Knuckling down and getting a real job doesn’t mean that random inspiration might not walk through the office, Steve explains.

Regular readers of the Man o’ Wheel column would be aware that in a previous incarnation I dollar-rolled with the courier boys in Sydney. For reasons that are many and varied, I don’t anymore. A year or two ago I got a haircut, got serious and got a real job. I’m mostly a desk jockey these days, with all the burdens and responsibilities that go with the position. And while this column is beginning to sound a lot like it is all about me, it is not. It is about the bloke I get to sit next to.

A few months ago a young fella sat himself down into the unoccupied seat next to me and proceeded to become a good mate. Fresh faced, free of kids and mad about his footy, we didn’t have much in common back then. There are only so many ways you can talk about contaminated land though, so I got myself a crash course in the South Australian obsession with aerial ping pong and the Big T got an education in the world of bikes. He also endured a few conversations about changing nappies and sleepless nights, but maybe he was just being polite.

Within a month he had bought a bike for commuting and was slashing through the traffic like a seasoned pro, riding to work on a daily basis. It was great to see, it took me years and a lot of offs to feel totally comfortable riding in traffic. There are plenty of people who never gain this skill. Not one to be put off by the atrocious standard of driving skills seen down here in SA, the Big T took to riding in traffic with the aplomb of a seasoned pro.

The big break came when he asked me about mountain biking shoes. See, this is the real clincher in my book. Once a chap gets himself a pair of bike shoes and some pedals there is no turning back. The emotional effort required in getting over the hump of looking like a complete drongo when you fall over sideways in slow motion because you can’t release your boot is simply too much to ever think of going back. Believe me, everyone does this once. Besides, you have mastered a serious skill at this point and you are unable to turn back. I can’t say exactly why, but we just can’t.

So the worm had turned in the Big T’s mind, and before long he was leaning across and asking me obscure questions about chain ring comparisons and tyre tread patterns and the like. Not wanting to sound like an ignorant single speeder, I spent a lot of time furrowing my brow and saying things like ‘knowledge comes with experience son!’ and ‘yes, hmmm. Well…’ Luckily, by this time another good mountain biking buddy was sitting across the aisle and I was able to refer most of the tricky questions over to him. Now sitting in the crossfire of two diehard mountain bikers, the Big T never stood a chance. Giving up the opportunity to take his wife on a real holiday (instead treating her to a weekend camping trip in the Flinders) the Big T bought himself a rock solid, twenty six inch gun. We were going riding.

That first ride was a hoot. Just the three of us one gloriously sunny Friday afternoon after a week of too much work, we took the opportunity to check out some of the brand new single track in the Mitcham Mountain Bike Park. The Big T is a fit bloke, with his footy and all, and was having no real trouble keeping up. This didn’t seem quite right, so an unspoken decision was made between Heathoir and me to have a crack at the new ‘Quarry Trail’.

The Quarry Trail is a very tight black diamond run that is yet to be ‘bedded in’ and is full of nasty rock gardens and big roll offs. Tricky but not terribly onerous with experience, but for a first timer it must have been terrifying. To his credit, the Big T did not baulk once. He emerged from that trail ten minutes later bloody and bruised, with a newly forged biking reputation.

The Big T came off four times in that ten minutes, and promptly set off back up the hill with hardly a grimace. He got dropped on that climb back up to the top, but given that he had bruises to half his body, and had scraped the skin off the other half; he can be forgiven for that. He rode all the way to the top, without stopping once. Mountain biking gold.

The Big T is riding on our regular night rides now, only a month or so since he first got on a mountain bike. I know blokes who have been riding for years that won’t do that. He pretty much keeps up too, though he needs work on his back game later on in the pub. But that comes with age. He officially threw the footy boots out a couple of weeks ago, the transformation is complete.

I love watching people get into this game. Watching them figuring out the pedal pitfalls, or the subtle balance between the front and the rear brake. I love watching them fall, and I love watching them soar. Best of all, I love seeing that silly great grin we all get plastered over our face after a classic ride. Here’s to good friends and great rides.