Going away to the dark side


Summertime and the holiday season arrives in full swing and for many this is a great time to spend with loved ones and family and get away from the madness and mundanity of working life.

However, for mountain bikers there is a real danger that one of our loved ones can’t come away with us.
A trip to Cornwall, the Lake District or France normally means a rack on the back of the car can accommodate our nearest and dearest but once we start talking plane travel with non bikers, the likelihood of getting Bessie (or whatever you call her) away with you becomes an insurmountable challenge.
For the last few years this had not been an issue for me but this summer involved a two week trip to Southern Florida, not renowned for its mountain biking generally, and any off road in the Everglades potentially involving bunnyhopping alligators and other unfriendly local critters. So how would I get my biking fix?
As soon as I collected the hire car I was off to Naples Cycle Surgery, the local Specialized dealer. There were loads of bikes to hire but not a mountain bike in sight. So I took the plunge and went for a ‘ Base Road Bike’, a Specialized Allez Comp (about a grand’s worth in the UK). I had taken a small bag of kit (helmet, gloves, baggy shorts plus a new pair of Lycra shorts (my first!), tool kit,, water bottle, saddle bag and GPS) and added tyre levers, spare and lock from the shop. In the blazing heat my all black UK uniform suddenly seemed inappropriate so I went native and bought a white road top (as baggy as possible!).
It was a 45 minute ride back to the apartment , so after a few minutes getting used to the different riding position, strange gear shifters, V brakes, and the fact that the rear brake is on the right hand side I settled in to enjoying the flat straight tarmac bike lanes through the well groomed suburbs of Naples.
And so a pattern began to emerge for each day. I got up early and headed off before the sun rose and did an hour long loop on as much of the low traffic routes as possible. As the days went by my average speeds increased and I pushed the distance further and further. I was beginning to feel like Alberto Contador, Bradley Wiggins or more realistically a very old Lance Armstrong as I chased down some of the locals and other tourists. I was rudely awakened from this dreaming when a 25 strong Sunday cycling club bombed past me as I went flat out!
So did I enjoy my trip to the dark side?
On the plus side riding every day in sunny weather on flat relatively quiet tarmac roads with a light bike and thin tyres was a novelty compared to my experience of riding roads in the UK. However, after two weeks I was pining for the variety of off road biking. I missed singletrack, humps and bumps, mud and leaves and the reward you get from a long climb as the scenery unfolds and you start a cracking descent.
As we drove from Heathrow back to Brighton the South Downs finally came into view, and a massive smile spread across my face. You all know that smile!


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