SHIRTS — an appreciation

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So Shirts is moving to Australia’s second biggest metropolis — Melbourne.

It’s a THING we must suffer here in Brisbane. If we are lucky only about 30% of our friends suddenly up and move south to either Melbourne or Sydney. It should be noted some even move north — like locally as in there is a 4 in front of their new postcode. [Looking at you Brad and Thyri.]

And still more just take things to the extreme and move to London or New York or Baltimore or Berlin or Oslo or Japan or Indonesia or Africa etc etc where I don’t even understand the postcode system.

But at least there is some chance I will get to see (or even ride with) Shirts again as it is “just” moving to Melbourne.

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ABOUT

Hopefully those who are familiar with this blog will know the entity we call “SHIRTS” and know all my opinions about him. I’ve noted these many, many times before.

But just to reboot everyone’s memory I will attempt to describe this phenomenon by beginning with something Dayne just noted and it rang true. Dayne, who moved here around 2012, said something to the effect of, ‘Shirts was just someone you instantly heard about and all these stories flowed’. It was almost like, “Hi! Welcome to Brisbane, and oh yeah there’s this guy called ‘SHIRTS'”.

And it was actually kinda true for me too. I had turned up to my very first alleycat only vaguely knowing 2 or 3 people and I remember one of those once-vague-acquaintances (Marty) telling me, and everyone else that would listen, the story of this guy Marty had affectionately dubbed “Shirts” because he never wore a top while riding. For me he instantly seemed a person of an entirely hardcore nature and someone I should be incredibly polite to.

Not quite the mystical bike-riding enigma, or superhuman weirdo that perhaps Dayne was imagining. But if I got more of a chance maybe I would say — not that dissimilar.

Anyway as it happens that night Shirts and I were teamed up together and I was so little back then. Like really LITTLE.

I had never run a red light. I had never participated in an unsanctioned and perhaps illegal street race and I had never been teamed up with such an absolute “athlete” ever. Like EVER. He was so fast and determined and obscenely more talented than me and his naked skin shone like he was magical as he smashed down Brunswick Street going the wrong way up against incredible traffic.

The other crazy and so amazing thing that night was the other FIRST that evening was that we came first. Like we beat everyone else and got prizes and a big applause and presentation at the end.

I have never been FIRST in my life. Ever.

Dee and Jess and James were there at the Alibi Room as well and as I related the news (before the ceremony and everyone else had finished) I said to them, “Um….I think we have come first.” Like I didn’t take it seriously when someone said “You won.” And I still didn’t believe it when we were the only ones not racing any more. The evidence was overwhelming but I was still expecting it to all collapse and reality to set in.

When I could not arguably dispute the result, the feeling was absolutely incredible. And you know what — it was even more amazing to see Shirts’ glee too. After all it was his first alley cat too. I think he actually might have been proud of me.

To be honest that first impression of Shirts has made me want to step up whenever I am in his presence even more. Even though I am twice the rider I was back then.

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SHIRTLESS

Just for a second I should talk a little about how alien being shirtless is to me. Growing up in the 80s it was actually accepted to go around that way. No one really cared whether you were a kid or an adult. You couldn’t get into (most) pubs that way. There were dress code signs on those doors about needing a shirt and footwear. But everywhere else it was completely natural to see a lot, lot more skin than you do theses days. I can remember seeing neighbours only in their jocks getting the paper or watering the garden.

But once the 90s started the pubs and clubs didn’t always need those signs. People just generally got the vibe that times were changing. I actually remember the ONLY time I went shirtless in public. I was about 10 and it was mostly because my friend was doing it first and I just followed him up the street towards the shops and I was a mess just worrying about my nakedness and puny body and maybe I should have also been worried about skin damage cause there was no sunscreen back in those days. Well no sunscreen we could afford.

Anyway, Shirts used to say one of the reasons he went SANS was because it kept him cool. I don’t know the science stuff, but that doesn’t quite sound like a completely solid argument. I mean in the desert those bedouins had the vibe of more clothes, rather than less.

See when he said, “It keeps me cool” I think he meant like Fonzie “cool”.

