WORDS: Phil Deeker | PHOTOS: Claire Deeker
2012 may not be forecast as the best of years ahead of us from some points of view, but my three year-old grandson wouldn’t agree. He is weeks away from flying along on two wheels with the stabilisers happily redundant in the garage. And if his Grandad has anything to do with it, then will begin a life-long love affair between him and the beautiful machine. Meanwhile the Grandad himself is getting out most days on his favourite winter roads, slowly finding his legs again after more than two months off the bike. Two hours twenty minutes of hard, hilly riding almost every day over the last few weeks has been enough to find my riding mojo again and feel ready for the new cycling year.
I made myself a 60km circular loop that has just what it takes for a perfect mini-ride. So much so that I am blissfully willing to ride it over and over. I know how long it will take out of my day, I know where and when it will hurt and I know how to pace it to manage this ‘hurt’. After a brief, chilling four km descent, I can warm myself up on a seven km 3% gradient climb and prepare myself for the progressively harder six climbs to follow. The route has a total of 1100 metres of climbing and each section of the ride has its own particular difficulty against which I can easily measure my returning fitness. Revenge has been sweet for the pain I had to endure initially, after far too long without riding. I am soon reminded how the beautiful simplicity of cycling fuels both body and mind. In our changed world of euro-neurosis and unnerving pessimism, which pastes pressure on us in layers as thick as peanut butter, it is easy to see why our sport has become such a popular tonic for our troubled times.
As I once again approach the 600m climb at an average ten percent in my loop, life is just about legs, lungs and gradient. Metre by metre I pace myself up the brutal climb, sticking to a measured place between pain and comfort. Each day I can push a little harder and breathe a little easier and arrive back home smiling after another blast of the best things in life. For a little over two hours the world is simple, understandable and manageable. After the necessary apprenticeship learning the significance of bike set-up, choice of equipment, from wheels to bar tape, and how to dress best for each ride (quite an art, but try on the new Pro Team jacket and the choosing becomes much simpler!), it is so pleasing when things feel just right. I return home ready to face the harder realities of life with a clear mind and a body buzzing.
Which other sport allows us the opportunity to have so much control over our achievements? Short or far; fast or slow; alone or in a bunch; urban or rural; day or night; relaxed or on-the-rivet: we choose. For instance, the penultimate climb of my loop is nearly four km long but at a steady 4% I can choose how I ride it. I can push a big gear and stand all the way, which I enjoy most, or I can work on a higher cadence ( a technically more efficient way of riding but which I find less enjoyable). It works either way.
On the other hand, I can also throw myself into the gladiators’ arena and face a do-or-die battle (if I use my imagination a bit!)The final climb of my loop is only 200 metres long. It’s a Mur. My Mur. A simple residential road in our village. But a VERY steep one. I try to finish all my rides, no matter how long, with this pearl just 100 yards from home. When I come round the corner to the base of the climb and look up at the dead straight 22% tarmac wall , a flush of dread momentarily shakes my entire being. But, on each occasion, I love the fact that this climb leaves me with no choice. I have got to deal with it. It is only just rideable. If heavy rain has washed gravel onto the road or if there is even a slight ground frost, my back wheel will spin uncontrollably. To ride this Mur sitting down is a fast track to popped knees. I gasp for breath at the top each time I slay the dragon and then smile to myself as I exhale deeply. I am not chasing heroism here: I just love the simplicity of the moment – get up or get off.
My grandson has the stabilisers holding him back at the moment and we have our rational, analytical, worrying mind that 2012 will probably do little to help appease the Euro-zone/Western anxieties. The truly great riders of our sport perceive the path to victory in a race combining analysis of numbers, intuition and intellect, but ultimately they all praise the pure and simple pleasure of riding their bike. By keeping things simple I can really get the most out of the hours I spend riding and thinking. And I now have a whole new year of it ahead of me. Ride on.