I’d love to say that I live a life without regret, but in fact, I’m riddled with it. Some large, some more modest, some are very private others are obvious to all. I put it down to Proddy Irish heritage; guilt is never far away. This stuff never gets me down for long, I’m a pretty chipper guy. That’s the Irishness again. But today I’m saying goodbye to an old friend who I neglected and I feel bad.
What am I rambling on about? My 1991 Kona Fire Mountain, that’s what. An important bike in my now long history of cycling. It came into my life about the same time skater friend, Graham Gill, dropped a C90 through my door with Blood Sugar Sex Magic and Nevermind on it one Sunday. I was doing my GCSE’s, living in army surplus clothes and determinedly scuffing the life out of my first pair of Doc’s. All in all, it was a significant time in my life. The formative years.
An ex-hire bike, my Kona arrived already battle-scarred and cost an eye-watering £250. Many a tabloid was delivered on cold Cumbrian mornings to part-fund this bike. It was filling my every thought in the lead up as I imagined the adventures it would take me on. It also represented my first polygamous affair with a bike with my first racer being relegated to second place as I lavished attention on my new beau. That bike chaperoned me on those first truly independent adventures in the outdoors. No parents on hand to rescue me, no mobile phone in my bum-bag. Yes, bum-bag. Not even a pager. Hemmed in by the fells to the east and the Irish Sea to the west, my West Cumbrian homeland can feel really isolated to its upstarts. Hell, the Radio 1 roadshow didn’t even bother to visit thus depriving me of the opportunity to snub it. But some of us, a relatively small band it felt, kayaked and swam in that sea and climbed, hiked and biked those fells. Instead of being the barriers that kept entertainment from us, they became our source of entertainment. So it was that my Kona and I, together alone or accompanied by Ben Starkey, Chris Crellin or cousin Simon, explored bridleways some of which had never before been visited on two wheels by anyone.
It’s only with hindsight that I understand how significant our disorganised explorations were. We natives rode routes more or less because they were nearby, long before MBUK crew ‘discovered’ them, like the Christopher Columbus of mountain biking that they were. We would often cycle 15 miles on roads in the middle of winter to meet friends before we even touched the off-road. We didn’t think anything of it. There wasn’t an alternative. Too young to drive and bored of the four channels, we were so hungry for adventure that nothing much could put us off. At 16, my friends and I were unwittingly at the fore of Lakeland mountain biking, in a pre-internet age where personal accounts of an epic ride spread like wildfire by word-of-mouth prompting others to repeat loops and invariably learn from your mistakes. They were good times. We were in the right place at the right time, and fortunate enough to have the right tools.
For many, their first mountain bike was quickly passed on as they advanced in the sport, but not so mine. In my year out it kept me fit as I prepared for my first trip abroad, to the Rockies where I would ride the cross-country trails around Canmore, become a bus boy, encounter bagels, learn to play hacky sack, fall for a girl, then another girl, and live in an under stair cupboard amongst other first time experiences. I digress. With my first proper pay packets I rightly abandoned Biopace and furnished my bike with round chainrings. Less wise was my decision to embrace twist shift gears, especially given that the shifter had more gears than my bike had sprockets. But it was all part of the learning curve; the journey.
That Kona followed me to University carrying me from Headingley to lectures, sometimes via the urban single-track trails of Meanwood. Occasionally, instead of heading south to the campus, it would steer that homesick kid north to Otley Chevin to get some elevation and allow me the opportunity to draw deeply on some clean air in between diesel-filled commutes. In Leeds I swapped my toeclips (yes toeclips, people) in favour of my first clipless pedals – a second-hand pair of Onza’s from iconic bike shop, Stif. I vividly remember the public shame of falling over as I struggled to unclip on my first outing. I’d nonchalantly and entirely unnecessarily cycled from the car to the pay and display machine at the car park in Whinlatter before unceremoniously collapsing in a heap. If only I’d leant toward to sign listing parking tariffs instead of the other way. I fell again on that ride unable to unclip, this time finding a softer landing, albeit at speed, in some nettles. It was beginning to feel like my Kona and I were quite literally inseparable. After that second fall I had it nailed and would wonder how I’d managed for so long without cleats. I try to remember this every time I get nostalgic about toeclips. Toeclips can stay in the past.
On my return from Uni I’d almost forgotten what it was to hike a bike to 800 metres, but my cousin Simon was there to remind me along with a new platoon of mountain bikers. It was now the late 90’s and mountain bikes were everywhere. Good ones at that. So, though the Kona joined me on my fresh adventures with new friends, it wasn’t long before it became a little neglected in favour of a new steed. My new friend had suspension, and not just on the front. A further three mountain bikes would be bought, raced and sold as the Kona was passed around the family serving as a commuter for years, only finding me again in the recent past as I sought a valueless bike to transport me to the office in Manchester Piccadilly. Its now shabby appearance meant its quick release skewers would be overlooked by both the light-fingered and the mischievous.
Today, in my new life as a bike mechanic, almost 30 years since it came into my possession and after twenty years of neglect, I decided to breathe new life into my hack; a once treasured possession and faithful companion. But I was too late by quite some time. Steel had bonded to steel, rust uniting once separate parts. Aluminium too had seized, with threads stripping like pencil shavings as I attempted to separate crank and bottom bracket. It was futile. Rationally, I know that it has been too small for me since late adolescence, that I could buy something more suitable for less than the long list of parts it required, that in truth I no longer have a genuine purpose for this bike. Regardless, I wanted it back. I wanted to show it that I appreciate it, that it had been important to me. A touch of nostalgia? Most certainly. Sentimental? Without a doubt. But it wasn’t to be. Of the tens of bikes I’ve spent days and days of my life maintaining or restoring since the turn of the Millennium, this bike wasn’t amongst them and it showed.
So it is with regret that today I consign this rusty gate of a bike to history permanently. Still, every time I turn a pedal, feel a muddy puddle splash my socks, drink milk from the bottle at the end of a ride, or catch sight of my scarred shins in the shower, I’m reminded of that old bike. In the next life I’ll be sure to take better care of her.