Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Riders who have left an indelible mark on how and why I ride a bike

They say that sports people may or may not be a good role model. My leaning on this is that life is not one-dimensional and that you should take a bit from everyone you meet or see. However, whatever they may or may not be as a ‘person’, the way that they conduct themselves on or with a bike can leave a great lasting impression.

There are always a number of these sorts of riders, who just leave a positive impression on you over time. You may only remember the small percentage of what they did, or how they did it, but it was enough to make you notice. Often these impressions are gained when you are in the early stages of pursuing your sport and they shape the way that you would like to be. Other times, it might be another sort of X-factor that stands out. It may a certain style they portray, or just a single way of doing things that impresses an impressionable mind.

I have made a list of the riders I believe have shaped the way that I have tried to make myself as a cyclist. The vast majority of these were definitely those around at the point in time when I first started racing mountain bikes which was in 1989.

John Tomac
Flattop, brash, fast, big X-ups over jumps in XC races. JT did it all, XC, uphill, downhill, bmx, and road. When I was a very impressionable 15 year old, I mimicked his style as much as I could, even down to the hairstyle and sunglasses choice! The first MTB racer to pull a 6 figure salary back in the early 90s, he definitely raised the bar on professionalism in the sport. Coming from a BMX background he took to the fledgling sport of MTB, and gave it a character of its own.

It was impressive seeing a rider who could get results in each discipline. I waited each month for the latest copy of Mountain Bike Action to come in from the USA to see what races he had done and read about his battles with Ned Overend. Even more impressive was how he doubled it up with the Road racing he did with 7-Eleven/Motorola. I am sure that everyone would remember him running the drop bars on the mountain bike!

I finally got to meet him when he came out to Australia for the Mountain Bike Titles held at Thredbo. Custom bike, disc rear wheel, and mad skill earnt him the ‘Australian Champion’ title for the downhill. Cool guy to talk to and lots to be learnt from him.

Ben Monroe
Ben was a rider in my club back in Brisbane, who was awesome as a junior and a senior racer. As a junior he was untouchable as essentially he was a ‘man-child’ at the time! Ben was Australia’s first MTB world champion in 1989. To achieve this, he piloted his fully rigid, cantilever braked, toe-clipped Raleigh down Mammoth Mountain in the US of A faster than anyone other Junior. A few weeks later I was lined up against him as he crushed the Junior field in both the XC and the DH at the Australian titles at Pierces Creek just outside of Canberra.

Watching him the next year also compete successfully against the Elite guys in his first year was extremely impressive. He was extremely talented on a bike. One time at Yarramundi in about 1991 or so, I saw him doing no-handed wheelies up the bitumen climb prior to the start of the downhill race. This was with Toe clips! To keep the bars straight, he said that it was due to the bearings in the headset having pitted themselves and created an rigid steering lock (we are talking about 1991 components here!)

I tried for ages to replicate the no-handed wheelie. I got it, but it was super hard and required nerves of steel!

Lawrie Cranley
When I was 16, I wanted to work in a bike shop whilst I was studying first year at the University of QLD in order to support the bike habit. Edward Street Bicycle Centre (Bikestyle) was the hot shop in Brisbane at the time and had the state’s fastest racers all working there. Lawrie owned the shop with another guy, Brian Johnson, whose sons all raced in Europe. Lawrie split his time between the road and the dirt, and hooked me up as part of the shop team based on my early results.

This was awesome for me, as at 16, I was part of one of the most highly respected teams in QLD and also looked after by Powerbar (which Lawrie also imported at the time) and Velocity rims (good friends of Laurie). He explained a lot about how the cycling world operated and how to present yourself whilst racing and also how the sponsorship game actually worked. Good advice at a young age.

Lawrie also encouraged me to race in the local Elite ranks when I was 16. He said it would pay off in the long run. So, after 2 races in the Sport class, I moved up and didn’t look back. The feeling of pushing yourself against the best and comparing abilities was the best motivation to keep trying to get faster.

Pete Smith
Pete was one of the fastest MTB racers in QLD in the early 90s. He pretty much cleaned up both XC and DH in the Elite ranks at the state level and got himself a DH National Title also. He also showed me how to strategically train for racing. During uni holidays I stayed at Pete’s place and I learnt how to eat, train, and ride a bike with a bit more precision. We would hit up the Mount Cootha Trails most mornings, leaving before dark in order to get back around 8:30. In the afternoon, there was running sessions to mix up the training and get the most out of the aerobic capabilities. The nutrition side of things was a good thing also learnt here, as it reinforced the importance of being self sufficient with good quality foods.

Pretty much back then the racing was split up into Brisbane, Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast. You could pretty much race every weekend at a different location, and we did. Pete knew everyone across the state and ensured that there was always a crew to ride with.

