A week off in the name of God.
A magnificent spring day of blue skies, bright sunshine and a cool comfortable breeze. Time to get the bike out. I’m not a prolific cyclist even though I like to claim to be. The main reason is I’m not too keen on finding myself wrapped around the wheels of a skip lorry cutting a corner so won’t ride the mean streets of London. I love a bit of ‘off road’…. Easy now.. I’m talking about cycling.
It was different as a kid. London was less scary in the late 70’s and early 80’s and as street kids the bike was your car. You went everywhere on it without the fear of death or worse, theft of the precious machine. Your biggest worry was a puncture.
I had all the classics. ‘Chippy’, ‘Tomahawk’, ‘Grifter’… outstanding stuff. My brother, who I believe smiled once in about 1977 during a BBQ for the Jubilee, had the fabled ‘Chopper’. He was never worthy of that beast…
The Grifter was the one. The bike of my prime, made from cast iron with a hard foam seat and the legendary throttle gears making the wheelie a dangerous, involuntary gear change, mid-air testicle crusher if you were capable of lifting the bike. I received a Grifter for my 10th birthday and rode around like Peter Fonda, all swagger and cobblers as If I ran the streets. I never saw anyone else on one. I was a God. I was “The Grifter God”.
One summer day I’m cruising about and I stumble onto an estate I’m unfamiliar with where I’m confronted with a flash bastard also on a Grifter. Fucker. I’m 10, he’s taking the piss and needs to be crushed. I’m The Grifter God and he is nothing. He’s clearly unaware of who I am…he needs to get learned..
In the finest traditions of this kingdom I challenge him to a duel… a duel by speed. We shall race. No words are spoken but we see a lamp post up the road and we both know the score… calf power will win the day and the loser must melt their beast down for tank parts.
Off we go… he’s doing alright but I have Irish legs which are unbreakable and contribute about 65% of my body weight… this should cause no significant problems.
At half way I start the push. I still recall thinking that we were very close to each other handlebar wise and inevitably we clash bars. This results in the pair of us becoming airborne while the bikes fuse together as one giant Grifter with the weight of a car below us.
I hit the concrete face first with my hands by my sides like a drunk that has passed out and fallen over…The definitive ‘reverse arm death’. I then proceed to slide face first on the concrete for what seemed like a mile. When I finally grind to a halt I have a friction burn along my nose and cheek, the knuckles of my hands are bleeding and my knee is a gaping bloodied hole.
He is in no better shape. For some strange reason we embrace, all snot, blood and tears, as if to appreciate each other’s efforts. We untangle the twisted wreckage and make our way to our separate homes bleeding…. It was a defining moment… I was a man… I had face death etc. The Grifter and I were one.. We had bled together and conquered the fear of the crash, nothing could stop us…. Except Adam and the Ants… That killed it…
Years later I acquired a BMX, purchased for a sweaty wad of cash from a future Commonwealth athlete at the back of the Rainbow in Finsbury Park. My mother assured me it was a legitimate transaction and re spraying it immediately was what everyone did when purchasing a bike under these circumstances. I didn’t care… red, blue, it didn’t matter I just needed a machine I could bunny hop on and wear a motorbike helmet like a pre Bulldog Bash Eddie Kidd.
In your late teens the bike goes out the window and you look for a more comfortable ride with less potential mess… and I’m not talking about a car…
After all the trauma of women in the late 80’s and mid 90’s I found myself sitting with a hangover in the company of The Spaniard and Bunny. This was not an unusual scenario at the time and usually happened on the floor of the Spaniard’s flat following Rioja and Cheese for 12 hours. They are talking mountain bikes and we get around to planning a trip away. I have no bike at this point but I don’t tell them that…. I can sense adventure.
As expected Bunny has all the kit. He’s got the great bike, the clothes, shoes that connect to the invisible pedals, the shades, he has the laminated map and crucially he’s got the body… he’s sleek like a panther, lithe and bender…
The Spaniard and I could be in trouble here. We are built for comfort not speed, we are about power not endurance, we love rouge and offal not Fizz and fruit…. It will be challenging. On the upside The Spaniard has run a marathon and I have the Irish legs…. Unfortunately he also likes a Marathon and I also have the Irish body. In years to come The Spaniard and I would drunkenly use the services of a rickshaw in Edinburgh to go to a curry house 500 yards away. The driver, a skinny cyclist, asked us to get out of the thing so he could get it off the pavement prior to departure. When we arrived the driver, who we subjected to screams of “Faster, Faster Fucker” throughout the journey, couldn’t speak through exhaustion…. £2 was the fare but as we were cocky cockney’s we gave him a twenty…. Pathetic… him not us…
We convince each other that mountain biking must surely involve alcohol at some point and so we sign up… Snowdonia is the destination and Bunny assures us that the track is relatively flat so we should be alright. ‘Trust me’ he says….