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MORE ON ALLEY CATS

Back in 2007 and 2008 Karl used to dominate the alley cats held in Brisbane. Any race was like a competition for who would come second cause the winner was all but guaranteed. But then Karl tragically passed and Shirts actually never got to race against him.

But Shirts just took that mantle. It would have been amazing to see those two actually genuinely race against eachother — but it was not to be.

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HIT BY CARS

Shirts is the only rider I know who has been hit by cars as much (or more) than me. The first time I remember Shirts being injured was actually just a “pathetic self-inflicted crash”. His words. And it resulted in a broken rib which prevented him from taking part in Johnson’s Pentathlon Alley Cat. He was there all the while watching events and this made his injury even more acute. If Shirts was in that much pain — holy shit!

Then he was smashed by a 4WD exiting the St Lucia Golf Course. The driver stopped his car after the impact and casually wandered out and around the front of the vehicle to greet a very unimpressed Shirts. His entire forearm was pinned underneath the car’s left front wheel. Maybe you can imagine the exchange of words that ensued.

But in that circumstance Shirts was obviously compromised. In circumstances where a driver does something just as heinous (or worse) and he has some right of reply Shirts has dealt out some of the most amazing JUSTICE you can imagine.

The time he caught up with that car, ripped open the driver door and wrapped the seat belt around that dickhead’s neck is my absolute fave.

BREATHING

Tom has also documented this below: but I have only heard Shirts breathing on two occasions. And I know that sounds weird, but that’s just what it is. Normally he could ride so freakishly hard and forever but it was like his lungs would take absolutely no notice.

So those times I heard him actually panting, like he was actually doing something that required “effort” — it was equally magical and equally disturbing. And all the while I was inhaling and exhaling like a jet engine. He had excuses on both those occasions. First was he was coming off that car-crash and second was the 20% Toowoomba mountain which he rode on a single-speed with some massive 86″ gear.

RIVERLOOPS

So around 2010 Shirts started ramping things up. As soon as he was clear of that injury — that first rib one — he started boasting about the fact he was doing a riverloop in his lunch hour. The Riverloop is about 30kms and most of us “normal” bike riders can do it at about 30ks an hour if we dig in and we are decent enough. But Shirts was doing the loop at 35km/hr plus. More than enough time to get into gear, do the ride, and shower and change and be back to work after like nothing ever happened.

And then he was saying stuff like, “If you’re not on a ride for at least 3 hours, what’s the point of leaving the house?”

That quote is VERBATIM.

He ripped that Riverloop apart. It was carnage. He would always get challengers that would attempt to test his abilities. Like they would come up behind when he was resting a bit or he would overtake one of them and they would step up and try and smack him down. Fools. Shirts is the kinda guy that could never resist that assault on his abilities.

I can’t imagine how many riders who thought they were good enough and then were quietly put back in their place.

EATING IS CHEATING

Shirts genuinely doesn’t seem to eat much. Whenever we stop at some bakery or pie shop Shirts at best just munches on a muesli bar he has shlepped with him.

And then there is his coffee thing. He will get two short blacks.Then he will grab the saucer of the one he isn’t drinking yet and cover that cup until he is finished drinking the first coffee. It’s science. He gets to keep his second drink warm while he sips away at his first.

RIDING STYLE

I have ridden thousands of kilometres with Shirts. I am not quite sure, but just doing the maths in my head, it might be maybe even approaching 20,000kms.

But it didn’t take me even 200ks with him to work out Shirts has this style. There’s two categories in which he rides. Both of which can be serene and awesome, or stupidly epic but awfully painful.

The FISRT is the most prolific state. And this is the state in which we are in a group and he’s being enigmatic and at the back shadowing our ride. It’s like he’s ghosting our peleton. He sits at the back, like WAAAY, WAAAAAAY off the back, and then at least a metre to the right so there is absolutely no chance he is getting any material benefit from the train of riders in front. And the reasoning is that he purposely doesn’t draft. He sucks no ones wheel. He is training ALL. THE. TIME.

