Words & Images Lester Perry

Recently, I was fortunate enough to get my own space in our house. It’s an office, gym, bike and gear storage room, and a place to keep many years’ worth of bike-related things. Some may call it a man cave, others may call it a mess – whatever it is, it’s mine and it’s just how I like it.

This new space came with fresh, blank, unadulterated walls; the perfect spot to add some character and colour. Moving boxes from the shed to the new room gave me the opportunity to crack open a bit of a time capsule of sorts, a cardboard box that’s previously sat in the corner of my garage gathering dust and spider webs. Within this box was a treasure trove of memories in the form of event number plates, over 100 of them, dating back as early as 2009. This is by no means a complete set of all the events I’ve attended in my time, but offers a good cross-section of places ridden, and time spent riding with other like-minded bike nutters.

One dreary Sunday afternoon, banished to the four walls of my new space with monsoon-like conditions outdoors, I sat with a fresh packet of Blutac and began arranging the number plates in some sort of fashion on one of the newly finished walls.

The wall now covered with these rectangles of numbered plastic represents the ebb and flow of my riding over the years. From strictly gravity-based pursuits in the earliest events (although I don’t have many plates from these days), through some solid roadie hit outs, to cyclocross, cross country, and even some fixed-gear races, all dispersed with plenty of Enduro race plates (maybe too many of them). My wall is now representative of almost every cycling genre.

For whatever reason, I’m not usually one to dwell on an event. Pay the money, attach the number, wait at the start line; the gun goes, max heart rate for a while, possibly some chill times, hopefully stay upright and, finally, cross the finish line. And on to the next one.

Sorting through plates, the memories return. Each number plate is a portal to a set of memories, filed away in the catalogue of my mind. Seeing each plate again returns memories to the fore, if only for a brief minute. I’m surprised how many of the events I remember; not the bad times, or the suffering, just the good times. The physical suffering at a race is fleeting and quickly forgotten, but the memory of the whole vibe lasts forever. The specifics of each event have faded over time, only pivotal moments remain; maybe a good result, a crash or mechanical, or even the feeling on a particular section of trail. The specific pain of any of the numerous crashes is quickly forgotten, just the scars remain to remind me of those. It’s just the positives and the overall feeling that remain months or even years after an event.

I’ve never thought of myself as much of a competitive person, and I’ve won very few races, but judging by the sheer quantity of number plates now crowding my wall, there’s something that keeps me coming back to competition. Maybe it’s the camaraderie with my fellow racers, that collective feeling that we’ve invested in something that takes some physical and mental fortitude. Maybe it’s the challenge involved, that Type 2 fun; hard at the time, but rewarding once complete. Possibly, it’s a course of habit and these events have become a reason to get out and ride; a definitive date in the calendar rather than a “we’ll wait and see if I can get a ride in this weekend” sort of scenario.

Some plates hold more weight and value in my mind space than others. These ones sit pride of place, in their own space of prime real estate just beside the desk where I type these words. When I look at these plates there are some common threads. They’re either an overseas epic or a multi-day adventure right here at home; all experiences differing from your average single-day affair. Whatever the reason for continuing to line up at events, each of these number plates has come at some sort of cost: time away from family, the cost of gas to get there, and of course the actual entry fee, not to mention the cost of the bike itself and keeping it running. What price do you put on memories and experiences?

While sticking numbers onto the wall, I began to think about the total value of entry fees that I’ve shelled out for since this collection began, so I pulled out the trusty calculator. Even the most conservative estimates would put entry fees alone around the $10,000 mark, let alone all the associated costs. What else could I have done with that money? Maybe a completely different hobby could have consumed the dollars, but no other hobby sits right or makes clear sense to me. It seems bikes weren’t only right for me back in the early days, but still are to this day; a part of my DNA in some strange way.

Judging by my wall planner for the coming summer, there will be a few more memories made, and associated number plates added to the wall. This strange bike racing addiction is set to continue for another season and, once all’s said and done, all that will remain are number plates and memories.

This article is taken from:NZ Mountain Biker, Issue #112

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