Unfair advantage

We’re all at it
Though we don’t admit it.

No need for needles
Or PEDs
No brandishing of TUEs:

To ride
Is to cheat –

Gravity
Friction

Fear
Death

Age
Time –

And every day
I try my luck

To see how much
I can get away with

And so far I’ve never
Been caught

Yet.

 

In his classic collection of essays Need for the Bike (or Besoin de Velo in the original French) my cycling-literary hero Paul Fournel says: ‘Thanks to the bike, there is a faster man. The bike is in itself a form of doping. Which doesn’t simplify things.’ Amid the scandals forever swirling around the sport, it’s good to remind ourselves that the bike is innocent, untainted, honourable and, as Paul goes on to say: ‘the tool of natural speed…the shortest path to the doubling of yourself. Twice as fast, two times less tired, twice as much wind in your face. It’s always right to want more.’  And I do. Time to go riding. N.

TUE = Therapeutic Use Exemption; a doctor’s note authorising the use of a prohibited substance. Controversial, to say the least. PED = performance-enhancing drug.

Breakaway

Speed2 copy

 

What I want
Right now
Is a faster bike:

Not just quick enough
To torch all records
Round a routine loop;

Slide inside
An long-impregnable PB
Like a letter under a door;

Gun down that distant stranger
And pass them in a blast
Of thrumming, taunting air.

No. I need one
Built to outrun
A world I no longer understand:

With wheels that spin up
Instantly
Then roll like silk forever;

Geared to answer
Every surge and counter
From any in pursuit

Light as moon-dust, river-stone smooth,
So close to nothing air and gravity
Would be forced to let it go.

A machine my roaring, laboured mind
Can assemble and bring out at will
Climb on, clip in

Then let it rip
And know without a backward glance
None has the power to follow.

Fin des jours

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Where is the sense in writing
What place for poetry
In such a world? How can I sing
When all that I can see
Is housing built on green-field sites,
The loss of ancient trees
The melting of the arctic ice
The plight of refugees
The poisons in the air we breathe
Corrupt and broken banks
The twin fists of Kim Jong-un’s nukes
And Mr Putin’s tanks.
The breakup of the Union
The rising of the right
The triumph of the braying mob
The vitriol and spite.
The warming of the biosphere
The carnage on the roads
Theresa’s stolen Number Ten
And Donald’s got the codes.
MPs’ conflicts of interest
Misspent election cash
Our open doors now bolted
Our boats reduced to ash.
The shrieking of the tabloids
The shadows growing long
A nationalistic fervour
“My country, right or wrong.”
Disaster in the making
A shocked, divided land
All amity extinguished
No cards left in our hand.
The dark, unknown agendas
The endless stream of lies
All reason now suspended
Too late for compromise.
My pen is blunt, my page is blank
No story left to tell.
The road is all that’s left to me.
The world has gone to hell.

And May is going to start dragging us out of the EU next week. The news came in as I was completing this piece. There are, literally, no words. N.

Back on the road (bike) II

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Always the way:
First fine day
And old allegiance
Starts to stir.

Like hedgerow flowers
My dormant dreams
Awaken, bright, alluring,
And draw me in.

Shrug off ten years
With my winter clothes
And chase a younger self
In my racing shadow;

Wish for no world beyond
The heat mirage ahead;
All thought drowned
In the sound of the wind
And my own breathing.

Nail a For Sale sign
On my long-mortgaged soul;
The asking price:
One more summer on the road.

Ride to work

Set out today
To look for a line;
A thought, a word
Picked up on the road
And carried home
To keep a pledge
Made to an empty page.

Only to find
My mind consumed
By the unconscious calculus
Of carving through an off-camber curve;

Weaving down a pot-holed hill
Like a raindrop on a window-pane;

Ticking off long, level miles
With well-drilled diesel diligence;

Hustling over heart-freeze crossroads
Like a prisoner dodging the searchlights’ glare.

An hour’s artless, guiltless pleasure,
My mission and all sense of time forgotten.

Yet on returning
Found that my work was done.

A higher state

bo-peep

The weight of the world
Slips off my shoulders
And into my back pocket
As the road tilts
And the universe shrinks;
Wrenching the pedals like bolts long rusted in,
Chain strained into a steel girder,
The newton-metres packed like powder
Into every joint and tube.
Forget the top
Dismiss desire:
Merely
To move
To breathe
To keep
My heart and limbs from tearing loose
Is enough;
This yard of chalk-bleached, frost-cracked road
This shard of telescoping time
This roaring in my ears and chest
Are all I know and understand.
A welcome stepping-off
And reconnecting with the world.

 
 
 

For no other reason than I felt like it, today’s 30-mile outing included the steep, narrow road (known as a bostal in these parts) that zig-zags up the north face of the South Downs to Bo Peep. It’s a cul-de-sac, ending in a car park on the South Downs Way: to the south, there are wide views to Brighton and the English Channel; to the north, a notch in the hills frames a slice of the Weald. I haven’t ridden it in several years – and after a mile I remembered why. The whole 1.5-mile climb has a rather underwhelming average grade of about 5% (1 in 20) but this kicks up to a shade over 11% (1 in 9) in the second half. (To illustrate the true paltriness of my achievement, the classic Tour climb of Alpe d’Huez is eight miles long, at an average grade of 8% (1 in 12), and is usually preceded by about 100 miles of racing including several other Alpine summits.) I was reduced to walking pace on the final horrible ramp before the top, but somehow managed to avoid using the dreaded gear-of-last-resort. The descent was like being thrown off a tall building, prompting fervent prayers of gratitude to the cycling gods for giving us the hydraulic disc brake. Good vibes all round; and reassuring to know my aging carcase can still be persuaded to do these things. Albeit not very often. N.