The SECOND state is where he gets all generous and just jumps in front and nails it and encourages us to suck his wheel. I have only felt this extreme pain a handful of times and it is WILD. It feels great looking down at the Garmin as the average speed goes mental, but then you suffer and suffer some more and you actually wish someone would get a flat tyre just for the chance to seriously catch your breath. But then you realise the true awesomness of sucking his wheel and you are going so fast and it’s like a drug and you maybe will never go this speed ever again.

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OVERNIGHT RIDES HAVE ALWAYS FEATURED SHIRTS

Every year we do a few overnight rides where we spend a weekend riding out to some crazy place somewhere between 130-170 kms away, usually lumping all our shit with is, and stay the night — drink an epic amount of booze and eat a lot of pies and chips — somehow get away with wearing no shoes in these country pubs — tell a bunch of stories and laugh at a bunch of jokes — then on the ‘morrow, somehow manage the ride home.

It’s a bit like camping and a bit like those sleepovers when you were a kid and a bit like incredible suffering. But it is ALWAYS such amazing times and something I bet I’ll be recounting to the day I die.

Every single one of those awesome overnight adventures we have done since the first one Ryan adventurously proposed in 2010 has featured Shirts. And me too — but I bet no one else would come along as well unless it had the seriousness that “Featuring Shirts” would inevitably bring. TRUE STORY.

I am so fucking glad he is such a trooper in these endeavours. He gets it. It’s not like Shirts really super-values the riding bit in the suffering sense us mortals usually experience. Instead he understands that it is mostly about the company and the sharing of epic experiences and the value of being part of something.

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THE WORST

Following on from that is this FACT: the worst thing in the world is to ride one-on-one with Shirts. It’s brutal. I remember Ryan did it first. He sent me this text about how they did this smash up to Redcliffe and on the way back Shirts just next-levelled everything. (This story is detailed below). Ryan just had to hang on as best he could behind as Shirts just punished him and then punished him some more. The way he told it, that ride almost broke him — in a good way I guess.

For me personally — my time came early in 2012 when I stupidly assumed I could manage Queensland’s late summer brutality. It was a 100ks loop including a trip up Mt Mee. Naturally I invited everyone I could but somehow they all mysteriously bailed and it was just me and Shirts and it was 5 minutes past official start time and I just had to nut up.

And Shirts did that “stay off the back” vibe but I just smashed and smashed as best I could worrying all the time I was useless and ruining his ride by being so slow and pathetic. Looking back on the Garmin records of that ride, I fucking killed it by my own personal standards. Despite destroying myself on the front he was all nonchalant way there at the back. Even up Mt Mee I let him go ahead and you’d think that would give me some peace. But no. I smashed up and according to my Garmin/Strava I am yet to beat that record.

On the way back to Brisbane Shirts decided to tow me. FARKKK! I broke a little over 5ks later and eventually Shirts noticed I was missing and slowed down. I finally got my shit together again but about 20ks later and 95ks in I got a cramp and had to beg him go on without me. Like plead.

Somewhat like those scenes in the old movies where the tragic hero says, “Go on without me. I am doomed. Save yourself.”

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THOUGHTS FROM OTHER PEOPLE:

RYAN

1st story: We finished a ride. I don’t think it was anything too epic, but it was hot. Real hot. Shirt was shirtless and sitting at the back of the pack, like he did. Next thing I knew; he went screaming past holding onto the back of a big black hurse. It was so symbolic and was perfectly consistent with all he stood for. 

2nd story: It was a spring Sunday. The prior day: you, Shirts and I had done a Mt Cotton/Bayside 100, followed up by a carton and a half at my place. 

You left and shirts and I finished our beers. We casually agreed to meet at gentleman’s hours at Radcliffe place on the Sunday for a Redcliffe ride. I was surprised when we both showed up. But no words were spoken. A quick, silent acknowledgement and we were rolling steadily North. He was relentless. Into the wind and with it, up and down the hills. 

After 90kms and well under three hours we got back to the valley. I just slid off his wheel and pedalled my sorry ass home to die. Still hadn’t said a word the entire ride. 

