On my old commute home from work there is a fast track section of secondary road that was always good for burning out a day's frustrations, not to mention enjoying a flat out sprint. But you have to be first away from the lights, or you will end up crawling behind vehicles threading parked cars and negotiating the speed bumps and roundabouts. I stopped at the lights one afternoon, two back from the front. The car in front of me was turning left, which was good, and the next vehicle was another bike.
The rider was a slight young woman whose kit exactly matched the frame of her bike. The colours perfectly offset her skin tones and hair. The clothes were not the usual skin tight lycra, but fitted so well that I wondered it they had been custom made. Bike and rider together made a beautiful unit.
Despite my age, I can still leave most people behind from a standing start. It's about being able to cleat in without looking, and being in the right gear. So I figured that once the car had turned off, I would be able to pass the young woman before we were fully across the intersection, and I'd be in front position.
The car turned left pretty smartly, and I powered forward... and was almost left behind. All sorts of competitive instincts get triggered by something like this, so I pulled into the sweet spot behind her and waited for the right moment—there's a slight bend—where I could push past and leave her behind. At the bend I caught a glimpse of her from the side. She was riding "in the tops[i]," and still breathing through her nose. At somewhere over 40kph she was barely trying! And there was no way I was getting past. I wondered if Anna Meares' little sister was training in Adelaide.
It was a glorious sprint, but as hard as we both tried, we couldn't quite beat a car coming in from the right at one of the roundabouts. We both skidded to a halt, and then I could see it wasn't Anna Meares' little sister at all. It was a beautiful young man, one of those slender, but all-muscle, pocket rockets that have podium finishes in bike races. He turned off at the next street and went on his way, still unaware that he'd been absolutely whipping me in a race he hadn't noticed was happening. I could see all sorts of humour in the situation, and as a compulsive story teller, began to shape the telling for a fellow cyclist at the church.
I spent the next 15km feeling I couldn't get the story to flow properly. As a teller of tales, I know that this means the real story is somewhere else. And it was. The real story was the clothes. Such beautiful clothes. I'd love clothes like that. Clothes that matched my bike, and my hair, and made me feel good. But all my conditioning says that these feelings are wrong. As a boy born in the fifties, such sentiments would have meant having the stuffing beaten out of me. And now that I am free, a little, to long for beautiful things, I have no idea how to choose them, not even the vocabulary to ask for a nice haircut. I'd weep, if I could.
A while later, our second born carefully raised the issue of dress at their upcoming nuptials. "I know you don't like suits," they said, "but do you think you could maybe hire one... just for our wedding?"
I said that of course I could wear a suit to the wedding; I had worn a suit once before, after all. But they would have to help me find a suit, because I had absolutely no idea how to pick something... suitable. So they took me and my partner to a shop in the city where I ended up buying what I was told was a pretty schmick suit and shirt, for not much more than the cost of hiring one.
I couldn't tell if it was good or not. The attendant asked me what I thought about the fit of the shirt. I said it felt like I couldn't raise my arms above my shoulders, and was told I wasn't supposed to. Everything felt strange, the result, I now realise, of wearing clothes that actually fitted me rather than being sizes too big. My child found a gorgeous set of matching cuff-links, which I treasure, and we were done.
The wedding was glorious. We were so happy for our Chris. And it was glorious because I was wearing the best clothes I'd ever had, and it felt really good.
Andrew Prior (Feb 2022)
[i] The tops is where the rider's hands rest on the tops of the handlebars. It's for relaxing, not racing.
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