Today I went on my first Stirling Bike Club ride for a few weeks. I’ll probably blog about the club (and why it is brilliant) another time. This post is all about (some of) my bikes, and why I love them.
I have always had a bike, since I was a child. The boy across the road taught me to ride when I was about 5 (thank you, Karl). I had second-hand children’s (and “ladies'”) bikes (with 3 gears, max) until I was big enough to ride my Dad’s old “racer.” There was something glamorous and exciting about riding a bike with drop handlebars, even if it was too big for me and the gear levers were on the downtube. I only really used it for messing around with my friends, but we would go out on summer evenings and ride around town.
I got my first mountain bike for my 18th birthday present. I never rode it much, and certainly didn’t do any real mountain biking, but I did ride it occasionally and it served me well for 11 years. Without really considering what kind of bike I really needed, I replaced it with another mountain bike, which again didn’t get ridden a huge amount (although in its old age it did get to do a bit of off-road multi sport).
Fast forward to the ripe old age of 33. I’d run 2 marathons in 6 months and had pain in my right adductor and knee. I had to stop running for a while. I had been vaguely thinking of taking up triathlon, and had good intentions of cycling to work.
Then I read Lance Armstrong’s “It’s Not About the Bike.”
This was before Armstrong was exposed as a massive liar and cheat, of course. Despite the total destruction of his reputation over the following years, I will always be grateful to him for inspiring my love of cycling. I finished “It’s Not About the Bike” and cycled to work the next day. After a few commutes, I bought some road tyres for my mountain bike. Then I decided, if I was going to take up triathlon, that I really needed a road bike.
The Edinburgh Bike Coop were having a sale, so I did a bit of research and went in with the intention of buying a Specialized Tricross (since I didn’t know what kind of cycling I really wanted to do, a cyclocross bike seemed like a good compromise). I tried out the Tricross, then tried Edinburgh Bike’s own-brand Revolution Cross Pro, and loved it.
I rode it to work. I joined Stirling Bike Club and learned how to ride in a group. I rode it in my first sprint and middle distance triathlons. I rode it in the Scotland Coast to Coast race. Last winter, I even rode it in an actual cyclocross race!
Eventually I decided that road cycling was the new love of my life, and that, like a proper roadie, I needed a carbon fibre “summer” bike. After doing much research, and becoming an aficionado of gear ratios, I decided on the Planet X RT-57. (And I went for the double, rather than the compact, with a 28 on the back – in case you were wondering).
It was love at first sight. When I took it out of the box, I handled it reverently, afraid of doing something wrong (even though all I needed to do was straighten the handlebars!). I worried that I wasn’t a good enough cyclist, that it was too good a bike for me. At first, I rode it on the turbo. Once winter was over, I rode it on club rides. I moved up to a faster group. I rode it to work. I went out with a group from the triathlon club and did my first 100 miler. I rode it in triathlons. I rode the Etape Loch Ness. Recently, I’ve even started doing proper scary bike races and have (thus far) ridden it in 3 crit races. I’ve also broken it, had it fixed, taken it apart, put it back together (badly) and had the nice men at Stirling Cycle Repairs put it back together properly.
That bike and I have been through a lot together. I may not be much of a bike mechanic, but I feel like I know it inside out. I’ve learned a lot about bike maintenance and my confidence in dealing with minor mechanicals has really grown. It fits me so well – it’s just a bit smaller than my cross bike, and it has a much more “racy” geometry, which seems to suit me. In the spring, when I return to it after a winter on the cross bike, it’s like coming home.
There’s a scene in the first Pirates of the Caribbean film in which Jack Sparrow, after a little too much rum, is explaining to Elizabeth why he loves his ship, the Black Pearl.
To me, that’s what a bike is. To paraphrase Captain Jack, a bike isn’t handlebars and gears and brakes and wheels. That’s what a bike needs. What a bike is – what my Planet X is to me – is freedom.