The first road trip I ever did, was down to the 1989 Australian Mountain Bike Titles at Pierces Creek outside of Canberra. We loaded up a Tarago with 7 guys and hauled a trailer down from Brisbane to the Canberra. We all raced the uphill, the downhill and the cross country on the one bike and had a blast.

Pete also had a kick ass moustache at the age of 21. There’s not too many moustaches on the scene at the moment.

Craig Fisher
If you could do it on a bike, then Craig was doing it bigger, better, or probably had invented it. Craig was originally a BMXer, then a MTBer, then a BMXer, and now does both. He also just won a BMX World Title in the Masters Class. He held the world record for a bunnyhop at about 45 inches. The most I could ever get was 30 inches!

When I was racing BMX, Craig and I would train for races at the different tracks in Canberra and Sydney as well as secret jump trails around the ACT. Craig refined how I jumped a BMX bike in order to enhance speed down the backside of the jump and maximise track craft. We also worked on specific track skill which included being able to handle the semi-contact nature of the sport. He also pushed me way more than I could ever do by myself, ultimately making me better in the long run.

The most amazing thing I saw Craig do on a bike is a tie with 2 things. 1/ I saw him bunnyhop his DH bike up a kerb, and flick the traffic walk button with his back tyre, and 2/ I saw him ride across a telephone pole log that had been placed across the swimming pool outside the hotel at Thredbo. Hans Rey had just tried it and fell in after half way, and the log was wet and greasy. Not easy!

Graeme Allbon
Graeme is a major talent on the bike, whether it be road, track or MTB. With a VO2 max in the mid 80s, he was and still is a machine. I remember watching him battle Damien Grundy in the Elite ranks at the 1989 National XC championships. He got the win on the day with a tactical move that he later told me about. He said that Damien’s sprint wasn’t that strong, so he waited and got him on the last lap. From that moment on, I knew it was important to know your opposition’s strengths and weaknesses.

He was part of the strong GT squad back in the day and ran a full XTR, Titanium GT Zizang, which at the time (1992) was worth $7000!! It was the best at the time. I got this bike the next year as a hand me down and realised how much a bike actually could make a difference. Sometimes it is about the bike!

Graeme pretty much laid down the rules for doing long rides. Back when I was in the last year of Junior ranks, I met up with him at his place in Watson (2602!), and we rode out to Mount Corree. I am pretty sure I covered about 135km on the mountain bike that day, and took in one of the highest peaks in the ACT. There were a few more of these rides that we did, exploring the back roads in the Brindabellas clocking up awesome summer miles on the mountain bikes.

Huge mileage back in the day, learning how to fuel the body and also pace the efforts over a long period of time were key things that I gained from riding with Graeme. He also has a killer instinct when it comes to racing, which when it comes to winning races, is something that can’t be bought on EBAY!

Dylan Cooper
I once heard a commentator announce Dylan as ‘Canberra’s local hero’ at the Brindabella Challenge MTB race in 2006. That pretty much sums it up. I think that just about everybody in Canberra who rides a bike knows Dylan. He pretty much oozes PROness. He looks good on a bike, he gets results, the ladies love him, and he can party like a madman! Tick, tick, tick and tick!

Dylan was wearing black socks in the road bunches 10 years before it was considered cool. Being half Argentinian, he has a year round perfect tan. At the 2008 Adelaide National round he wore a full white kit in the muddiest Short track race ever, and won.

One thing that stands out majorly about Dylan is the way that he races every race to win. Not too many people do that these days, which is a shame. He also pretty much races every race going, whether it be a local dirt crit on Thursday afternoon, or a World Cup race. Some guys only do the big races, but he puts in at the local club races and that is where we all begin. This way the current juniors know who to watch if they want to learn about the way to do things right.

Dylan is still the only person to ever beat me riding a singlespeed. A fully rigid one at that. So you know that he can propel a bike well in a forward direction as well as handle a bike at speed. If you ride either with him on a training ride, or against him in a race you know that you will be faster down the track because of it.
Another thing that Dylan does is talk to everyone at the club. You don’t have to be cool, fast, have matching gloves, shoes and helmet, or the latest bike. He is just happy to shoot the breeze about whatever is the topic. Again, you don’t see many fast dudes doing this, so it stands out when it does happen.

So that is 7 people over the course of the last 21 years who have made a fairly major impact on me in the sport of cycling. Of course there are others that I thought long and hard about, who almost made the cut off. Again I would like to reiterate that I still believe that sportspeople may or may not be a role model for life, but how you see them on the bike or the way that they interact with you can leave a lasting impression for what can be a very long time.

1 comment:

Liam Downing said...

Love this post - check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D6P9dogs_3k for a bit of Tomac in Australia action!