1977. I was 16 the year I started bike racing. Quite a long time ago when you do the math…36 years in fact! I’ve often pondered on my love for the sport and how I continue to find the motivation to ride my bike. I’m sure that there are many of you out there who have also been riding for years but there are also many new comers to the sport who may have just completed their first Gran Fondo.
For me, I equate riding my bike to freeing my soul and letting my mind relax and forgetting about the stress of everyday life. There is something therapeutic about letting the pedals turn under me while I let my mind wander and think about how lucky I am to live where I live and be able to do what I love to do.
It’s also about the sense of adventure and exploration that riding on a self-propelled, two-wheeled machine gives me. I can think of no better ride than to set out onto new terrain (paved or dirt) with a map (or not!) and general idea of where to go. Case in point was my recent entry into the 8-day Cape Epic mountain bike race. As a seasoned ex-pro road racer, I knew it would be a tough challenge especially not knowing each day’s course. However, I was able to finish strongly by mostly drawing on the mental strength that I continued to develop over the years.
Another facet that keeps me coming back is how many different ways there are to enjoy a bicycle. Road bikes are amazing with how efficiently I can apply power to the wheels and propel myself forward. Riding alone is still fun since I can go as fast or slow as I want, when I feel like changing pace. Riding in a group creates the social camaraderie that I really enjoy. I can really get to know people personally while on a group ride. The bike has a way of lowering the cultural barriers that we often experience in society. People’s ‘real’ personalities come out while on these group rides, and you can experience true friendship when you work together into the wind to finish a ride.
Most of my life-long friends are guys who I’ve ridden and raced with over the years. When we get together from time to time, it’s like we’ve never been apart. The bond is strong.
Mountain biking brings out another element of challenge and enjoyment. Whether it’s a race such as Cape Epic where I had to utilize all of my technical, mental and aerobic capabilities; a local trail ride in the Edmonton River Valley; slamming the DH terrain in Whistler or an adventure ride in the Rockies; the feeling of finding a flowing, smooth line through a curvy trail is second to none. There was more than a few single track sections in Cape Epic where I wanted to double back and ride it again. Next year, I think BC Bike Race is on my agenda. I hear the single track is exquisite!
The appreciation for the history of the sport is very appealing to me as well. I love to read about the ‘old days’ of road racing where the guys raced on a simple, single speed over the same mountains that the guys race on today. Riding up the smooth pavement of the Galibier in the Alps with my groups on an 18 pound race ready machine is hard enough. Trying to imagine racing up the same roads on a 40 pound single speed on gravel is hard to fathom. Those men were truly made of steel.
Technology of cycling has also advanced considerably since I started riding…from 5 speed, downtube friction shifters to 11 speed, electronic, it’s been an incredible ride along the way. I have a real appreciation for the history of where the bicycle has come from but at the same time, it’s wonderful to experience where the bicycle is going. Another great example from my Cape Epic race…I was fortunate to be able to ride on a Scott Spark 29’r – a dual suspension, full carbon fiber endurance racer that also included a 3-stage lockout that controlled the front and rear shocks. More than a few times during the 8-day event, I smiled to myself remembering my first rides on a fully rigid Ritchey Comp with my junior racer friends as we picked our way down a streambed on Mt Seymour…before any “North Shore” trails were ever built.
2013. I‘ve just turned 52 but certainly don’t feel over half a century old…more like half a century young! This year, I returned to mountain bike racing, completing the Cape Epic in March in 6th place in our over 50 age group with my teammate, Tom Ritchey. I really enjoyed riding in Axel’s Gran Fondo in early July with my sisters and my Mom who is turning 74 this year. What other sport can bring families together like this? Then we did a jaunt over to Chambery, France in mid-July for a week of riding, wine tasting and relaxation with friends and watching the Tour pass which was very enjoyable. Gran Fondo Banff is on my ride list for the end of August as is the new Intrepid 3-day event in the Okanagan, Sept 20-22. Finally, I’m helping bring the Tour of Alberta to fruition, Sept 3-8. It’s been a long ‘ride’ with lots of head winds, but we’re finally going to have a World-Class Pro stage race in my home province. Another goal checked off! I’m looking forward to the next 50 years on two wheels.