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  1. Never Mind

    July 8, 2014 by Sp8y

    I’ve always been a little different. Now whether this difference was by nature, nurture or pure necessity I can’t absolutely say. I just know that it has been a fact of my life that interesting things happen to and around me, which is fortunate since I love to write so much. Imagine my despair if I were to live a life of normality? The mere thought of the boredom almost destroys me. Luckily for me normality is not one of my multiple-choice options in life.

    Early in life my difference was synonymous with clumsy. By the time I finally got my racing bike I had already had three concussions from schoolyard accidents and lots of skinned knee and elbow experiences; and so it was that when I began bike racing in 1982 my parents stocked up on band-aids and prepared for the inevitable.

    I was a risk taker and I didn’t disappoint. In the first two years of racing I had several spectacular crashes during either training or racing as I crashed my way through three road bikes in just two years. My Grandmother had a unique outlook on my various crashes. No matter how severe the injury, Nan would always have the same response “Never mind love”

    Nan’s three simple words had the effect of normalising my crashes and not making me precious about them. She was right of course; crashes are part of the risk taking that happens every time you get on a bike, whether it’s to train out on the road or race in a surging bunch of 100 riders each eager to be across the line first and willing to take every chance no matter who is in their way.

    Bike racing, like life, is full of risk and you can only get the results when you let go of your fear and take the chance. If you sit around worrying about the potential consequences you will never take your bike off the living room carpet.

    About four months ago I noticed that a piece of chilli was caught beside my tooth. When I got home from the restaurant I flossed the piece out and quickly forgot about it, although the burning sensation of the chilli lasted a few hours after the event, I didn’t pay that much attention. Flash forward three weeks and I noticed that the gum next to where the chilli had been stuck was now discoloured. Two subsequent trips to the dentist could shed little light on the misbehaving gum and consequently I found myself on the medical test merry-go-round.

    If my Grandmother was still around she would have told me to “never mind” but she isn’t and so I did. I minded. I minded a lot. I happen to like my mouth and I wasn’t keen on having anything wrong with it. Now a lot of people will argue that I’ve had a continuous content problem with my mouth, or at least with what comes out of it my entire life and so it would be fittingly ironic to now have something actually wrong with it. These are a lot of the same people who tell me not to ride in traffic or take any sort of risk. These people love the safety of their carpet even while their wheels gather dust.

    But maybe this time they were right? It was my mouth and not something I was willing to negotiate on, and so I worried. Me. Mad biker that flies down hills and life in the dark at 45km/h weaving through peak hour traffic with little more than lycra and a gut feeling protecting me was all of a sudden worried to take my wheels off the carpet.

    All of a sudden I started to think about risk and getting older and all of the things that could go wrong. The safety of the carpet became an annoying mantra, until today. Today the results came back – apparently it wasn’t a chilli that had been stuck in my gum but a shard of glass! Oh yes you read it right, a slither of glass that had caused a pigment change, not an endocrine disease or melanoma or some other ‘normal’ disease but a crunchy piece of window material.

    The specialist slapped me on the back and laughed about how unique my problem had been and that she would never had guessed it could be something so unusual, so different, but I should have guessed, I should have known that there was nothing to worry about. I should have trusted that my body wouldn’t let me down, especially my mouth, despite it’s numerous slips, it was still one of my prized and trusted assets.

    The next time a Dr Worry points to one of my irregularities I’m going to tell her to never mind and then wheel my bike out of her carpeted surgery and freewheel back into the blissfully risky world of just being different.


  2. The Fine Art of Control

    June 24, 2014 by Sp8y

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    It’s not only Major Tom who needs to make a call in to ground control every now and then, even self confessed control freaks such as myself find that sometimes you just need to step back, take a breath and focus on the basics of the fine art of control.

    I call it a fine art because like art, control, or more specifically what it is we are attempting to control, can be a somewhat subjective issue. From nearly 48 years of cheers and tears I have discovered that life is so much more enjoyable when you recognise what is in and what is out of your control. Key to this basic rule is the golden rule of never trying to control your feelings.

    The only thing you can control in relation to feelings is the reaction and actions that you choose to make over those feelings.

    To have any sort of success as a bike racer you must master controlling your actions and reactions to feelings. You learn fairly quickly when it’s acceptable to act on emotion and when it’s not. The rider that crosses the line first with arms raised in elation is adored by the crowd, while the rider that crosses the line last with arms raised in disgust is labelled the bad loser. They are both acting on feelings with similar actions but very different feelings that elicit a completely different interpretation from an audience, and trust me; there is always an audience.

