Yesterday morning I had never ridden a bike 100km in a day. Today I can say that I have done it – but only just.
I signed up to do the Rapha Womens 100 a few months ago after consuming a cheap bottle of red wine. I had been working hard on this blog and figured it would be a good event to write about and a good way to motivate myself to ride 100km, just to see what it was like. I hadn’t anticipated the changes that would occur in my life before July 20 arrived.
The past few months have been like a whirlwind. You will have noticed that I haven’t had much of a chance to blog about bikes lately – I have been finishing the university degree I had been putting off for the past three years while at the same time working like a crazy person to save up enough money to go and ride bikes in Europe for a few months.
So the day of the Womens100 snuck up on me and the road bike I had planned to borrow fell through. For whatever reason, signing up for the ride on the Rapha website had led to a steely (stubborn) determination to ride the 100km, or at least give it a good shot.
The night before the ride I worked until 10pm and then headed to a friend’s place for a few drinks around a bonfire. One thing led to another, which eventually led to me consuming half a bottle of rum with coke. I got home somewhere around 3am, probably later.
When I woke up at 10:30 on the day of the ride I knew I was off to a bad start. My head didn’t feel so great, whereas staying in bed certainly did! I still hadn’t organised a good long-distance bike, but I had vague plans of getting one from a friend. I was planning to ride 100km, but the 6km to his house seemed a very long way. I figured a nourishing breakfast would help me get the day started, but by the time I had cooked and eaten it was midday and I wasn’t even a single kilometre in.
Bike polo happens on sunday in Melbourne from 2-8pm and by this stage I knew I would have to miss polo to do the Womens100. I have been working every Sunday for the past month and the thought of missing polo once more, to ride 100km by myself, was getting me down. Bike polo was the very thing that had inspired me to ride my bicycle more, which led to me taking more photos of bikes and wanting to write about them. It didn’t feel right that I should have to skip it – riding bikes is what the Womens100 is all about, and bike polo is where I like to ride my bike! I looked at my little yellow polo bike, thinking how sad it was that I wouldn’t be riding it, and an idea starting brewing in my fuzzy head.
It was 7km to the polo court and 7km home. That’s 14km. I didn’t know how far I rode my bike during a game of polo, but I thought it had to be fairly significant – I am always very tired when I get home. Why couldn’t I ride 100km during a day of bike polo? I figured that I could just ride circles around the court when I wasn’t playing a game, and if I needed to make up extra kilometres once it was over then I could cruise the streets till I hit the 100. There was no doubt that it was going to take me forever to do it, but I had no reason to rush. This was my way of having my cake and eating it too.
Bike polo bikes are designed to have an incredibly tight turning circle, so they have a short wheelbase. An easy single speed gear makes accelerating easy, but the top speed is slow, you can get to about 22km/h if you are pedalling like fury. Low handlebars make it easy to move your mallet over the front wheel, but put a lot of pressure on the riders lower back. Overall, they are pretty much the exact opposite of a long distance touring bike.
When I hit the road on my polo bike it was well past 3pm and I still wasn’t feeling crash hot. To measure the distance I had popped a cheap Aldi cycle computer on my bike and was running Strava on my phone. I wasn’t sure what I had gotten myself in for, but I was pretty happy that I was about to get to play some bike polo.
In between games of polo I rode the block around Flagstaff Gardens, over and over again. The loop was just over a kilometre and it allowed me to keep an eye on the courts, to see when the games ended so I could jump back on the court to play. It turns out that in a typical game of polo the players will ride somewhere between 2 and 4km, casual games on a Sunday generally take about 20 minutes, often longer, so I think the average speed is somewhere between 8-12km/h.
The afternoon progressed quickly and when the sun set at 5:30 I had ridden about 28km. The next few hours flew by, but I had played a lot of games of polo and so the kilometres had been ticking by at a snail’s pace. By the time polo finished sometime after 9pm I had done 60km.
