My Cycling Story

Growing up in New Zealand the bike was the first item that gave you your freedom to roam. I remember my first bike, it was a Healing Sixteen and I remember my Dad running along beside me holding on until I got a grasp of balancing. I did a lot of laps around our house on that bike.

As I got bigger I received a bike from friends who no longer used it. I believe it was a Raleigh frame Sprayed Orange and Black and made of steel it was a proper ‘farm bike’ but ran well. It was a single speed bike with a coaster brake, remember them? The hub on the back with the arm attached to the chain stay to push against the motion when you put backwards pressure on the pedals. It had the classic old handle bars which at times were turned over to give a ‘racier’ look and feel.

I still remember times on that bike quite clearly. I remember riding the bike when I ‘ran away’ from home. I rode 5.5 km from home and decided that I was getting a bit tired and that I could boast about how far I had gone to my Dad. Distance meant nothing in those days, I had ridden to the Hot Springs and that was somewhere that took AGES to get to in a car, or so I thought in those days.

I remember taking the bike up to what there was of a BMX track back in those days. I never had a BMX but as you can see by the photo below the old steel frame did an OK job of getting some air!

Not a BMX but it will do!

My next bike was a Morrison Monark Royale, the Royale bit, from memory, was important as this model came with the quick release levers on the wheels. I got this bike for Christmas in 1986 if I remember correctly, it took a bit of convincing that I needed it as it was quite pricey at the time but I must have done a good job or been super good that year.

For all my intentions of getting into cycling with this bike I never really did. Don’t get me wrong I rode the bike a lot and I rode what I thought were quite good distances then. Lots of loops in all directions from Matamata of around the 20 – 25 km including some of the hillier parts of the area.

After watching some cycling on TV I got my Dad to give me a lift to the top of the Kaimai road with a friend so that we could do a Tour De France style decent. This was not the road it is now, it was the road before it was sanitized and made much safer for traffic. There were lots of nasty sharp little bends and the surface left plenty to be desired due to being constantly in use by insanely large trucks. I made it about halfway down when my badly positioned brake block managed to slash through my tyre just on the entry to a corner. I went down on my side and slid over the road, luckily into an empty lane and all I lost was some skin and a bit of pride. It was a good lesson in if you are going to take the reward of the downhill you should probably do the work of the up!

I also rode a 66km event from the Velodrome in Hillcrest, Hamilton to Pirongia and back. That was the only organized cycling event I ever took part in. It was a great day and a couple of older blokes took me under their wing and encouraged me all the way out and back. They pointed out the pros on their way back in (Jack Swart among them).

Not long after that puberty hit and any potential cycling aspirations very much took a back seat. The Monark was not retired but it became the ‘teenagers’ bike. The drop bars flipped up and the bike generally getting wrecked by doing jumps, skids and anything else that a BMX should probably have been used for.

During my 1990 I bought a Raleigh Maverick of a friend’s brother and had the local shop recondition it so it all worked. It was my first foray into the mountain bike arena and again, the intention was to at some point race or at the very least join a club, neither of which ever happened.

What did happen though is I did use the mountain bike on the trails of the Kaimais on several occasions and I did really enjoy it. The Maverick also took me on a ride from Matamata to Mount Manganui. While only about 60 km it does include a crossing of the Kaimai Range (the same one I had my crash on a few years earlier after being driven to the top) which meant a big climb of about 450 vertical metres in 10 km which was a big effort for me on my own. I remember reaching the top and there were a couple of cars who had obviously seen me on the way up clapping me past. I’ll never forget that descent, it was one of the few times at that age I actually had a bit of a ‘what if something goes wrong’ moment.

Profile of the Kaimai Transit from west to east

Eventually after leaving school to start work I managed to save some money and I bought myself a Milazo Mountain Bike. This one had all the bells and whistles of the day, although I opted for the elevated chainstay instead of the reasonably new suspension forks. The bike came with much chunkier tyres than the Maverick had and riding it on the trails, especially Thompsons Track over the Kaimai Range, a proper unsealed road used mainly by trail bikes and well equipped off road vehicles was a real world away from the Maverick.

I should also mention at this point that there were at least 2 bikes I owned that were used purely for my paper round. In the days where everyone got a paper so loads were heav t and there was often a reload during the round.

The first of these was a small wheeled Healing Cruiser which did an admiral job but the weight and constant use took its toll. It replacement was a proper hard bike. All black, massive, no name and build like a battle tank. It would not surprise me if that thing was still working some where.

In 1995 I left New Zealand for Switzerland. I was obviously not that into mountain biking or I would have seen the opportunity that living in Switzerland would present and taken the Milazo with me. I was without a bike until I went back to New Zealand in 1999 to get married.

On the return from that trip I packed up the Milazo and took it to Switzerland with me. It still only got a limited amount of use commuting to work and some riding around the local hills of Zurich. I did buy my first pair of padded Lycra tights during this time though. When we moved from Zurich to Andelfingen the bike never made it, I do wish I had made more effort to keep that bike, I think it would still be alive and kicking now.