    1984 was to be a pivotal year for my education in control. I was on top of my very small world having won both the national sprint and road championships the year before and practically every race I had entered since. When I was chosen for the Olympic team to compete in the first ever Olympic cycling event for women my ego had forced my head to bulge beyond description. I felt invincible and I acted that way. Arrogance was too nice a word for me in 1984.

    The lessons in control soon came.

    The Australian coaches could not ratify my selection due to insufficient international experience. So after being measured up for my Olympic blazer I was told that I wouldn’t be going to Los Angeles after all but I would be going to an International road race in China. The timing of this event would prevent me from defending my national road title but it would give me international racing experience. Needless to say, I was upset. I reacted by mouthing off to the president of the cycling federation and from memory I may have thrown or kicked a few things – an act that established me as a troublemaker and rebel.

    Acting out on feelings became my signature move.

    A few months after the Olympic let down the lessons continued. After an argument with my partner at the end of a 4 hour training session I acted on my emotion by dangerously riding off a gutter and out on to a busy road where a car hit me head on. Concussion, deep cuts to my leg and a broken collarbone later and life it seemed had spiralled out of control. This mayhem lasted for four more years and my reputation as a volatile bad ass grew. The more I tried to control my feelings the more I acted out in frustration.
    It took until 1988 to realise I was better served by just allowing feelings to happen and trying to control my actions instead.

    1988 was to be my year of control. I controlled everything in scope – what I ate, when I slept, who I surrounded myself with, how I behaved in public, what I said, what I didn’t say – if it concerned an action by me, I controlled it. Racing life became an equation of cause and effect with random uncontrollable events such as crashes thrown in for variety.

    The shock of course came when I left my controlled two-wheeled life for the chaos of normal – a career, a partner, a house, a pet, a social life – a mass of confusion and unpredictable behaviour. It would take me ten more years after retiring from racing in 1997 to find my ground control again.

    After some very painful lessons I realised that the rules I had applied to my racing life still applied to my non-racing life – you can’t control feelings, you can only control how you act on them. Throwing a phone across a desk in frustration or insulting a doctor over results that upset you are really not great moves, but riding home like a maniac to relieve that frustration has the added bonus of increasing fitness and getting me home quicker. The tech team won’t have to send me yet another phone and I won’t be dropping off another card of apology- it’s a win-win.

    It’s impossible to control, hide, squash, deny or ignore feelings – eventually they will work their way out – usually by turning into angry actions and sometimes by strange health issues or body hiccups as I like to call them. Feelings by their very nature are out of control, you have them or you don’t, they just are. You control the rest.


  3. Having a little Faith

    May 24, 2014 by Sp8y

    It won’t come as a surprise to say that I have a tattoo, it’s about as common these days as a freckle, and besides the sheer normality of it all, don’t all Olympians have a rings tattoo? Sure I have that one, although strangely it took me 25 years after the fact to go ahead and get it. Sometimes I need to sit with an idea for a while before I act and sometimes I just act on instinct. One of my earliest tattoos is all about acting on instinct. It is simply my star sign (Libran) with a word underneath it – “Faith”.

    Okay so I don’t have a bumper sticker advising that “Magic Happens” or that I’m a child of the universe and I’m not tied up in mystical imaginings if that’s what you think I am starting to hint at, all I’m saying is that I just have a little faith.

    Coming from a non-religious family that may seem a bit odd, certainly to my Catholic partner it is, but the faith that is tattooed on my skin and within me is not of a religious nature it is simply one of belief, mostly in myself and occasionally in others. It’s hard to pin it down or give it words when it’s really just a gut feeling, something that I know to be true. Over the years it has served me well, except when I ignore or forget about it. That’s when something will happen that sharpens my focus back to paying attention.

    Having bounced my head off various road and track surfaces over the years I now find that I have acquired certain side effects. Our bodies are good like that, they have a memory, they know full well what they like and don’t like, and even if the scar doesn’t show, your body knows it’s still there. One of the side effects of my acquisition is that I have bouts of short-term memory loss; just like what non-brain injured people have except that I just get it more often, like every day often.

    Recently my acquisition struck again and rather than pay attention to that niggling feeling that I needed to do something, I totally ignored every warning that popped into my consciousness. Last week I committed the classic winter commuting error or not recharging my lights in between rides.
    Commuting in winter means that you ride to work in the dark and ride home in the dark and this means you have to recharge more often, practically every day more often.

    Now I’ve been doing this riding thing for a while now and recharging lights is a pretty basic chore but apparently easily forgotten. On this particular day of my memory loss I had turned my computer on as soon as I got to work in order to plug my lights in to charge, but for some reason that didn’t happen. In fact it only happened 9 hours later after a friend asked if I was headed home soon because it was getting dark. Big sigh, yes I was and with two dead lights. Forty-five minutes of charging later and I decided to test how much light power I had for the 32km ride home.

