‘Racing is life. Everything else is just waiting’ said Steve McQueen in the film ‘Le Mans’. As a quotation it’s been used to death (I’ve used it at least twice in previous magazine features) but as a sentiment it’s custom made for people who own a cyclocross bike or two. Since accidentally becoming what Rapha call a ‘King of Fury’ I’ve had that quotation rattling around in my head but it’s been dusted down, lubed and reassessed; race prepped, if you will.
Minutes after finishing the Rapha Supercross at London’s Ally Pally I’d learned there were stacks more races in which to pay for the pleasure of tasting my own puke and so with a still pounding heart I mentally signed up to 2 more. But what would I do during Steve McQueen’s ‘waiting’ period? Stuffing the Jake into my car I realised I’d done more miles racing it than I had just riding it and that imbalance felt great; after all, in ‘Le Mans’ Steve McQueen doesn’t go shopping in his Porsche 917, saving it instead for the track (and in any case it’d never get over the speed bumps at Sainsbury’s). But by half five the very next afternoon the beautiful balance had been destroyed because I’d commuted 20 miles from South to West London and back and taken away Jake’s thoroughbred status and introduced him to his other life as a weekday workhorse with a 4000 mile per year commute. On the very first day of this very long sentence it dawned on me that I had a chance to get out of a commuting rut that I’d didn’t realise I’d been stuck in for the last decade.
Since I could afford to buy my own bikes I’d never owned a road bike because of an addiction to that magic feeling of freedom that shudders up through a bike when its tyres hit dirt: road bikes just didn’t, and still don’t, do it for me. Commuting that first time on Jake made me realise that my stubborn mind-set had enslaved me to commuting on a series of inappropriate bikes because they were great off-road: a Cannondale ‘Beast of the East’, an Orange Patriot 66, a Sunn BMiX, a Curtis Racelite, a carbon Lapierre Zesty 914 and a Kona Unit 29er. All mountain bikes, all amazing off road and not once ridden through any three parks that lie between my front door and work unless it was scorching hot and the ground dusty. By the end of the first week on the Jake my 30 minute each way commute (previous best, 36 mins on the Zesty) had been twice extended to 2 hours on the homeward leg so I could hunt out all that terrain which only left me left me depressed and wanting so much more on my mountain bike but which flat out on a CX bike is exactly what it’s made for. Can you hold a fast and drifty line through that line of trees? How about staying off the brakes down those stairs or death-gripping as your tyres slip and struggle for grip when the ground beneath them changes from wet grass to mud and then gravel? It’s all going on in the green spaces of any town and provides smiles for miles if you’ve got the right bike under you.
On the days when I haven’t got time to leave London’s infamous roads behind in search of dirt I’m happy to stay on them because mixing it up with traffic at the speeds I can carry on the Jake makes even the terrifying start of a CX race seem tame. After 2 weeks of all this I’d lost 7lbs and found myself heading out when I had a spare hour to either slide and slug it around my loop or prowl around looking for more. If I want a legitimate mountain bike ride it’s a well worth it hour and a half drive each way which pretty much explains why I don’t get out as much as I’d like. But since stumbling across CX I’m now riding the right bike on the right dirt every day, so whilst Steve McQueen’s right about racing on the Jake the waiting can be just as much fun too.
Photo credit: Angus Muir, Kirk Le Voi (shop picture)