Cycling heaven it isn’t…Yet!

I live in the most liveable city in Queensland apparently. As a cyclist, however, I live in one of the least likable cities. Admittedly things are getting better, but those changes are taking too long. As a cyclist living In Brisbane’s outer suburbs, trying to get around by bike can sometimes be trying, and at other times downright dangerous. And if biking around the city is hard, it’s even harder to find a safe route to get out of the city.

The problem lies in that the bikeways and shared pathways are dis-jointed and scattered, forcing a cyclist onto a variety of roads, some of which are quiet and others, near death experiences, to go from one cycle network to the next.

Redcliffe. Shelter shed along the bikeway.

Coastal travel between the city of Redcliffe, through North Brisbane, to just across the Brisbane River via the Gateway Bridge (21 stories high and a real bitch to ride up, with the final views at the top marred by the anti-suicide screen) is nicely considered. As too, is getting around most of the inner city, though you still need to be a special kind of crazy to do that, bikeways or no bikeways.

The view from the Gateway Bridge as seen through the small camera lens of a mobile phone.

Get away from the coast or the inner city and you’re taking your life in your hands for the most part, with limited off road riding and even less, safe, on road riding. And for those wanting to travel further afield and tour, things go from bad to worse. Heading further afield down the coast, improves the further South you go, but it isn’t easy finding your way out of the city to do so. Travel being by quiet suburban roads with no signage to tell you where you’re going, or which direction to take next. You need to constantly check your map to ensure you’re not going off on a tangent.

To travel North or West in the hopes to escape the restricting confines of this, least cycle friendly city, you would probably be better to leave your bike at home and take a bus. The main highways are death traps filled with inconsiderate motorists and heavy vehicles, and are extremely cycle unfriendly. Alternative routes are either a maze, dead ends, or so convoluted as to make them impracticable for a cyclist hoping to gain any distance.

I’ve often thought that roads, when being built or upgraded, should have travel by bicycle incorporated into the design. Anti-cyclists and many motorists would argue against that taking place, stating that cyclists don’t pay registration and therefore should not be on the roads, or have any special consideration given to them. The reality is, that these same people would say the same thing about cyclists even if they were made to pay registration.

What the naysayers on cycling don’t seem to know, is that vehicle registration doesn’t pay for the public roads. Taxpayers do that, and most cyclists are taxpayers deserving of a safe place to use their chosen form of transport. Now if more bikeways were incorporated into road designs, highways linking city to city and State to State would have the facilities and infrastructure to accommodate bicycle tourism.

Along with more, and better bikeways, there would be more use of bicycles as an alternative means of transport, throw in some end of journey public facilities for freshening up in key locations in a city and its suburbs, and then, in my opinion at least, you would have a most liveable city. Indeed, a more liveable Country!

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Being Jobless Sucks

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Being jobless sucks. Speaking as a male, being without a job when you have a wife and children, is a real blow to your pride. Isn’t a man supposed to provide for his family? Or is this just some outdated chauvinistic thinking in today’s world? Even if he doesn’t need to provide for his family, if it’s okay to live on the earnings of his wife and be the house husband, it is still a depressing state of being for a man. Something to do with how the brain is hardwired, I suppose. Not to mention one income makes life a struggle in a modern world.

Losing your job when you’re in your 40’s makes it hard enough to get re-employed. Being in your 40’s and not having a trade or a degree to add to your CV adds the word ‘Exponentially’ to those chances. And the longer you remain unemployed the harder things get. I was unfortunate to lose my job at 41. It wasn’t my fault, and the company had to make a small pay-out because of their lack of ethics, but I was still out of work.

As I had been working shift work on a set roster, we were able to work our parenting roles for our three young children in the same manner. My wife worked a Nine to Five with a certain amount of flexibility. So some days she would start early and finish early. Our youngest was just a year old at the time. My eldest was Five. When I lost my job I took on the role of full time carer for our children, and my wife went to work a little earlier in the mornings.

