The Bike and Other Stories
Cycling adventures around London, New York City, and Berlin.
Geoffrey Armes
Home | Contact

Climbing Like Contador
Geoffrey Armes - 2020-07-09 21:59:46+02:00

A damp day, but cleared enough to ride. I'd been ill all week, acid dyspepsia or a cold or both or under the weatherness, whatever it was time to clear the sloth out of my body and at least, try.

There are pretty backstreets to bring you to S Bahn and the Krone, where everything starts in earnest. By the time I get there, I like to feel good, like I want to ride. Today, as I spun, rounding pot holes, looking right for speeding traffic (there's only the occasional car) I looked to my body for signals, to answer me, yes, this is the right thing to be doing at this moment. Go for it. At the same time I could feel the sickness circulating, my stomach radiating grumpiness. Stop disturbing me.

Head thick with snot, I evacuated a few times, snorting right and left, spitting into the wind with bikie expertise only it wasn't, because as I passed the elegant old church on elegant Bismarckallee I spat, only the wind took the snot and phlegm and detritus and flobbed it on my shoulder or in my stubble, and there I was sweeping it away with these little half gloves also known as track mitts and feeling vaguely embarrassed and disgusted, I did not want to be spotted by the elegant denizens of Grunewald, peering out from the picture windows in their villas.

Something about this episode woke me up, and after this I found I was liking the bike again, enjoying sweeping the corners, sprinting down and up the little rise before the S bahn and then out the saddle swaying my weight to grab some tempo up the Krone itself, a nice tail wind, my upper body finally warmed, legs pumping, warm internally if not on the skin...

It's Autumn, but this was a winter ride in spirit if not temperature or clothing choice. I glugged my juice, kept an eye on the lowering rain clouds, upped the tempo so theoretically I could get some sort of distance done in the hour before sunset and any worsening weather came.

Around by Inselstr there was a lamp on in the forest, also the bridge and the short but steepest slopes of the evening.

I'd been watching a video earlier: “Climb like Contador,” and figured to put my education into action. Up I got, weight forward, slinging side by side, I was going to dance up. To a degree I did, but winded by the top of this little hillock I knew I was no Contador however improved my technique was. Houses shuttered and hunkered, this is a rich corner of Berlin where the houses start with the retired chief of Police and end reputedly with Brangelina (when that was an item?) around the back. I rounded the exclusive circle, thought of stopping for pictures at an abandoned gate with lake behind, but didn't bother. The light had been special on the bridge and I had shot off a couple there for the Facebook. The body was feeling better, maybe sloughing some vestiges of a sodden week away.

No Contador but I conquered the rise into Wannsee, switching my lights on as I passed into the forest, shot off some video as I went hoping to communicate something of the gathering lush gloom of the glistening wet evening but it was a hollow exercise.

The wind was in my face now and I was spinning at 28kmh where on the same stretch coming down I'd been 34kmh no problem,.

Passed a couple of roadies, exchanged curt nods, fingers raised perfunctorily on handle bars, grim work countenance maintained. I got to Halensee, where unexpected evening sun ricocheted off flats and office windows and I stopped to point the camera again.

It was a winter ride in spirit, mostly because it had the kind of peace dropping relaxed tempo high enough to keep warm but not involved with other guys type of feel. Introversion starts to overtake the bike community, even in September.

The ride was over, the sun down as I arrived home, but I hope to at least repeat tomorrow, and knock the crap out of my system.

Competitive Interlude
Geoffrey Armes - 2020-07-03 22:17:57+02:00

He was on one of the smaller hills when I spotted him, working, but not hard enough as I overhauled him on the false flat after the climb. I actually slowed a little there and he decided to latch on, which I thought was fine although I gradually upped the pace into the valley and then the next, longer hill. I figured the peak would sort us out; either he was faking and resting and would come round me there, or, well, I didn't expect much else. I hit the lower slopes fast, and found that I still had good legs, and setting a steady tempo figured he'd sprint round soon enough. Halfway up I got out the saddle and started hammering, and still he clung there, not coming through, not saying anything, not going away.

I freewheeled the descent, to see if he'd get impatient. He didn't, so I decided to attack at the bottom, sprinting out of the curve, figuring I'd drop him there as I was now annoyed at my silent not quite partner. He held on. I stopped the attack as I was starting to gasp anyway, but decided to keep the pace steadily high, grinding away into the wind, figuring he'd be there till one of us turned. He wouldn't work. I kept speeding up incrementally, often a recipe for dragging someone to a finish line only to see them sprint past. I figured I'd blow up on the last slope anyway, that is a series of short vicious little mounds that'll break your heart if you don't respect them.

