Like most cyclists, I have an urge to gather bicycles together. I find bicycles that seem to belong with each other, and keep them in a suitable environment. When wildlife enthusiasts do this sort of thing with pandas and zoos, everyone lauds them for creating a breeding programme. When cyclists do it with bikes and garages, we’re avaricious hoarders with obsessive compulsive issues, apparently.
As an extension of this urge to curate the perfect garage, I found myself thinking about all the bikes I used to own. Why did I ever let them go? My first proper road bike, for example. It was made from what appeared to be sewage pipes, seemingly welded together in the dark by a group of geometrically illiterate five-year-olds.
Despite being bought new, it had clearly been crashed at some point. It veered to the right like Nigel Farage and had a ride so harsh that you had to stand up from 20 miles onwards. I still wish I had it now, though. It would bring back memories of when I was so scared of getting lost that I never went more than about 10 miles from home. Home was Cambridge, and at a range of 10 oh-so-flat miles I could still see how to get back to it.
Worn out and lacquered
Eventually I abandoned the bike accidentally-on-purpose in the loft of a house I was moving out of, because I didn’t have the space for it in the flat I was moving to. I kidded myself I’d go back for it, but since I’d have had to break in to get it that always seemed unlikely.
My first time trial bike. I miss that too. It was equally dreadful. Bought second-hand, it was a terrible yellow colour, so I had it resprayed in green. The respray cost more than the bike had. Amazingly, a coat of paint and some lacquer noticeably increased the frame’s stiffness, but it was hard to take that seriously as a bonus, not least because the frame still flexed so badly that the paint started to flake off again.
I won a national student time trial championships on it, and immediately sold the green-and-yellow mottled monstrosity to my friend Bernard. He rides it to the shops these days, just to upset me.
More than either of them, I miss my first mountain bike. Also the first bike I bought with my own money aged 16, also the first bike that didn’t have ‘growing room’ left in it by my parents and hence a revolution in my cycling life because I could get off it without bashing my crotch on the top tube.
The summer I bought it, a school friend and I rode up most of Ireland’s west coast. Or rather, I rode and William hitchhiked after his bike broke. It was a weird parallel holiday — sometimes I’d ride past him standing by the road, sometimes I’d get an unexpected cheer from the passenger seat of a passing car.
It felt like a proper adventure, at an age when we’d only just done our GCSEs. Sometimes we managed to end up in the same place at the end of the day, and sometimes we didn’t. It would have mattered less if we hadn’t packed so I had the tent poles and William the canvas, William the stove and me the fuel. I could remember it better if I still had the bike, but my parents threw it into a skip when they moved house after I’d gone to college.
You could say I’ve learned the hard way. I will never let another bike go, just to take memories with it. I’ll keep them all, and one day I’ll be able to show my friends round my garage saying, “That’s the bike I won the National TT Champs on in 2004.” And it will be miles better than looking at baby pandas.