In Which Principles are Temporarily Forsaken

In cycling, as in life, it is so important to be guided by strict principles. Some of these fundamental cycling principles are listed below:

  1. Always make sure that your riding knicks are clean and free of holes (unlike Mal)
  2. Always take great care when negotiating tight corners with cleated riding shoes (unlike Bob)
  3. Always ride to your full potential and don’t be afraid of a challenge (unlike Hooters)
  4. Make sure that every ride is completed by having a coffee and a cream cake (unlike Ross)
  5. Never cut in front of other riders during the final stages of a sprint (unlike Peter)
  6. Never bolt away from the peloton on a difficult climb (unlike JCL)
  7. Make sure your seat is adjusted to the correct height (unlike Hooters)
  8. Never bring the reputation of the Ghost Riders into disrepute (unlike Hooters)

As we all know there are many moreof these basic principles, but perhaps the most important of all is the club rule of NEVER RIDING WITHOUT A HELMET. This has always been something we have insisted upon in all our rides, after all each week we are watched by hundreds of young impressionable admirers, and it is so important that we set the best possible example for them to try to emulate.

You can therefore imagine my horror when I opened my boot at Mt Evelyn to find my helmet missing. In fact, not only my helmet, but my sunglasses and gloves as well. With the benefit of hindsight I remembered that I had ridden home from our last ride and the missing cycling items were still languishing in my garage. I looked up at the clear blue skies overhead and realised just how much I had been looking forward to this ride. It was obvious that I was caught on the horns of a dilemma. Little John and Lex looked at me, waiting to see what I was going to do. I tried to think quickly on my feet.

After a quick mobile phone call I announced that my helmet would be waiting for me at Woori Yallock.Although I would be riding the short distance from Met Evelyn to Woori Yallock without my helmet, this was “justifiable under the circumstances”. I tried to ignore my conscience as I rode off down the hill, feeling incredibly naked and vulnerable. As I passed each person on the Trail I tried in vain to avoid eye contact, hoping that they would not see me. The overwhelming feeling of guilt made me feel a bit like some sort of escaping mass murderer, rather than a hatless cyclist.

A short distance down the Trail I was met my Peter and Brendan, riding up the hill towards me. “Where is your helmet?”, they both asked in unison as they passed. I tried to pretend that I could not hear what they said. The distance seemed to pass ever so slowly as I started to imagine being stopped on the Trail by a helicopter load of elite SWAT SQUAD members, blocking my way and demanding to know where my helmet was.

As I crossed the Warburton Highway I could not help but imagine that the passing motorists were shaking their heads and exclaiming “Did you see that old idiot without a helmet?” I continued on towards Killara. It was at about this time that my bike started to malfunction – that old familiar feeling of a rapidly deflating front tyre. In my mind I had been punished by the cycling gods for not wearing a helmet. Why else would I get a puncture on this ride, after not having one for the best part of a year ?

I had no choice but to pull over and get to work replacing the tube while the rest of the group looked on. My feeling of shame did not lift until I was met on the Trail near Woori Yallock by Mal, who was carrying my old familiar helmet and gloves with him. I finally felt I could rejoin the peloton and once again hold my head up.

With the arrival of JCL, Hooters and the Spanner, the peloton had grown to 9 riders. We had yet again been blessed with another warm and sunny afternoon. It was impossible not to feel in good spirits as the pace slowly increased.

At Launching Place I had the opportunity to have a brief chat with another rider while waiting for the rest of the group to catch up. It was then a case of turn left and head up the Highway. Mal and a few other undisciplined riders bolted away and were not seen again until Warburton, while the rest of us proceeded at a more sedate pace. I could not tell who won the outward sprint because it is rather hard to pick up individuals riders from a distance of about 600 metres away.

Not long after we were all back at the watering hole, enjoying our coffee and chat. I have always found this part of the afternoon just as important as the the riding part, giving us all the chance to just relax, forget our day to day stresses, and just enjoy each other’s company. I value the friendships we have formed over this past three years of riding the trail almost as much as I value the immensely powerful set of legs I have grown.

As I glanced over to Little John I noticed that he had not said a word – his face was locked in a fearful stare and was ashen white. When we asked him what was the matter it took some time for the words to come out. “I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it” he eventually stammered out. “I was actually passed on the last climb by….. by ……by……HOOTERS”. The shame was obviously overpowering. John sat staring into his coffee cup, a shattered man, his reputation in tatters. Although he had not ridden for a couple of weeks he could not believe that his stamina had plummeted to such subterranean depths in such a short space of time. He would now go down in the annals of cycling as the ONLY person to have ever been passed on the trail by Hooters, no wonder he was so miserable.

The return ride was undertaken with a more better display of pelotonic order – maintaining good tight formation all the way back to Settlement Road. Since I had been excluded from the outward sprint I was hopeful of a better showing on the return ride. I managed to secure a good position behind the leading two riders and was ready for a final launch about 100m from the finish, when I discovered that Peter had deliberately taken up a position on my right hand side, preventing me from moving out.

Mal started to accelerate, I shouted at Peter, he smiled back at me, Lex and JCL took off in pursuit of Mal. When I finally broke free of Peter’s entrapment I knew that Mal was out of reach but set off to catch Lex and JCL. In one of the tightest finishes we have had for some time I finally managed to pass Lex and held off JCL by not much more than the thickness of the tyre. It was a tremendous buzz, but the exertion left me stuffed for the next 10 minutes.

Lex and Mal decided to ride home from Woori Yallock. Hooters, Spanner and Peter climbed into their waiting cars, leaving just JCL, Little John, Brendan and me to complete the ride. In the late autumnal afternoon, with the shadows lengthening across our path, we decided to savour the experience by riding at a slower than usual pace. After all, we do not know just how many more of these perfect days we are going to get. Surely the weather will break sooner or later.

All riders safely made it back to their cars, but I knew that it would be a long time before I would forget my helmet again.