“Porthcawl . . . let’s go to Porthcawl.” Stephen was the only one of us with a ‘proper’ bike, a Carlton 5-speed double, with half-chromed forks and a real leather saddle. I thought for a moment. Porthcawl was twenty, un-flat miles away and the furthest I’d ever ridden was around the back lanes. More importantly, my bike didn’t have any gears and was really too small for me . . . I would have to use my sister’s bike. In a boy’s mind this had significant disadvantages. First, it was a girl’s bike; and it seemed to be made of unnaturally dense metal, weightier than nuclear shielding – it was what we now call a ‘Supermarket Bike’. Worst of all, my best friend, Eddy, had managed to blag his brother’s yellow Chopper. For anyone of a certain age (i.e. over 50) the Raleigh Chopper represented the apex of boy’s dreams of what a real bicycle should be. For a start, it was shaped like . . . well, a chopper – like the one in the movie Easy Rider, at least it was in our imagination. The saddle was a long cushioned laid-back affair with a backrest and, best of all, it has three gears, with an actual gear stick like in a car. It was also utterly impractical to ride and steered like a supermarket trolley, but it didn’t half look the part and had been the must-have present of Christmas a few years previously. My bike did also have three gears, not to be sniffed at in South Wales where frequent hills meant a desperate search for a lower one . . . but it wasn’t a Chopper. But, in my thirteen year-old mind the lure of adventure outweighed the ignominity and I agreed that the trip was an excellent idea.
So began a rite of passage which describes a childhood association with cycling; 40 backside blistering miles wearing catalog jeans and ‘Clarks’ trainers, fuelled by chips and Fanta, burning under the brazier of the sun. We were three hombres on the high sierra, in search of high adventure. It was 1977 and there were no mobile phones so we couldn’t call our parents to collect us if it all went wrong, our last 10p invariably being spent on bags of crisps and Mars bars. I can’t remember us even having a puncture kit, though Stephen, the only one of us properly equipped, did have a saddle bag containing jam sandwiches, so there might have been one in there. Cycling, at the age of thirteen, is all about the downhill parts. In the glaciated valleys of South Wales there were many of these . . . plus an equal number of ups. The topographical feature which marked escape from our valley into the unknown was ‘Barn Hill’, the first major descent on the trip to Porthcawl. It was all about speed, unattainable under any other circumstance. White knuckle, chicken-dare, race to the bottom speed, the rush of air pulling the tears and screams from us, until we eventually coasted to a stop at the long bottom for the inevitable debate:
“I reckon I was doin’ 40”
“I must’ve been doin’ at least 45 ‘en, and I didn’t use the brakes once”
“I topped 50 on that borrum bit”
“No you didn’t, I went past ‘ewe, else I was doin’ over 50”
“Yeah, 50, we must’ve all been doin’ at least 50 down ‘er ‘en” . . .
. . . and so it would be agreed, we had all being doing at least 50 mph, and re-written the laws of physics in the process. More than one person I knew had come a cropper on Barn Hill, with an extended visit to outpatients as a result, but that never stopped us.
To be continued . . .