After spending £120 of equipment I don’t need, including waterproof socks and borrowing a bike from my not smiled since the 70’s brother which I never return to him we load up the car and head off to Welsh Wales. It’s a Friday night and we know we’ll be late arriving as everyone in London is trying to escape.
It’s a long drive and we only stop once in Gloucester for a bag of chips. We park the car and head to the town centre which appears to be deserted other than for a toothless oaf with a laminated ‘Big Issue’. There’s literally no one else about on an early evening Friday night in the town except fast food sellers. We get a bag of chips and sit in the car eating in silence.
The Spaniard breaks the silence. “Gloucester”… he says…
Bunny and I wait for a pearl of wisdom for he’s a very intelligent, well-read man….will it be about the rich culture and history of this Cathedral City? Will it be architectural? Or will it simply be Doctor Foster related?..
“Shithole…. Well Done”…. He starts the car and we speed out in silence, history is behind us and now we have some welsh business. It’ll be my first visit to the land of the Dragon since the Lampeter weekender where Bun put me in a room with a public schoolboy in transition and the Toilet of Doom.
We arrive in Llantrydd Wells late. It smacks of The League of Gentleman. It’s dark and we only have time to unload the bikes and grab a couple of swift beers in the bar which contains Welsh mountain men with few teeth and a healthy hate for the English. We laugh loudly and nervously and as we don’t die we reckon we’ll be alright.
We sleep in a three bed room on the second floor and it’s the first time I experience the Spaniard’s snoring which is truly impressive. It’s almost impossible to believe that he could sleep through it such is the volume. Years later on a stag night in Galway, we shared a room in the plush Railway Hotel on Eyre Square. On that occasion the snoring was so bad that I hovered over him with a pillow and contemplated a mercy smothering…but that’s another story…
As is the Englishman’s right we ignore all the ‘early start’ shit and wake up late for a fry up. A day on the bike is ahead and so like pro’s we see fuelling up as the best option. The hotel is empty and devoid of other mountain bikers who have done the right thing and left early.
I’m hanging around the lobby in all my lycra. I look magnificent and wish that I had been the lead singer of an 80’s metal band as I’m finding the fabric ludicrously comfortable and the padded gusset is like a dream come true. Bunny and the Spaniard appear. The three of us look like Van Halen in 1982, all skin tight and lumpy crotches with a whiff of alcohol.
Bunny then takes me into an area off the dining room to show me something. It appears that he has booked us in to the headquarters of the Monster Raving Loony Party the week after Lord Sutch has died. Pictures of Loonies adorn the walls. It’s an Omen… horror on the mountain awaits…. I’m hearing duelling banjoes and squealing pigs. I look at The Spaniard for support but he’s smiling manically and has dried the inside of his upper lip to expose Rabbit teeth… he loves a challenge… he’s mental..
We load up and drive to our destiny.
We arrive at the start of the track and the place is banged out with what look like professionals. We look wrong, well The Spaniard and I look wrong. Bunny is oozing ‘locked back wheel technical descent’ while the pair of us look like two kidnapped drunks being forced to cycle for the sake of their health.
It was at this point that Bunny pulls out the laminated map. He informs us that he’s decided that we aren’t doing the fabled ‘Red Bull Run’ which I was told is a 12 mile fast pace speed ride. ‘Thank fuck for that’ says I. I temporarily relax. He continues… we are attempting the 26 mile long ride up the mountain with limited descents …
The Spaniard and I look at each other… I become Fletcher Christian, The Spaniard is a disgruntled Smee but Bunny is Captain Bligh of the Bounty… a filthy bastard of a man. Mutiny is imminent.
‘Don’t panic’ He says in a way only he can ‘I’ll lead’…. No shit… the two man 28 stone combo behind him is unlikely to be overtaking him anytime soon.
We position our machines… Bunny is on point, I am second and The Spaniard has our back. I look ahead and all I see is mountain…
‘Ready?’ Says Bunny… we utter no words and simply nod and weep. We are Sam and Frodo at the Black Gate and all hope is lost.
Bun pedals off professionally, all hips out of the saddle but after 15 feet he loses momentum on the slope and falls off as he’s forgotten his pedals are connected to his shoes…we look down at him in heap…
….We. Are. Fucked….
Bunny… my best mate, my Captain, my Hero, my Grim reaper….The Devil Rides out…
…To be continued…..