I started looking for work immediately, but finding an unskilled job that had hours to fit in around my wife’s fulltime position proved difficult. In my school years I attempted to get an apprenticeship at a couple of places when I was 15, but was out of luck, as they had either had their quota, or weren’t in the market for an apprentice.

Two years later, at the end of high school, the very day of finishing, when all my friends were tearing up their shirts and celebrating the end of 12 years of education and the beginning of new adventures out in the world, either travelling before starting University, or commencing their own search for work, I was walking down to a factory where I had a labouring job already lined up. I had tried out for a job in their office, but another lad landed that one.

I was breathing the vile, black rubber dust as an Industrial tyre re-builder in that factory for two and a half years. The lad who landed the office job spent a year there, gaining business skills before moving on to bigger and better things. He eventually became a solicitor. My dream was to move to the country and become a Jackaroo, a skilled stock worker. I had lined up a position out West for just such a job, before telling my boss I would be finishing up soon.

A couple of days before I was due to head out to my new job, it started to rain. And rain, and rain. It was to be one of the worst floods to inundate the West since the beginning of weather records. And I had lost my job before I had even commenced it. Six months later, the factory I had left also shut down. It seems it had been struggling financially for some time. Some of the men had been there most of their lives. I know now how it must have felt for them.

The next six years or so saw me moving around the country working one itinerant job or another, gaining no real skills to speak of, or at least not skills that today’s employers are looking for. Nothing that comes in the form of a degree or a trade. I took a Security licence course in my search for upskilling and spent many years working in that industry.

It was stressful work at times. Just how stressful it was I wouldn’t find out until my last employer was to transfer me from Security to a Logistics role (with its associated decrease in pay). Most of the stress was generated by my own employer. I allowed my security licence to expire when I was downgraded. I just didn’t have the time, money or inclination to sit the re-evaluation exams. Perhaps this was a mistake, viewed in hindsight.

Seven years have passed since I lost my job. Both a blessing and a curse. I have been given the rare, and precious opportunity, as a father, to be closely involved in my growing children’s lives. Watching them reach milestone after milestone. Being able to guide them. Cheering with them, as well as shedding tears with them. Every year that passed has made it that much harder though. A man without skills, more than halfway through his life, is not high on the list of any employer.

A year ago I thought my luck had changed for the better. I had found an employer who was willing to give me a go, and in a trade no less. I was to be apprenticed as a Cabinet Maker. Something that I thought my suit my Artistic nature. That very same Artistic nature was to be partly responsible for my downfall. One of my bosses was concerned that I would not be happy with them, as it wouldn’t be enough of ‘an outlet for my creative abilities’.

That sentiment came from having shown them photographs of some handmade items I had crafted as a hobby, and that I thought would help ‘sell’ me to them. That sentiment, combined with the fateful day the boss’ son, who suffered from mental issues (I.E.D), suddenly wigged out on me sealed my fate. That job was no more. I was notified via email that weekend. I had barely been there three months.

Over these years the tribulations associated with my growing family have been annealed by the trials of dark depressions and worry. If I was living in a third world country the self-taught skills I have would have value. In the first world, being able to work leather, wood and metal by hand doesn’t bring in a living wage. The market has plenty of cheaply made items imported from third world countries with growing economies.

In a world where even a cleaner needs to be certified to scrub a toilet, I don’t even have the skills for that, and I’m almost too old, and most certainly too soft, to be an unskilled labourer. If I could give my younger self words of advice, I think they would be along the lines of: Try harder! Get a Trade, or go to University and get a decent Degree. Anything that will give you a safety net. Life may be short, but life worrying about how to support your family, and later on, in retirement, yourself, is interminably long and depressing.

I don’t know what my future holds, I know there are those far worse off than me. I have a roof, clothes, food and opportunities to come. A job makes you feel useful and valued. Being unemployed is depressing, and makes you feel worthless. If you’re wondering about your own future, and you’re young enough, my advice is, don’t waste your life. In today’s world a Trade has equal value to a University Degree, and in some places, is even more valuable. Do yourself a favour, and get one or the other. You won’t live to regret it, but you will if you don’t.

