised how much easier it instantly got, just being dragged along by a bike-riding black hole. It seemed I was constantly soft-pedalling or squeezing the brakes on downhills so I didn’t go crashing into their backs.
But of course this was simply a clear illustration of one of bike riding’s most interesting facets — on a flat surface you expend more effort pushing through atmosphere than actually keeping you and the bike rolling.
This is a collage of the awkward professional-photos they take at these events and put thumbnails up on the web for you to perhaps buy. Embarrassing.
A COMPUTER TELLING ME I WAS ABOUT TO DIE
Before Garmins the best computer you could get was the Polar CS200. It measured the usual things like distance and speed but it also had a heart rate monitor. And to set up the monitor you plug in your age and weight and height and stuff. But I hardly ever used it, except for this one time when I strapped it on and went out on an early morning mash. It was a Saturday and I was coming down Old Northern Road at Everton Park (which is a dual carriage way) and there were hardly any cars about and just at the top of the hill there the shoulder disappears so I had to move into the lane and this Tarago beeped at me in such hostility as it went past and I was naturally pissed off at this mindless aggression so I started chasing. Down the hill I went and almost effortlessly smashed up and around so I was alongside the driver’s window and I screamed at him, “WTF?”
Then I hear this insane beeping, even though I was going at 60km/hr — a speed at which the wind tends to deafen you. And so I realise it is coming from my bike computer and it’s telling me my heart rate is over 180 — which is pretty damn high and possibly higher than the maximum for someone at my age. OK. Slow down Davey! In that state I still managed to overtake the Tarago — just coasting — and in doing so I underlined my point, even if it did have that beeping nonsense as an accompaniment.
FIRST CRASH/FIRST SCABS
My first crash happened not long after I started riding seriously — but I just had to get it out of the way. It is a little bit of a mystery as to what exactly was the cause. All I can say is that it was a wet day, I was jumping from the road onto the footpath up a tiny lip in a driveway and at that point the bike slid from under me and I was sideways.
The mystery part is I then noticed the bike had a flat rear tyre so whether that happened as a result of the crash or contributed to the crash — I don’t know. But I will also say this — all this happened in the middle of town while everyone was rushing to work so consequently I had a billion people who witnessed me looking like a douchecanoe. Yay.
The best part of this whole affair was road rash. I love picking at scabs. I think I must have a very mild form of dermatillomania.
The next goal for me was a “century” — 100kms in one day — a purely symbolic achievement. As a fail-safe to my extreme pussyness I decided to ride as far away from home as possible so I couldn’t just give up when things got tough after halfway. So I made it to Ipswich one afternoon and then turned around and only just made it back home before it got dark. I had really underestimated how long this would take. And it was a tough ride, with all the hills in the latter half tackled in the grannyiest of my granny-gears. I suffered and suffered and had to constantly rest — which isn’t surprising because I remember I hardly ate anything on that ride. Proper nutrition while riding is a bike lesson I refused to learn for years and years and years. I am such an idiot.
Oh god. Look how fucked that geometry was. I was such a deadshit. (But in saying this the wheelbase wasn’t as bad as it looked – the downtube was just at an evil angle)
Pretty soon I decided to build my own bike and so I bought an old Malvern Star frame from eBay and set about transforming it into a fixed wheel. (See above) My motivation wasn’t to be cool or hipster or whatever (I wasn’t really even aware of that emerging scene) — I just wanted to build something retro-classic and because I had exactly ZERO skills at bike building — a fixed wheel was the easiest place to start. I was also a big fan of Sheldon Brown who had written a series of articles about bikes and riding that taught me a great, great deal. And Sheldon, who died not long after that, loved riding fixed. So I was keen to also give the process a try.
So I bought tools and then all the parts I needed and I assembled what I could and when it all got too hard I took it to the bike shop across from work to finish. And then I went for my first ride through the city fixed. On that short cruise I made all those rookie mistakes — like trying to coast and getting that “shock” and taking a foot off its pedal and not being able to get it back on etc.
But it was exciting and challenging and made overtaking other bikes much more gratifying. So I started doing all my commuting fixed and saving the roadie for weekends.
The Malvern Star soon got replaced by a bike built in Brisbane — a white Berretto and meanwhile I started reading some fixed blogs and I was really influenced by what was happening in Japan — with their colour mashups, asymmetry and general wackiness. That’s when I ordered a white aerospoke for the Berretto. Only about 2 weeks later I rocked up to race in an alleycat for the first time.
I was petrified at the thought of racing and really only turned up just to watch. Bizarrely I actually knew three people there already. There was Marty and Ranga Dave who I had randomly said hello to (cause they were also riding fixed) just rolling around town, plus I knew Erik from Brisbane’s first fixed-centric bike store — Gear. So I had someone to talk to and people to allay my fears and insist I have a go. The other cool thing about that night was the fact it was tag-team and I was teamed up with someone you all might be familiar with — Shirts — also racing for the first time.
