My name is Niall Castle and I like riding on the road. There. I said it! If you are a truck driver, bus driver, tradie or just a bog-standard hoon who hates cyclists then this blog is not for you. If you are a cyclist or are related to someone who is then you have both my sympathy and encouragement to keep the faith.
The Early Years
I have been a fan of cycling ever since, aged about seven, I crashed my first two-wheeler into a lamppost whilst descending the hill next to my childhood home in Enfield, United Kingdom. Having ignored what was in front of me for the splendid sight of the large park and playground on the other side of the road, my attention was refocused because of the brake lever sticking into my thigh. The five stitches I received from that I count as a badge of honour.
In my early teens I recall frequent visits to the loft in my parents’ house to stow items in storage or retrieve other items as directed by mum and dad. Once I was strong enough to hoist myself through the manhole, torch in pocket, I explored every inch of the dust-ridden and draughty roof space. Sitting on one of the roof trusses, looking resplendent in its dust jacket, was a road bike frame and forks with Huret derailleur, crank and chain. Scattered in a few boxes nearby I found assorted other components, spares and tools, Weinmann brakes and 27-inch alloy wheels.
My father, by then in his mid-forties, once had been a keen cyclist, hiker and competitive race-walker. Confined to a wheelchair with Multiple Sclerosis from his early forties I knew he would never relive the journey made in his late-teens of cycling from John o’ Groats in the far north-east of Scotland down to Lands End, the south-western most tip of the British mainland. So I asked him if I could rebuild the bike and he agreed. I saved hard, had the Reynolds 531 double-butted frame sandblasted and resprayed and what I could not restore with a bit of Solvol Autosol I bought from a local bike shop.
Once built, often I would rush home from school and put in a quick hilly 30km before returning for dinner. I never got into the racing scene what with helping at home due to dad’s disability, work and Naval Cadets but my recreational riding was cut short when the bike was stolen from where I worked part-time at a local supermarket. It took me nearly fourteen years to get back on two wheels that didn’t have a motor attached, as I soon progressed to cars and, much later, motorbikes.
Conviction & deportation to the (former) colony
In the mid-90s I was dragged kicking and screaming to Australia (yeah…right!) by the homesick wife, living for the first couple of years in Canberra. Wide roads with little traffic, plenty of bike paths and some awesome hills in the surrounding rural countryside Canberra and the Australian Capital Territory is an amateur cyclists dream (just ask current Pro and Canberra boy Mick Rogers). It’s a real shame I didn’t buy myself a decent road bike and make the most of them.
In the late 90s we moved to Cairns, tropical Far North Queensland, where the roads are less busy, flatter along the coast but have a couple of good climbs up the Kuranda Range and the Gillies Highway to the Atherton Tablelands where the weather is cooler and topography rolling hills. In addition the road north to Port Douglas has some of the best views which can be savoured better on a bike than in a car. And yet, still, I hadn’t bought myself a road bike. Children have a dire effect on finances. My brother in the meantime, still living in the UK, had bought himself a good road bike and started taking annual holidays with riding mates in France during Le Tour.
In 2003 we moved from Cairns to Brisbane where I used my hybrid to commute, frequently getting depressed that my cadence didn’t match my desired speed. Two children have a very dire effect on finances, but, in 2008, I finally took the plunge and bought myself a Giant TCR C1 and haven’t looked back. And I’d like to thank my brother for this. For if he hadn’t been an avid cyclist constantly regaling me with his tales of riding in the UK and summer trips to the Alps or the Pyrenees, drinking coffee and eating cakes, to cheer on the Pros as they raced to avoid the Lanterne Rouge I might never have caught the bug again…