‘Bored’ Games

Being cooped up on a wet weekend, without having had time to ride the bike for nearly a week is bad enough. Add to that my three girls all vying for my attention with their pleas of boredom. My mental state wasn’t the most stable to begin with. First there was Monopoly, then later, Scrabble. If I had hair, I would have been pulling it out to accentuate my anguished expletives.

I was on a journey of self-discovery. Just how far could I push my OCD without running, screaming, from the room! I don’t require things to be absolutely perfect, but Monopoly and Scrabble both require reasonably straight lines, whether they be pieces, play money or letter blocks.

Playing board games with my kids is akin to playing with pissed off monkeys. Shit gets flung everywhere. They’re even old enough that you would think that they should have basic co-ordination down pat by now. But they don’t. Especially my 10 year old.Of course I’m probably being too harsh on them in my current mental state, but I swear if they took up Gymnastics, the powers that be would soon change the name to gymspastics. They don’t get it from me. Even their mother would agree. Lack of co-ordination comes from her side of the gene pool.

I just hope none of them start to display signs of my own genetic deficiencies. I wouldn’t wish a day like today on my worst enemy…Well, I might actually. But I wouldn’t want to watch. I would feel too much empathy for the bastard if I did that.

I won’t even have the chance to ride for the next few days with the current weather situation. A cyclone to the north, and a low pressure system to the south, is making for a lot of, at times, very heavy rainfall. It’s also school holidays in my part of the world. So any riding has to involve the kids.

I like to ride hard and fast. I can’t do that with them in tow. Most people can run faster than my youngest can ride. And I daren’t take a route that includes a hill. My middle child will moan and whine all the (interminably slow) way to the top, but I’ll take any kind of ride I can get at the moment.

One of the last rides I took with all my kids, we had stopped for a rest in the shade of an overpass. I was chatting with my eldest while my youngest was sat down getting a drink, and my middle one was peering over the top of her bike, I have no idea why.

Slowly but surely, I could see the middle kid was slowly taking on a decided forward, yet rigid, lean. Every angle, except the amount of foot contact on the ground, remained the same between her and the bike. Just as she went past the point of no return I casually stepped across, and putting my hand on the kid’s face, set her back upright, all the while carrying on with my conversation. I got a muttered, ‘Thanks Dad’, and the incident was forgotten by her and ignored by me. Things like this are an everyday occurrence with that child.

People think I’m too harsh on this kid, but the reality is that I just don’t concern myself with it anymore. I do what I can, when I can, of course. If I didn’t, I would have just let the kid face plant the concrete that day, just for the laugh. I just can’t have it adding to my own list of issues. I have long since learnt that it is pointless to worry, to put aside the things I can’t fix, and if I can fix it, I have no reason to worry about it.

I suppose, I will, at least be getting out of the house tomorrow. Unfortunately it’s a trip to the dentist for me. To add to the pain, both physically and financially, I have to take the kids along as well. I really am looking forward to that ride right now.

Technological Fears

Recently I decided to minimise my online presence. I did this for a number of reasons. After seeing recent news on how Facebook was hacked (again?!), and the personal information of thousands of users was stolen, for which they made one of their many false, and empty apologies, I started wondering, and getting a little concerned. So I began to look at just what I had put, ‘out there’ about myself.

I had a G+ account that I hadn’t used for more than 5 minutes over the last 10 years, and on that I had contact details and photos of myself and family. I had email accounts that weren’t in use, and all containing personal information, added when they were first set up. One of these accounts had been hacked some two years previous, and I was totally oblivious to this fact until I checked it. That was a scary feeling.

And then there was my well used Facebook and Gmail accounts. When I started to research Facebook and Google, a lot of what I read worried me. And not because of the fear of some mysterious hacker sitting in a darkened room somewhere, pawing through stolen photos of my children (though that was right up there with the number one concerns).

No. What concerned me, was finding out that I was just one of the millions of mines of information being traded. When it comes to Facebook and Google, a user’s privacy is not on their list of priorities. Just the opposite. Your personal information has intrinsic value. Of course they always put a spin on what they do that appeals to their users. Marketing to their Product as it were.

