I raced my last open race in the late 80s finishing a very respectable eighth against a strong field; little did I know at the time that my serious cycling days were over as I soon discovered that a bar stool was more comfortable that a Rolls saddle

The early Sunday morning chains gang spins with the AMEV Irish Road Club were soon replaced by even earlier Sunday morning trips to find a taxi home. Shortly after that, the daily cycle to work gave way to a brand new car leaving my beloved bikes to stripped down and stored in my mother’s attic.

The years rolled by wrecking a devastating effect on my weight, my middle rift appeared to have developed a similar padding to the bar stools to which I had become accustomed. A trip to the doctor resulted in a stern warning to lose some weight…. Correction he said, “lose a lot of weight!”.

A thread mill was purchased and I evolved into a human/hamster hybrid running aimlessly for hours on end rendering away years of abuse. Returning to doctor over five stone lighter expecting a mention in some medical publication or at least a gold star for my efforts, instead I was told “losing it is easy, maintaining it is the hard part”. 

Begrudgingly I knew he was right; a worryingly knocking noise had materialised on my nightly thread mill sessions, I troubleshot the source of the noise only to discover that my knees were the cause - an alternative was needed!

Fortunately, at this time my mother’s attic received a clear out; I was told if I wanted anything to come and collect it before it became landfill. I was greeted by a Raleigh team pro Frame, a Raleigh Sirocco frame, sets of Mavic GP4 wheels (Stephen Roche used these wheels), boxes of parts and stacks of cycling publications from the 80s. it was pure gold, Storage Wars eat your heart out.

An attempt was made to re-build at least one of my bikes but I needed to replace several missing parts. A trip to my local bike shop was revelation as I soon discovered that a lot of the parts I needed were not standard fare any more. I was starting to know how J.R Hartley felt trying to research for his famous book on fly fishing.

The bike to work scheme was my saviour. After filling out a couple of forms I found myself the proud owner of a level entry Scott Speedster bike. A mid-life crisis was born.

It’s true you never forget how to ride a bike but your body won’t let you forget that you have aged since you last rode the aforementioned bike. It took several kilometers under the saddle to regain my trust in my internal balance. Forgetful leg muscles had their memories jogged as the spins increased in frequent and intensity. One fine spring morning dressed in my new ALDI-DAS cycling gear I set out to cycled from Tallaght to Blessington without stop. It was a small spin for mankind but…

The solo coffee runs to Blessington became a regular Sunday morning event; cruising home one morning my daydream was shattered by the shout “ON THE LEFT!”. As turned a big group of mud splattered riders powering past me. The tight formation of lean mean riders cast me a weary glance as they streamed past. Their tightly drilled formation reminded me of the famous La Vie Claire team however this group had “Orwell Wheelers” emblazoned on their kit. As they breezed by I had experienced my first "Orwell Whoosh". 

The warmer days increased my range; one fine day I geared up to take on the challenge of the famous Sally Gap. Along a flatter sections I turned around to see five riders bearing down on me, as they whooshed past I gave a big push to join the back of the group. I smiled to myself when I noticed I was with some of the Orwell Wheelers. I shared a few kilometers chatting about their club, as the road began to rise I noticed that I needed to take a bigger breaths to be able to talk although I was soon shelled out of the back although I was happy to be part of a group again.  

Winter miles changed to Summer smiles as I got a taste for sportive events; 50km was the threshold although it didn’t stop me from sign up for the 90km Leinster loop. The step up in distance didn’t hit until around the 70km mark and I was beginning struggle on my own until a large group drifted past me and with a little acceleration I latched onto them. The pace was perfect as I slotted into an up and over format; the group was a mixture of riders although the majority were the Orwell Wheelers. I might have missed the bloodless coup that installed the Orwell leaders as the group dictators regardless under their regime the group was safely driven at a steady pace to our destination in Narraghmore. 

The seeds of joining the Orwell Wheelers were planted, my Dad had been a member in the 60s and Joe Daly’s had been our “go to bike shop” in the 80s so it seemed destiny that I join the Orwell. Over the winter, I rode the three trial spins for non-members before signing up with Cycling Ireland and then then finally joining the Orwell Wheelers. At this time Scott came on as the sponsorship which was a lucky coincidence since I had a Scott bike, the new Club kit completed the transformation from an Aldi catalogue model to a fully-fledged “wannabe”.                                                            

Since rediscovering cycling, I have learnt a few new home truths; the first truth is that traffic lights won’t change until the split second that you unclip from your peddle. The second truth is a lot more serious, there is very little room or patience on the roads today for cyclists. It’s a risky business cycling on open Irish roads however the discipline of the Orwell groups spins ensure that everyone arrives safely without causing too much stress to our fellow motorists. Like everything there are bad cyclists and bad motorists on the roads making it tricky to find a courteous balance with other road users.

Another truth I realised was you never take another rider for granted regardless of size, sex, weight or age. I have seen a rider in eighties gliding up a killer hill in Kildare like Dan Martin while another middle-aged man with the top of the range Pinerello bike dressed in the full Sky kit could barely hold onto a wheel.

A down side to cycling is that to have a worthwhile ride can take up best part of a day; a good spin or a mechanical issue can quickly eat into your busy weekend leaving a stony silent wife sitting in an unpainted kitchen or unhappy kids late for a birthday party.                                                                            

Within the Orwell there are many factions to cater for every level of cyclists ranging from leisurely spin to Russborough House to eat more pastries than Paul Hollywood to the carbon fibre chargers tearing up the hills of Wicklow hills in the depths of winter.

As I improved as a cyclist it was a natural progression to try my hand at some of the league races, I took in all the advice I could over the winter with key phrases like “survive the surge”, “trust your tyres” and “don’t drop the wheel in front” ringing in my ears. To fully experience the Orwell Whoosh, you need to be overtaken by the scratch group in Corkagh Park, no matter how fast or good you think you’re going the scratch group are always traveling at light speed.  

I am still awe at the professional attitude of the top riders in Scott Orwell Wheelers; the always seems to be a rider placed in a race each weekend. The enthusiasm and skill shown by the youth riders is amazing, they just want to ride and enjoy their bikes and it is great see. It is a breeding ground for future internationals which is all down to the parents and the grass root club members ensuring the Orwell Whoosh for my years to come. Roll on 2019.

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