Simon’s Cycle Shorts are now available to buy in both paperback (£8.39) and Kindle (£2.99) editions from Amazon. HERE
In the darkness he can just make out his forearms; flat, bare and relaxed on the bars and glistening with sweat; a powerful white light spears through the cables from beneath spreading its lumens across the smooth Shropshire tarmac; 14 hours in and 10 more to go. Fear? No, not for the dark; fear is reserved for the midnight puncture puck or the onset of premature exhaustion brought about by failing to fuel enough – easily done in the first frantic hours of the previous day. The tunnel-like world of the night exists for only six hours but it is the time when 24 hour time trials are won and, more frequently, lost. There are always quicker riders, but if they can’t fight through the night then they lose.
It’s at this point that many riders feel their body start to stiffen and their will to weaken; sleep besieges their thoughts with tender memories of rest and warmth; end it all now; take to your bed; stop the pain. But this is my rider’s time – this is when he gets stronger. The roads are empty and lonely bar the occasional unidentifiable light beam on the opposite carriageway, and yet he feels more lucid and on track than at any time in the race; now is the time for us to push; I’m smiling in the dark at the sheer thrill of staying out on the road when everyone else has gone to their beds. The excitement of the first few hours when the supporters still cheered has long gone, and the pace has settled; but we’re still racing, we’re still time trialling; his body is still stretched across me as it would be for a 10 or a 25 miler. He’s not one of the speed merchants who blitz the Sunday mornings before breakfast, he’s one of the endurance men and women who ride through the day, and then the night, and then the day again.
So how does the long distance triallist cope with hours and hours in the saddle? How does he distance his head from his unseen opponents? Support crews gossiping in the night with tales of abandons and bonking competitors try to help; but their words hardly register in the befuddled minds of athletes stopping only briefly to refuel. He can only think of himself and his need to keep moving, keep the speed, keep on the road. In truth, he’d rather not stop, but he needs to know he’s not the only man left in that dark, unforgiving place; he needs to look into sympathetic eyes.
Bikes like me are loved and despised equally. No bikes are more fettled, more measured, more adjusted or tuned; optimised for the opposing demands of aero efficiency and long distance comfort, we’re the ultimate cycling compromise. Too aero and we’ll break the rider’s body within four hours; to comfortable and he’ll be slow. After the race he’ll hate me; the pain of this day take a long time to heal.
During the summer nights the temperature can be surprisingly low, but my rider is still working hard and consuming enough fuel to generate his own heat; in the crisp dark air his sweat still drips onto my bars and into the food tray; carb-laden cubes of bread pudding and banana bread that are regularly and reluctantly stuffed in and swallowed whole; this engine needs its fuel like a steam train needs coal. The monotony of his breathing timed subconsciously with his cadence, bores me for hours.
Periodically I find myself smiling like a madman because I know what’s coming; the large Quina Brook roundabout where a few hardy supporters sit around for the night under the streetlights and gently clap as the competitors, still down on the bars, spear out of the darkness, on one of the few downhill slopes, to execute the irregular 360 turn – the speeds are high and the thrill intense – before disappearing again onto the 40 mile circuit. After all this time I know the road, the bumps, the building excitement for the sunrise – although I know he’ll get low in those late night hours when the sun refuses to rise above the horizon; it feels like a deliberate act. But now is the night and the night is our time.
24 hour time trials are an allegory for a man’s life on earth; in the first six hours he bursts from the start with speed, verve and a hope that represents the promise of a young child growing into an adult; an entrance then tempered during the second six hours when the reality and potential futility of his mission become clear – so much work still has to be done; such a long way to go; the body’s beginning to hurt. But success or failure is determined in the night; similarly, middle age determines what a man will really achieve when the going gets tough – the big distance men and women don’t sleep and rarely stop for supplies in the night; the big milers, the real contenders, are rarely young and predominantly inward. And then, as the last six hours unfold, only those who’ve ridden the night with the willpower and determination to keep up the pace and the pain, make the grade. Every one of them collapses on the stroke of 24 – a private, painful passing by the side of the road – they beg forgiveness for their folly and their joy at finishing; the tears of exhaustion if not short-lived, are real. The 24 hour riders give their soul to their bike and take only a mileage as reward. They are the cyclists that truly know how to suffer.
Simon’s Cycle Shorts are now available to buy in both paperback (£8.39) and Kindle (£2.99) versions from Amazon. HERE
Copyright © 2017 by Simon Bever. All Rights Reserved