And that’s a wrap!

 

“….and if I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good evening and good night.” -The Truman Show

I have a customer who, for years, has referred to his visits to the shop as ‘episodes’. He comes in, picks up a few tubes and then throws out a bait. And this becomes the theme of the episode. The conversation bounces between those of us behind the counter and those in front. Anyone can make a cameo – you simply walk through the door at that moment and you’re part of the cast. You can be the guest star or simply an extra milling around in the background, it’s your choice. The conversation is obviously about cycling and whilst it can sometimes be serious it’s usually light hearted and funny. I like to think of our ‘show’ as a sitcom rather than a drama – somewhere between Seinfeld and Cheers (but set in a bike shop rather than a diner or a bar). When the conversation hits a crescendo the aforementioned customer would announce ‘well, that’s another episode’, pick up his tubes and promptly leave. I think it’s a pretty good show.

For thirteen and a bit years I’ve been the executive producer, director, co-scriptwriter and the longest serving cast member. I’ve now decided to use my executive powers and my artistic license to hand in my keys, fold up my director’s chair and write my character out of the script. The show will, of course, go on – I just won’t be in it.

Thirteen plus years ago my hair was much darker. It was almost black. I was still sporting a goatee, a hangover from the late nineties when everyone who was anyone on a bike was wearing a goatee. It was my tribute to Pantani amongst others, and like a lot of things I struggled to let it go. Anyway, by 2005 it was only just out of fashion, it was hardly like sideburns or MC Hammer pants.

In 2005 I was a father to a one year old and was soon to have another one on the way.  I was 8kg lighter. I was faster. I raced, a lot. I was energetic, motivated and impassioned. In 2005, with the encouragement and support of my ever patient wife Lyndal, we scraped together every cent we could get our hands on and came up with something just shy of a shoestring budget. I then took that ‘almost’ shoestring budget and decided to put the whole lot on red, spin the wheel and see what happened. I’m speaking metaphorically of course. I didn’t drop the whole lot on a roulette table, but I did take the gamble of a lifetime. I dropped the lot on a lease, some tools and as much carbon as I could afford. And so began TRS Cycle Centre.

Thirteen plus years doesn’t sound that long, but in a small business, working six days a week, one maybe two weeks holiday a year, it’s a long time. That said I’m as proud as I am exhausted by my efforts. When I opened the doors I had my fair share of naysayers. Some were good people genuinely concerned that I was making a big mistake – they were trying to save me from myself. All these years later I can say thank you for your concern but it all worked out just fine, we did ok. But celebrating the end of this scene isn’t about sticking it to the naysayers. It’s about celebrating the good times, reflecting on the many challenges that nearly broke us but didn’t and, most of all, acknowledging the people who have made the last thirteen and bit years one of the most memorable chapters in my life.

If I were to play the credits in some vague order of appearance I would have to start with my wonderful wife Lyndal who was here well before my life in the shop began and will be here well after it ends (at least she has given no indication otherwise). The perception is that I have done this alone. That’s not even close. Lyndal often believed in me more than I believed in myself and for that I will be forever grateful. From day one she said “Don’t die wondering, just do it.” She wilfully stayed married to me even though for many years I was married to the business, and all the while she has built  a successful career of her own. Thank you is barely enough.

To my competitors (ie. fellow bike shop owners) past and present  I say well played. From day one you left me with no option but to run a good business, to hold my line and hold my nerve. We have swapped turns on the front many times, been dropped and fought to get back on. It has been a tough but fair race and one that is sure to continue with the new ‘cast’ at TRS. So ‘chapeau’ to you gents.

As mentioned the last thirteen and a bit years hasn’t been a solo effort off the front. We have had the support of some wonderful staff along the way. From our very first skinny bike rider kid who came in after school (I should add that Zac is now killing it in the banking world) to our last employee Warren who said to me “I’ll help you out for two months because you’re a mate and you’re in a bind but after that you have to get your s..t together.” That was two years ago, it’s now together and he will finish with the shop on Saturday.

Obviously no retail store is going to stick around for long without loyal customers, particularly in this day and age. To call that special group of regulars ‘loyal customers’ would be doing them a disservice. They are friends, some of whom have been with us from the beginning. (In fact I have little doubt that customer number ‘001’ is probably reading this – she knows who she is). These are the people who have made and will continue to make TRS Cycle Centre what it is. These are the people that took it from being a pilot program to its thirteenth season. Thank you friends.

Lastly, I’d like to mention and thank the new ‘cast and crew’ of TRS, Paul and Cameron. These guys are the future. They have experience, plans and enthusiasm. Paul has been in the bike shop game for a while now. I have no doubt he’ll do things differently to me, and that’s great. That’s what growth and evolution is all about. Cameron is young, with a couple of young kids. He’s energetic, motivated and impassioned. He reminds me of someone. I’ll be excited to see where they take TRS Cycle Centre next – maybe another thirteen seasons.