The story of that race is told below.
After that race I was dubbed “Potato Dave” because there were too many other “Daves” and that’s what Aerospokes are semi-affectionately known as here in Australia.
Alleycat at Surfers Paradise.
A whole bunch of things happened now. Suddenly I had a whole crew of awesome new friends who were all quite rock n roll. And soon I was unashamedly proud to be a bike rider. It wasn’t just a hobby and a way to get to work and back — it was a new lifestyle. You could ride bikes and be not be naff and boring. And I didn’t care what my other friends in rock n roll felt. Indeed — many of them soon started getting into bikes too.
A bike tower pile after an alleycat
And so I hardly touched my road bike. It literally gained a layer of dust. I still did long distance rides — but I did them fixed – including a 200km to the Gold Coast and back in March 2010. I also got into the bike polo scene and I gave that a go a few times but I sucked so bad I gave up and just came to hang out and watch. For a while I knew 90% of the fixed gear community and if I didn’t know them I still waved when we passed.
And then I organised my own alleycat. I loved alleycats so much I organised it so I could race in it too. And each and every one of the ‘cats I have run since have been designed so that I could ride too.
Just a few weeks ago Tom was hit by a driver in a car that cowardly fled the scene. Tim, one of my besties, got car-doored earlier this year. And on top of that I have witnessed Ryan knocked over and even been there when Shirts got cleaned up by an idiot pedestrian crossing the road without looking. On top of that it seems a few months cannot pass without me hearing of one of my friends involved in some sort of drama.
But back in those heady days when I was just starting out, while I was hyperaware of what Bike Snob NYC calls “the indignity of cycling” I was still a bit oblivious to the “tragedy of cycling” and consequently a bit cavalier about it all.
And this attitude prevailed even though from stories told to me by other riders and reading other accounts on forums and blogs — and just the many, many close calls I had personally experienced in the short time I had been riding seriously — I quickly realised it might not just be a matter of “if” I would be hit by a car — it just could be a matter of “when”.
And when that day came — it was a particularly ugly, ugly incident. I was riding along a 3 lane road, and I was in the shoulder, when a car “buzzed” me as close as he could and the driver leant on the horn at the same time. I was infuriated and charged on and very soon caught up with the vehicle at a set of lights. I pulled in front and just glared at the driver and shook my head. Then the lights changed and I pushed off owning the lane and he managed to get around me and just as he got past he swung the rear of his car directly into me and sent me crashing into the road. I tumbled for a bit then came to a definite stop. I lay there with my face against the bitumen in the middle of that massive intersection of Newmarket and Enoggera Road for at least 10 seconds not really sure what to do.
I didn’t feel particularly in any danger because the world around me had froze as well. Although I looked up for a second and saw his car speed off — every other car, bus and truck stopped like they were hit by a comic-book immobilisation/freeze ray. And then someone pressed “play” and the world started moving again as a few people who had got out of their cars swarmed over to me and I got up and carried my bike to the footpath and said I was ok. I mean — I was bleeding and bruised and the bike was a bit of a mess — but I was OK. Mostly it was shock. I put the bike back together as best I could and rode home and reported the incident still covered in blood and road grime at the Valley police station. I managed to get a few bits of the number plate and the make and colour of the car but the cops were useless. They refused to do a wildcard number plate search and generally treated me in a callous and uncaring manner — even insinuating it was my fault. Thanks.
OTHER BAD STUFF
Of course I got hit by cars again and again — and one motorbike just to make things more interesting. Each and every one of those incidents involved the other vehicle turning into me from the right with the driver failing to look properly and it mostly just knocked me over without much damage — but once one of those collisions sent me to hospital on my very first trip in an ambulance. Maybe I will document that story another time.
But I’m still here. And despite all that evil drama — I love bikes so much this bullshit hasn’t broken me. And perhaps it has just made the right side of my body just that bit tougher.
Taken on my hospital bed
That’s Ryan just behind Shirts in front
And one Saturday morning I met a dude called Ryan at that square at the top of the Queen Street Mall with some silly name. It was just Gypsy, me and him on a ride to Scarborough and I’d just accidentally joined it after seeing the proposition posted in our fixed forum. And I had no idea that day I would meet one of my bestest friends ever. We all went for a very ordinary ride and that was that. But I soon realised Ryan was one of the true believers in this burgeoning crew. He was organised and wanted to improve our skills. He would turn up and he could suffer. On top of all that he got inspired and it was Ryan that made me do things that I never thought possible and all this improved my life exponentially.
