It’s on loose terms that I can claim to be a pro cyclist but being paid to ride your bicycle is none the less a privilege I have been lucky enough to relish once a week for several sunny months. I jumped at the chance to lead a ride from work and each and every time I have ridden, they have been an absolute joy and I always return with a grin on my face. No week has been the same and I’ve met some real characters. There isn’t much space for resentment in this role but none the less I found myself dreading the arrival of an enthusiastic customer on one fateful Sunday toward the end of my stay in first year university halls.
Along with the rich social opportunities in university halls came too some juicy and nutritious boozing opportunities, the most ridiculous of which I completed the night before my weekly Sunday lead. The legendary tower challenge of Fallowfield’s Owen’s Park campus involves drinking one shot for every floor of the tower starting from the top and attempting to descend to the ground floor. Thanks to my youthful appetite I could neatly line my stomach with a good 6 dinners to soak up some mistakes and as such I made it to floor 10 still going strong unlike my compatriots. As soon as my shameful lack of intoxication became known I was persuaded to bash out double shots for the next four floors.
Needless to say, it ended well and I woke up the following morning with 12 minutes to get to work. I arrived 6 minutes late which I’m quite proud of and with no breakfast or water or shower, it didn’t take long for my colleagues to ask how my Saturday night had gone. With 10:00am looming I readied myself for the inevitable with a lovely poached egg on toast and in rolled the charming Peter Batley. As I’d sent all my gear and two out of three bikes home the previous week I lead the ride on my mighty Surly Wurly Straggler complete with rack and Carradice which in the circumstances was exactly what I needed to be able to enjoy the ride.
We cruised through the glorious June sun chatting away about his work at the velodrome and riding opportunities around his home in Glossop. It was brilliant to exchange stories of big morning commutes his from Glossop to the Velodrome in Manchester and mine from Bristol to Shepton Mallet over the Mendips. At the velodrome, it transpired that Peter is one of the sports scientists responsible for assessing the GB rider’s positions and we shared a giggle about his habit of quietly critiquing riders at local TTs. Once we found a nice clear road, I got the chance to demonstrate just how aero you can get on a Straggler if you were so inclined and was assured that my tips would be passed on to Jason Kenny. We arrived back having pedalled our way back into town down the canal talking about our summer plans and I felt a million times better having gone out and got some fresh air. I am yet to arrive back grumpy.
In my own time, I generally class myself as a road rider who likes to smash it wherever possible. However, when it would be less than prudent to sod off up a big hill I like to amuse myself by doing silly stunts at the slower speeds that most of the customers prefer. Only two rides so far would I consider very slow but also in consideration of the purpose of the rides I would say these two have been the most successful. The first of these was the very first I took out and we had a father and son both called Andy who turn up on mountain bikes with normal clothes and back packs on. Our average speed for the ride was around 20kph and this was not helped by the fact that I had forgotten to consider that much of our route followed the Manchester Marathon on that day! Nevertheless, we soldiered on and their spirits did not falter despite it being their first longer ride. Andy the younger particularly enjoyed my no-handed track stands and dismounting to sit on the top tube while still moving like the Peter Sagan wannabe that I am. By the end of the ride, the pair of them were glowing about how much fun they had and by the following week both returned with brand new road bikes and kit. It was such a great feeling to be told that it was our ride which inspired them to get involved in road cycling beyond commuting.
The second of the leisure pace jaunts was with a lovely lady, new to Manchester who had just bought herself a road bike and was keen to get out and ride with others. Just as with both Andy’s, she was so enthusiastic to learn and at no point was it a drag to explain even the simplest things like using gears correctly. Like the child I am, I couldn’t help but give it the beans up a pair of hills on the way back which she was very gracious about and chuckled at the top while asking if I had beaten the records. Seeing as I never learn, I couldn’t help but pull a big skid when we crossed a small section of gravel down Pomona which nearly gave her a heart attack!! It was an absolute pleasure to hear her plans for her cycling and I am sure she will prove to be a credit to the fast-growing women’s cycling scene in Manchester and the UK.
I often must remind myself just how lucky I am to call this role part of my job while so many people are stuck in dingy offices. It’s been a real privilege to introduce so many people into a new part of cycling or even to simply welcome to the city and the club. Besides that, I’ve only told everyone I know that I am now a pro cyclist. The asterisk can be left out for full effect.
Words and pictures – Toby Zeidler.