I’ve had a few people ask ‘what’s next for me?’ Well, I’m sure there’s lots but I can’t tell you exactly. I have two wonderful boys who have only ever known their dad to work six days a week and rarely take holidays. That’s going to change. I have a beautiful, patient wife who has, for so long shared the marriage with a business. That’s also going to change.

I have galleries to visit, paintings to do. I used to play the guitar very badly. For thirteen years I haven’t played it at all, so if I could get back to playing it badly I’ll consider that a win. And obviously I’m going to ride. I’m going to ride without thinking about balance sheets, profit and loss statements, forecasts and stock control. Instead I’ll think about the next road and CX season, or maybe just about being in the moment on the bike.

I’ve often said I do my best work on the bike. Maybe my best work yet is only a ride away.

 

TDF 2017 – From the haze that is Tour fatigue comes clarity (sort of).

 

“…the Tour goes on day after day after day. It’s the only race in the world where you have to get a haircut half way through.” Chris Boardman – Yellow Jersey wearer, World record holder, legend.

 

I’m fatigued! Every year I say I’m not doing that again and inevitably I do. I stay up late watching way too many live stages of Le Tour- dragging myself off to bed at one or two in the morning….day, after day, after day. Some days I even get up a few hours later and go for a ride. After three weeks I’m tired, I’m cranky and I’m run down. Then I get what my wife calls my ‘Tour flu’. It’s dumb but I can’t help it. For 49 weeks of the year I’m on the wagon save for the odd Spring classic here and there (and let’s face it, anyone can recover from the occasional late night bender). But for three weeks in July I have no control over my sleeping habits or my coffee consumption. I’m a Tour junkie.

My first memory of the Tour de France in ‘moving pictures’ was in 1987. I remember watching a Wide World of Sports segment on a Saturday afternoon when the entire three week race was condensed into a 15 minute summary. It didn’t matter, I was hooked. I remember watching Steven Roche win but deciding I was probably more of a Pedro Delgado fan. That lasted until 1989 when I became a Greg Lemond fan which lasted a bit longer…. at least until I became a Miguel Indurain fan in ’92 and so on. Back in the day country towns like the one I grew up in only had two TV stations, the ABC and one other that changed from year to year. Needless to say Tour de France news was hard to come by. So other than that 15 minute segment on Wide World of Sports my Tour updates came via the sport shorts in the Sydney Morning Herald that I checked in the school library each day. The pictures came three months later via out dated European cycling magazines that the local newsagent used to order in especially for me. But now I can watch it as it happens, so I do… because it still feels special to do so.

 

So what did I get from this year’s Tour? Well, a lot actually. I could pick it to bits stage by stage but I don’t really have the time to write that much. Even more so, I’m pretty sure no one has the time or interest in reading a blow by blow analysis of a three week event written by yet another ‘keyboard expert’. So instead I’ll offer up just a few of my observations. Maybe they’ll give you something to think about. Maybe you’ll agree with them and we can high-five each other over a ‘great minds think alike’ moment when you’re in the shop next. Maybe you’ll disagree with them and that’s ok too- just so long as you’re thinking about it. So here goes….

 

No. 1. This was a good Tour.

I’ve heard and read that a few people thought this Tour was a bit dull. To this I need to quote the great man Jens Voigt after his final Tour of California appearance in 2014. When a reporter suggested that Jens had had a quiet tour he replied with “Quiet tour?…WTF! Were you even watching?” This particular Tour de France was a good one. Maybe not as memorable as Lemond’s eight second win in ’89 but certainly better than what we’ve seen in the previous five years. Even the most ardent Team Sky fan would have to admit that watching them pedal for 3000km at a virtually predetermined speed/power output in order to achieve a result at the end of three weeks is hardly inspiring viewing. It’s effective but boring. It’s nearly as bad as watching golf (relax people I said ‘nearly’). Sky were good this year. They did, after all, win the teams classification. But they didn’t quite have the same vice like grip that we’ve seen in the past. Maybe it was due to losing Thomas early, or the potential volatility of Landa. Whatever it was it gave others a ‘sniff’ and it made for better viewing.

 

No. 2. The Sagan saga- my two cents.

It seems everyone has had something to say about this so why not throw in my two cents worth? Do I think Sagan was in the wrong? Technically ‘yes’ as he was drifting off his line. In context of nearly every other sprint finish you see then ‘no’, he wasn’t nearly as erratic as many other riders that don’t get sanctioned. Do I think Cav was in the wrong? When you isolate the incident purely to the Sagan/Cav contact then technically ‘no’- but he did make a really dumb choice and when you make dumb choices on a bicycle at 60-70km/h you may fall off. When you watch the footage in slow motion Cav has already made contact with Sagan when the elbow comes out and you could argue that the elbow is more reactionary than aggressive. Lastly, do I think it’s right that Sagan is punished in such a way that is generally reserved for drug cheats? Absolutely not.

