â€œIâ€™m just off to ride my bike in town”. A phrase so lacking in machismo it hints as ladies clothing in your wardrobe. And yet itâ€™s a precursor to a splinter riding activity that has much to recommend it.
Whatâ€™s good; Itâ€™s close, itâ€™s easy to start and hard to finish, it embeds useful skills for trail riding and it hints at urban rebellion. Whatâ€™s bad; you feel old and sometimes a little stupid. Itâ€™s the clothes you see, cooler friends than me (thatâ€™s everybody) pull off the jeans and hoodie â€œUrban Grungy” look while Iâ€™m reduced to sporting a pair of Fox Huck Pants superbly disguised as those polyester trousers you wore at school, clashing horribly with a jey riding jacket. I tried a hoodie once but when even my own kids were almost crippled with laughter, I reassigned it to the cat basket. Accessories include knee and elbow pads, helmets and the smallest bike in your shed.
Different tribes roam the streets all sneering at the emperors new clothes. Most of the cool cats on a Friday night regard us with the same embarrassment and disdain as if theyâ€™d interrupted their parents having sex. We respond by laughing at their acne and riding over their drunken bodies thrashing in the road. Weâ€™re all part of Tonyâ€™s respect agenda. Sort of.
There are two distinct types of street; riding off stuff and riding onto stuff. Riding off stuff is easier for me as it generally involves velocity, steps and gaps. A phase space that requires little skill, just a blind leap of faith and big forks. A whole bastardised snowboard dialect describes the moves; fakie, manual, nose pick, tyre grab, etc. Mine all start with arse clench and finish with a combination of dislocated ankles, sore wrists and â€“ for the unwary late night shopper â€“ stunned pedestrian.
The slower stuff is a nightmare. Dropping off walls higher than six inches demands a slow speed manual that Iâ€™ve always assumed requires wires or a hidden propulsion system. I nervously teeter on the end of the wall before dropping the front end off in the manner of a wheeled spade. No amount of weight shift, body position or appeals to higher authority make any difference. Itâ€™s basically my signature move: â€œThe Marzocchi Kango”. Practise doesnâ€™t help.
Tuition does. One of the riders – who cannot be more than 15 and Iâ€™m concerned our actions may be construed as grooming â€“ has a proper trials bike and knows how to use it. Itâ€™s an odd contraption with two tiny yet meaty wheels joined by low slung girders and missing vital components such as saddles and suspension. It really is â€œthe tool for the jobï¿½? but for the unskilled itâ€™s akin to riding a circus bike, you get on it and the only trick you can pull is falling off. This fella however can bunnyhop it four feet onto a wall which is both amazing and frustrating to watch.
â€œStraighten your arms, go backwards not upwards and really commit to the move” he offered followed by a whispered â€œgrandad”. After a few minutes my Conneresque grunting and frenzied bar wrenching gained me at least a toehold on the mountain of street riding. The technique is to hunch over the bike until the front wheel breaches the gap and then kick backwards and â€“ unnaturally â€“ down. The balance point is way beyond and behind your comfort zone but get it right and the bike floats over the gap before landing smoothly on the rear wheel. Just as I thought Iâ€™d completely sussed it, I called the school kid over so he could damn me with faint praise. Result: Spade.
On one occasion it went the other way, and no one was more surprised than I when the bike first reared like a frightened horse before rapidly upgrading to a Lippenzipper Stallion pawing skywards. I exited stage rear just in time to see it gallop across the road narrowly avoiding being crushed by a stunned Astra driver, who hadnâ€™t expected a riderless steed on the Queenâ€™s highway.
Flushed with success, I attempted the next level of progression known as the bunnyhop. Send the front wheel high before instantly raising the rear to the same level. Itâ€™s a basic move to conquer walls and similar obstacles but, however basic, I cannot lodge the sequence into my muscle memory, never mind execute it with any style. While others smoothly float over curbs, my rear wheels slams into them with a thud that promises chiropractors riches in later life.
Two hours of this and youâ€™re knackered. However, a further unsung benefit of street riding, is that the finishing point is always within quaffing range of a pub or kebab van. No bike cleaning, no fettling, just shove it back from whence it came and enjoy the post ride euphoria without threatening the washing machine.
The next morning though is something different. My ankles have traded articulation in one plane for rotation in another that is not in the body manual. My wrist hurts and short of cuing up some lame masturbation gag, I canâ€™t think of a decent simile. My back however is fine as long as I remain horizontal and motionless. But Iâ€™m still smiling and once the Zimmer frame turns up, Iâ€™m raring for another go.
So kids, bad news Iâ€™m afraid. Old people can have fun too. Street riding â€“ itâ€™s the new whist drive.