Like any hopelessly besotted Romeo, I can pinpoint exactly when my love affair with bikes began: Monday 30 April, 2007.
The path to true love was far from smooth, though. That day I had just got back to my house, horribly twisted after three days of utter debauchery at the All Tomorrow’s Parties music festival. Then the phone rang. It was The Independent newspaper, telling me I’d won a “VIP place” at the British Cyclosportive, a 120-mile trek from London to Canterbury following the same route as Stage 1 of the 2007 Tour de France. Which was taking place in just over two months’ time…
A few issues immediately caused me to question why I’d entered this competition in the first place: 1) I didn’t own a racing bike; 2) I’d never owned a racing bike; and 3) I’d not ridden a bike of any description for around a decade.
To put it bluntly, I had no idea what to do next, apart from panic and sweat profusely. The easy thing would be to pocket the freebies that came with the prize then just welsh on the actual cycling part. I decided to go out and buy a bike, get race fit from scratch in eight weeks and give it a go.
And so it began.
Today, close to five years later, I now own three road racing bikes. The first, Old Faithful, is a steel-tubed affair made by GT. Having seen it listed as being suitable for someone very tall, I bought it via eBay as a frame and fork in the days that followed my decision to take on the British Cyclosportive, then had it built up as a parts-bin special by my local bike shop, Archway Cycles.
Looking back, I’m not sure why I didn’t just go into Evans or Cycle Surgery and try to get something off-the-peg in there. Perhaps I was afraid I’d end up re-living the legendary Not The Nine O’Clock News hi-fi shop sketch and be laughed out of the shop as dreadlocked cycle courier types with legs like sculpted teak high-fived at their success in humiliating me for my lack of basic bike knowledge.
Whatever, the GT worked well and got me to Canterbury in nine hours, a full hour before the dreaded broom wagon and a reasonable performance under the circumstances.
However, in the shorter sportives that I did in the run-up to the Big One, and at the event itself, I couldn’t help thinking that compared to some of the amazing machines other people were riding Old Faithful looked a bit…how shall I put it…Black Plimsolls for Games.
Then I was fortunate enough to be invited to a pre-Tour party organised by Rabobank and my head was fatally turned… by a Colnago. This carbon (for some reason in cycling it’s NEVER carbon fibre, just carbon) framed beauty in full Rabo team livery almost floated away when I picked it up. It also looked to my eyes like sex on wheels. Thus I decided that the Italian manufacturer was to be the one for me.
That I subsequently plumped for a CLX, one of Ernesto’s Taiwanese-manufactured offerings, is neither here nor there; its soul is Italian and that’s good enough. Besides, I couldn’t afford one of the marque’s Italian-made superbikes.
The ’nago is my pride and joy. It also cost quite a lot of money. For those reasons I simply couldn’t bear to see it mashed by the sort of calamity that is almost inevitable in my first racing season. So now I own a third bike, which has allowed me to complete a sort of materials trifecta since it is an aluminium Dedacciai EM2 frame, badged by our own dear old Ribble Cycles. Eagle-eyed bike connoisseurs will appreciate the irony that only now do I own a true, Italian made frame…
The Colnago and the Ribble have pride of place in the spare room. Old Faithful sadly has to make do with the garage, befitting her latter-day status as turbo trainer workhorse. I’m not ashamed to say that in idle moments I just go in and simply look at the two bikes together, maybe turning the cranks a bit to make sure the chain lube is holding good, maybe wiping away any stray specks of dust from their shiny top tubes. Sometimes the Better Half catches me and I get a “for goodness sake get out of there and stop worshipping those bloody bikes”.
But I can’t. That’s love, as they say.