 

No. 3. Did Matthews do a Bradbury? I think not.

Matthews won the Green – pure and simple. There are multiple ways to win the most consistent rider competition (yes, I know sprinters usually win it but it is not technically a sprinting competition). One, you can out horsepower your way to the most stage wins a-la Kittle and Cav. Two you can be calculating and methodical whilst playing to your strengths and preying on others weaknesses, hence accumulating points as you go. That’s Matthews. Or three, you can be creative and do a bit of each. Only a rare talent like Sagan can manage this. Now let’s put everyone back in the race. Kittle and Cav could have ended up sharing the early stage wins as opposed to Kittle dominating them. Both riders may have actually ended up with fewer points each. Sagan himself may have stolen a few whilst Matthews’ approach would have been relatively unchanged. Given that both Kittle and Cav struggle to climb out of bed let alone up mountains they would have both needed a virtually unassailable lead prior to the road getting lumpy to be guaranteed the Green in Paris. This is unlikely, after all Matthews was only one intermediate sprint away from taking the points lead when Kittle had to withdraw as it stood. It may have actually ended up being a very tight four way battle where Matthew’s was still a major player. In the end it’s all hypothetical. Matthews made it to Paris. Matthews won! Chapeau.

 

No. 4. Sunweb were the team of the Tour

Turn up to the Tour de France without a major GC contender but win both the Green and the Polka Dot jerseys via some of the most tactical and creative team riding I’ve seen in a while. Enough said.

 

No. 5. Cyclists can’t fight!

Bouhanni loses his temper (again) and takes a swipe at Jack Bauer with all the force of being slapped with a wet lettuce leaf. Degenkolb, upset at Matthews in the sprint tries to discipline him with some kind of bizarre neck grabbing move….What the… All that these incidents proved is that cyclists really can’t fight – particularly whilst on their bikes. Maybe they should introduce a cage fighting element to the Tour. Got a grievance? Then get in the cage. I’ve no doubt that people with no interest in cycling would show up to watch two guys who were too skinny and too uncoordinated to take up ball sports sort their differences out in the cage. Could be a real money spinner. Quick, get ASO on the phone.

 

No. 6. Stage 9 was the best stage of the Tour.

Stage nine had everything. We lost Porte and Thomas in spectacular crashes. Aru committed a ‘mortal sin’ by attacking Froome in yellow whilst he had a puncture, we saw AG2R throw down the gauntlet with some seriously impressive riding on the wet descents and witnessed one the gutsiest rides of the tour from eventual Polka Dot jersey winner  Warren Barguil. Add to that a sprint finish between all the eventual contenders and you have a cracking good stage. And just on the Aru situation, can he attack the yellow jersey whilst he has a mechanical? Yes he can, but should he? I don’t think so. Compared to sports like Rugby or Cricket cycling has a pretty thin rule book (with the exception of some fairly convoluted equipment rules). Most of the rules are based around commonsense and are designed to ensure a smooth, safe race. The rest of it is governed by ethics. If this bothers you then I’m sure there is some illegal cock fighting you could tune into where ethics are not so highly regarded.

 

No. 7. I like Froomey- there I said it.

I’m no Team Sky fan but I will admit that Froomey is one classy bike rider. Good in all situations, near impossible to crack, generally keeps himself upright (for the most part) and prepared to fight all the way to the end. This was the first time in a long time that the Tour wasn’t won with a sucker punch (ie. win one stage by such a margin that all you need to do thereafter is defend). Froomey, whilst generally keeping control of the race still had to fight- and fight he did. An impressive rider and a worthy winner in my opinion.

 

So that’s it- my two cents worth, although some of you may thinks it’s worth a little less than that. I can now resume normal programming, maybe even ride my own bike again- at least until the Vuelta!

There are rules!

“This is not Nam, this is bowling….there are rules” Walter Sobchak, The Big Lebowski

Bowling, cycling, lining up at McDonalds, you name it there are rules. It’s part and parcel of living in a society. What’s more, rules help define a society. They are a set of universally understood and generally agreed to instructions, a guideline for peaceful coexistence and, to a reasonable extent, a reflection of what we, as a bunch of coexisting humans, perceive to be of ethical value. Our understanding of rules has come a long way since prehistoric times when if another caveman wanted your brontosaurus drumstick for himself he would beat you with a club, take it and no-one would bat an eyelid. These days we value the right of ownership. You wait your turn at McDonalds for your brontosaurus drumstick (or Big Mac) and you can safely assume that the next person in line is not going to shamelessly beat you with a club and take it from you. There are rules.

