Archives for the month of: May, 2011

How many times does the thought cross your mind? “I wish this could just end right now”, as the elastic to the wheel in front starts to stretch further and further, and the effort to close it gets more and more painful. A puncture, a broken spoke, something innocuous but definitive. A noble end, an irrefutable excuse. “Not a crash, nothing painful, just an end.”

And then it finally happens, the shameful truth emerges – the legs inadequate, the heart too weak, the line of riders drift away. Shoulders bowed, head hung low – you’ve been dropped.

Did it ever happen to Mercx? Did anyone ever have ‘The Cannibal’ for breakfast? Was Hinault ever humiliated, anyone ever lick his plate clean? Did that guy who beat you and the rest of the field on Sunday ever grovel in the wheels of stronger riders, ever ride himself into the ground only to finish dead last – or not finish at all? After all, we’re all human – right? Read the rest of this entry »

Exploring the many fascinating facets of cycling and bike culture, Jack Thurston’s The Bike Show is a weekly radio broadcast on London station Resonance 104.4fm. But just as the content isn’t confined to its London setting, the show reaches a global audience thanks to its popular podcasts with several years of shows, and hours of entertaining listening, available to download. If you’re discovering the show for the first time then you’re in for a real treat as you wander through the archives – Jack’s enthusiasm for all things cycling is infectious and makes for both charming and insightful radio. Just as the latest season hits the airwaves, we chat about his passion for touring, love of Moultons, and his thoughts on Boris Bikes…

Give us a brief account of your cycling background. My earliest cycling memory is riding behind my mum as a young boy, across Midsummer Common in Cambridge, where we lived; to me she looked huge on this giant upright Raleigh, while I zipped along on my little red bike. Then in the sixth form at school in north London my friend Daniel Start was granted permission to start a cycling club as a way of getting out of doing normal games which by that point, we hated. An understanding and rather eccentric chemistry teacher supervised a small group of us on touring rides in Hertforshire, and the school even provided us with pack lunches. I didn’t regard cycling as sport but as a way of getting around independently. As a fifteen year old I remember riding down to the West End to the Virgin Megastore and Ray’s Jazz Shop, and as I was getting there for free without having to pay for a bus or tube fare it meant I could buy more records. I was quite taken by that idea. I also remember being about twelve and my parents allowing me to do the London to Cambridge ride (a mass participation event much like London to Brighton) on my own – they seemed to think nothing of it. They took the train to Cambridge to meet me at the finish.

How did you first getting in cycle touring? My first touring trip was with a group of friends to Ivinghoe Beacon in the Chilterns after doing our mock GCSEs. We made all the basic mistakes and were totally unprepared, not bringing warm enough kit or any waterproofs and allowing our tents and sleeping bags to become drenched on the back of our bikes.  It was February and at night it was snowing and got so cold we couldn’t even light our stove, and all we could eat was some raw tinned ravioli. I imagine some of us were very close to hyperthermia. Strangely that experience didn’t seem to put me off.

What bikes do you ride? Luckily I have a bit of storage space near where I live so at the moment I have eight bikes. I think I’ve just bought a tandem too – a friend is bringing it down from Manchester. The collection also includes three Moultons which I have a particular interest in. They make for fantastic touring bikes, incredibly comfortable and well designed to carry a touring load. Their smaller wheels actually make them faster than normal bikes, particularly on the downhills. Tom Simpson even raced one on the track until the UCI banned them. Read the rest of this entry »

After a restless night, I hear my alarm go off. Still dark outside, but I was already awake anyway. Lying still, I strain to listen to the weather, for the tapping of rain against the window or the signs of a stiff breeze disturbing the leaves of the trees. It’s early season and it’s race day. Hitching a lift with a team-mate, we survey the skies over the motorway as we leave the city and head out into the countryside. Rain might mean a last-minute change of kit, or could determine how the race is won. We chat nervously trying to predict how the racing will unfold, recalling the difficulty of certain climbs and the vagaries of the particular circuit. Our destination is race headquarters at a country village hall. It could be Loxwood, Alfold, Bletchingley or Wisborough – all names conjuring images of a quaint Britishness distant to our everyday metropolitan lives. On arrival, the ritual begins: signing on, the pinning of numbers, several toilet visits. We change in the drafty hall on plastic chairs common to municipal buildings, notices for Women’s Institute meetings and toddler playgroups are dotted about the walls. In the corner is the familiar counter serving tea. Laid out is a spread of homemade cakes and sandwiches of cheap bread and simple fillings. The race officials warm and feed themselves in anticipation of the hours standing on cold road corners, or of monitoring the race from the front seat of the commissaire’s car. The racers will revive themselves a few hours from now, cradling cups of hot tea in shivering hands, faces spattered in road grime.

Read the rest of this entry »

“Hey 24, if you switch on me again…”, he didn’t finish with the rest of the threat, but whatever. I needed to extricate myself from the slow moving bunch and latch onto the fast disappearing break that was about to crest the top of the hill. This was the defining moment of the race, and politeness and pleasantries were the first casualties. Part of me flinched at the wrongdoing – but only a little part. I accepted the role of villain, gambling that I would emerge heroic at the finish.

The line between hero and villain is lightly drawn, constantly shifting depending on our biased perspectives. Cycling is a sport with wide expanses of grey, and yet it is often painted in stark black and white. For some we forgive and forget, but not for others. The determination to succeed in some is seen as ruthless, in others it’s admired. Some are exulted for their achievements, for others they are grounds for suspicion. Some performances are regarded as unbelievable, and others deemed to be beyond belief. Why this need for heroes and villains? And who gets to decide which is which? Read the rest of this entry »

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