The big sell for Google is the ‘everything is free, one stop shop’ method of convenience. All your accounts all linked together. All cross referencing with each other. Every photo you post. Every email you send. Anything you search using Google on your computer or device is all scanned and read. All linked to you by your computers IP address. And let’s not mention Google Chrome! It should have been named ‘I Spy’!

The same can be said of Facebook. Facebook is not just a brand that unites you with your friends and family around the world. Facebook likes to perform social experiments on its users. It has played on its users emotions by manipulating an individual’s newsfeed to show specific types of post, rather than allowing the user to simply read what their friends actually have to say. It targets individuals with specific ads to gauge response. Facebook can read all your posts, even if you only started typing something out, but then deleted it without posting.

Facebook owns other companies. Companies that specialise in facial recognition software and keystroke counters for a start. Every photo a user posts, adds to the software’s learning processes. Every key stoke is logged for timing and pressure of the touch on the keys. Harmless information used to improve the users experience?! Not likely. Facial recognition and key stroke algorithms alone provide loads of personal information about a user. Right down to their emotional state. And can be used to identify individuals.

Google and Facebook target people not using their social media and search platforms through the use of hidden trackers on ads you click on and pages you search or visit. In a world where information is power and financially profitable for so few large companies, that have their tentacles wrapped around our wallets, you would think we, as individuals, would be more concerned about what we allow to be used, and how we allow it to be used.

In some cases there are alternatives, but alternatives come at the cost of convenience. And the individual has to decide what they’re willing to sacrifice to regain privacy, and hopefully think about the impact to those around them when they choose convenience.

Information given out by friends in the form of photo’s, names and places, if posted on a social media, belong to the social media site under the terms and agreements those very same friends signed the waivers for. Too bad if it includes your name. Your image. A concerning thought in my opinion. I may have deleted all my social media accounts, but my wife still posts on hers, but at what price for our children, I wonder, as they grow up in a world that seems to be trying to reduce their freedoms and privacy.

We even had a discussion with our eldest daughter, who is soon to graduate to high school, and will inherit her first hand-me-down mobile ‘phone, about our expectations. We placed blanket bans on any and all social media, she already has one social app on it that will have to go. As well as rules of use. It is not a toy. It is not to be used for games, photos or videos. It is a contact device for us to contact her, and vice versa. Of course having to uninstall the one social app elicited some tears from her.

The world has changed vastly, just in my lifetime alone. I grew up in a world where there wasn’t any social media. That for someone to get your personal information, they would have to physically rob you of your wallet, or know you as a personal friend. We carried change for use in public telephone booths.

My first mobile phone was as dumb as the brick it resembled, and twice as big. Now we’re surrounded by people all too willing to film and photograph anything and everything on a mobile device and surveillance cameras with facial recognition software. We have to have passwords to protect our information, with no guarantee that that will be safe enough. We carry our money in the form of a smartphone. We no longer have physical control of our personal information. It is stored on computers in buildings and the stores we shop at, and is available to anyone with the know-how, to steal, all from the comfort of their own lounge room or local coffee shop.

I have now done all I can to make my own information as secure as possible, having crash coursed myself on subjects such as multifactor authentication, and password managing software. My new preferred search engine is Duck Duck Go. I’ve deleted unwanted email accounts, as well as forum accounts I no longer frequent. I have removed photos from sites I never knew I had, until I started looking.

I doubt I’m starting on the internet version of a clean slate, but I have at least tried to tidy the place up a bit and installed some locks on all the internet doors and windows.

Is there anything I miss about my ‘old’ way of life?! Yes. I miss having a voice. The one and only thing social media had to offer. I find I now feel mentally happier. I engage more with people. Face to face. I’ve even written letters to some of my friends! Actual letters! With pen and paper! Of course they texted me back that they were delighted to receive them, and were surprised, as they thought me incapable of reading, let alone writing!

Do you know what information you have put out there about yourself? Or who may be able to see it? Are you sure you want them to? Do you consider your children/friends/ family when you post? A life could be ruined by one thoughtless ‘Enter’.

