The divine, glorious, all-knowing and loving conservative press in Australia would have you believe that cycling is a form of social degeneracy and anarchy with dangerous degenerative elements and criminal intent that threaten to destabilise the very fundamentals of our good, car-loving, intolerant society.
They couldn’t be further from the truth. Cycling is, in fact, bound by a system of rules more arbitrary and laced with prejudice than an inflammatory Sonja Kruger rant.
The rules are expounded on the writings of the Velominati, a secret cycling society akin in internet presence to the (now-mythical) Sydney Secret Singlespeed Society.
We are the Keepers of the Cog. In so being, we also maintain the sacred text wherein lie the simple truths of cycling etiquette known as The Rules. It is in our trust to maintain and endorse this list.
This blogger’s battle to embrace, obey and ascend to spiritual enlightenment by the rules has been chronicled in numerous Back Yamma Bigfoot write-ups over the years. After all, Rule No. 1 simply reads: obey the rules.
Back Yamma was postponed this year, due to somewhat troubling fact that most of Central Western NSW is actually underwater, and a 100km kayak around a flat forest is a little less exciting than a mountain bike ride.
However, the 6 Hours in the Saddle at Beechworth promised trails with great resilience to gratuitous and capricious precipitation.
The two days before the race were, by Australian standards, of monsoonal proportions. I awoke early in the morning of the race to the sound of rain drumming on the roof. Trails pre-dampened are one thing, but the addition of falling water changes the dynamic entirely.
It was time to consult Rule 9: If you are out riding in bad weather, it means you are a badass. Period.
Huddling beneath a rain coat, I relied on the internal glow of pure badassery to keep me warm in anticipation of the race. Epic photos of mud splatter could follow, worthy of a Rapha photoshoot. Photos in greyscale or sepia cast tone reflecting the sky and true epicness of the day. The unfortunate reality was that epic riding would have to be earned, and actually raced for.
The race started with a splash across the golf course and into deep, boggy grass. Perhaps distracted by working out how best to portray it on social media, I went slowly through the grass, and into the singletrack far further back than intended. I whipped out the rule book and consulted Rule 70:
Rule 70: The Purpose of Competing is to Win.
With this stunning epiphany I tried to move up the field. While the golf course had been wet, the trails were admirably dry, with grippy, granitic soil and swooping turns rock gardens nestled between the gigantic granitic boulders of the forest. Pushing heart-rate up to a level not sensible for 6 hours, by the end of the lap, I had tagged on to the back of the leading group of riders, possibly assisted by a bit of navigational confusion. On the tarmac run into town, I shamelessly ignored Rule #67:
Rule 67: Do your time in the Wind.
No-body likes a wheelsucker, expect possibly the person sucking wheel. Sitting on and merrily enjoying the tow and a hefty dose of spray, we barralled into town and out on another lap. Riders rolled between the front. I ducked and dodged to avoid doing anything in the wind. Abundant excuses about having to ride for 6 hours were on the lips, should I be challenged. In this circumstance, it was time to attempt redemption by going for Rule 19:
Rule 19: Introduce Yourself
If there is one possible way either to make up for poor etiquette or make yourself even more unpopular, it’s by attempting conversation. This either results in some good banter or alternatively in awkward and menacing silences. In the context of a wet and muddy race, it worked quite well. The second lap passed in a series of jumps, hucks, and chat amongst the trails. With a shabby pretext established, on the roll back into town, Rule 67 was flagrantly ignored again.
Rule 42: A bike race shall never be preceded by a swim or followed by a run.
Coming through for the third lap, and with the rain continuing to fall, the carnage on the course was beginning to show. The golf course was now basically underwater and a slog through deep and gloopy slop and a deep puddle akin to a bog. After a brief and muddy descent, a sharp pinch soon followed. Struggling to find traction, it was time for a muddy run up the hill, flagrantly breaking Rule 42 in both pre and antecedents. With an attempt at a graceful flying cyclocross leap onto the saddle which resulted in little more than a dissonant crash of cleats, a stumble, and a rather tender groin, I was off and riding again.
With the course slower and without buddies to ride with, and with the body cold and muddy, I began to struggle a bit. 4.5 more hours in this? Would my brake pads survive? Would the chain hold out and not snap? With the course degrading under the weight of the wheels, each climb felt slower than the previous laps. This misery was compounded on the headwind roll back into town. It was time to consult the immortal Rule #5:
Rule no. 5: Harden the f*ck up!
Rule no. 5 is the ultimate refutation and rebuttal to just about every whine ever heard on a bicycle, whether internal or external. While perhaps too frequently abused by those whose bikes never actually go outside and equate riding with some sort of atavistic asceticism, it provides short shrift to most excuses. I was in a good position in the race, the Anthem was performing flawlessly in the conditions, my tyres were managing the mud well, and everything was actually going rather well, if a little bit muddily.
From Rule no. 5, Rule no. 6 soon follows:
Rule 6: Free your mind and your legs will follow
Freeing the mind from the distractions of pain, mud splatter, and other trivial forms of discomfort, I settled in for the last lap with a bit more focus. This probably coincided with finding out that the race would be called just prior to the 3 hour mark. With a happy mind, I spent the last lap enjoying the trails, flipping around the rock gardens, swooping the corners, and absorbing the beautiful Australian bush. The waterfalls gurgled pleasantly, and the granitic environment provided the perfect backdrop for the beautiful flowing trails. Despite the best efforts of the rain, it had still been an awesome day out on the bike.
Some thank yous (ewes) for this one:
- The Beechworth Chain Gang team for putting the race on – always a hard call in the wake of belligerent and rapidly changing weather.
- The Quaglios for putting us up in beautiful Yackandandah – with its own brilliant trails!
- Onya Bike Civic for keeping the Anthem purring through a wet winter
- The Velominati for providing the path to true two-wheeled ascension to enlightment