I hit the streets by myself, heading in a random direction that would vaguely lead me to my house (in a long time). I stopped in Docklands by the colourfully lit ‘london-eye’ style ferris wheel to have some food. A despondent-looking guy with a Canadian accent asked me if I knew where to get cigarettes and I told him that I had no idea. He bummed one from a couple of girls walking past before he asked me about my bike. He said it looked fast, I told him that it wasn’t. He wanted to ride it, I told him he couldn’t. I was trying to shake him off, to get some peace in which to eat my disgustingly unhealthy food and contemplate the 38km I had left to ride. He wanted to know what the thing protruding out the back was, I told him it was my mallet (it was strapped inside my top tube cover). He didn’t understand. It’s for a game I play, a game a bit like hockey, I said. He sat down. “Hockey? Nah”, his name was Chris and he played ice hockey – they didn’t use any equipment like that. My friends had been to watch the ice hockey before the bonfire the night before, I told him and he said that he was meant to play in that game but couldn’t because he was disqualified. The night before he had illegally checked someone in the back. He had come to Australia and things weren’t going well. To top it all off he had locked his team mates’ bags in the hire car. They were all flying back home, he was thinking of flying back to Canada. I said that he should play polo, no one gets disqualified for illegal checks in bike polo.
“You’re pulling my leg, making up a fake sport, right?” Chris asked. I assured him that it was real, I showed him my polo ball, which is exactly the same as a street hockey ball, and my Franklin gloves, which are designed for ice hockey players. I told him that I would be going to the world champs in Europe next month. I had finished my meal and I had to leave – I had to ride 38km before midnight. When he wanted to know why I needed to ride so far I told him about the Rapha Womens100. He pointed out that there were no other riders with me, why should I bother? I was stuck for an answer, but eventually replied, “I want to see if I can”. I got on my bike and pedalled away as some of his team mates wandered up.
The question of why I was riding 100km circled around inside my head. It hadn’t occurred to me that something like the Womens100 needed justifying, the existence of such an event seemed enough of a reason to give it a go. It was too dark to see my cycle computer, so I no longer knew how fast I was going, how far I had gone, or how far I had left to go. I just kept on riding. When I hit the light of a streetlight and saw I was at 80km I decided to turn around and begin the ride home.
At 95km I was just down the road from my house, so I popped over to Woolworths to add a few kilometres to my ride and get a tub of ice-cream. The lady at the checkout echoed Chris’s question, “Why are you riding that far? For a charity or something?”.
I made up the last few kilometres wandering the suburban streets around my house and hit the 100 when I was just 20m away from it. It was two minutes to midnight, my cycle computer told me I had been moving for seven hours and four minutes. I went upstairs, considered eating the ice-cream but put it in the freezer instead. I stood under a warm shower for a while, collapsed into bed and slept for nearly 13 hours.
Rapha helpfully provide a training plan for those preparing to ride the Womens100, it is written by a professional cyclist. I am pretty sure that my Womens100 effort involved doing the exact opposite of every piece of her advice. To be honest, I might have had more fun on the day if I had followed her plan, but there is no way I would have had time to do it at all, given how busy my schedule is. The whole time I was riding my polo bike I wasn’t sure if I would actually ride the full 100km, but I was curious to see if I could. It was interesting to spend a whole evening rolling around the world, it felt good to keep on moving past the people sitting down at polo having beers in between games, even though I was tired and sore. I was glad to have met Chris – he seemed to be at a crossroads in his life, just like I am in mine. Being on my bike for that long allowed me some quiet time to think about why we do the things we do.
It’s true in life that we can’t do everything we want to. Whenever we make a decision to do something we are also making a whole bunch of decisions to not do something else. I don’t know what makes a decision good or bad, but lately I have been doing what I want to do – finishing university, working crazy hours, booking a plane ticket to Europe – and it all feels pretty good. I wanted to spend some time with my friends the night before the ride, so I did. I wanted to play some bike polo, so I did. I wanted to ride the Rapha Womens100, so I did.