You Hills have limits –
sides, slopes, summits –
I can measure and master
by muscle and mechanics.
Not so you, Winds:
without edges or apex
surrounding me, pounding me
tirelessly, full in the face.
But I’ll fight you –
together or one at a time –
with rage and resolve and refusal to quit
wherever, whenever you like.
Better you –
with your physics and physical pain
suffering to savour like single malt scotch
that ends when my feet touch the ground –
than the figments and phantoms
that stalk me inside
and I cannot outride, outwit or defeat
with training, or talent, or time.
– the driven, the diehards
the hardy and hungry
the lifers, high-milers
the ones old enough to know better
or too young and eager to care;
the addicts and regulars
gripped by a habit
hard-wired and hard-won
that nothing and no one can break –
glories in going out there in this
when people with brains and ordinary lives
sit inside tutting and shaking their head
glad of the glass between them and the fear.
Who but us
pits muscles and bones
skin, blood and tissue
against fast-moving metal
the rush and the rage
of a world that would rather we didn’t exist.
Who but us
always takes the longest way round
the hardest road home
spinning it out for a couple more miles
a few more minutes stolen and added to life.
The ones who go further
longer and deeper
not really caring if we’re understood
or that none of this makes any sense.
And while there’s a road
miles to be ridden
air to be breathed
who but us
would we want to be?
A sin to stop
Just six miles short of home
And sit on a slab of weathered wood
In the sun and set
A few words down on paper;
But what’s another moment stolen
From a day already plundered;
My conscience is as a clear
As the blackbird’s song
In the cherry tree
And the June sky I’d have missed
If I’d taken the other road.
There’s really no need
In large mocking letters
On this thirteen-percenter:
I’m not about
To flout the speed limit here;
It’s all I can do
To keep this small gear
Just going over
And my two wheels turning.
With legs and lungs burning
Approaching the top:
Can’t stop. Kicks up again:
Piled on. Now. Just one
More push and it’s done.
Lets go of me
And I’m no longer quietly dying
My bicycle has brought me
Through country lanes, quiet woods
And up a short, steep hill
To this almost-forgotten church
Where the old dead dream deep
Beneath tumbled, lichened stones
Lost in drifts of summer flowers.
And I could be content
Were it not for knowing
Even this sublime machine
Will never bear me where I truly wish:
Back through years to times when we
Had seen and lived through none of this;
All things lay up ahead, yet to be.
So I must choose: inter all hope
To moulder like these ancient worthies;
Vainly seek a road that runs
Against the flow of Time;
Or climb on, breathe deep, look ahead
And take the onward way again
To all I fear, and cannot know.
No torment so sweet
As a brand-new bicycle
Confined to the house
As the rain falls.
The spotless silver chain,
Those glossy black tyres
That smooth, gleaming paint:
I cannot do it –
Something within me rebels
At the very thought
Of knowingly exposing her
To what’s out there:
Bleak roads all awash
Seeded with needle-tipped flints
Slathered with churned filth
Potholes like bomb craters.
Fear not, my lovely.
The moment will come
When, under blue skies,
We finally get acquainted.
The calendar says it’s spring. The daffodils, primroses, snowdrops, celandines, windflowers and assorted amorous birdlife all concur. The weather, however, is refusing to get with the programme. Profoundly bored of the endless wind and rain now; longing for dry roads and warm, sunny days. N.
Tight in three-hinged beauty;
Built for daily duty
On the greasy, gritty
Streets of some great city
But destined for quieter days
And trips to the sea
And as I stare
At it, sitting there,
In those modest dimensions
I see grand intentions,
And wondrous tales waiting to be told
As its possibilities unfold.
Marked 29 February by buying a Brompton. Been considering it for a while but it’s not a cheap bike and I couldn’t quite muster the courage. Now the deed is done and it’s sitting in my workroom, taking up as much (or as little) space as, say, a bedside table. It really is a thing of beauty and wonderfully engineered; every time I look at it, I notice another exquisite detail that just makes me smile. Can’t wait for some more clement weather now. N.
Like I’ve not seen
In many a year;
The riding-through-a-carwash kind
That makes paper bags of clothes
And sieves of shoes.
Blinding, drenching, driving warmth
From face and fingers
Streaming from chin and elbows
Arcing in graceful rooster tails
From sibilant wheels.
Rain that would keep
Anyone slightly sensible
Safe and snug indoors.
Bring it. For in that roaring, stinging madness
There is a will
To strive and conquer
A strength undaunted
An iron grip
A laugh that echoes from the woods
And a peace I all too rarely find
When I look for it inside.
A slug of moulded plastic, trailing a single wire.
A simple (so they blithely tell me) sensor
That, somehow, feels the thousandth-of-a-second tug
From a passing pea-sized magnet
And from that infinitesimal impulse
Calculates my ground-speed
And telegraphs the blessed motor
All stop or full ahead.
Until it fails.
And in that moment,
Heart in shoes,
I am crushingly aware
That I have no idea
How any of this works:
I cannot make, mend or even comprehend
The least of all the myriad devices
That make my world go round:
No wheels, axles, cogs or clues;
They go about their work
Silent, motionless, inscrutable,
Leaving me on the roadside, wondering
Exactly which of us
Is truly in control.
Suffered my first away-from-home system failure on the e-mtb yesterday (error code 503 means a speed sensor issue, for any interested Bosch Performance CX users out there). Fortunately it happened a) fairly close to the main road; b) less than four miles from the bike shop; and c) during opening hours. All painlessly resolved thanks to Danny and his excellent crew; but a reminder of our profound, unthinking reliance on technology that we (or at least I) increasingly can’t fix ourselves, and don’t really understand. N.
and roaring, pouring air;
Suspended by magic and iron laws
Between dawn and a day from hell.
But no matter
What I conjure
From this concatenation of curving tubes
Precision parts and spinning spokes
It will not suffice:
There’s no machine, no human power
That can outrun the onward rush
Of fate, events and time.
Yet while there is a road
Breath and blood, a rising sun
And I have strength and will enough
I’ll ride and rage, hurt and hope.