    Time for faith to step in.

    With 16km to go the warning light on my front light started to flash and previous experience told me that I had about ten minutes of light at the current strength left. Ten minutes wasn’t going to get me very far so I switched to what I like to call epileptic mode – the quick flash. The warning light stopped but the new problem was I could only see bursts of the road ahead and not having great night vision in the first place means that bursts of light are about as useful as lightning flashes in the sky. But what to do? I was past the point where I could get on a train and I didn’t have any cash on me anyway, so with no other choice I calmed down and listened.

    Listen to what you ask? I listened to what I believed. So what did I believe? I believed if I concentrated on what was in front of me and I rode as hard as I could, then I could get home safely. Riding home at night is like when you set short-term goals; short term goals look at what you want to happen in the near future, when riding at night all you can see is what is about two feet in front of you. The long-term goal in this respect was getting home.

    With only short bursts of light for 16km my short-term goals were extra short and many. At about 8km to go I was so focused on taking in as much information in those microbursts that everything around me ceased to exist, it was like I had superhuman concentration and a bubble of invincibility. In essence what I had was a little bit of faith, faith in my ability to focus and get home in one piece. And where did it get me?
    Home, safe, and in one piece.

    You see, when you have a little faith you don’t need to see the big picture, you only need to see just a little bit ahead. Of course there have been one or two times in 47 years that I have lost faith but she always finds her way home to me. Faith and I it seems, are a great pair, and that’s exactly how I like it. In fact come to think of it sometimes magic does just happen, all you need is a little faith.


  4. Exposure

    May 5, 2014 by Sp8y

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    There’s an enormous amount of vulnerability riding a bike. You don’t get to have the big aluminium, glass and fibreglass protective shield that car drivers enjoy, instead you are exposed to the elements both natural and unnatural. On a bike you have to prepare yourself to withstand outside forces such as cold, rain, extreme heat, snow, vehicles, random obstacles thrown at you either on purpose or by deflection, and then there’s the insults and jibes you also put up with as you ride along just minding your own business. Physical exposure is just part of the deal.

    As a racer you have to prepare yourself for all of these obvious things and more. As a racer you must also prepare for loss. This last part is by far the hardest to prepare for. It’s not the loss that comes from not winning that is the most severe, no, that kind of loss is an even balance from having won and something every racer learns to take on the chin. The loss that is the most heart wrenching is that moment when you realise that you must leave behind your two-wheeled life of living your dream and travel down the road of convention to post racing existence.

    The emotional loss of leaving behind your bike racing family is one of the hardest things to come to terms with and the reason why a lot of bike riders continue to hang on well into their later years, racing masters events and still meeting the weekend bunch rides. Some get into coaching while others work in bike shops, anything to remain close to the source of their happiness.

    Some of us just enjoy daily commutes to work and steer clear of the various two wheeled debates on what bike racing is and is not. There is no need to continually prove yourself when your history has already been written. When you know intimately what racing is, there’s little need to shout around town about it. You already know it.

    I have recently renovated my house and have made room for a library. Living in the city I don’t have a garage, and so my bike lives inside. Conveniently and appropriately, my bike now lives in my library, my two favourite things side by side.

    Last night my partner suggested I put some of my cycling memorabilia up in the library and was surprised at my hesitancy. I rarely display items from what I largely consider to be one of, if not the, greatest time of my life. I think that the reason I don’t display these things is that they act like beacons, their very presence signifying a relationship with another reality that I am no longer able to reach. They are not unlike the books on the shelves of my library, each displaying only a title that signifies a larger story within. These titles read like a summer racing schedule – Coors Classic, T-Town, Michelob Night Rider, Wheat Thins Series, Sundance, Houston, Japan, Seoul….and the best seller list goes on.

    This other unreachable reality in the past is the time spent with my racing family- a small group of racers and of course, my coach. For over a decade we spent the better part of each day pushing ourselves to our limits. We revealed our strengths and weaknesses, we shared joy and despair, and we celebrated life with more passion than a new year’s fireworks display. We allowed each other to witness the ultimate emotional exposure of giving everything we had and all for a chance at that fleeting moment in time when we could say we were the best. We bared witness to our vulnerability and yet now, years later we seldom speak.

