I was immensely cheered yesterday by the sight of an old guy with a neat silvery-white beard zooming down a slope in Cheltenham on his mountainbike.
He was wearing a red jacket which was flying out in the wind and there was something about the way his helmet was pitched and the way he rode his mountainbike that made me think he was an old hand at cycling.
He didn’t slow much approaching the crossroads and glanced both ways to check it was clear before whizzing across, not losing a second as he jumped the red lights. I don’t usually approve of that but hell this was done in such fine style.
Off up another road he pedalled very briskly. I honestly don’t think I could have caught him.
He converted my pretty bleah morning into a promising one. I couldn’t help smiling for this is the future; quite old people who know how to handle bikes as well, if not better than teenagers.
These guys who are now hitting their late forties, fifties, sixties, were in on the mountainbiking movement when it arrived on these shores. The young mountainbiking pioneers of Marin County are older still.
People had been riding off-road trails in the States for years before but when the first mountainbikes arrived in the UK, this was the generation that dumped the skinny tyred Italian thoroughbreds at the back of the shed in favour of knobbly tyres, 27 gears and crud-catchers.
They’re still riding. My pal Bob is now sixty. While he wasn’t one of the first tranch of mountainbikers, he’s been riding for years and he was bravest/craziest when we had a birthday blast around the Verderers Trail in the Forest of Dean last August. He’s a man of spirit. There was a time when we were out in a bunch just adventuring in the Forest of Dean and we came to a stomach-churning drop-off – the kind of long descent that looked almost vertical with a run-out at the bottom. We all stopped and looked at it. The trail was stringy goat-track width straight down through scrubby bushes.
“That’s just silly.” (That was me) It was decided that we’d all give it a go if Bob did. So he did, and we watched and applauded and whistled as he dropped into it with beautiful control and glided out at the base. He halted ready to watch us descend.
“Nah. We don’t think so but thanks for showing us, Robert!” We yelled, laughing. What a jape.We were too far away to hear Bob’s reply. Just as well, probably. I got it in the neck later.
“Oh Janet you’ve let me down. You of all people..” he said faux sternly. But yes, I can face it – that was another version of Chicken Rock and we were the chickens.
Another former road and mtb racer pal of mine reported the other day he’d done ten circuits of the landmark hill near his home. He would probably claim that the climbing profile adds up to, oh, half of Kilimanjaro but whatever the total, I know it would kill most teenagers. He sometimes cannons past groups of kids hanging out admiring each others tricked out downhill bikes. Not one of them is as fit or as gutsy on a bike as he is, yet this guy is pushing fifty.
My brother reckons that the huge trend towards downhilling has been responsible for a lot of the kids going soft. They prefer their bikes to be taken uphill in some big Dodge trailer instead of doing proper cross-country uphilling mountainbiking, which is how all the hard riders get the best training.
I love it that, like rock stars, mountainbikers never really grow old in the way that past generations got old. Hans No-Way Rey is still going strong in California and occasionally over here – see video below. I’d never invite him to a barbecue. You could never guarantee he wouldn’t jump his bike on to your picnic table and bounce around the raspberry pavlova on his back wheel. First seen at the Malvern Classic in the mid-nineties. Never forgotten!
Steve Peat the world champion downhiller, is younger but getting on but still regularly shows the others how its done and spends a lot of time encouraging up and coming riders on his home turf of Sheffield.
Johnny Tomac, another of the great cross country world champion mountainbikers who appeared in the first ever “How To Do Mountainbiking” video – and my brother’s mountainbiking hero – won his last downhill race just before he turned 40.
Their followers are still going strong too. Age shall not wither their inner tubes. I suspect the old guy in the red jacket was one of the old guard of mountainbikers. Maybe he took it up when he was thirty and bought one of the first mountainbikes that appeared in the UK when the BMX craze was waning.
I can’t quite get over the generational difference in ageing. I still find it peculiar looking around at, say a Police concert or a Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings, (can you tell I don’t go to many gigs?) or the Steve Winwood thing the other week and seeing a load of older people who could actually be a classical music audience if it weren’t for the ubiquitous leather jackets.
I can’t help thinking “Blimey. Look how OLD these people are…and they’re all going out for the evening!”
When my grandparents were that old, they weren’t going anywhere in the evenings. They were sitting by the fire watching TV or listening to Sing Something Simple on the wireless.
By 10pm they wouldn’t be sitting in an auditorium cheering for the next act taking the stage; they’d be dropping the false teeth into the cup of Steradent at the side of the bed.
Mind you, if it weren’t for the great advances in dentistry, maybe that’s what most of the old cyclists and rockers would be doing at this stage too!
Three generations of superb cyclists at play: The Totally Fab Danny MacAskill, The Incomparably Skilled Downhiller Steve Peat and the Enduring Grandmaster of Trials Riding Hans Rey.