Speedometers and Bikes

When cycling around Eastern Europe it was very low-tech for Morgan and I. Our decision was spur of the moment and it was a matter of weeks between the birth of the idea and our departure. One thing we had on our bikes though that we both considered a toy and a luxury was a speedometer. By the end of the first day it had become a necessity.

It kept us sane during the inevitable moments of boredom and depression and gave us goals to aim for as we struggled for motivation. Trying to keep an average speed as high as possible on long straight roads in the heat of the summer as the kilometres ticked away was essential to our ability to keep going.

They also made us push our boundaries and ourselves, trying to break our records as we slipstreamed lorries and raced down hills, keeping the average speed as high as possible. But naturally our top speed became the record that became the most fun and the biggest challenge and thrill to us as we became more and more adept at tucking in behind the lorries and the hills increased in size. So much more fun than trying to keep the average speed up.

Once we hit the mountains in Czechoslovakia the grins never left our faces. Apart from during the climbs of course. We’d get to the bottom of the descents and compare speeds, both of us regularly hitting between 55 and 60 kilometres an hour. Occasionally we made it well into the 60’s and I seem to remember an occasion when we touched the 70s. The thrill and sensation was fantastic.

A year later I decided to cycle from Milan to Brighton, where I was due to start Art College. Again, as I crossed the Alps into France I reached similar speeds. Again the thrills were sensational. But then, as I left the Alps, heading for flatter ground I found myself cycling down a long straight road. No switch backs and corners that were so common on the steeper roads in the mountains. My speed built and built as I pedalled faster and faster, keeping an eye on my speed, watching it climb close to my record. The bike felt solid and straight and when my pedals would no longer go round fast enough I just lent down and enjoyed the sheer speed. I have no idea how long this lasted, but eventually I saw traffic lights and crossroads in the distance. Just before I decided I best start trying to slow down I found the courage to look down and glance at my speed. Eighty four kilometres an hour. The adrenalin hit me and I felt more alive than I had felt for a long, long time.

Until I tried the brakes.

Then I really and truly came alive. The bike shook and shuddered as it slowly, so slowly, slowed down and the traffic lights approached. For a brief moment the fear hit me, but not once did the grin leave my face.

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