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