I had a solid year racing the Gios. I won a couple of handicap races and was generally turning into a handy rider. I was what is known now as a ‘puncheur’ which is a polite way of saying that I couldn’t ride up hills. I am built L wide and M high, or ‘a bit hobbity’, and so the type of riding that favoured me was strength and sprint related. The short aggressive rides that the young riders did back then really suited me. Youth races never lasted much over an hour.
Criteriums were a favourite. These are circuit races on quiet roads usually flat and are ridden at top speed the whole way. In Wellington they were inevitably run around industrial estates, town centres on a Sunday morning and other generally abandoned bits of road. On longer, more hilly courses, I was quickly distanced on inclines, but could ride my way back to the other riders when we got to the flat easily enough. If I was in the front bunch as we got to the finish line I would come in somewhere in the top five most times.
Still, the whole thing was done on instinct. The lack of coaching, lack of specialised knowledge and lack of measurement devices like speedos gave the whole thing a seat of the pants air. There was no comparing heart rates on forums, no development squads, no scholarships. The comparison was made on the road, in a race and the ultimate judge of fitness and form was your position over the line. In those days you used language not stats to describe your performance. The strange horse-racing like abstractions you hear out of racers mouths these days come from the pre-data logging era:
I had fresh legs today
I haven’t found my form yet
I was on the rivet
The last one of those refers to sitting well forward on a leather saddle to generate maxiumum power, a favourite of commentator and ex-pro Sean Kelly. On the rivet is generally how I rode all the time. Racing wasn’t subtle, it was very hard, not helped by the fact that the road season was in the winter. In it’s infinite wisdom NZ Cycling placed the road season made this glorious decision, something to do with keeping the top riders (whoever they were) in sync with the European season. This meant that the rest of us raced and trained in the worst conditions imaginable. Combined with the gear - designed for a European summer - we were often soaked and freezing. A typical approach at the time to ‘winterising’ oneself was to buy a pair of large rugby socks, cut a hole where your cleats were, and wear them over your dainty Italian cycling shoes. In a Wellington winter that gave you ten minutes of pseudo-warmth before the wind and rain froze your feet.
All good character building stuff, but looking back on it I am a bit horrified. I remember riding along in pitch dark on A roads into howling gales and driving rain with lights that were less effective than a child’s torch, on a bike without mudguards, being sprayed with gritty water by passing cars. Soaked to the skin, the only thing that kept you from hypothermia was the heat produced from going as fast as you could. I must have had a huge amount of energy to burn, and a huge drive to push myself.
Still, this was just what you did. It’s what people who want to race still do. The clothing is so much better and the lights are fantastic but it’s still hard riding at night in heavy, inattentive, traffic with cold rain trickling down your neck.
I’d moved jobs by this point. I’d given up the paper run and was working in ‘Manner’s Meats’, run by a shonky sexist arse called Pete.
Boy, was I naive. $22 a week to work from 4-6:30 every day, late on Fridays and Saturdays from 9 - 12 (most racing was Sunday).
There were three guys who worked there. Pete, his henchman and an apprentice.
They called me ‘Mork’ because they thought I was weird. Their definition of weird was this: Didn’t play rugby, didn’t call Maori ‘darkies’, didn’t talk about masturbation the whole time. And let me tell you butchers talking about masturbation while holding knives, wearing white gumboots and hair nets, and cutting into flesh is an alarming sight. I suppose I was fascinated, I hadn’t spent any time close to people like this before, proper misogynst bigots - at least not as a perceptive teenager - and it’s clear to me now that spending time arund these guys was very help
I spent most of my time out the back at a huge double sink, sluicing blood off trays, washing knives, wire-brushing the chopping blocks and listening to the radio.
I also ran some deliveries (not on a bike sadly) got their food for them, mopped the floor and cleaned the display windows with vinegar-doused newsprint. Rememember my fabulous homelife? Most days when I finished I would go down to the Hungry Horse Burger bar, buy a hamburger (horseburger?) and sit and play ‘spacies’ for half an hour before then going out training in the dark, arriving home somewhere near eight or nine.
This was 1981, the year of the infamous Springbok tour of New Zealand. There were violent protests and a lot of civil disobedience. Everyone had an opinion and it really split the nation. There were two sides and the positions were clear - either you thought that apartheid was bad and NZ should be boycotting all sport with South Africa, or you through that ‘Sport and politics shouldn’t mix’. Basically the rugby lovers were on one side and the pinko-lefties were on the other. Members of families stopped talking to each other. My Mum sat on the motorway in protest - the rest of the family stopped talking to her for a while.
Needless to say the butchers were pro-tour. I, typically, was split down the middle. I could see both points of view. I remember a massive demo march in Wellington. Instead of joining it I rode behind it and around it on my bike. I didn’t participate so much as observe. It took me many many years to understand this tendency to stand back from events. I am something of a contradiction; I like to ‘fly’ and I like to think and create but I am not much of a joiner. The common thread is kinesthetics. I like to move and explore - whether that is in thought or motion I don’t really mind. Joining feels like being held inside a set of rules. Note that I am not a very good employee either!
At this point in life I was just beginning to see that I was a little different to many people I knew. I was ‘sensitive’, perhaps made more so by the dreadful home life, and I hated with a great passion the common mindset of kiwi male at that point. So if the common direction of the male was towards Rugby and being a good bloke and joining in for the good of all and respecting the spirit of ANZAC and all that other horse-shit I would set on a different path, just because. I would follow the individualist track and listen to music made with machines and have floppy hair and read European fiction and do this weird strange sport called cycling. And I would stay away, at all costs, from the All Blacks.
And what better way to do that than paint your bike pink?
And so The Pink Gios was born. It actually was The Black Gios just repainted in Maglia Rosa pink. The colour of the leaders jersey in the Giro D’Italia, the cyclists real favourite tour - better than the Tour de France for those in the know.
I didn’t have any stickers for it so it just became the pink bike. The butchers laughed, which is what I wanted of course.
I am not sure I would want a pink bike now, but considered in context it was about as radical and multiple piercings and tattoos. It was a romantic gesture in a very unromantic country, new wave to your disco and cock-rock - and a very elegant, probably too-subtle, way of telling the butchers to fuck themselves. Cycling was - and still is - a very peculiar aesthetic. I can’t think of a sport that is so extremely difficult where men look so feminised. Skin tight lycra, shaved legs, dainty shoes, lots of colour. Maybe triathlons, where they add really short shorts.
I left that job soon after. And soon after that, after a good two years of borrowship, Mouse called the loan of The Gios in. Fair enough. I’d had a good run with it.
I’m not sure why, but I either couldn’t afford it or I didn’t think to offer, but I didn’t just buy the thing off Mouse. I stripped the parts off it and took it back in its extreme pinkness to Burke’s cycles - and was left with the immediate problem of being a racing cyclist without a bike to ride.
Next: The Divine Comedy