    Perhaps it is too close, too raw, something best left in the past, embedded in objects for library shelves, or perhaps it’s just that there is no need to speak about what we already know. We remain that same family, the memory of the experiences creating an invisible thread that ties us as surely as a double helix DNA strand. We don’t always have to talk about our racing past to know and feel a part of it. Nor do we have to display memorabilia to remember what we were. But looking at these shelves now perhaps there is room for a few best sellers from my past, move over Patricia Cornwell and make room for a thriller called Somerville – thrills, spills and raw exposure – a timeless classic.


  5. Balancing the Green

    April 22, 2014 by Sp8y

    There’s a beautiful innocence to not knowing or having alternatives. The idea of the grass being greener on the other side has no meaning if you don’t know of any other side except the one you are on. The grass of course can be green on whichever side you choose, one or both, but balance can only be achieved when you choose to feed both sides.

    As a Libran I am all about balance and some would say love. I can’t profess to have been successful at either but it is certainly something I strive for on a daily basis, balancing my passion with my responsibilities. Given the opportunity I would spend the money saved for the new kitchen on a new bike and on days like today I would ride for hours drinking coffee and writing nonsense such as this instead of doing house duties.

    Balance is indeed easier if choice is taken away, but then without choice it all becomes a bit boring and so predictable that we may as well book an early appointment at the crematorium. Fire up the furnace Freddy!

    Well, perhaps not just yet.

    I’m a big believer in pushing boundaries, questioning the now and asking what if? This attitude has frustrated many partners, thrilled lecturers and bosses, caused me extreme joy and indescribable despair and yet I continue to prescribe to it. Why? Because life is here to be lived and if we are not growing then aren’t we just waiting to die?

    In the early 1980’s when I first began racing there were only a handful of Australian riders that we knew of that had gone overseas and ‘made it’. When I say ‘made it’ I mean that we actually heard back from them. Years later when racing in T-Town I was to discover that countless other Aussies had ventured overseas to race. They had discovered much greener grass on the other side of the world and they had stayed there feeding it.

    My first taste of grass on the other side was in 1983 when I travelled to Europe with three other female cyclists. Our respective clubs had sizzled sausages, held trivia nights and raffled tickets to pay for a 6 week trip to Holland finishing at the World Titles in Switzerland. The logic of racing for 6 weeks on flat roads before competing in a road race through the Swiss Alps is laughable now but at the time we didn’t care, we just wanted to experience the racing.

    To my knowledge I believe we were the first organised (a term I use loosely) Australian women’s cycling team to compete at an international tournament. A year earlier one of the pioneers of Australian women’s cycling, Sian Mulholland, had funded her own way to compete in the World Track titles in Leicester, England. She came back with a thigh full of splinters but more importantly she had pushed open the door for the rest of us to ride through, if we dared.

    My first glimpse of the other side was a lesson in pain and humility. I went from being the big fish in a little pond to a tadpole in an ocean of sharks. We spent 6 weeks racing on the cobblestones and narrow dykes of Holland, mostly getting spat out the back of the bunch or elbowed off the side of the road. It was an incredibly sharp and bumpy learning curve that saw me crack into the top 15 by the end of the trip. In Australia I was racing against a maximum of 20 riders, in Holland the start line was crowded with 100. The style of racing was hectic, whereas in Australia we would roll off the start line and cruise around until a sprint finish, in Holland they sprinted off the start line and kept the pace up, only slowing for corners but then sprinting out of them to get back up to speed in the straights. The grass was very green and it had stained me.

    Racing as I knew it was forever changed.

    My first race back in Australia was the 1983 National Road Titles held in Sydney. This was to be the last time that I remember racing with my travel companions. While my experience of the other side had spurred me on to greater cycling aspirations, their experience of it had pushed them in directions away from cycling. As I showed off my grass stains with pride, they quickly washed theirs out.

    As we waited on the start line, I couldn’t help but smile at the difference of where we had been racing just two weeks prior with 100 starters to now where just 20 women lined up ready to race. Although we had agreed that we would not allow our friendship to interfere with our racing (we were from different states after all) my friend Liz Battle and I shared an ironic smile at the start and she uttered the one Dutch word we had become very familiar with on our trip, “ongelofelijk” – a loose translation would be “unbelievable” but in a cruder ironic sense.

    The race was 52km and for three of the four 16km laps I sat in the bunch as usual but then something happened. To this day I don’t know what came over me, perhaps just the realisation that I had experienced real racing and this wasn’t it. I attacked up the last hill and stayed away for the last 10km eventually winning by only about 200metres in true roadie fashion with both arms raised. I was the reigning national sprint champion and would have easily won a bunch sprint but that just wouldn’t have made it a proper race. A road race deserves to have a break away champion that has the nerve to take a chance and put themselves out there. I had unconsciously decided to put myself out there.