The problem isn’t Fixed.

Schwinn Fixed Gear

For many years I’ve owned, what was, at the time of purchase, a decent, mid-level, rigid mountain bike. I used this bike quite regularly, but not as much in the early days as I did later. As I got older, the battle of the ever expanding bulge began to become a priority. And so, that bike became more of an asset in the fight. I rode it daily.

Of course, with more use comes more wear and tear. Tyres wear out, smaller, consumable parts start needing to be replaced etc. I’m pretty fussy with the things I own. I tend to take good care of them. I like things to last. As such, I was always making sure that I kept a regular cleaning and maintenance ritual. A little soapy water, grease and oil can go a long way.

Regardless of how much soapy water, grease and oil only go so far, and the day eventually came when I needed to replace not only the chain, but the chain rings and rear cogs. All these things having worn evenly thanks to the aforementioned regular maintenance. A trip to the LBS and a couple of days later, I have my trusty and sorely missed steed back and sporting a whole new, but costly, drive train.

The old drive train had served me well for many years. Fast forward two years. I find myself once again looking at having to buy another whole new drive train. The new one having worn out extremely quickly compared to the original. I was looking at a cost of $350 to 400 for another replacement. I was disgusted at the lack of longevity.

The advice from the LBS was to install new parts. Yes, I could buy a whole new bike for that money, but the quality of the bike I already had was superior to any that I could buy for the cost of the parts I needed. I went ahead with the repair, but I found myself dreading using my bike as much. My bike has become more than a means of fitness in this time. It is my sanity in an ever maddening world. I was not in a good place mentally.

The new drivetrain

I had to find a solution. A few weeks later, I found myself fronting up to the counter of my LBS and ordering a new bike. If drive trains were going to be made cheaply, and sold expensively, then I was going to bloody well cut the cost. Most people who ride geared bikes, ride mainly in one gear. Wearing out one front and one rear cog more than others. I had resolved to buy a Single Speed (SS) bike.

Another couple of weeks and the call comes through that my new bike had arrived and that it sported a ‘flip flop’ rear hub. I could have this bike Single Speed, with the ability to coast without pedalling, or I could have it Fixed, without the benefit of coasting. I went all in. Fixed I said. This machine was meant to be my means of fitness as well as a means of sanity, and though coasting is nice, it means I’m just a passenger on a bicycle, rather than a cyclist.

It would be ready in an hour! However, it would be several days before I could take it for its maiden voyage, as I wasn’t willing to try a new style of riding in the sub-tropical rains that had set in. The day the sun broke through and dried up the roads was indeed joyous. I could get out to blow the ever increasing cobwebs out of my head. Escape into my own personal space for a while.

To ride the Fixed gear for the first time was a bit disconcerting. I had added some better quality pedals than the stock standard after thoughts that they install on to most new bikes. Foot retention is a must riding Fixed. Clipless pedals were out. I like to wear shoes I can walk in. Toe clips I had had before, many many years ago, when I was riding road bikes in high school, and I thought I should be all right with those again. Though the thought of being strapped in, after so long riding flat pedals was a bit daunting.

That first ride was an eye opener. No really! I was so scared I’m sure my eyes were like saucers! Not only was I strapped in, when I automatically tried to coast as I was used to do, I almost kneed myself in the chest multiple times. This was not a bike to be complacent with. If I was to ride this thing, I would have to be in the moment, every moment of the way.

I made a few mistakes in that first ride, but never the same mistake twice. And I’m pleased to say I didn’t fall off or hurt myself, even though a few times I probably should have. I’m glad I didn’t, because these days I take longer to heal. I laugh now, at my first hill descent, though I wasn’t laughing at the time. I was thinking how this bike almost pedals itself up the hills. This was my first lesson in gear ratios, fixie style.

I think Banjo Patterson’s poem, ‘Mulga Bill’s Bicycle’ came very close to nailing a description of my first downhill run on my own iron steed. Unlike Mulga Bill though, my nerve held and I maintained some semblance of control, though it was a near thing I’m sure. With knees flying and arse bouncing around all over the place I finally reached the base of the hill before coming to rest on the flat.

