This is an event in my life that, at the time, was just an embarrassing blip on the radar that I promptly put in the history basket and forgot about. It was about a decade later that some of the details took on a new perspective.
Let’s start at the start. I raced bikes well. I worked for a large corporation which had, in its past, been wholly owned by the federal government, and many of the cliché’s of working for the public service were still very much in evidence. Because of the flexibility of my work situation, I was selected by the Queensland Cycling Association (now Cycling Queensland) as one of six competitor/ambassadors of the sport for demonstration events. As part of a publicity campaign we would visit large regional shopping centres along with members of the local clubs to stimulate interest in the sport.
On the day in question (June 12th 1990 in fact) the other riders involved were my best friend Robbie Anderson who raced for the same club as I did, along with Darren Smith and Robbie McEwen who went to school together and both raced together for another club. Here’s a little geographical interlude. I live on the Sunshine Coast about one hour north of the states capital, Brisbane. The Gold Coast is one hour south of the capital. Both coasts are typified by long golden beaches and much rivalry over tourism dollars. That rivalry spilled over into most sports, including cycling.
Let’s go shopping.
What is the worst thing about going to a big shopping centre? 99% of you said finding a parking space. Go on, admit it. You did. What about the other major pain in the posterior? The card table dwellers near the entrances. The clubs and charities trying to sell raffle tickets or get petitions signed or scrounging for new members.
That wasn’t us. Our demonstrations were a little more active and flashy. Any decent shopping centre has a big open area undercover for fashion shows – probably the same spot where Santa sits for the three weeks leading up to Christmas. That’s where we set up shop.
We did have a couple of card tables. That’s where the officials from two local clubs were camped to answer questions about membership and local events. Someone from the state body was there as well, along with four racers for the glitz.
Let’s go racing.
How do you race inside a shopping centre? Those of you that race competitively have a knowing grin and are probably nodding gently. For the rest of you, I say – rollers. Not a stationary wind trainer, but rather an unsupported bicycle on rollers. Have a look at the attached picture if you need assistance with the visual image.
Rollers – I’m a trackie, I love ’em. At track racing carnivals you get a warm-up session before racing starts but once the racing is under way rollers are the sole access to warming up or keeping warm at most events.
The demonstration we did was on two sets of rollers. One set was red and the other set blue with both attached to a big dial like a clock face with a red and a blue hand. One revolution of the clock was equal to 500 metres (0.31mi) travelled. There were also 2 other sets of rollers off to the sides for the other riders to warm up on.
There was no official competition or prizes for this activity, it was purely for show. But there was also the inter-coast rivalry fuelling the whole thing. During the warm-up it was obvious this was going to be a fight. The two guys from the Gold Coast were taking turns on the competition rollers timing each other. I overheard them discussing who would ride against each of us. This’ll be fun.
Then the P.A. came to life to announce the event to the lunchtime crowd. From 11:30am to 2:00pm we rotated through the races. I don’t remember much of the racing for the day but there were a couple of points that did stick in my mind. I was undefeated on the day with everyone racing everyone three times. I was the only person to get under 20 seconds for the standing 500 metres, and only once. The slowest ride of the day was the last one – I can’t remember the exact time but it was around 22 seconds, giving an average speed over 80kph (50mph).
Some things unique to rollers.
These times seem fast until you consider that a lot of the things that slow you down riding a bike disappear on the rollers. Don’t get me wrong, riding rollers in general is not easy. And racing rollers is even less easy. It is incredibly different to riding on the road or trail or even a velodrome. Here’s where the speed comes from: there is no weight to accelerate, or air resistance to overcome (pre-emptive rebuttal: angular momentum of wheels/cranks/legs are acknowledged, as is the air resistance of 60 or 70 spokes carving through the air – but these are negligible compared to having to accelerate the bike and rider from rest, and move through the air at those speeds).
So at the end of the day I had beaten Robbie McEwen three times in a sprint.
Here’s the part that doesn’t often get mentioned.
I was racing a child. It won’t take much research to discover that on the day of this event (12 June 1990) Robbie McEwen was 12 days short of his 18th birthday. Versus me, a full grown man of 22 years. But in my defence, I believe this to be a balanced competition – a fair fight. Here’s why… while I had the advantage of almost 5 years of seniority, this event took place only 14 months after the ambulance ride. I had in that period of time gone from my racing weight of 73kg (161lb) up to a peak of 119kg (262lb) and back down to 95kg (209lb). And more significantly, ridden less than 2000km (745mi). So an invalid versus an emerging superstar – he was fair game.
Here’s the other part that doesn’t often get mentioned.
When I was racing I could ride the rollers no handed. Riding a bike no handed is a skill every seven year old can master. It becomes a little tricky when you’re riding the rollers. You don’t have the safety of soft grass. Or the privacy of the backyard.
For the purposes of this story it is needless to say that over-confidence, a set of rollers, a shopping centre stage and a crowd of several hundred shoppers is a bad combination. It wasn’t actually any of those that threw me though. It was the front tyre on my bike that burst while my over-confidence had me warming up no-handed with my arms smugly crossed against my chest.
Arrogance rewarded with pain AND embarrassment. Karma in its purest form.
Thought for the day.
"When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realised that the Lord doesn’t work that way so I stole one and asked Him to forgive me."