I slowed a little, so did he, I turned to see him, he kept his eyes firmly on the road. The road roamed ahead, a dark challenge under the trees, and then suddenly - he was gone. Just like that. I turned to check again, and he was already metres behind. I worried a little for him as his exit was so spectacular. After a few more pedal strokes I looked again. Yes, he was still on the bike, still moving, in fact out the saddle - all was well. I stood up myself, waved, then sprinted the last little hummock alone, heading towards the long straight track of the Krone and home.

The Krone
Geoffrey Armes - 2020-06-24 23:21:10+02:00

Oh you mad slither of a road, summer laden with bikies and family cyclists and skaters and runners and walkers, Even through the winter you bear a core group of hard experienced faces on bicycles most days and times. Except when the ice is down hard. Then the tarmac remains a rink long after the roads that cars frequent have thawed. Because cars do not traverse you. For you, Krone, are a bike path, broad and long, sweeping down between the Avus speedway (that leaves Berlin via the old Dreilinden checkpoint by the ebay building) and the forest. You are the flux of many a cycling adventure.

Geoffrey Armes - 2020-06-19 23:25:51+02:00

…oh, that's enough. Look back and there I am twenty or twenty two years or thereabouts and a bike rider and have just gone off course riding a 25 mile TT somewhere in Surrey, somewhere, so no chance of a time, decent or otherwise and anyway, I am on an A road, the one that points towards Kingston……

Early one morning just as the sun was rising only the weather was grey I set off across Croydon towards Surrey intent on riding a 25 mile TT I'd paid the Fiver for and was therefore entered in. I was tired, hadn't slept well as I was nervous, and early mornings are not my forte. I probably hadn't eaten enough although I'd made an effort to load up the calories for the upcoming effort to drain. I had a sandwich stashed in my bonk bag. Feeling stretched and unsure I somehow got to the start and made my depart time. Still long before any civilised hour of breakfast on a Sunday in the Home Counties.

The starter held my bike vertical. I was clipped in, the straps tightly down and the timer counted me out. I was away, looking for marshals on this strange course, looking for the egress onto the A road, there he was, gesturing this way, no that, was I supposed to get on the A road south here, no, go around the roundabout, head north, I understood, I dillied, dallied, took the plunge and went around descending the ramp to the north side and put my head down and worked. Not too fast, but a rhythm, a stretch but leave enough for the turn and the second half, it's a long way, keep turning the cranks, head down, ride on the drops. Not entirely sure of the route I was hoping to catch somebody, or indeed to be caught soon. Maybe my minute man would be fast and experienced and as he rounded I would see his number And so it was. I heard the crease of tires on the asphalt and at one with his steed, body low, still, steely, trenchantly churning he came past. I kept my head down, set to let him go and keep my rhythm - and then I noticed his number. Far lower than mine. He had started many minutes earlier than I had. I was off course. Of course. Dejected but not surprised as it had been the kind of morning, I sat up.

Where was I? On an A road, south west of London, deep in Surrey, steered presumably towards Leatherhead or Ewell or Surbiton or indeed possibly Kingston. The latter being where my father lived. I decided I'd go up there. Hopefully they'd be home, and somebody, at least one of the small ones, would be up. I needed something to come out of this little debacle other than sore legs.

Time stopped, as she passed three ribbons through her hands.

I am in Berlin, writing this, tired from a ride, still buzzed, still sore. I am in late 1970s Surrey on a steel frame. I am watching the 2012 Olympic Road Race, a drone spirit bird lowered above the suburban asphalt poured into the screen, even as I am some hundreds of miles away from the action.

Time picks up the slack in the reins and unravels. I tack between grey laned highways and the dappled lambent roads of the London Olympics Road Race decades later. In the late seventies I am in in a period when only the eccentric ride bicycles, but I am looking down the time slope unknown to the future: which is a mass of athletes on carbon frames.

My world has exploded outwards, multi sighted and timeless. A moment. Moments. Spread around the universe and normal rules are being bent.

I'm on a steel frame, and my back is bent, riding a wind into London. I am watching on television, in Berlin, the same suburbs slip by, that I rode then, alone. Where now more than a million gather, cheer, pedal on their way....