When it came time to return the bike for its first, and last, free after sales service, I had the mechanic replace the rear cog for something a little smaller. I had done some research into the subject by now. This would make the climbs harder, but I was hopeful I would have better control on the downhill run. Not only did I have better control, but I could put on better pace on the flats. I had found my riding Zen.

I have been riding fixed for just over a year now. My fitness has increased markedly, though I still have a way to go. A love of food hadn’t helped any, but even that has been wrangled under control, and the weight is coming off. I’m thinking I might even change my gear ratio to something a little harder now, the parts to do so being so much cheaper than its multi-geared cousins. The problem certainly isn’t Fixed.

My faithful old mountain bike gets out for the occasional run to the local shops. I won’t part with it though, as I also go on the odd day tour with it. Something it is better suited to than the Fixed. The running gear still looks almost new, apart from a light layer of dust, but I find myself contemplating: Maybe I need a dedicated touring bike too?! Something with a Rohloff hub perhaps.

Instrumentally Confident

I like to think of myself as a fairly talented sort of person, but the truth is I’m really not. At least not compared to a lot of other people out there. YouTube is full of talented people. And admittedly, there are quite a few on there with far less talent, but what they lack in talent, they have all over me in confidence.

Years ago, when I was in my 20’s, I managed to teach myself how to play guitar and read basic sheet music. I got quite good according to those who heard me play. I had a guitar with me nearly everywhere I went for a while there too. Even slung on my back when I travelled several hundreds of kilometres on my motorbike to visit friends. We’d usually have a bit of a jam session. For reasons I’ve forgotten, I stopped playing. Just stopped. Haven’t picked up a guitar in years. I doubt I could play a scale on a guitar these days.

In more recent years I also managed to teach myself how to play the ukulele, and gained some good skills with that little instrument too. So much so, my neighbours on taking a holiday to Hawaii, spent some serious coin on quite a nice Ukulele as a gift for me. Of course I had to play it for them, and they just loved how it sounded. I did too. I have a few different Ukuleles, 4, 6 and 8 stringed versions. It’s been a few months since I’ve played any of them now.

Lanakai 6 string Ukulele

I love my instruments, even if I don’t play them like they deserve. I just feel those aren’t quite the right instrument for me. With stringed instruments, or at least those stringed instruments, comes the expectation from people that they be accompanied by singing. Something I am inherently bad at. I am happy to strum or pick away wordlessly, and people did enjoy it, but there was nearly always someone who asked me to sing.

Kala 8 string Ukulele

An instrument that I seem to have constantly gravitated towards, and one of the first I ever picked up and learnt a tune on the very same day, by ear no less, is the tin whistle. I can’t remember what ever happened to that first tin whistle. No doubt lost or given away. I do remember it was a Generation in the standard key of D.

After that initial few months flirtation I didn’t do much more with the whistle, treating it more like a toy than any serious sort of instrument. If only I had have taken it more seriously! I might have been a better player. I now have quite a few whistles in my house. I have one in just about every key Generation produces. A few others from other makers in various keys, and several seriously priced, high end whistles including an Overton Low D. I’ve even made a few playable whistles myself!

Some of the whistle collection

All this time I’ve spent on learning to play these various instruments, I’ve hardly spent any time actually listening to music. And never really did anyway. And the instrument I seem to have finally settled on doesn’t actually match up with my predominant musical taste in ‘60s rock. Thankfully though, I do have broader tastes in musical genre. However, I find I don’t like to play tunes normally played on a tin whistle. I could never subject a listener to a rendition of Danny Boy, if I can’t stand to hear it myself.

It puts me in a bit of a predicament, because I’ve always thought it would be good for me to try my hand at busking, if I can ever work up the courage. It would be good for my self-confidence. I’ve always wanted to try busking, but the fear of playing in public has always won over. I know it can be overcome, because I’ve been able to bring myself to play for friends, and friends of friends, in social settings before. Only the one tune though. And that too was a struggle, but I did do it.

