Biking Behaviour (part 16) – The Raconteur

Cycling at my level is essentially an excuse to go out and shoot the breeze with a few mates. Sure, the riding is important, but so is the chance to spend a couple of hours in good company winding each other up, telling a few stories, and comparing bikes. But there is one in every group who has taken the art of socialising to virtually a professional level…the true raconteur.

Not only is this friend of yours gregarious, outgoing and full of fun, he seems to be one of those people to whom things happen: he gets in scrapes, meets interesting people, and around every corner there seems to lurk the next adventure. When you’re out on the bike with him he will regale you with his seemingly endless supply of anecdotes and tall tales. As much as you don’t want to believe him, you know the stories are true (…aren’t they?) and you’re powerless to resist.

He’ll give you episodes of run-ins with angry motorists, collisions with bollards, traffic islands and gooseberry bushes, survival situations on the top of alpine passes, mechanical failures in remote parts of Scotland, and a cast list of characters so outlandish that it’s tempting to think he might be making some of this up (…he wouldn’t be, would he?).

On a ride recently a few of us were chatting absent-mindedly about whatever bike race was currently taking place in some mountainous, sun-baked corner of southern Europe, and someone offered an innocuous comment like:

‘Did you see that Nairo Quintana? He looks in good form, might go well in the Tour this year’.

To which our friend – the raconteur of the group – replied: ‘Quintana? Oh yes, nice fella actually…’

Nairo Quintana at the Tour of Britain  (Photo: Katie Chan - Wikimedia CC)

Nairo Quintana at the Tour of Britain
(Photo: Katie Chan – Wikimedia CC)

Now, my friend is from Cumbria, in the north of England, and a pretty remote part of Cumbria too. It’s fair to say that he and Nairo Quintana are poles apart; their paths unlikely to cross in a social situation

But you know there’s a story coming.

It turns out he went to see the start of the Tour of Britain last year as it rolled out from Carlisle, through high winds and driving rain, and in the direction of the 20% gradients of Honister Pass. Being the local expert and always keen to share a bit of local knowledge (and, frankly, have a chat with anyone who will listen), our friend went into full raconteur mode, apparently gained the trust of the diminutive Columbian, and passed on some sage advice about what to expect from the prevailing weather conditions and the gear ratio’s he might need to take on the climb of Honister.

You would assume that Quintana’s team already had this sort of thing in hand, but our man was insistent that this passing of local knowledge across barriers of culture and language was key to Quintana’s good performance that day. In fact, you would be forgiven for assuming that our mate is now on Quintana’s Christmas card list and the invite to his next family gathering in Columbia is in the post, such was his apparent gratitude.

Coming from some, a story like that might seem far-fetched and self-indulgent, but from the way our friend the raconteur delivers the story, and the fact that you’ve seen him in action before, it sounds plausible, entertaining, and probably at least 75% true…but there’s more to come. Since you’re on the subject of meetings with pro cyclists, he has all kinds of little gems to wheel out for our entertainment…

…like the time he was riding through the valleys of north Wales and was passed by two young bucks on pristine Pinarello bikes, clad in full Team Sky regalia.

Now, wearing the replica kit of a pro team, whilst clearly not being a rider for said team, is questionable, but is basically down to personal taste. I, for one, wouldn’t be seen dead wearing a Team Sky kit whilst riding around the lanes of Lancashire (Rapha, or no Rapha) but clearly thousands disagree with me on this.

On being passed by these two big time Charlies, my friend decided he’s going to ride up alongside and have a gentle and good-natured chat with them (all in good fun, of course). After (eventually) catching up, panting heavily by now from the exertion of the chase (the two mystery men are clearly no mugs), he manages to grunt ‘ow do lads’…before noticing the lettering up the side of there jerseys which reads ‘Thomas’ and ‘Swift’.

Ben Swift  in full Team Sky kit (Photo: Petit Brun - Flickr CC)

Ben Swift
in full Team Sky kit
(Photo: Petit Brun – Flickr CC)

Before they’ve even swung their heads around to return the greeting it’s clear they are Geraint Thomas and Ben Swift…of Team Sky fame…and very much permitted to be kitted out like this. Our friend’s story is sketchy on detail from this point, but clearly ends with the two lads maintaining their steady, easy pace, whilst he is summarily dropped and recedes into the distance.

I can’t imagine they gave a second thought to this guy who had appeared suddenly and then vanished moments later; to be fair to them, they’re probably used to rank amateurs making brief appearances in the middle of their training rides, followed by doomed attempts to keep up.

And yet, even as I write, I’m starting to get the feeling I’ve heard this story somewhere before. Has someone else told it to me? Have I read it in a magazine? Could it be that my friend the raconteur has been recycling other people’s anecdotes for all these years?

After all, is it really plausible that, having been passed by Swift and Thomas he could actually chase them down and catch up?

Hmmm. It might be time for me to confront him about these tall tales…

…either that, or stock up on a few quality anecdotes of my own.


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Selfies from the summit

Many years ago, I used to sit at my desk at work during the long summer months, blissfully unaware of all the bike related fun my friends might be up to. Well, ok, not quite blissfully…but unaware…you get the idea.

I would peer out at the sunshine past e-mails and spreadsheets, bemoaning the fact that any hair-brained schemes which might result in me riding my bike in the sunshine for a living were clearly a long way off. It was enough to know that various cycling companions of mine were out there somewhere, drinking in the life affirming joy of a ride up a big French col or down some long sweeping Pyrenean valley, without them getting in touch through the wonder of modern technology to remind me of it.

I didn’t begrudge them (perish the thought), but I was certainly jealous (obviously), and I didn’t really need to know the details, in real time, climb by climb, café by café. Continue reading

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Cycling Style and Substance

Despite being physically some of the fittest athletes on the planet, off the bike, pro-cyclists often look a bit odd; deformed, misshapen and out of proportion, with their oversized cycling specific muscles and complete rejection of any body weight which isn’t absolutely necessary for the job in hand.

To see some of them carrying out a simple, everyday task like walking in a straight line often gives the impression of a gangly teenager or a baby deer; all arms and legs, none of which are completely under their control.

But to see a pro-cyclist in context (i.e. on a bike) is often a demonstration of beauty and grace. Continue reading

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Tour de France 2014: I’ve got a bike race to watch!

Despite living a mere 40 miles away from where the Tour de France passes through Yorkshire in July 2014, I think it’s fair to say that when it comes to organising a plan of action for seeing this once-in-a-lifetime-happening, I’ve left things a little late. This is typical of me. For what seems like years now, I’ve talked vaguely with friends and family about where we’ll go to see the race (the Buttertubs Pass of course), how we’ll get there on roads that will undoubtedly be closed well in advance (ride, drive, walk?), and how brilliant it’s all going to be.

Except that, due to inaction on my part, plans appear to have formed all around me…none of which include me! Continue reading

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Cyclists, triathletes and home truths

Many of us who ride regularly call ourselves cyclists, as if cycling is so much more than just a way of spending our spare time that it defines who we are. It’s not a hobby, or a sport, as much as a way of behaving. It defines the way we eat, the things we talk about, and is, ultimately, the thing we would ALWAYS rather be doing when we’re not doing it.

(Add your own family related disclaimer here…quality time with wife and kids…etc. etc.)

Lots of other people think that’s a bit sad and we need to lighten up and get over ourselves…and who am I to say they might not have a point!

But whilst out on our regular Wednesday night ride recently, the group had swelled in number by one or two who don’t refer to themselves as cyclists, because they give themselves a different definition… Continue reading

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