    Against all odds and logic I had become the national track sprint and road champion in the same year, something that has never happened again, but that isn’t important. What is important is that it happened once and racing for Australian women cyclists was never to be the same again.

    I had proved that the grass could indeed be green on both sides and that some stains can change you for the better. Sometimes you need to be brave and just put yourself out there.

    IMGA0904


  6. Plus One

    April 19, 2014 by Sp8y

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    There’s a popular saying among bike riders that the perfect number of bikes to own is what you already have plus one. Adhering to this advice is the culprit for garages, sheds and spare rooms being overfilled with bikes. The racing cyclist can easily explain this away to needing specialised bikes for specific racing purposes. It’s later in life that justifying this need becomes more problematic.
    The non bike-riding partner will often question how one person could possibly need so many bikes because surely you can only ride one at a time? This of course is a very good and logical question. The answer is at once simple and bereft of all logic- the answer is simply chemistry.

    Don’t get too excited I’m not about to talk about the type of chemistry that has unfortunately overshadowed the sport in the past few years. Perhaps one day I will write about the sliding scale of hypocrisy surrounding drugs in sport and drugs in life, but not today. Why a sliding scale? Simply because innovation at all levels causes the goal posts to continually change. Society will judge all that is outside of their experience and this is the source of the problem for it is only from within the experience that you can truly speak about it. Context is the crucial element that gives weight to opinions- without it you’re just telling stories.

    At the end of the day we must all draw our own line in the continually shifting sands.

    But that is a conversation for another time.

    The chemistry I’m talking about today is that relationship we have with our bikes -the love that dare not speak its name. After all it’s just a bike right, an inanimate piece of machinery that takes you from point to point, a possession, a tool, a means to an end?

    Yes, sometimes that’s what it is, but other times it’s so much more. It’s the thing that makes you feel the most alive; it’s that spark, a knowing, an understanding, and a feeling of synchronicity that simple mathematics and logic cannot explain. This is what I call the chemistry bike.

    Over the years I’ve had many bikes built for me, by both master frame builders and a few pretenders. Each time my measurements were taken and a discussion regarding the characteristics I wanted the bike to have took place and each time a very different riding experience ensued. This is because as much as frame building is an engineering feat based in pure mathematical genius, it is also a work of art and the beauty of art is in the eye of the beholder or in this case, the perception of the rider.

    A rough estimate to the number of bikes I have owned over the years would be at about 18 and I remember very distinctly those bikes that I had perfect chemistry with. The absolute stand out was my Olympic track frame. That bike was like an extension of me; a transplanted limb could not have felt any more natural than that bike. I would only need to think about what move I wanted to make on the track and the bike would respond in the moment of the thought. It was perfection in every way. A Ferrari red colour forks and front end fading into a pearl white in the rear end, I remember looking at it before I went to sleep each night and thinking it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

    Of course beauty and chemistry do not often occur together, as was the case with my Specialised Mountain bike. It had never seen an off road track and had been originally bought as a way for me to ride from where I was staying in Allentown to the gym a few suburbs away. I had wanted a bike that I could chain up outside without caring if someone else came along and decided they needed it more than me. It was a sort of throwaway bike- or at least that’s how it started out. I converted it into a commuter complete with skinny tyres, shortened bars and a rack, it wasn’t the prettiest bike around but it was excellent to ride and I ended up holding onto it for 18 years!

    Chemistry.

    The bike I have now is what I like to call my “Old Faithful”, a Scott city bike complete with hydraulic disc brakes and sturdy wheels, she has saved my life on an all too regular basis during my weekly accumulative commute of just over 300km. She can take everything I throw at her, from bunny hopping over gutters and speed humps to thrashing over a grassy patch and down a small flight of stairs (that I didn’t know was there..). We are an incredibly good team and I will ride her until she dies – which may be sooner rather than later if I keep riding down surprise stairs…….

    As good as we are together my Scott is not my chemistry bike. A few years ago a friend let me borrow her $10,000 Pinarello bike for a charity ride. Foolishly I decided to ride it to work to try to get used to it. The bag on my back was a burden and the Pinarello wasn’t too happy about the numerous gutters on the bike path. The daily grind of the commute just wasn’t her thing; she was built for extreme riding pleasure not reliable transport from A to B, however during the charity ride she purred along at 40km/h in some sections and effortlessly. On the second day I rode for 100km down in the drops – this is what we call the traditional streamlined racing position of having your hands positioned in the bend of the racing bars. Over a long distance it is usually not a comfortable position to be in but on the Pinarello it was heaven. I remember thinking at the time that if I died on that bike they would find me with a smile on my face. The borrowed Pinarello would be the ultimate plus one.