TOM

The first time I met shirts was on a Saturday morning ride (my first Saturday morning ride with the crew from fixed.org) so naturally, I had read a lot of the fabled ‘shirts’ during my time procrastinating on the website. I thought, how will I ever keep up with this bio mechanical machine, reading about his river loop efforts at lunch and his sodomising of freds on his black tt bike? I was anxious. The crew choose a mt cotton loop – a loop which for the most part I was knowledgeable on. I thought I knew what to expect. Then shirts throws a spanner in the works and leads everybody onto west mt cotton; a quarry road with an 18% pinch in the middle. I shot off the front, got into the little ring and began spinning my little legs out! Shirts was only a bit behind me, but what happened on that pinch will go down in history. Like any good story, I didn’t witness it (I was at the front, naturally 😉 ), but it was claimed that if you were on the ride behind shirts on that fabled pinch, you could actually hear him breathing as he grinded up the hill! Now, I didn’t hear him breath, and if you ask shirts about it he’ll tell you he only had a big ring on his crankset, pushing something like 53/21, whilst recovering from being hit.by a car weeks earlier, but I don’t buy his story. I’d like to think thats the only time he’s shown any hint of human stamina. NB: that hill punished me as well.

SCOTT

First time I met shirts was on my first ride with Brisbane FOA crew. We were headed to mt Tambourine, a decent 120+ km ride. I was so keen to make friends and get amongst the action, I disregarded advice regarding the suitability of me and my fixie to this ride, because I thought I’d be sweet with my 47/17 “climbing gear”… Halfway to the base of the climb, I was suffering. I chose to wear shorts and a flannel shirt over some cycling kit underneath because I thought it would be more “waterproof”. It was not. I was wet, and cold, and falling off the back. Shirts consistently came and towed me back onto the group. Legend. 

We got to the base of the climb and I had a pie and a red bull and tucked another red bull into my jersey pocket for later. I instantly lost sight of the boys on the climb, and with Shirts’ words in my head I just ‘kept on pedalling’. When I finally made it to the cafe, I believe I was 3 long blacks behind Shirts. This became a common measure for me, and to be less than one long black behind Shirts up any of Brisbane’s climbs is quite an achievement. The rest of that ride is a whole other story, but as far introductions go, it was a memorable one. Thanks to all the boys who went on that ride, and the many more after that.

DAYNE

Plus I don’t know if it’s just me but shirts starts as a rumour. A story that some one tells you about then the rumours grow into fact about the shit he has done.

Shirts is by far the most no bullshit cyclist I know, gives zero fucks about what everyone else thinks and purely rides to hurt himself, he really enjoys suffering. I guess it’s his release but himself and Red [His younger brother] are probably some of the most gifted people to ride bikes plus he’s always down for a laugh.

I’ll never forget the bayside loop we did and I was blowing air down my shoes to cool off, shirts TT’d off the front so I went with him and just grabbed his wheel, we were off on our own for kms and I was chatting away and he was nodding his head I then was kept asking him if we should turn back he kept nodding but no slowing down, I eventually got his attention and realized he had head phones in and was only nodding to the beat, haha it was probably mud vain he loves that shit.

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DUGGY

This story takes place around the hundred-something kilometre mark into an epic overnight mission not long after “where the ride began” according to Dave. I was not even half way up the most ridiculous climb I have ever been on and was starting to feel the pinch. I had decided to go out hard and just try and put this suffer fest to bed. I did not work out that way. Coming around a particularly steep switchback I was gifted a complete dual calf and dual quad crap fiesta that brought me to a stand still immediately. I got my sorry arse to side of the road for a rest and then Shirts turns up, with a look of “what the fuck is this hill all about” on his face.

