11.026 – the end of the beginning

ImageTo finish first, first you have to finish. In fact to finish anywhere (and anything), first you have to finish. 

I began fixing bikes at the same time that I started riding bikes. No one has ever built, prepared or fixed my bicycle. For me its part of the race or ride – You can have strong legs and healthy lungs, but if your bike doesn’t get you to the end then you don’t have what it takes…

The eleventh round of the London League cyclocross was hosted by Vicious Velo and brought us back to Herne Hill Velodrome in the freezing chill of December this Sunday. At the start I got shunted back through the pack when Will Thompson made a ridiculous move up the inside on the first corner, T boning three of us. Fair game for making the hole-shot I guess!

Then chaos ensued as we were directed into a random piece of empty in field! Riders scattered in all directions looking for the course that we were supposed to be on – something was wrong and it emerged that the course tape had not be adjusted for the start loop! How this happened I have no idea, but some people were getting very upset. I figured the time before our second start would be better spent staying warm rather than arguing so I rode around a bit with some of the older riders before taking my place back on the grid.

Second time out and I’d learnt my lesson and so I forced my way up the inside of the first corner and slotted into my place alongside a racer I had targeted before the race. He upped his pace and I responded, just as someone else came around the outside of him. He shouted as he got squeezed out and I never looked back.

…Of course a lot of people have neither the skills nor the inclination to fix their own bikes (or anyone else’s for that matter), which is where people like myself, who actually enjoy fixing bikes, come in. I set up THE.ÆIGHT.BICYCLE.CØMPANY for precisely this reason – a group of riders and racers who support each other in what they do, so for example, I needed support at a twelve hour night race this summer. I paid back this support by providing two full services and a frame swap to the three people involved. The great thing is that the tax man needn’t even know as we traded something far more valuable than money. We based our transaction upon strength, encouragement, friendship and knowledge.

That knowledge, I believe, is the first step in training yourself for a race. Halfway through a race your legs start to burn, your lungs scream and your brain is struggling to keep up, but the bike should be one thing that you don’t have to worry about. The bicycle is just like any part of your body, it should be tried, tested and perfected ready for battle. That way, when you’re halfway through the race and other people are washing their broken bikes, you’ll be making up places.

Some people try to buy the knowledge with the latest carbon parts, electronic shifting and flash frames, but this is a false economy. I’d trade a Di2 set-up any day for a few hours in the workshop followed by an hour or two in the mud. The thing is, you can buy the best of everything, but if the parts don’t sing when they’re in use then your money counts for nothing.

I ride a two year old groupset, with three year old brakes, on a frame which was designed over ten years ago. I do this because it works – I ride my bike to work, I ride it after work when I’m training, I ride it at the weekend and then I race on it. I make small changes and adjustments and then I ride it more. It is just like any part of my body – If my knee hurts I rest it and change what I’m doing, if I’m tired I rest more and if my bike feels wrong, I take it apart, make it better and then check that it’s fixed.

So when I glanced across at riders with their pressure washers in hand halfway through the race I knew that some of the battle had been won.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been there too – bodies get injured and broken and sometimes bikes do too – it’s unavoidable. You can only do what you can do to prepare for a race and sometimes fate and luck find a way to play their cards, but without tempting either of those, I was pleased to still be pushing my pedals whilst some of the others were pushing their bikes back to the cars.

I was also pleased to be in front of some of the riders that I’d targeted before we started. I have a mantra when I race a series of races – I feel that if you aren’t moving up then you must be moving down. So each time I beat a rider I make sure I know that I also beat him next time out, but on top of that I target the rider in front of him. I learn what jersey they wear, what kind of riding they are best at and where there weaknesses are. Only by doing all of these things can you hope to improve, both your position and yourself.

When you race elbow to elbow with someone you learn more about them than even their best friends probably know. There are no poker faces, no hidden pleasantries and no bullshit. Nothing but raw human emotion prevails. You can recognise everything – honesty, cowardice, coolness, mental toughness, true physical strength, fitness and trueness in a racer. It is a bond that can last a season, a race, a lap or even just a corner, but the result is the same. You will learn everything you need to know.

If you can affect them enough to make them shout at you then you know that, for them, the race is over.

My name is Glen, I’m older than I was a year ago and I ride bikes.

THE.8.RAC3R is supported by THE.ÆIGHT.BICYCLE.CØMPANY 

Photos courtesy of Annik Pauwels and Oskar Scarsbrook.
THE.ÆIGHT.BICYCLE.CØMPANY can be found on FacebookWordPress or by emailing us via eightbikeco@yahoo.com.
Any potential sponsors looking for a rider for 2012 should email me at eightbikeco@yahoo.com or ring me on 07541 725 606. I like riding my bike fast, I can fix my own stuff and I make great tea, so I could be the winning package for you?
“83VØLUTION”, “THE.8.RAC3R”, “THE.BØY.R4C3R” and “THE.ÆIGHT.BICYCLE.CØMPANY” all appear courtesy of, and belong to, Glen Whittington.
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