by Ben Spark
The first memory I have of bicycles was seeing the big kids riding around our neighbourhood and lusting after their bikes. One bike I recall was this black thing with suspension that weighed a ton (this was 1980). Another was an aluminium mongoose BMX with bright yellow tuff wheels. I recall the excitement when I got my first bike at eight. It was a hodge podge of parts, a banana seat, BMX handlebars, and knobby tires. It’s short wheelbase helped me to become wheelie champion of the street. I felt I could do anything on that bike despite crashing at high speed and taking skin off one side of my body, and crashing into the nearby creek after breaking the jump record but overrunning the landing strip. That bike died a hero’s death sometime later when the frame broke after yet another heavy landing. My neighbourhood friends and I always pushed each other to do something new and fun and stupid. On our bikes we emulated a car race in Australia called the Bathurst 1000 and attempted to do 1000 laps of our street complete with co-driver, crews, and pit stops. I think the race got to about 200 laps, and by then it had degenerated into arguments over who was actually in the lead.
When I went to high school I spent less time in my neighbourhood and my bike took a back seat. I had competed in middle distance track for many years and my sporting heroes included the English runners Sebastian Coe, Steve Ovett, and Steve Cram. However, sometime during the 80s I had a glimpse of the Tour de France on television and I was captivated by the sight of the peloton winding its way along the roads of France. Bike racing revealed many surprises, an Australian cyclist Phil Anderson was the first non-European to wear the yellow jersey and Peugeot made bicycles too. This was the beginning of my desire to race bikes.
While in college I finally had enough money to buy a racing bike, a Taiwanese knockoff of a Cannondale. I rode that bike all over Sydney. When I had some good miles in my legs and had settled on a comeback to car drivers regular comments on my imitation denim cycling shorts, I joined my first club, the Northern Sydney Cycling Club. My first race was a criterium and that was also my first crash. I think my years of riding and crashing in my home neighbourhood prepared me well and I was mostly annoyed that my new jersey was ripped. I followed this disappointment in the best way, by winning my next race, a road race. Not long after this, while on a training ride the fork of my bike inexplicably snapped, resulting with me on the road. I didn’t ride again for quite some time after that.
Many years later in Chicago, I had just read the book “The Rider” and rediscovered the Tour. I wanted to get out there, not content to be an armchair sportsman. I had heard that there was a group ride that left from the Higher Gear bike shop on Fullerton and rode to Highland Park. That group of people were great company in the the simplicity of a Sunday bike ride. Just as I started to get to know everyone and could see cycling as a healthy addition to my life, my life entered another phase…..parenthood.
After the early days of my children’s life, I found time to get out and ride again. I discovered that Higher Gear on Fullerton had closed and that the group ride was no longer. I didn’t look into any clubs at that time because I wasn’t interested in racing and my riding schedule was very sporadic, so most of my riding was alone. While riding up to Highland Park one day I saw a group ahead and was excited at the chance to ride with others for a change. This group had a lot of orange and black jerseys with the unusual name Spidermonkey on it, and I recognized the rider of a blue Pegoretti bike from the earlier Higher Gear bike ride. Everyone was more than welcoming in letting me ride along on this and later rides.
Last year I was ready to make more time for cycling in my life, and joining the Spidermonkey’s was one of the first things I did. For me the weekend group rides are something I will always look forward to and I have entered a few races this summer. With so many Spidermonkey’s pissing excellence this year, I look forward to making my own contribution.