At the end of 2002 we moved to the UK and we moved into our own house in the Essex countryside in the second half of 2003. I believe it was the spring of 2004 that we went into the bike shop in Tiptree and I bought myself a Giant Central Park Hybrid and a Burley 2 seat trailer so that I could take the girls out and about. Again the intentions were good and we did do quite a lot of trips but it never really took of as much as I had intended during the purchasing stage.

After changing jobs in 2006 I did start to commute to the station in Kelvedon which at least got me on the bike quite regularly. Just as I was starting to really enjoy the whole process and being back on the bike work took me out to Hong Kong. I sold the Giant before leaving and again spent several years in Hong Kong with no bike.

We returned to the UK in the second half of 2009 and a bike was on the list not long after we returned. By this point the girls wanted bikes as well so it turned out to be an expensive day. I ended up with another Giant Hybrid, pretty much an exact copy of the Central Park model I had owned before going to Hong Kong. I started commuting again and doing some riding with the girls on the weekends but again, it was never as much as it should have been.

During the latter part of summer 2012 I went out for a longer ride one day when the weather was nice. I seriously enjoyed it and I ended up riding about 40 km, the first time in a long time I had done any distance of that type. When I got home from that ride I logged onto the PC and discovered Ride with GPS where I could plot the route I had just ridden and it would give me some details about the route, I could also plan other routes which all got me very interested.

The following week I bought an OS 50,000:1 map of our local area so I could map the planned route out and take it with me. I did a few rides in all directions from Tiptree and ending up riding an 83 km loop at the end of September. This was the start of me actually taking cycling up as a main hobby, it was cheaper and more flexible than golf so it had to be a good thing.

I made plans to get myself a road bike using the Cycle to Work Scheme, it meant that I had to use the bike for commuting as well but all would be sorted. As we are only able to get the Cycle to Work vouchers at one time in the year I had quite a long wait. That was kind of painful as there was a lot to think about and a lot of time to change my mind. Aluminum, Carbon, Steel? Shimano, Sram, Campag? Any post on a forum came back with different opinions on what was best and everyone seemed to have a good case to make as why their opinion was right.

Not really knowing exactly what I was going to use the bike for I went back to the local bike shop and started asking for their advice. I had kind of decided that I wanted a Carbon bike but what I had not realized is how vastly different carbon bikes can ride. Anyway, after a lot of test rides I came down to the newly released Trek Domane with it’s Isospeed decoupler that would smooth out all the bumps for me. It turns out the advice was pretty much rock solid and the bike has been absolutely perfect for my needs.

After getting my hands on the bike in early April and having the bike fit the weekend after I started my training for a couple of sportives I had entered in earnest. My first sportive was the Action Medical Suffolk Sunrise 70 mile ride on the 12th May 2013. I kind of struggled towards the end of it but nothing too bad. I knew I had work to do before riding the Action Medical Essex 100 Mile in September though.

We came back from a week’s holiday in France the night before the 100 mile ride. It wasn’t the best preparation, a week of sitting by the pool eating cheese and drinking red wine. I had followed the advice and got there early having never done a ride of this distance before. I was in the first group to go and I can honestly say I would never ever recommend that to anyone doing their first 100 mile ride. Spending the majority of the day being passed does get you down!

I did make it to the end with a total moving time of just under 6h 30m which was actually OK considering all the facts. I had broken my 100 mile cherry and I was happy about that. I had been reading in the forums about people riding double centuries and I did wonder what that might feel like and if I had it in me. I knew that I had always had a stubborn streak that helped me just keep going and considering I was never going to be a racing whippet it was probably a good path to follow.

Shortly after that 100 miler I joined Audax UK, the Long Distance Cycling association. To this day it remains the closest thing to a club that I am actually a paid up member for. I exchanged a couple of emails with an organizer of a ride not too far away from home and shortly after that I had entered it and that was the start of my Audax ‘career’.

In the 2014 season (which start on the 1st October 2013) I ended up completing a Super Randonneur (SR) Series which consists of a 200 km, 300 km, 400 km and 600 km ride and I rode an additional 1,500 km in other events. A lot of talk of Paris Brest Paris, the mecca of the Audax calendar and one of the oldest cycling events in the world got my interest. The 600 km that I rode mean that I would be likely to get a good entry spot so I decided that I might as well have a go at it if things went well in the early part of 2015.

2015 was a fantastic year on the bike both in an Audax sense and just in the pure mileage done and also having a great time doing it. I completed my SR series with the Bryan Chapman Memorial, a 600 km ride up and down the length of Wales with all the hills that you would expect to find on that ride. This meant I was qualified for PBP and with my entry in it looked like I was all set to take part in this event of madness. 1,200 km from Paris to Brest on the west coast just to turn around and ride all the way back on more or less the same route.

I was on the start line in Paris on the Sunday 16th August 2015 with just over 9,000 km done since the 1st January. I was as ready as I could be and the only unknowns was what would happen to me after 600 km.

PBP Brevet Card for the Paris to Brest leg
PBP Brevet Card for the return from Brest

I arrived back in Paris just after 9am on the Thursday, mission completed. I was now a PBP Ancien and that is quite a long way to come from my Healing Sixteen all those years before in Matamata.

All that riding for a lovely Medal. Worth every minute.