I learnt to ride a bike when I was about five years old, on a purple chopper style bike called a Budgie. I vividly recall riding it with stabilisers and trying to ride so that neither stabilising wheel actually touched the ground. Great in a straight line…
After that I had some 70s style Grifter/Chopper crossbreed which got me out and about in the local woods. At the age of ten though it wasn’t considered off roading, just riding where there’s no cars. Come secondary school it was time for my first road bike, a five speed ‘racer’ to get me to and from school with a round trip of about 6 miles a day (that’s not a bad weekly mileage when you’re only 11!). Mending punctures with inappropriate tools became a lifestyle choice, as did trying to ignore the wickedly bent crankarm on the non drive side which resulted from a collision with a parked car. I had that bike for years and never did get the crankarm fixed.
Up to that point my only experience of bikes was as a poorly maintained and dirty mode of transport, a necessary evil which served until I could drive a car. For five years or so after secondary school I shunned the lure of two manually powered wheels for four mechanically (and manically) induced wheels that came with weather protection as standard.
One night in a pub, Dave, Mark and I got to discussing the ‘new breed’ of rugged looking bikes that were starting to appear. The de facto choice of five (or preferably ten) geared road bikes as the wheels of choice for schoolboys across the land was being rudely supplanted by bikes with names like Muddy Fox, bikes which looked like they could stand the trip to school without puncturing on gravel or the wheels buckling in the bicycle rack. The Yellow Pages twisted the knife with an ad where a bluff Northern dad noted that ‘e wer reet about that thar saddle’ as his misguided son took delivery of a shiny new steed. Instantly the bike looked out of date, out of place and just plain wrong on the mean streets of a dour northern mill town.
I don’t think people actually realise what a seismic shift this was for racing bikes to loose their gleam in the eyes of school children in the early 90s. For as long as I can remember, they were the thing to have, the fastest, lightest, spangliest bits of kit that a kid could have to put one over on his mates. Suddenly things were changing.
And Dave, Mark and I, from the bottom of a pint glass, took note.
They look kinda funky, we noted. You could cycle away from the traffic, we mused. They looked like fun, we acknowledged. We might get fitter, we pondered (briefly).
Let’s give ’em a try, we slurred!!
Somehow we put our money where our mouths were by buying three identical Kielder Freespirits, which to our uneducated eyes were just what we needed. Constructed largely out of pig iron and laid out to conventional road bike geometry with rigid forks and ‘hybrid’ tyres, they were compromised to say the least.
But they had flat bars and bar ends and 21 gears so they could go anywhere their ambitious riders chose to take them, which to tell the truth was mainly down country lanes.
Since then, we’ve evolved. We have proper bikes, we read bike magazines and drool over new kit. We take a considered approach to our biking choices and believe ourselves to be knowledgeable about our chosen subject. We wear appropriate clothing and worry about the advantages of one tyre over another. We fettle, we fondle and generally spend too long thinking about spring rates and damping properties. We’ve generally become better bikers all round but I’ll tell you something.
That northern bloke was right about that bloody saddle!