    It’s true that you can only ride one bike at a time and not everyone has the opportunity for a plus one but if your chance ever presents itself, grab hold of it and don’t look back, your plus one will give you that thrill that we all crave when we ride, that moment between you and your machine when all is right in the wheel world – and that my friend is pure chemistry.


  7. Back in the Saddle

    April 15, 2014 by Sp8y

    When you spend a lot of time riding a bike it becomes as normal as brushing your teeth. There’s not a lot of thought that has to go into it, you just get on the bike and ride. After a while your muscles get so used to riding that you have to consciously put a hard effort in just to get that familiar soreness back, so accustomed do they become to the action.
    True bike riders, and when I say “true” I am referring to that (some would say) strange breed such as myself that knows only of a world with a bike in it. You will find that these types of riders never spend much time away from being in the saddle.

    A long time ago I was given the wise advice to not stop riding in the break in between seasons. At the time I had thought it was a fitness thing, “don’t stop riding or you will lose all of the fitness gained over the season”, but that wasn’t the reason. These past few weeks since returning from a two-week vacation have sharply reminded me of the real reason why bike riders never stop riding – it’s all about being back in the saddle, or as I like to call it, that old familiar ache.

    It’s the ache in that place that we don’t like to talk about, so let’s talk about it.

    Now I will admit straight off the bat that I can only speak of experience as a female bike rider, so for all of the men out there reading this I can only say that you may not find any helpful tips for your own bits but pay attention because it will help your female riding buddy and trust me, you do want to help her.

    So ladies, where to begin? Well the obvious place of course is the points of contact – your seat, pedals and handlebars. These are the pressure points that support your weight. When I say ‘pedals’ that is in relation to seat height. The seat is the obvious culprit but then how do your pedals and handlebars contribute to that ache you get in that part that you don’t usually talk about to strangers? Looking at the male anatomy there is a small but obvious place available for them to sit but where do women find such a space in all of their wonderful folds and flaps?

    Keep reading and all will be revealed.

    Back in the 80’s when I first joined the ranks of the racing elite the misogynistic national coach told me that ‘girls’ shouldn’t ride bikes because they had ‘nowhere to sit’. At the time his ignorance annoyed me but in hindsight I realise that he had probably never been close enough to a vagina to actually know what it was capable of.
    Despite their softness people often forget that these lovely lady bits can take one hell of a pounding, push a human out of them; be cut open with chicken snips then stitched up and ready to do it all again a few months later. If there’s one thing I have learnt over the years it’s never to underestimate the power of a vagina or the woman that truly knows it.

    Before I talk about where to sit on the saddle let’s talk about saddle height. If your seat is too high you will get sore from trying to reach the pedals on every down stroke, too low and your knees will get sore – a tricky trade off that for women usually results in them riding with seats too low. To arrive at the correct seat height you can follow the mathematical formula of measuring your inseam leg length and multiplying that number by 109%. This will give you the height that your seat should be when measured from the pedal axle to the top of the seat. The other mathematical formula is to multiply your inseam by 88.3% and this will give you the height that your seat should be when measured from the centre of the bottom bracket to the top of your seat.
    Confused yet?
    The easiest way is to adjust your seat so that when you are sitting on it only the tips of your toes can touch the ground.
    Sound simple?
    It is.

    Next let’s look at the handlebar position. If they are too far away you must lean forward and you end up sitting on the front of your vagina – which may be enjoyable for about a minute but then very regrettable for the minutes to come. If your handlebars are too close you will not put enough weight on them as your weight will be shifted back entirely to your seat. The happy medium is in between these two extremes. On a racing style bike you can put your elbow on the front tip of your seat and stretch your arm and fingers out straight. Your handlebars should be about an inch past the tips of your fingers. On more upright style ladies bikes or sports hybrid bikes you will need to feel your way into position. This will make sense in a second when I talk about choosing a side.

    Finally and most importantly let’s look at the seat choice.Big wide seat doesn’t equal comfortable seat. A comfortable seat is one that supports your sit bones. These are the bones you feel when you reach under your bottom and press in. They are the bits that make contact with a chair when you are sitting and they are the bits that you want bearing the weight of your torso. If you get a seat that doesn’t support your sit bones but instead supports the extra layers around your sit bones you’re never going to be able to ride for longer than 30 minutes without screaming out to Jesus to make the pain stop.

