As the lockdown rules loosen here in the UK, cyclists phones are ablaze with messages between friends and riding groups - the excitement of getting back on bikes with others is palpable. We at CHPT3 are no different: we struggled to put into words how much we missed our friends: the feeling of hatching plans, packing our bags and heading off on a trip.
Thankfully our great friend Stuart Clapp never has such issues when it comes to summoning up words, so he did it for us. In the following piece, Stu unveils a special trip that we've been conjuring up and will kick off tomorrow (21st July). We're very excited.
"The Pet Shop Boys were number one when I picked out my first mountain bike. A bike that was far too big, far too heavy, and for my parents, far too expensive. I rode it every day until the forks bent. It was money well spent.
That bike wasn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, very much cop. I knew it then, and I sure as hell know it now. It wasn’t just bad, it was awful, but it made the world in which I had been living in for a little over a decade a wee bit bigger, and for that, I loved it. My domain wasn’t just my street now I had a mountain bike, oh no, I could go anywhere - to freedom! On the proviso I was home for dinner.
We used to chase each other around the maze of footpaths that wound through the Kursaal; a housing estate built on the site of a funfair where all the blocks of flats are named after the rides that once stood where they now tower. You couldn’t get a better foundation for crit racing than that. Especially when it was wet. My mates and I would skid our badly fitting bikes around Coaster Steps and past Swingboat Terrace. We rode everywhere. We weren’t cyclists, though. I expect I did more miles then than I do now, but now I’m a real cyclist, whatever that means.
One day, my mate suggested we ride to Hadleigh Downs and camp there for the night. This isn’t quite Stand By Me levels of adventure, you understand. The Downs were only about 10 miles away. None of us played chicken with a speeding steam train or ran away from Chopper the dog trained to “sick balls”, but the escapades were real nonetheless. I barely slept the night before.
I hadn’t thought about this for years. Then, a couple of weeks ago, my phone pinged. Adam Blythe has added you to a group called, “friends ride”. Lower case. “I know I’ve spoken to you all separately, but I wanted to gets some dates in the diary for this ride. The plan is to ride somewhere, camp, and then ride home the following day. What do you think?”
Jacques Anquetil, after he retired from racing, barely touched his bike. He’s not unique. There are plenty of stories of former professionals never cycling again. Reading this message from Adam, a former professional cyclist, that not only suggested that he was bucking some sort of trend, but it reminded me of the excitement of that juvenile camping trip. This is exactly what we needed after a few months of lockdown. An adventure. With friends. On bikes that actually fitted.
We’ve planned the route. We’ve got the logistics sorted (I think). We’ve got Restrap bags for the bikes. And we’re almost certainly riding home with a hangover; something the younger me didn’t have to contend with. We’re older now. Most of us have kids older than I was.
The thing is, every person on this trip has had various levels of cycling related success. For some of us, it’s been there job, but for all of us it’s their passion. We’re just like you."