So we sit, we procrastinate, we swear at the mountain and eventually get going… for about Fifty bloody meters on 15%, hit the next hairpin and no BS it ramps to a 20% straight for the foreseeable future. Hope, abandoned. I know it’s over for me and politely let Nate know I’ll catch him later and get off my bike, and then it happened. He got off his bike. And he walked! No shit! We soon realised we were both going to be walking for a while and then the shoes came off, like a couple of strays on the way home from the races. So If you’ve ever found your self doing 37 kmph at 170 bpm up frigging hill with shirts, with him laughing and telling stories of random piss heads from last night, when he too was on the piss and wondered…. what the fuck dose it take hurt this guy? I know, I was there, it was awesome AND theres a photo to prove it. Yesssss

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DAN

My Shirts story is not of one event, instead to borrow a phrase from the inimitable Dennis Denuto: “it’s the vibe of the thing”. Wind back 6 years to a time before #becausefixie and cheap single speed Reids, and there was a crew that used to ride on a Thursday night through the Valley, the City and West End, always finishing up for a drink at Rumpus Room. Shirts was amongst the regulars, as was Goose, dubstep Dave, supermanlegs Paul, The Bell Boys, Marty, the Dutchman, Prolly 2, Gypsy and plenty of others. On some nights we’d have around 15 riders which for Brisbane was pretty exceptional. It wasn’t your well-disciplined bunch ride, but we would generally try to ride with some semblance of bunch discipline, trying to take a single lane and signal our intentions. All of us except Shirts that was.

Conjure this image in your mind, 14 dudes riding down Ann st, all neatly placed two abreast in a single lane. And one lone rider popping a one handed mono in the lane next to the bunch, shirtless, long hair waving around behind him, cigarette hanging out of his mouth, unfazed about the line of cars queueing behind him. Meet Shirts. Then upon arriving at the Rumpus Room at the conclusion of the ride, Shirts would causally stroll in and collect the clean white singlet that they kept for him behind the bar (so that he met the strict dress code).

He may have cut his hair, and he may wear a shirt on more occasions now, but this is the image of Shirts that will stick with me forever.IMG_0439

FINALLY I WANT TO SUM UP

SHIRTS is definitely a personality. He has gravitas. He is one of those “characters” in our biking scene — and I am sure he’s also an absolute character in the world he occupies outside our influence or attention. And that’s probably why I love him even more. Shakespeare said all the world is a stage and maybe he had a dude like Shirts in mind. But he’s in the chorus of any characters who want to take that stage — and the lead at that.

He steps up. But he also has a great deal of humility and crucially — a humanity. He has a tiny bit of understanding of the rest of us who can only dream of achieving a fraction of his awesomeness.

I have never had such an alpha-male as such a good friend (it should be said) and it is entirely refreshing and entirely awesome at the same time.

I am not sure where Shirts gets his drive. It is somewhat because he is first-born. It is a tiny bit that he is a secret-ginger. It is also perhaps that he grew up in a tiny town and made his way to the big smoke.

But I think it is also because he has a drive which just means more drive. It’s inspiration. It’s an unbridled enthusiasm. I really admire that. He constantly challenges himself and whenever I am in his presence I can’t help doing that too.

He is an absolute inspiration.

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And here is a pic of Shirts and Dee’s mum at our engagement!

INTERVIEW WITH SHIRTS!

Marty came up with the “shirts” label — what made you embrace it?

Was left with little choice in the matter.  In line with question number 2, the moniker and reputation got around before I actually got to know people properly, so if anyone referred to me by name, no one knew who they were talking about.  Seemed fitting anyways, so was happy to run with it.

Re your ‘aside’: just depends on the group – cycling people it always seems to be better running with Shirts (otherwise they won’t know who I am, particularly when talking with the rest of the crew), whereas if it’s non-cycling, I prefer Nate

Most people I have interviewed don’t remember the first time they met you — but instead the first time they “HEARD” about you — how do you account for that?

Have always managed to have a pretty big reputation (good, bad or otherwise).  Being a person of extremes is probably the foundation of it, but not overly sure as I never really cogitated it

What’s the deal with you hanging off the back of the group and about 1 metre right of the draft?

Depends on the crowd.  Riding with most of the FOA crew, if I’m on the front, it usually doesn’t take too long before I’m being told to slow down – particularly with rolling hills.  So I generally prefer just to let everyone else set the pace at what they’re comfortable with, rather than wind up halfway through the ride with people cooked and spent and have the group fully fall apart.  I’ve no intention of sucking wheel unless I’m rolling turns in a pace line at pace fast enough that my lungs feel like they’re on fire, so that’s why I ride off to the side and push through the wind on my own… plus I like to look around and check shit out.  Hanging off the back on my own is particularly more comfortable on the longer overnighters we’ve done while fixed or single-speed cause then I can keep to my own rhythm as opposed to speeding up/slowing down with the group.  It was also the best position when I used to ride with the crew on a TT bike – off the back a bit and out of the draft meant I could relax and cruise on the extensions in an aero tuck (weight on forearms as opposed to hands)

I think you might have changed more of my own flat tyres than me — what is your secret to a super quick tube change?