My whistle playing even landed a mate of mine a wild night in the bedroom with the girl next door to him a few days after my first visit to his new house. He told me, that in conversation with her the next morning, she said she heard this beautiful and ethereal music being played, and had seen ‘him’ through the garden, playing the low whistle on his patio. He told her that it wasn’t him she had heard, but a friend of his who had been filling in time while waiting for him to get home from work. He said she never visited him again. So, perhaps I should be more confident in myself.

What to do though, if I am to do this?! I don’t want to play ‘Trad’ tunes, or at least there are quite a few that I don’t want to play, and there are many more that I just don’t know how to play, or even inclined to learn. My current repertoire of tunes I’d be willing to play, if I could, in public, totals an even split of eight. Scarborough Fair, Yew Tree, She Moved Through the Fair and Foggy Dew in the Trad basket, and Annie’s Song, Nights in White Satin, Sound of Silence and Havana in the Pop basket.

So I have set myself a personal goal of learning enough tunes on the tin whistle to be able to play for at least half an hour. Now begins the new struggle. To find tunes that are actually playable on a whistle, and that aren’t the sort of thing you might expect to hear on a whistle. And then to become proficient enough at them that no amount of stage fright will grind me down into the ground in terror.

Compliments

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Ah, compliments. They can be such bitter sweet things sometimes. Once again I was on the return leg of the morning ride (I don’t think too many of the die-hard lycra lads and lasses get up quite as early as I do) and I’m going through my favourite section of my regular 40km route through the wetlands…I suppose it’s really a swamp, but wetlands just sounds so much prettier don’t you think?!

Anyway I’m feeling a little less chipper on the bike today. A little slower.

Halfway through the…wetlands I spotted a lycra lad and lass decked out in matching gear and on their special skinny wheeled, carbon fibre and unobtanium, ultra-light, feathers weigh more, road racing machines parked up at the head of a new , but unsealed (as yet) side track. The man just about pulled out in my path, but the lady warned him about my approach. I gave them no further thought, except to keep an ear open for the sound of their imminent approach and overtake.

It didn’t happen. I thought they must have gone the other direction. It wasn’t until I was giving my numb bum a rest just before the final 10kms, that they rode on past me. The lycra lass smiled and said, “We tried to catch you, but you were moving too fast!” Well my old heart was just leaping and bounding around in my decrepit chest cavity at being paid a compliment from this pretty young thing. Sadly it would be short lived…sort of.

Five minutes later as I ride alongside and pass the same lady at a mere 25kph, I pointed out to her that if she was trying to catch people, she would have to actually pedal the bike. The pair of them looked the part, but I got the impression they might have been from the Latte Lycra clique of cyclists. Well I thought this girl was going to fall off, she was laughing so hard. It gave her partner a fright. He turned his head to look and got another fright, because I was right beside him by then too.

I told him he might have to apply the whip because she was slacking off and not rotating the chain around the cogs. He sighed and gave me a resigned look I knew only too well myself. I have felt that way when biking with my kids.

The savage truth of my fitness came in the last 4kms when I was overtaken by a group of five senior citizens on the final uphill section. The lead rider gave me a cheery, “You can make it young fulla! Keep going, you’re doing fine!” which of course pissed me off no end, but what the hell was I going to do about it?! I was about one heart beat per minute from a bloody coronary as it was.

My faith in myself and my tortoise like ability was restored when I passed them all further along and around the corner at the top of the hill.

I think they might have been changing their pacemaker batteries when they thought I wouldn’t be able to catch up.

I called out, “Come on you old fullas. You don’t get to stop until you reach the end.” The breathless (and laughing) reply from the lead rider came back, “We’ll be right, because it might be the bloody end for us if we don’t have a rest!”

And I was starting to get the impression that all these lycra lot were a surly bunch. For the most part you couldn’t even torture a friendly nod out of them, let alone make small talk! Maybe, I’m finally starting to show them my value and credibility as a rider…But I’m not going to start wearing lycra…Not now…Not ever!