Race over, I head out to the Krone.

For now here is the middle of this thing: I am in Berlin, and I am watching this race in Surrey and thinking that I rode there 30 years ago and that my father is no longer alive and therefore no longer there. Also, that I was an animateur of that riding scene when it was really relatively covert in England, but now in these dappled lanes and suburban byways it is really very apparent. A done thing. And my father is gone but bought me the bike I ride now. So still here, closer even

We pound around Grunewald, will this body back into shape, rejoice in speed, remember him and the others who went on this year. It's a long ache sometimes, the Havelchausee, but also celebratory, as spirits come, travel with for a while, then speed away on another plane. Because yes, I have felt, seen even, spirits and shapes, shades of old friends and colleagues on those hills. They visit a last goodbye on me, in a habitat they never knew me in. They dance on the slopes above my head in the valley, a last and first ride, and my taste of their freedom in the next world, is their gift back to me.

So as I watched that Olympic race, I felt the coming together of these threads in my life, childhood adolescence, my father, my bike riding, the British bike riding scene coming to fruition. In a certain moment I knew how they connected but I don't now.

I’ve still got the number on the bike. I get my head down, look for the signs on this northbound road, and work. I’ll find my way home.

The Girls Win Again
Geoffrey Armes - 2020-06-14 23:21:54+02:00

It had been a week. The usual teaching plus more plus illness had seen to that.

First the penultimate hearing of this music and dance or music analysis and dance or music appreciation for dancers or whatever this course is I have purportedly been teaching, of which the most successful moments have consisted of walking and listening to city sounds and moving in silence when in the studio - also great conversation on work, why work, why we started to work, where we want our work to go.

Then class playing, and a slow accretion of energy and instruments over at the Marameo studio accrued over three days, as I travelled the music gathered and waited in place.

For the group motion workshop last night, when a core of music, rose and embraced the room, energy coruscating between leaders (women) participants (mostly men) and music makers (women and men) including one of my daughters in full embrace of the process in graceful action.

Music is always there, waiting for an invitation, waiting for the antennae to be raised again, the receiver left open, the egress enabled.

But the organisational stress in every sphere had been overwhelming along with my cold or flu or whatever that had risen as the week progressed, as the weather thickened, each day grey and heavy, the sky opening buckets and dropping water on the burgeoning drains of Berlin, tides backed up, ponding everywhere, deep puddles that became lakes..

Still the rain fell, and still the pressure lay sunken, a soggy sullen presence malingering in every corner. Berlin squelched on, as did I, lucky many times - the last train home before the station was closed by rising water, the student cancelling as exhaustion drove me to bed.

At the close of Saturday evening then, tired but fulfilled, my girl by my side next to a pile of musical instruments I overpaid a taxi home and fell gratefully into my chair, as she took herself into bed and quickly slipped to sleep.


Sunday then, became an opportunity to seize, as sunshine broke for a few minutes and clouds lumbered by without precipitation. I had no idea how much energy I had, on the tails of the week's extra expenditure truncated by sickness but it was time to go. Tentative at first, wiping away spats of rain drops and noting the wind I arrived at the Krone, which was busy enough with riders to encourage. I got out the saddle on that first little rise and cautiously started to work. Nobody went by me, but I'd resolved not to chase anyway.

A little further up, when I'd settled into a comfortable rhythm a woman did go by, hard, training obviously, tucked in a Time Trial position, a study in aerodynamic focus, lithe light and skinny, like my girl who danced last night and indeed, rides a bike very quickly. Even if I hadn't resolved not to chase I would never have dared disturb that concentration by suddenly clunking gears and snorting behind her.

Next though, came a small group, and as they passed I decided that I'd be saving energy for later and still moving faster if I joined, whilst still feeling my way into the ride. I didn't work, just sat in, and of our two leaders, one seemed a lot smoother than the other. Another woman I noted. She led us a quick chase and pretty soon we were coming up on the first girl, but they left her out front, and the pace stayed high, but as long as I concentrated on keeping the gap tight I was fine. I found myself behind the front two, wondering where the others had gone. Before we reached Havelchaussee I made my decision: I was turning, whether they went that way or straight ahead. But they went my way and the pace stayed steady, down into the valley where, being heavier I could have passed easily but kept my ride conservative as earlier when I'd let a gap show it had been quite hard sprinting back on, and well, I had been ill all week. Best to keep something. But then there was the van, sat in front of us at a stolid 30k only less because he was stuck behind a slow cyclist and for some reason wouldn't pass. The girls got together on the front and started discussing, they were training, wanted the pace before the hill. We guys, I think down to three, at that point seemed to be content to wait, conserve some energy...