In the state of NSW there are rules. Lots of rules. And that’s ok because the state of NSW is, after all, a society.  We are bound together by geographical boundaries, a commonly recognised code of football and a new set of rules that imply a general disdain for bicycles! Wait, did I say a disdain for bicycles? Where did that come from? Surely not. Obviously I get to speak to cyclists of all breeds- road cyclists, mountain bikers, recreational riders and commuters, and there seems to be a common vibe at the moment that cyclists are feeling a little threatened.

Part of this is the media. They’ve found a topic that seems to get the blood boiling in extremists from both sides. You’ve got angry motorists on one side. Angry that they are sitting in traffic, angry that they’ve perhaps seen more than a few cyclists flaunt the very rules that they have little choice but to follow (it’s difficult to break the rules when you’re creeping along in traffic at walking speed). Angry that they have paid for the roads via vehicle registration and those parasite bike riders have not. Apparently cyclists don’t also own and register motor vehicles, nor pay taxes, nor pay council rates- yep, cyclists have contributed nothing to the roads.

On the other side you have angry cyclists. Some are angry because they’re doing their bit to save the planet via lower carbon emissions and nobody seems to care. Some are angry because for years they’ve seen the bicycle as the perfect rule-flaunting machine and now they may be held accountable. Many, in fact I’d go so far as to say most, are angry because they are normal people who simply want to ride a bicycle, within the law, on infrastructure that they have very much paid for via taxes, rates and the registered vehicle(s) sitting in their garage. And when you’ve got low brow media stirring up animosity towards cyclists, riding a bicycle can be a fairly dangerous proposition. Some are angry because they feel that the increased and, in some cases, overly zealous policing of the ‘new’ rules is a threat to them simply doing what they love and what they have right to do.

So should we, as cyclists feel threatened? Out on the road it is very easy to feel physically threatened. You’re at the bottom of the food chain, the krill of the road. The difference between us and krill of course is that we are not a food source. If we were, let’s face it, we wouldn’t stand a chance. Our survival in the black sea of bitumen is dependent on a couple of things.

Firstly, there is the general goodwill between humans and our common acceptance of the fact that we are a society. I like to believe in this goodwill. I’m sure there are very few people out there who get in a car with the express intention of harassing, injuring or even killing a cyclist. I’m sure there are some, but these are the same aggressive bottom feeders that king hit people at the pub, bully others in a more vulnerable position than themselves and arrogantly jump the queue at McDonalds. It’s not just cyclists who have a problem with these lower order primates, it’s society as a whole. I like to think that the other 99.9 percent, despite how much they may be influenced by the media and regardless of their first class ticket on the bandwagon, can still identify cyclists as humans. Real humans like them, with families, friends, a mortgage to pay and a junior soccer team to coach on the weekends. And it is this that makes those people go around rather than over cyclists on the road.

Secondly, there are rules. Road rules like don’t run red lights, give way when entering roundabouts and giving cyclists a metre space when passing them in a motor vehicle all serve the purpose of keeping some sort of order on the roads and go a fair way to ensuring the survival of cyclists and motorists – that is, of course, providing that they are adequately respected and policed. Some rules seem ridiculous. For example, a bicycle must be fitted with an adequate warning device like a bell (despite popular opinion this is not a new law, it has just never been enforced with such vigour before). A bell on a bicycle seems pretty useless as a warning device everywhere other than a footpath. Get caught riding on a footpath and you may be applauded for having a bell… but then fined for riding on a footpath!!??

However, rules are rules. If we, as the enlightened two-wheeled members of society, wish to be recognised as the legitimate road users that we already know ourselves to be, then we may need to give a little- after all, it’s just a bell. If you see a stop sign, just stop. Make an effort to be seen doing the right thing, not just by the constabulary but, more so, by those who hold our safety in their driver’s side cup holder- motorists. Here’s an even crazier idea, let’s go a step further and behave like we are a part of an uber civilised society. Let’s make an effort to really share the road, after all, sharing is a two way street. Yes we have a right to be there, but why create animosity just to prove a point. If we can safely keep out of the way or even choose a different route that is away from high motor traffic areas then shouldn’t we? Because let’s face it, none of us want to be antagonistic, we all just want to get to where we are going. Let’s be visibly courteous, maybe even offer a wave when someone gives you all the time and space you need to ensure that you can both continue on safely. Let’s take the high road. Let’s turn the lemons into lemonade. Let’s be pillars of society.

As cyclists we are not under threat if we refuse to feel threatened. Instead, we are underestimated in our capacity to be agents of change.

Keep riding and ride righteously!