This picture below is almost my earliest cycling memory.
Up until that day, I’d been struggling to ride my bike without training wheels (we call them ‘stabilisers’ in Scotland) and even my younger sister was riding without them. My friends, out of a combination of charity and disgust took me aside one day and spent the whole day making me ride (and repeatedly fall) without training wheels until I could do it.
Funny then, that some 40 years later, as a member of Spidermonkey Cycling, I realize that the combination of friendly external peer pressure and internal “Please-don’t-let-me-f***-this-up” still works.
More on that later.
Incidentally, my Dad took the photo when he came home from work that day and I wanted to show him that I could ride on my own. And if you look closely, you will notice that I am wearing a tie. Apparently, I thought this quite a formal occasion.
I’ve noticed that many of these Spidermonkey of the Week posts tend to look back fondly (even romantically) on their early bikes. Not me. No way.
‘Course, now that I mention it… there was this one bike….
Ok, quickly then – Raleigh Tomahawk. Banana seat, bright red paint job, 3-speed lever mounted on the right handle bar (a slight step lower than the more upmarket Raleigh Chopper model, which had the 3-speed shift lever mounted on the top tube like the stick shift of a car). Man, riding around Glasgow with that bike, that was really… Ahem. Sorry about that – not sure what happened there.
All right, flash-forward several years to when I had a decent touring bike and my friends and I would go bike touring in Scotland for a week or so at a time. We particularly liked the lowlands of Scotland because there were plenty of Youth Hostels (where we could stay cheaply) and plenty of pubs (where we could drink cheaply.) There would be a general high level plan along the lines of “Let’s plan on being back home in a week. Roughly.” We’d look at the map, pick a Youth Hostel and ride to it. Have dinner. Go to the pub. Wake up the next day, look at the map, pick a youth hostel, ride to it and go to the pub. The freedom of being able to go anywhere with no deadlines or schedules was incredibly liberating.
[Tony’s Touring Tip: Take all the panniers and luggage off the bike before you go to the pub. It makes the bike lighter so you feel like you’re flying and you won’t have to worry about trying to get all that gear off the bike after you’ve had a few drinks.]
And that was all cycling was. Just a fun social thing. Nothing serious.
Until 1986. Which, besides being the statistical mean birth year of Spidermonkey Club members, is also the year I started to follow professional cycling. It was also the year that the Irish cyclist Steven Roche won the Triple: The Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and World Championship in the same year. A feat not repeated since. I was fascinated, started riding more, joined a cycling club in Manchester, where I was living at the time, started racing and was really enjoying the vibrant, energetic and growing cycling scene in the UK.
Then I moved to the US in 1989.
The cycling scene was completely different. Cycling in the US was almost underground compared with the UK. It was hard to get any cycling news at all. I craved the latest VeloNews (in print, people – no websites yet!) There were so few American racers in Europe, they were regarded as oddities. Of course one of them, Greg LeMond, did manage to win the Tour that year. Anyway, I found a cycling club, 2CC (which is still around) and rode and raced with them for many years. Saturdays were spent with 3-4 cyclists and bikes in one car happily driving 3-4 hours downstate for a 45-minute criterium and then driving home. I’m happy to say that one of the guys I rode with back then, Charlie Jolls, is a Spidermonkey.
Then one year, maybe 2004, I just stopped riding. I had just completed the Deathride (125 miles, 16,000’ of climbing in one day) in Lake Tahoe and had finally completed all 5 summits after 3 years of attempts. I entered the off-season and never came out of it. Don’t know why.
In 2009, my road bike was stolen. Then my mountain bike was stolen. Then I stole my mountain bike back. And finally, in2011, I bought a new road bike and started riding again. I ran into Jerry Ortega, an old 2CC buddy one day, and asked for a recommendation of a club to join. I knew that 2CC was still a racing focused club and I wasn’t interested in that anymore. “Yeah, there’s this club called Spidermonkey.”
I rode informally on Saturdays with the club in 2012, struggling to keep up but was encouraged by everyone. I don’t there’s anyone that was on a Saturday ride in 2012 or early 2013 that didn’t babysit me back up to the group at some point. You all know who you are.
This is only my 2nd official year as a Spidermonkey but I can’t imagine any club being a better fit for me. It’s a privilege to ride with such a great group. The two big events for me this year are the MS Ride in June and the Leipheimer Gran Fondo in California at the beginning of October. That’s a long season, with several thousand miles of riding in great company with Spidermonkey Cycling.