It started with a hangover: my epic cycling story from boozehound to greyhound
10 years ago I was overweight, unfit, and unhappy. Now I’m awesome. A 2-time Everester, hill climbing specialist, total Strava flog, owner of a pokey YouTube channel devoted to riding bikes up hill, and the BMI of someone from the third world. If I can do it, anyone can.
My cycling story began with a hangover.
On a hot Sunday morning in 2005 I woke up with an empty bottle of vodka in the bed next to me. Cheap vodka. Oh, and I started work in 30 minutes. Shit. There was only 1 option now, my 1998-ish Apollo Summit mountain bike. That bike sucked. It was in an appalling state of neglect. But it was all I had in my time of sweaty, hungover desperation. I threw my 95kg frame aboard and still-drunk-wobbled my way to work. I didn’t realise it but this was one of the most significant days of my life.
From that day bikes became my primary transport. Paraphrasing Forest Gump: from that day on, if I was going somewhere, I was riding! My turd of a mountain bike made way for a newer, shinier turd of a mountain bike: a mighty Specialized Hardrock. It wasn’t a turd really, I loved it. I started to get fitter and (slowly) got slimmer just from riding to work and to mate’s houses.
One day I decided to ride my Hardrock up Mt Lofty. Why? Because it would be hard. I was just naturally attracted to hills. I got to Eagle on the Hill with about 4 stops on the way. The next time I stopped fewer times. Then no stops. Then I got all the way to the Summit. I felt pretty awesome. I started climbing Mt Lofty regularly. I was totally hooked on climbing. I noticed so much improvement so quickly. I got faster as my muscles grew and my excess weight melted. The feeling was intoxicating. I was gradually feeling more and more liberated from the weight burden I’d carried my whole life.
Everything changed when I bought my first road bike in 2007. I wanted to go faster. A Specialized Allez. Alu frame, carbon fork, Shimano Sora groupset and mighty Jalco wheels. It was an entry-level bike but it felt like a rocket to me. I was totally hooked. Flat pedals turned to MTB pedals and shoes. Running shirt and baggy shorts turned to padded shorts and cycling jersey. Rides are longer and faster.
Another new bike came in 2009. Why upgrade? Because bicycle. But seriously, I had fallen in love with bikes and I just wanted more of them. It was now time to justify my shiny new rig. So I did my first 100 km ride. Then I did Amy’s Ride. Then the TDU challenge ride. My obsession with longer rides and bigger numbers kept motivating me. How far could I push myself? I learned so much in that time. The first few years of riding were self-guided. I learned by making mistakes. Many, many mistakes. I would get dehydrated, not take any food, get lost, push myself beyond my ability, occasionally crash.
A 2nd hand Cervelo R3 came it 2012 after, again. I was convinced I was outperforming my Specialized. I wasn’t. I was dreaming about riding more than actually riding thanks to doing honors at uni. In my defense, it was a damn good price!
My next target was a 200km ride. I did it in early 2014. Home to Milang and back again. This is still the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I had no idea about nutrition. I didn’t eat or drink enough and I suffered. I learned a lot though. Pain and suffering was always teaching me new things.
Late 2014 was full of breakthroughs. Everything just clicked for me. I’d learned how to ride properly, how to manage my body, and how to take care of myself off the bike. Oh, and I got another bike, my beloved Bottecchia. Then I did my first 250km ride, then 300km. My face is now gaunt, legs shaven, ribs poking through the jersey. Pretty obvious I’m a cyclist now. Then I’m an Everester. Mount Osmond, Freeway side. 91 reps, 9000 metres, 16 hours. It was the culmination of so many years of hard work.
2015 has been my biggest year of riding. I Everested again on the Cleland Wildlife Park access road with a group of other mad bastards. I launched a YouTube channel devoted to bikes, Adelaide, and hills. That has been extremely satisfying. I collaborated with the Dirty Dozen, and BikeSA for Amy’s Ride. The support from the local riding community has been fantastic. I’ve also met a lot of awesome people who I really enjoy riding with.
The best part is that I can keep riding! Next year I’ll be moving closer to the hills. I’m salivating at the though.
I’m wired to like cycling and that means the motivation to keep pedalling is always there.
I have 4 motivating factors:
1. It’s fun. I’m all about fun. I’m annoyingly chipper on the bike. Just ask anyone who has ridden with me. It’s because I love it.
2. It’s a numbers sport. I like numbers. I like making them bigger or smaller depending on context. Strava allowed me to measure my progress and compare myself to others. I wouldn’t be rider I am without Strava.
3. I love research. Seriously. Once I get obsessed with a topic I want to know everything. I love reading blogs, reviews, news stories, anything and everything bike. Cycling lets me get my geek on.
4. It’s social. Making friends to ride with has expanded my riding horizons. I wouldn’t have achieved so much alone.
Now riding is just normal. I don’t even have to motivate myself. I just do it. My YouTube channel name is also my philosophy: Just Ride. That’s what I do. Just Ride. That’s what I encourage everyone to do.
My story is about the power of riding a bike. I dreamt about being slim and fit for my teenage years. Riding a bike literally made that dream come true.
I’m known for my climbing ability. I don’t consider hubris to say I’m an exceptionally good climber. I’ve worked extremely hard to get where I am. I’m just a regular guy with an office job. I’ve never raced or cycled competitively. I cycle for love, for fun, and fitness.
My lesson is that anyone can do what I have done. All you need is the will and the discipline. Oh, and a bike. Don’t forget a bike.
It’s weird now thinking back to the start of my journey. It all started with a hangover. How will your epic cycling story start?
Header image: James Raison/Bike SA