Ride of my life

I saw it on a Tour team-car roof-rack
In ’99. Pau. Frame greyed with the grime
Of rock-hard Pyrenean cols like coal-
Dust on a miner’s face. A strip of tape
On the top-tube, which bore, in small neat caps,
A name that blazed across the world that year:
L. ARMSTRONG. His. Right there in front of me.
Took five years’ waiting
                                  but I got mine. That
Changed everything. Just-going-for-a-ride
Became twelve thousand k a year; the road
My second home; the bike a part of me.
And it was war, fought on so many fronts –
Fatigue, foul weather, gravity, the grind
Of spinning out the endless hours alone;
The predatory cars, the sudden crash
As glycogen reserves ran dry. I lost
Some battles; won my share. My days had shape
And structure: strong, continuous and true
As my bright-silver-spinning handbuilt wheels;
The steady scrolling of the countryside,
The hollow roar of tyres, purring gears
The biopic and soundtrack of my life.

And that was just the way it was. For years.

I tried to quit. I swear.
                                I went two weeks.
But my heart hurt more than my ruined knee
So I came back. A little easier,
Though still five days a week: the full-time job
Of being alive. Not all addiction’s bad.

I still waste hours in wondering, chasing wild
Geese up blind alleys, trying to figure out
All kinds of why and what-the-hell and how.
And all the time the answer’s waiting there
Downstairs. It slouches up against the wall
Like hired muscle: hard, honed; clear intent
In each smooth tube, taut line and swelling curve.
A circumnavigation on the clock
Now, memories bound tight in every strand
Of carbon fibre in its frame. It is
The constant – one of very few I have –
And balance-point of life. So if I ask
About my calling, cause, trajectory
I beg you to remind me – it’s the bike,
Stupid. Then send me back out on the road,
Where I find all this crazy world reduced
To simple, fundamental principles
And I am certain – just the way I was
Behind the finish line on Stage 16 –
Of all I want and need. It’s still the bike.

5 thoughts on “Ride of my life

  1. Hi Nick

    This is great, a real ode to cycling. The fundamental principles that the world is reduced to when cycling. Lance would love this poem too I bet! I never understood how those saddle’s could be comfortable btw. (The only problem I have with my hometrainer bike. It hurts! )

    I like the iambic pentameter you use. 🙂 It makes the sound of the poem that of a classic. Which the words already are!


    • Thank you very much, Ina. This was a bit of an experiment, really: I wanted to weave together the two strands of cycling (where my blog began) and metrical verse; and I wanted to ‘push’ the iambic pentameter a bit harder, breaking up the lines and syllables almost to the point where it disappears but is still there if you know where to look. That you picked up on it is really encouraging – I obviously didn’t go TOO far!
      As to the narrow saddle…it’s fine as long as you’re going fast; it’s not really designed to be ‘sat’ on, like a chair, but is one of three points of balance (the others being the hands and pedals) with the rider’s weight evenly distributed. The problem comes on long rides when you start to get tired and find yourself ‘sitting’ more as your back and legs and arms are able to take less and less of the weight, and you’re pushing on the pedals rather than spinning them smoothly. Then the pain begins…the other problem with a stationary trainer like yours is that your position probably doesn’t shift much, which it does naturally on a road bike. The things we talk about on WordPress, eh?! N.xx

  2. You are right, stationary wise. 🙂
    Now the weather is wet, I am glad I can do my moving indoors though 🙂

    I enjoy your cycling cyclus. As I am writing this , I see a sail pass in the street (the window is a bit higher than street level) it is a sort of surfboard with bicycle ambitions and a sail, not sure how it is called. 🙂


  3. Nick, wonderful narrative as usual. I like the way you’ve broken up the lines while still maintaining the meter. I’ve worked at that too, although I have a hard time not ending lines with the meaning intact in the line–or at the very least within a pair of lines, even in blank verse. I think I’ve learned more about biking on your blog than I ever though I’d know in my life. Kevin, our son, was a biker when he was young. Before he got old enough to go out on his own Ethel and I would get in the car and let him go cross country for miles, sitting on the side of the road until we couldn’t see him anymore, then starting up the car and driving around until we found him. Later on he loved to go to the Door County Peninsula in Wisconsin and ride the peninsula from its tip to its base, completing a circle filled with woods, sparkling lake water on the bay side, and wind driven surf on the side open to Lake Michigan. He was not as dedicated as you are in this poem. He rode a couple of times a week, but not every day. Still, this brought back strong memories of another time and another place. When a poem can evoke emotion, as well as a bit of learning, it is, by definition, an excellent poem. I loved looking at the craft here, though. It gave me something to think about.

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