Friday, 22 March 2013

Guest Post: How Football Led To A Love Of Cycling

Cycling seems to have become so popular in recent years, I've suddenly got friends who appreciate slipstreaming and some even understand the need for Lycra. I sat next to Steve for years while watching Huddersfield Town limp through mediocrity in the 1990s, not once did we discuss cycling. Yet football has bizarrely led him in to cycling. I asked him to write a post about it.

I loved cycling when I was a kid. I remember the chrome Diamond Back BMX I got from Halfords in Huddersfield for my eighth birthday; admittedly this was a bit special (and a serious upgrade from a Raleigh Puffin, stabilisers optional) but it was Yorkshire in the 1980s: everyone had a bike of some description, it was something to do whilst waiting for the games to load on the ZX Spectrum. The further upgrade to a Muddy Fox mountain bike in the 1990s was a natural progression.

And we did some epic rides back then as well, relative to our age and size – all the way up the canal towpath to Tunnel End and back, the climb up to Castle Hill, and so on. My friend insists we also climbed Holme Moss one summer, though how my teenage self on a mountain bike ever managed to achieve this, I am mystified and have therefore lost it from my memory.

Inevitably, and like pretty much everyone I know around my age, hitting 17 changed everything; for me it was the holy triumvirate of College, Cars and Girls. Riding the Muddy Fox was in no way cool enough for a boy on the cusp of manhood, so the bike went further and further to the back of my parents’ storeroom – it literally didn’t turn a wheel until rescued by my nephew a couple of years ago.

Life moved on, and if I’m honest cycling never even entered my head for nearly 15 years (I’d occasionally watch the Tour de France highlights on the TV, but usually that would end with me getting very confused at why the guy winning wasn’t at the front). Instead I kept playing lots of football and very much got into running – culminating in running the 2007 London Marathon and destroying my knees in the process. I kept relatively fit thereafter, but I felt I was lacking something to really get into – another challenge like the marathon that would really engage me and get me motivated.

In 2011, Huddersfield Town came to my rescue. If I’m honest, as much as I love and religiously follow my football team, they’ve not exactly come up with the goods very often in my 28 years of devotion. However, to them I do owe my reintroduction to cycling: the ‘Pedal for Pounds’ charity bike ride was set up to raise money for the academy and the Yorkshire Air Ambulance, and involved us riding from Huddersfield to Brighton over the course of 3 ½ days in late April.

The ride to Brighton was difficult (in no small part due to borrowing my brother-in-laws hybrid, which shared a similar weight and aerodynamics as a Boris Bike) but truly glorious. Over 280 miles, I think it rained for about 2 minutes in total; the rest of the time the weather was fantastic and we had a whale of a time. We even got to ride through Central London on the day of the Royal Wedding – empty roads, street parties everywhere; the coup de grace was going straight over Tower Bridge (something I managed in agony on foot 4 years previously), posing for photos in the middle of the road along the way.

Oh, and Town won a thrilling game 3-2 with a last minute goal, everyone went mental and the week was complete in fine style.

After the Brighton run, I bought my own hybrid and made all the right noises about getting out on it through summer and getting into cycling a little more; I made up plenty of excuses instead and ended up doing very little indeed until the next Pedal for Pounds event was announced for May 2012 – a ride from Yeovil back to Huddersfield.

This had me immediately back in training, getting very excited and looking forward to another jolly boys week of sun, cycling and beer. In reality, there was a lot of cycling – the second day of the ride was the first time I managed over 100 miles in a single day; some beer of course but absolutely no sun. It. Was. Miserable. On the aforementioned second day between Bath and Solihull, the heavens opened all afternoon, making for some of the worst cycling conditions you could hope for. I was one of the earlier ones back to the hotel, at half seven (having left before nine that morning); some unfortunate folk just made it back for last orders, others were less lucky still and ended up crashing or giving it up as a bad job.

As I sat in the bath that night (with the shower on too for added hypothermia avoidance), I reflected on the day of hell that had been and realised something truly perverse: I’d loved it. The challenge of just keeping going was harder than anything I’d ever done in my life before, and the prospect of another 90-mile day to follow should have filled me with dread. Instead I woke up aching but good to go again, raring to stare down adversity and, as it turned out, some very soggy clothing.

The rest of the ride was bitterly cold but mercifully dry, and the reception upon returning to the Town ground was worth all the hours of toil and suffering. Though, if I’m honest, by that point if one man and his dog had greeted us I would have been just as proud.

Something clicked on that journey (as well as my knees): I adored the misery required for the achievement. It made me hungry to do more on the bike, to stop making lame excuses and just get out there. Subsequent research and interest has taught me that this is exactly what cycling is about – some of the pictures from the 2013 Milan-San Remo sum my 1000 words up perfectly: why would anyone want to punish themselves in such horrible conditions? Cyclists know.

By coincidence 2012 turned out to be British Cycling’s annus mirabilis – Wiggins, the Olympics and all that. I immersed myself in all of it, and before I know what’s happened I’m addicted – signing up to sportives and more charity rides, spending a small fortune on a road bike and all the gear, diving headlong into the culture I didn’t really know existed twelve months ago.

I imagine that to outsiders I look like I’ve caught the crest of a wave, coming back to cycling when it’s cool to ride a bike again. This may be true to a certain extent, but I know I can hold my head up and say I learned my love the hard way, and no-one can take the feelings of pain, anguish and sheer joy away from me now. I’m a proper cyclist now.

If you'd like to know more about Steve's latest adventure and maybe even sponsor him click here. You can also follow Steve's progress on twitter @stevejcarson

1 comment:

  1. There's something about the combination of man and machine, without an engine, that makes beer taste all the sweeter.

    I'm not quite at Lycra level yet, but fear it won't be long...