    Now let’s put it all together – your seat height is right, your handlebars are right and your seat supports your sit bones but those fleshy front bits are probably still not happy. Three pieces of advice here- firstly buy a pair of riding shorts with a lovely padded chamois, secondly make sure when you are riding you get off the seat often giving yourself a break from the pressure, and thirdly try shifting your bits to one side. Most women that ride in excess of 150km a week will naturally do this, sacrificing one lip for the sake of the whole. As much as your sit bones will take most of the weight this technique of picking a side will help preserve the rest of your bits.

    Of course even for those of us that have spent thousands of hours in the saddle over the years, getting back into it after a break is always an interesting experience . The first ride is absolute joy, you are so happy to be riding again that you practically hover over the seat. The second ride back let’s you know that the muscle soreness isn’t the only thing feeling bruised and by ride number three you are wondering if you’ve been visited in your sleep by some rough trade.

    Stick with it because by rides five and six your lady bits will adapt to this new/old normal and you’ll vow never to leave it so long out of the saddle ever again.

    We may be able to take a lovely pounding down there but it shouldn’t be from our bike seats! Happy riding ladies.


  8. She’s Just Not That Into You

    March 19, 2014 by Sp8y

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    As an athlete you learn fairly early on that if you’re going to have any degree of success you have to listen to what your body wants- and I mean really listen.

    When you pay attention to your body it will tell you everything you need to know about how to be happy. It will instantly expel food it doesn’t want, make you thirst for what it needs to drink, shut down when it needs to rest and make you feel like you’re on fire when it desires something. When it doesn’t want something it will throw things in the way to try to make you wake the hell up and pay attention.

    Nearly two years ago I started to scuba dive. Initially it was under mental protest. I didn’t know why but it was just not something that I wanted to do. For one, it scared the hell out of me and I think that it was mainly because of this that I persevered with doing it. I needed to conquer my fear without any thought for what my body was telling me. A challenge had been thrown down and I wasn’t the type to lay down and give in and listen.

    If I had taken a moment to listen I would have heard my body screaming at me and it’s taken me two years and the serenity of a remote island to finally listen to it.

    It’s been almost two weeks now that I’ve been off my bike and I miss it. I don’t miss the saddle sores, eating bugs or getting abused by maniacs in cars, I just miss the feeling. I’m surrounded by tropical beauty but after two weeks of it there’s nothing I would like to do more right now than go for a ride, a really hard sweaty ride.

    Scuba diving for my friends is like what riding is for me- it makes their spirits soar. They want to do it all of the time, holidays, conversation and social events are arranged around it.

    I’m not saying I don’t like scuba diving I’m just saying, well basically all I’m saying is “scuba it’s been fun and I would still love to spend holidays with you but I’m just not that into you” . Don’t get me wrong there have been dives that I have loved- the wreck last week being one of them, but for most of the time I’m sort of bored.

    Sorry girls I know you’re probably reeling in shock at reading this but yes I get bored underwater. My time is filled in with wondering how I would like to eat the fish I see or by giving giving them all a voice and personality as they swim around me. The other thing about diving is it doesn’t help to think too much- thinking too much underwater will send you into a panic faster than a no alcohol announcement at a frat party.

    Being a chronic thinker, this presents a problem for me under the sea and so in between giving fish voices and wanting to eat them I am constantly looking at my air gauge hoping for the magic 50bar that will signal time to surface.

    Just to give this perspective I never get bored on my bike. Even when I used to do 150 laps behind the motorbike on the track with a sprint every 6 laps- boredom didn’t even enter into the equation. Hours of turning pedals, in my mind, still beats 50 minutes underwater and it’s no slight on diving it’s just what my body likes to do.

    Diving you’ve been fun and we’ve become pretty good friends and I still want to come on holidays with you but right now I’m looking forward to my next ride.


  9. Suspended Reality

    March 18, 2014 by Sp8y

    There’s a certain amount of reality suspension that happens and must happen in order to totally enjoy an idyllic island holiday. Firstly you must forget about all of the hard work and calorific sacrifice it took to get your body into good shape. Secondly you must forget about all of the hours of hard work it took for you to earn the money to afford the holiday in the first place. And so it is an absolute necessity that you must wholeheartedly believe in the illusion that whilst on holiday you can eat, drink and spend as much as you want.

    This is, of course, a dangerous course of action because we all know that causality is an absolute equation – every action has an equal and opposite reaction. We know this and yet we continue to throw caution to the wind and open our hearts to adventure.

    Life as a racing bike rider was a masters degree in suspended reality. We lived in a bubble and it was a glorious, euphoric bubble of training and racing , padded by public and personal adoration. For fifteen years this was my world and I didn’t hope for anything else.