The girls had had enough and sprinted around on a semi-blind bend with enough room to accommodate and set off towards Willi (the hill) and of course a few minutes later as the pace of the cyclist in front of the van faltered on the lower slope the driver suddenly found the space to get by without hassle and the hill lay open for us as well. I figured at that point to drop contact and let the others go by but realised halfway up that I was gaining again, and with a sprint put them behind me on the peak.

But it wasn't until minutes later that I saw the girls as they sat up and waited for one of the men from the original group, who must have been training with them.

Perhaps they hated me by then, but I still wouldn't take the front, and the same thing happened on Postfenn as on Willi– I waved them ahead and still came back on everyone except the girls who'd skimmed up, light as on wings and happy. At this point I turned as I had another hill to do, and then Willi once again and a long slog through the thickening weather stopping only to stretch out a gammy lag once before getting home just as the clouds threw down again.

Geoffrey Armes - 2020-06-14 23:06:25+02:00

To the girl who turned me over at the top of the HavelChaussee - well done, I wouldn't have stayed away even if I'd known you were coming. To the guy who sat behind all the way up then jumped me on the descent only to wheelsuck you all the way round - I hope you made him suffer on the next climb! See you all soon.

Christmas Eve
Geoffrey Armes - 2020-06-14 22:15:14+02:00

I took the bike down to the bridge and just a few metres from the old east/west border found a quiet spot where the water held an endless conversation with the wind and there was no other sound, before I turned to the 10% incline that is quite enough for me these days thank you and then passed the Russian church in Nikolskoe that played out a version of "ding dong merrily on high" on its silvery tinkle bell as I sweated by, and on through quiet streets and warm lit houses full of family reunion, and felt that this crazy year had finally tilted and we slide now to the next.

Dopplegänger in Circular Time
Geoffrey Armes - 2020-06-05 23:43:29+02:00

And I stood in the hospital grounds and looked up at that old room so that the one who was there before could stare down at me and know that he would leave when the right time came.....

Geoffrey Armes - 2020-05-29 23:33:48+02:00

The next day I followed the almost stalled traffic around Auerbach behind the small maybe five year old boy and his father exposed to oncoming vehicles around the blind bend. Yes, an astonishing sight, a special trust even here in Berlin, even on the entrance to one of the well known bike and skater car free promenades known to all local drivers.

Father and son speeding down the Krone. Boy about fifteen, dad working on the front. Me, riding parallel, wasn't going to pass up observing this or conceding distance. Easy, right?

At a certain moment I see father and son pull over, ready to go north again. I realise they are doing the same run as I do with my daughter – home to Havelchausee and back. Twenty K, say.

At Schwani I was fast but not as fast as the guy on the Pinarello who snuck up on me on the rise and although I comfortably rode in front again through the circle of houses – Schwani is an island of resplendent villas, some privately owned some institute - well at the bottom we sped, easy spinning but not hanging around and over the bridge by the cobble stones a boy calls, walking with his parents “quicker, quicker” and I hear an amused snort behind me and I raise my arm in jocular salute but I do not gas it anymore as I am comfortably fast and he comes up beside me and laughs “that was fun, as if we weren't already working enough,” but then he does forge ahead for a while, I keep him in view and pass again at the lights, “it's green,” I call in case he hasn't noticed as he greedily swigs but I didn't see him again....

up and away then, the leg holds up, past the two holes, past the gravel turning point car park at Huttenweg where, I feel, one must always watch, sprint the small rise into endspurt territory, yeah some rain but what of it, but it's enough

the city streets are calm, newly washed beaming in the unexpected sun. A young mother pushing the pram is singing “London Bridge is Falling Down,”, and peace has dropped, the mayhem of the road and young lives striving hidden behind shuttered houses and the last drops of evensong light before the darkness envelopes again.

To The Bridge Again.
Geoffrey Armes - 2020-05-29 20:30:41+02:00

It's been a while - months even - since I've ridden these roads. To the (spy) bridge. And back. Can't say that much has changed, least of all the rider. Maybe some thicker tree growth. Unless you reckon that the hills have inclined and elongated a little bit, or more than a smidgen. They have you know.