Rider Story - Cycling... a perspective from the rear-gunner

Rider Story - Cycling... a perspective from the rear-gunner

Hi, my name is James and I‘m one of the new employees in the UK.  Last week I was casually invited to join a bicycle ride on Sunday morning touted as an opportunity to meet a few people. I was particularly keen to attend as I was told that Andrew our CEO would be there, and I had visions of cycling through our beautiful Surrey scenery chatting, and hearing first-hand the strategy for our future.

Arriving at the carpark in shorts at 8am on what I delicately describe as a frosty morning - I was joined by 7 other rather chirpy, but importantly lycra-clad people.  It should have been my first clue as to what lay ahead as I suddenly became aware I was surrounded by more carbon fibre than can be found on a stealth bomber - not only the frames… but wheels, seat posts, shoes and even helmets.  One of those shoes probably cost more than my bike!  Taking note of the ‘no helmet, no ride’ policy I saw on the web-invite it made my upturned fruit bowl with old leather strap appear rather ludicrous.  I was certainly glad to have left the flower basket and handle-bar tassels at home.  Before we set off on the ride, someone observed the free-play/movement in my rear-wheel and upon further inspection noted that my ‘sprocket’ needed replacing.  As this was a word I hadn’t heard of before I deemed it not important and set out on the ride anyway.

You may have guessed by now that I’m not a regular cyclist and two things became immediately clear as we left the carpark and embarked up the first hill: -

  1. It was incredibly cold (at minus 3 degrees centigrade)
  2. This was not going to be a leisurely amble round the Surrey Hills – these guys were serious

Having not been on my bicycle in many moons, and certainly having never ridden in less than zero degrees I was flabbergasted at how quickly my fingers roared out in throbbing agony.  I literally thought they were going to explode as the wind-chill generated by our all-too exuberant start rushed over the ever-so-slightly exposed flesh.  Next came the icy blast that I felt in my eye balls that honestly welded my lids in a semi-open position, leaving me with just enough field of vision to observe 7 small buttocks in the distance disappearing over a crest at an impossible speed, powered by legs crafted from years of experience and pure muscle.  This was a view I would become very accustomed to during the course of the morning.

I furiously set about pumping my trembling legs up and down as fast as I could, while my lungs cried out as the sub-zero air rushed in and out.  My eyes streamed water and snot ran freely from my nose but I was beyond caring. The only thing I focused on was getting to the top of that bastard hill before me, trying hard not to embarrass myself too much in front of my new colleagues and CEO.  Sadly, this was to be the first of many, many hills.

I finally arrived at the top of the peak to find the others patiently waiting for me, but immediately they set off giving my aching thighs and burning calves little to no recovery. My dusty and wobbly-wheeled bike was lovingly crafted in the early 1900’s from the same materials used on the Titanic – it was certainly no match for the lighter than air weapons of my counterparts.

As I dragged that steely behemoth up the side of one mountain after another, I was joined on occasion by other members of the group – sympathetically dropping back to check that I didn’t require medical assistance.

Talking was NEVER an option.

Move legs, breath and try not to have a heart attack were the only thoughts.  My fingers were bonded to the handlebars in frozen rigidity, as Andrew casually asked how I was doing.  Of course I lied that everything was fine, but I’m convinced the thin veil of deceit couldn’t cover up the truth.

I lost consciousness too often to count and liken the experience to a mountaineer getting stranded on Everest.  There was never a thought of giving up or going back – mostly because I knew if I stopped my legs from turning they would never get started again and I would die on the side of that beautiful road in those stunning Surrey Hills.   At each crest I would meet briefly with some fresh-faced, and almost bored looking individuals that quickly set off soon as I arrived. 

Admittedly I bailed out on the last section of hills and opted for a flatter route back home.  In between the black-outs and my speed falling off dramatically I remember seeing our elderly neighbour pass me with her Zimmer frame obviously returning from the shops– with each rotation a struggle, she commented that I didn’t look well and asked if I wanted a push.   I eventually arrived in the driveway, dismounted ungracefully and let my bicycle lay where it fell (Secretly hoping it would be stolen or some of the local youths would set fire to it).

Crawling up the steps towards my front door I managed to drag myself inside to the warmth, and collapsed on the floor with my back up against the radiator.  I remained there for a full 10 minutes crying quietly to myself… just so relieved to be alive and surprised that I would get to see my family again.

Strava suggests that I covered in excess of 50km and climbed over 800 meters all in little over 3 hours.  Trust me... it felt like a lot more in every sense!

I could not have been more grateful for the neckerchief, earmuff doodad and foot bootie warmer things that were compassionately offered to me in the carpark.  I am convinced they saved my life.  I’m somewhat proud of myself and very glad to have been part of the ride.  I did genuinely enjoy myself and got to meet some fantastic individuals. 

When is the next one?