    I spent the last seven years of my racing career in a little east coast town called Allentown. Made famous by the Billy Joel song, Allentown was so much more than a middle class working town, it was home to the Trexlertown velodrome – otherwise known as T- town. Every May until August the best track cyclists in the world would congregate in T-Town and race in front of a sell out crowd . We were treated like Gods and didn’t know any different.

    Each Friday night the top six riders – male and female, would be introduced to the capacity crowd. One by one we would do a lap of honour while the announcer espoused our achievements. I would wave to the crowd and high five my group of supporters on turn two as I made my way to the home straight where we would all stand with our bikes facing the American flag. When the anthem played and the American riders put their hands on their hearts and sang along, we would look at each other in amazement and respect that they cared enough to sing their anthem before a bike race. At the end of the anthem the announcer would ceremoniously say “play ball” and the racing would begin. We were the entertainment and we never failed to put on a brilliant show.

    The thing about suspended reality is that you often don’t realise that you are in it until you get a glimpse of another kind of life. Towards the end of my racing career I started to think about a normal life- a job, partner , mortgage and job. Mundane things that were not anywhere close to my reality. My reality in comparison was a spectacular existence.

    Holidays are, in a lot of ways a spectacular existence. You put reality aside, suspended until a scheduled date when you must return to life as you know it.
    But are holidays the only time we can allow ourselves this freedom?
    For what if we actually made Wednesday our “hump day” or just allowed for two hours of absolute pleasure to fill a normal day?Perhaps the suspended reality of the spectacular is not just for holidays after all but a luxury we can all afford to have each week. Perhaps all you really need to do in order to suspend reality is to twist your wrist, open the throttle and play ball. image


  10. Photographic Memories

    March 15, 2014 by Sp8y

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    In anticipation of my dive on the wreck at Tulamben I splurged on a new sports video camera. Following popular culture (for once ) I bought the ultra reliable Go Pro to capture the underwater sights. I’m not usually a happy snap holiday person with an endless slideshow of photoshopped snaps to bore friends or myself with years from now. I’m more of a soak in the moment type of person but with my precarious shaky brain I thought I may as well get some photographic evidence.

    The wreck at Tulamben is a US Army Transport freighter that was torpedoed by the Japanese at the end of WWII and towed to shore for salvage. A subsequent volcano eruption pushed it back into the water and at just 15 metres from shore turned it into a scuba divers paradise.

    Yesterday we dropped down and within a few metres the wreck appeared. Eager to capture the moment I switched the Go Pro on and was greeted with the welcome beeps and then a flashing screen – dead battery. No amount of button pressing or screen flicking was going to bring it back to life- it was looking like the wreck pictures, like the majority of my racing pictures were to be recorded on my internal drive for personal use only.

    My racing career spanned 15 years from 1982-1997 and in that time you would think that I would have a hoard of photographic memorabilia clogging my attic.

    Reality could not be further from this idea- instead my yawning attic has less than 5 boxes containing photos and various mementos from my other life.

    My career covered a time when social media was unheard of and search engines were just finding their algorithmic feet in cyberspace. As a consequence there are few if any photos of me on the internet and due to actually being in the races that I competed in I had little opportunity to take my own photos. Much of the proof of my career rests within individual memories.

    In 1988 in the Olympic Athlete’s Village in Seoul our Chef De Mission, John Coates, informed the team that there were two computers in our apartment building that could be used for “electronic mail”. All we needed to know was what country the athlete came from and what their surname was and we could send an instant message – for free! It was of course, an instant hit with the only limitation on social connections being the limited hours in the day.

    While we had this rudimentary email there wasn’t a Google or Facebook or any practical and immediate way to share photos. Photos became a delayed gratification or mortification depending on what came out of the developers solution and onto the page. Once developed they were neatly categorised, labeled and packed away in albums never to be seen again.

    Recently a few old cycling friends started posting old racing programs and pictures on Facebook and in this way it has allowed for a second chance of viewing our careers from another perspective.

    Yesterday a fresh battery provided my second chance at capturing some underwater memories of the wreck. I’ve got some great footage and photos, many megabytes of memories that I will most likely edit and upload here or burn to a disc, show family and friends and then stash away in a drawer.

    Thankfully there’s no footage of my head exploding or having a fit at 28 metres. Although I am enjoying a 24 hour headache and feeling as if I’ve been poked repeatedly in both eyes but it was worth it.
    Not for the saved megabytes that will sit unwatched in my drawer but for what I’ve saved in my internal drive.

    This is the drive I access the most. This is the drive I go to in the quiet moments either when alone or in the company of others. This is the drive that I will freely access and enjoy until my battery runs out.