11.022 – “Danger is the spice of Life”

“Danger is the spice of Life”[1]

Ten days ago I was lucky enough to spend some time with a few of old friends one of whom had suffered a nasty crash a while ago whilst out riding. After many months spent in rehabilitation he was left in a wheelchair and with limited speech, both of which continue to slowly recover. This prompted one of my other friends to ask me if I thought what I did was dangerous, a question I’ve been asked many times before. 

–          I wrote the majority of this blog, including the quotes, before finding out about the terrible events of Sunday’s MotoGP race in Sepang. I thought a lot about altering it in light of the loss of the brilliant young rider, Marco Simoncelli. Having re-read what I’d written several times it occurred to me that my thoughts were probably shared by not just Marco, but by most of the MotoGP and Superbike riders around the world and I decided to leave my blog as it was, in memory of a truly exciting and charismatic rider. I add my condolences to the many thousands who have already done so. We shall all truly miss seeing the number 58. RIP Marco.

Aren’t you scared you’ll kill yourself if you crash?” asked Thomas. “Nah” Burt replied, “No, you, eh, you live more in five minutes on a bike like this, going flat out, than some people live in a lifetime.[2]

Whilst Burt Munro’s words sound misty eyed and romantic, I thought about them a lot and they pretty much echo exactly how I feel about riding my bike and how many of my peers feel. I don’t take anything for granted – there is danger and I’ve had my fair share of hitting the deck, but I can’t remember a single ride that I’ve ever wanted to be anywhere else. From the rolling hills of the Sussex weald to much further-a-field I’ve had some amazing days and some truly terrible days, but every one of them has been memorable and worthwhile. Yep, I can honestly say, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

My week off work therefore wasn’t spent in bed, at the shops or in front of my television, but on the trails that border my world. In the freezing cold sun of an October week, I layered up my clothing, filled my flask with coffee and strapped on a pair ready to shred the best that Sussex, Hampshire, Surrey and Kent could offer.

I rode in the North Downs on my cross bike at the beginning of the week taking in some amazing sandy singletrack that the summer had been kind enough to leave us with before prepping it for the weekends racing. Then I took the cross country rig down to the South Downs to ride all ten of the major climbs – in seven hours I climbed nearly 2000 meters.

So with some good miles in the legs for Saturday’s race I took the day off on Friday for my birthday. Then on Saturday I drove up to Herne Hill in South London for the Knog/Rollapaluza Muddy Hell Halloween fancy dress Cyclocross race. It’s now in its third year and last time I rode in 2009 I rode in the novice race, but having gained some experience now I stepped up to race the full on senior/elite race.

“I’ve always tried never to be scared of anything, though I must say before a big bike race I do sometimes get nervous. You know if the butterflies in my stomach were cows, I’d have myself a good dairy farm.”[3]

Warming up with riders like Nick Craig around you certainly gets your racing head on – Well it would if you weren’t dressed as a werewolf anyway! The last time I raced with Nick was a 100km enduro and he beat me by about half an hour…and I was in the top ten!…The man is pure class and he’s probably the nicest rider you’ll ever talk to. It’s blokes like Nick that inspire the rest of us to keep coming to races and support British Cycling.

The race itself was very much like when I raced here in the fourth round of the London League a few weeks ago except for a massive start straight pile up. I’d been gridded to the right, which was frustrating because it put me on the outside of the first two corners, but as we came out of the first one someone touched wheels and sent everyone around them onto the deck.

I’ve never been in such a big bunch crash before and the metallic noise of bikes hitting bikes, along with the groans of riders hitting the ground was intense. It seemed like everyone was involved as I rode further and further to the right to try and avoid the carnage. In the end, somehow, I came out the other side unscathed and alone. I remember looking around and seeing nobody on their bikes except the twenty or so riders who had been in front of the crash so I sprinted through no-man’s-land and managed to catch the back of the lead group as we went into the sand for the first time.

After that, like I said, the race took on a familiar style, although we were riding so much faster than last time. In all I think we did nine laps in an hour in the daytime, but with less light to show us the way we must have squeezed in eleven or twelve this time. Even so, Nick Craig passed me with a cheeky grin on his way to the win with five minutes to go – he ended up maybe six or seven minutes up on me after one hour of racing.

I was riding well though and the pile up on lap one had actually helped split the group up and made it easier to pass and lap riders. There were lots of lovely technical sections that I found it easy to make time in and the normal drag through the infield had been split up with a mud pit, some whoops and a wall ride, before you came to a sleeper that was possible to bunnyhop. This didn’t save much time, but meant that you didn’t lose any momentum on the way to the bridge, which was a lot steeper than it looked. The big tabletop and the sleeper were separated by the beer tent and were both popular spots with the many spectators, and it was a joy to ride amongst so much support.

People seemed to love Wolfie, my alter ego for the night and with many a howl, whoop or shout I lifted my game to chase down stronger riders through the race. Lots of people seemed to be crashing around me, but I kept a cool head (actually as I commented in a post race interview, “it’s hot in the wolf!”), to secure 22nd place overall which was inside the top third – my goal for the season. So Wolfie was a happy boy!

The senior/elite rider’s numbers were all prefixed with the number 3. I have a great photo from the night with my number clearly displayed on my arm and both the photo and the number shall be framed for the workshop, back at home. I’ll proudly remember how fragile life is and how valuable our time is every time I look at that picture. My number on that night – 358.

“If you don’t go when you want to, by the time you do, you’ll already be gone.”[4]


[1] The World’s Fastest Indian (2005) – Burt Munro (Anthony Hopkins). Directed by Roger Donaldson

[2] The World’s Fastest Indian (2005) – Burt Munro (Anthony Hopkins). Directed by Roger Donaldson

[3] The World’s Fastest Indian (2005) – Burt Munro (Anthony Hopkins). Directed by Roger Donaldson

[4] The World’s Fastest Indian (2005) – Burt Munro (Anthony Hopkins). Adapted from an original quote by Theodore Roosevelt. Directed by Roger Donaldson

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