Ryan rode fixed for a while, then bought a road bike and I dusted off my Trek so I could hit the mountains with him and just keep up. And it was then that I started dividing my time between fixed and road biking again.
Ryan soon had this idea to do an “overnight ride”. He planned it all. We would ride the 180+ kms to Byron Bay on the Saturday morning, then the next day hit the hills that surrounded there (about 140ks) , then ride home on the Monday. I decided to get on board. This would be the toughest thing I have ever done — and I say this despite the fact I could do that ride without as much suffering now — but back then it was at the very limit of my abilities and fucking, fucking hurt. And to add the conditions were appalling: torrential rain for the first two days, then the hottest day of that new Spring the last. This, again, is another story for another blog.
But when I got home it was like heaven. It felt just like when I had first summited Coot-Tha, except with far, far more pain. I wanted to tell the world. Once I got back to Brisbane it was just after 5pm and there were bikes everywhere. Even though I was cramping up and so, so very weak, I looked around at every opportunity to tell someone my story. Eventually, just metres from home, this unsuspecting douche-bag rolled up to me at lights and the poor dude had his ear torn off. I told as much of the story as I could in the 1-2 minutes we had waiting for the light to change.
We have done many more of these rides including one to Woodenbong in northern NSW which sent me to the darkest, deepest depths of the pain cave — and where I was scraping the bottom and my brain wondered if it got any worse, I just might need medical intervention or worse. And naturally that ride took a chip out of my resolve to do these sorts of things ever again. Luckily I realised what had gone wrong — the intense heat had just sapped all my hydration and sent me into epic organ-meltdown. But once again, this is a story for later.
In 2010 I bought a bike bag and took a bike with me on a trip to the States and Canada. It never made it past the 14 days in New York because I mailed it home deciding I loved it too much and it had suffered enough and would get killed with any more transit. But that fortnight in New York riding around on my own bike just felt like bliss. It was my muse for my photographs of NY and the mashing through traffic over there, and the riding in general, was so different — it just opened my eyes. It was like bike-drugs. It felt so different, so intense and there were so many people witnessing it — it was like you were in your very own movie.
GARMIN and 2012
I’ve talked about my Garmin so much already and will link to stories soon. But it really did transform my riding. It made me conscious of what I was doing and made me strive for to achieve more. I set that goal of 10,000kms in a year and got there. And halfway through that year I decided to attempt 100,000ms climbed too — and got there with a massive effort in the fading light of 2011 spending so much time on Coot-Tha I felt like a local.
And just yesterday I signed up to Strava and I had no idea what it really meant until now. So that is going to be another albatross around my neck. Any Strava segment I run through I will be conscious of and just might need to bust-a-move, which might have consequences later.
So we come to 2012 and there has again been many achievements. But they are already documented so I’ll just link to a few selected highlights like:
1) The new Felt
4) The Nambour Ride
Shirts: Photo by Ranga Dave
THE NIGHT I FIRST MET “SHIRTS”
So Saturday evening Dee and I walked up to New Farm and the mood was somber – mostly on my part. I was shitting my pants. I had no idea what to expect tonight except it would somehow involve racing my fixie around town going from check point to check point. And my legs were sore. I had ridden up Mt Coot-tha that afternoon and my legs hated me. Eventually I made up my mind just to watch.
But when we arrived at the Alibi there were a few bikes there already and luckily one guy called Marty (who I had met at a bike shop a few months ago when he stopped to admire my bike) gave me more of an idea what to expect and said because it was tag-team that would make it easier and more of a “fun” format.
After dinner I couldn’t sit down – I was too nervous. Before I knew it I had paid my five bucks to enter and fate was sealed. I was given position “8” (which was eerily empty) because someone had refused that spot cause he thought it was unlucky. Eek!
Everyone was looking at my bike which was pimped out with a new aerospoke front wheel. They call them “potatoes”. I don’t know why.
Soon it was time for the briefing. Names were drawn out of a hat and I was paired with a guy called Nate [SHIRTS!] who looked VERY keen to win. In fact one of my friend’s actually said to me before the race – “He looks like he’s in-it-to-win-it!”. Like she was saying – “Get ready to be decimated”.
I took a deep breath. I knew I had to ride EVEN faster not to let this guy down. And I had no idea how my skillz matched with these dudes. I mean, I ride my bike quite a bit, but I am pretty much a pussy when it comes to the crunch. SHIIIIT. So there were four manifests – messenger-talk for pick-up and delivery points – but each rider would do only two of those, plus a 5th manifest which the two teamed-up bike riders would do together. But interestingly all the teams would be split 4 ways so that not all riders would be riding to the same checkpoint at the same time. (Except the last one)
On top of this there was a secret something to “do” at each checkpoint. So we got our first manifest and Nate was going first. His mission involved going to the city botanical gardens and scoring a goal. (We guessed it had something to do with bike polo).
