By popular demand, (popular being, at least two people) I have been asked to write about what inspired me to become so passionate about cycling. So as not to disappoint all those millions of eager readers here is how a rather lost 11 year old boy found his way thanks to a combination of a saved up birthday present from his godfather, the love of a challenge and through watching too much TV.
“Guess what time, guess what time?” I cried at the top of my voice as I ran up the stairs to my gran’s art studio on the top floor of her house, having left the front door wide open after being in such a hurry to spread the news. “8 minutes and 24 seconds, 8 minutes and 24 seconds!!” I couldn’t wait for her to answer. “Beat that, beat that, pffff don’t bother because it’s impossible, I mean that is a world record, it can’t be beaten, phew I was flying, you should’ve seen it, I’ve knocked a whole 12 seconds off the old record and that was already really fast, I gotta phone dad, pfff he will never believe it, get the Wagon Wheels (chocolate biscuits) and Appletiser (fizzy apple juice) out, we need to celebrate, 8 minutes 24 woooow!!!!”
As any good grandmother would, she treated the new information with great excitement, as if I had just smashed an Olympic record, I had in reality only ridden the 3 miles separating my mum’s house in Exeter and my gran’s house in Topsham, but at the age of 12 this was a major achievement. I dread to think what I looked like as I hurtled along Topsham Road on my white Falcon 10 speed racing bike, head down, my curly hair wildly blowing in the wind, keeping a beady eye on my stopwatch, no doubt I scared a few people that day. I just couldn’t (and still can’t) resist a challenge and funnily enough most of the embarrassing stories which my dad likes to share at key family moments involve my bike related challenges.
It all really started when I was just 4 years old, one sunny afternoon my dad had removed the stabilizers from my red, fixed wheel, solid rubber tired, mini bike. I was given strict instructions just to shuffle around the drive area as he popped indoors for a quick cup of tea. As I pushed my bike up the rather hilly but yet fortunately quiet road on which we lived it didn’t cross my mind that I couldn’t actually ride a bike, it was more the idea of being told to just shuffle around which spurred me on into dangerous territory. The story goes that my dad couldn’t believe his eyes as I flew past the lounge window at full mini bike speed, “pfff, next challenge” (I might have said) if I wasn’t busily trying to work out how to stop – I didn’t have any brakes!
You have to move on a few years to when I was 10 years old for the next installment. Whilst the adults were happily lazing in front of the Wimbledon final after Sunday lunch, I was twitching, uneasy, wanting to go outside on a bike ride. The problem was that we were at my gran’s house and my spare bike was buried under a world of junk at the back of her garage. After several failed attempts to drag my dad out of his armchair I saw a challenge and sneaked out. Boris Becker must have gone into top gear as half an hour later my dad came to find me only to be greeted by a mountain of furniture, boxes and garden equipment and me riding around on my BMX with a big grin on my little, red face.
I had waited, for what at the time, seemed like an eternity for my 11th birthday to arrive. Imagine all the excitement of a normal birthday but with the added anticipation of receiving a present which had been promised to you since you were old enough to understand the concept of presents. When my godfather came up with the idea to buy me my first racing at the age of 11 I am sure he didn’t realize the future effect it would have. When the shiny Falcon racing bike was unveiled I soon forgot about all the frustration of not having yearly presents from him. That bike gave me far more than just a method of transportation, at last I had real freedom, I could explore, and release built up energy. The waiting made me treasure it, we were a team, a team which were very rarely apart.
My love of riding bikes turned into a passion to race, rather ironically, by sitting in front of the TV. The films American Flyers and BMX Bandits, the Tour de France on channel 4 and the 1992 BBC coverage of the Olympic Games all played a part in inspiring me to devote a large part of my life to racing. Even if at the time I didn’t really understand what I was watching I was memorized by the colour and speed. At the age of 15 I had exhausted the Topsham to Exeter sprint and was hungry for a new challenge, with images of Chris Boardman on his super sleek Lotus bike fresh in my mind I decided I needed human competition and hereby started a decade of what a rather hard-arse man once called ‘leaving a bit of leg on the road’.