It’s a combination of many little tricks which, if you’re asking this question, you’ve not watched me properly. Briefly: no levers, you need a bit of air in the tube first, start at the valve when putting the tyre back on and push the valve back up into the tyre to make sure the bead seats against the rim properly, work each way around the tyre feeding the tube up into place to avoid pinches, roll the tyre on all the way and you’re done.  Speaking of which, you better have put a new front tyre on the Ritte.

What were the favourite rides you’ve done with us? (and why?)

All of the overnighters have been outstanding experiences.  The first Byron one had a special kind of epicness about it – first time doing anything like that, pouring rain, crazy route to ride on 88GI with no brakes, sooooo much booze, good times (and no train, just door to door riding).  The Mt Warning one was excellent too with just you me and Ryan – some cracking pace (specially from Chillingham onwards), cool scenery and wound being the last time I’d ever have beers at the Uki Pub (given it’s burnt down now).  Climbing to Toowoomba up Blanchview/Silver Pinch Road on a highly geared single speed carrying all my gear won’t be forgotten in a hurry – specially considering the view from the top at Toowoomba afterwards.  The downhill run on the next day was fantastic too – such a long time descending, just needed gears to make use of it.  Dragging you from Noosa to Nambour was fun – despite the headwind, traffic and prevailing gradual incline in elevation along the Bruce highway.

You’ve planned some awesome routes over the years.

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What’s the deal with carrying all your shit on your bike?

There’s a certain level of personal satisfaction I derive from being independent and self sufficient.  It may make things harder, but it makes for a better story too.  As to actual placement, backpacks are crap – they make you sweat more, reduce airflow, increase your body temperature, constrict circulation (minimally I know), are guaranteed to be a source of discomfort over decent periods of time and raise your centre of gravity.  Strapping on the bike leaves you comfortable and keeps the weight down low and central to provide better handling characteristics.

In your biking adventures — what would you do differently?

Start road/crit racing earlier.  It’s definitely my favourite, but seems to have been something that took me a fair while to find and eventually get into.  Love the speed, strategy and pain of a brutally fast criterium.

Most times you ride at the back but sometimes you will brutalise us by riding at the front so we can just try and hang on — when and under what conditions do you effect that vibe?

Interesting question – I don’t know that I think about it too much, but just run with the vibe when I get the feeling that everyone seems strong enough to tag along… or also when I just want to get home quicker.

How did you get into the fixie crew in Brisbane?

Had been battling some persistent stress fracture issues from running too much, so bought a fixed gear bike to allow me to keep exercising during rehab.  Had been doing riverloops after work and came through West End on a Thursday evening after finishing one and had a heap of people yell out while I went through the Melbourne/Boundary/Mollison Street intersection.  Turned around and cruised back to where they were gathered (being out the front of Gear) to find out their story.  That was the first of many Thursday night rides and the first time I met all the crew.  Had plenty of chats that night, a shitload of cider and think I wound up leaving the Rumpus room when it shut.

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2 thoughts on “SHIRTS — an appreciation

  1. My favourite memory of shirts was on the Brissie to Gold Coast ride in 2009, maybe? We got to the end at Southport, and discovered that Shirts had gone for a burn down to Surfers, just for something to do while he waited for us. Then, being Shirts, he came back to meet us all. I think he considered riding back to Brisbane, but why would you do that, when you could ride the 20-odd kms to Nerang station on one wheel in the pissing rain?

    Only Shirts will ever know.

    I also love the story of the Werewolves of Brisbane ride, where, rather than carry arm warmers or any kind of warm clothes, Shirts stuffed a folded newspaper down the front of his jersey. Old skool and awesome.

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