So he was away and riding blindingly fast up Brunswick oblivious to traffic and danger. “Oh fuck,” I thought. “Oh FUCKING, FUCKING FUCK.”
Soon riders were coming back and tagging their teammates but I guessed these crews had shorter checkpoints. Then I saw a bike hurtling towards us at a speed one might seriously consider was literally “BREAK-NECK”. He was now on the wrong side of the road. “Oh shit…that’s Nate,” I realised.
He did this massive skid perfectly coming to a stop right in front of the guys handing out the manifests, adding to my woes. I got the next manifest and saw that it was Doggett street in the Valley. That’s all I read and started caning it down the road. I decided to avoid Brunswick to avoid lights and traffic. Soon I was at Doggett but the street was deserted. I looked at the map again and hunted down the street in a panic. Again I stopped and re-read the map. Fuck! I had missed the words “laneway”. Then I saw it and almost at the end I saw some women drinking beside a pile of shoeboxes. This was it! I said hello, they said they liked my bike, I said “Thanks!” and took my box and was off – back to the Alibi.
Nate’s next mission was somewhere on the Story Bridge. I moped around thinking I had blown it spending so much time in Doggett Street and being so silly as to not read the manifest properly. Soon riders were saying the cops had set up a patrol at each end of Brunswick Street to catch anyone running lights.
But before I had too much time to worry Nate had returned. I grabbed the next manifest and saw that it was on Melbourne Street in West End – the Gear shop. I knew where this was and bang! I smashed it up Brunswick heading for Ann. I actually overtook a rider up Brunswick which raised my spirits that just maybe we wouldn’t come last. [PLEASE GOD – CAN WE NOT BE LAST]
I got a pretty good run of green lights though I took one just a few seconds after it turned red and prayed that no cops were about. I filtered through the taxis and dodged peds and soon I was on my way down Ann. I jumped up onto the footpath at Town Hall to avoid a red and snuck in front of a bus at George. Then I rested a bit at the intersection near the Treasury and the Victoria bridge.
Down Melbourne Street I got another good set of green and was at Gear in no time. The task here was to snort a line of whizz fizz. Erik took a photo and stamped my manifest and then I was away. Up Melbourne I wondered about which way to get back and instantly just decided to go up Elizabeth. There was no debate. It was just the first route that came into my head. I got hit with heaps of red but took the time to rest. I was red-lining and pretended the break was necessary. Every second I was spinning I was spinning at 100 per cent. Then I suddenly saw the Ivory Street tunnel and decided to take it. I’d never gone this way before but hell – this was an alleycat: all rules were gone. It turned out to be Genius! It was deserted and soon I was in Moray Street but feeling DESTROYED. The hill after the tunnel was BRUTAL. For the first time in my life I was so buggered (no matter how much I wanted to) I couldn’t get out of the saddle.
but then I got some rest on the quiet streets downhill. When I got to the Alibi I was just barely able to stand without wobbling but managed to hand my manifest to Nate and he sorted out getting the final mission. That 10 or 15 seconds of rest was all I got and then we were away heading for Breakfast Creek. Nate let me navigate and we went through the Emporium carpark and dodged a few deadshit cars and turned right into Wickham. As I glanced up Wickham I saw a bunch of fixies heading our way at serious speed. SHIT!
Through the next light Nate took over navigating and suddenly he was turning right up THE steepest hill and my heart sank. I thrashed away at my bike but halfway up I was suddenly going nowhere so I jumped off and ran my bike up. Luckily the checkpoint was at the top and ranga-dave stamped my hand and we turned around. We were in the lead as the other fixies were still climbing up!
I didn’t have time to slip either of my shoes into my cages so as I cornered the clips scraped along the bitumen – scrape, scrape, scrape with each revolution of the cranks.
Then we were back on Doggett and we looked back and no one was following. Maybe they had taken a different route. On James we looked back again and the road was empty, but we rode hard still. Then we were on Annie which has a huge dip in the middle. Spinning like crazy at about 60kms an hour we pulled up outside the Alibi and threw our bikes down and handed in our papers.
I collapsed on the road. Then Nate came up to me and said we had won. WTF!??! No way – that’s crazy! On my first alleycat? There were many high fives and tales about eachother’s individual missions. Nate had had to chugg a beer on the Story Bridge and then had hit his head running up some stairs. Ow.
My friends brought me water and beer and then it became clearer that we had indeed came first. It took about 30 minutes for the other teams to all finish and then we had a presentation. Nate and I won 50 bucks on the bar and some Vans from Apartment in the city. Swt.