Socktales – May/June 2018.


The gushier elements of popular magazines are constantly telling us the great benefits of our pedalling passion: health; weight loss; physical radiance and a host of other marketable elements, but they often miss the most essential of all the rewards of cycling… friendship.

Socktales is written by Steve Shapiro, and appears in every issue of Ride.

Finding kindred souls from so many different backgrounds and being able to strike, almost immediately, a deep bond based on two wheels and two pedals – that’s the prize.

Of course, it’s the kind of social connection which is accessible in all sorts of pursuits but we’ve got something extra special. Somehow, the combination of inescapable physical effort and mankind’s most worthy technological invention are the base for an almost alchemical human fusion.

I have been in the alembic of this magic for most of my adult life (if adult it has been) and I view it as the nonpareil of my interaction with our complex species.
Although I often prefer to ride alone and have done so days on end: the stimulating company of my peers has led to a quiet, and not so quiet, intimacy with people which has taken them beyond comrades and made family of them.

There are, perhaps, evolutionary tribal characteristics and an almost synchronistic psychic aspect of meeting personal needs in these unsolicited fellowship sutures, against the odds of discommon predispositions and talents. So a band, a gang, if you like, materialises in the social fabric and men and women find themselves pleasurably and usefully connected. Some are gifted practitioners of skill and technique; being mechanically accomplished is a boon, but you still remain ‘just ordinary’ members, brothers and sisters honouring reciprocity. Others of the clan offer organisational skill and programme planning, while not a few of them bring an effervescent exuberance to the whole party.

One remembers, selectively, through the blurring mists of time, endless campfires in icy wilderness areas; after being lost and out of cellphone comms; and the celebrations on being found or getting home.

For me, just one precious memory will be driving, with two of my bike-kin, through an endless stormy night, from Cape Town to the Single-speed World Championships in the foothills of the Drakensberg. The pale shock registered on the face of one of our number, of Portuguese extraction, coming back to the car, somewhere in the Transkei, having just bought fish and chips from a Chinese shopkeeper. The next day we practise-rode the course, and ended in a dense riverine forest as metres away, lightning visibly broke branches off the trees surrounding us. We survived and in the safety of the car, finished a bottle of red at the trail head – with a home-baked cake… Portuguese of course!
On the road there was the perverse camaraderie of endless windswept hours training for the double century, and more regular, post-100k coffee rides.

We like to be together and this manifests not only in coffee bars, but also at each other’s homes sharing food and drink, and conversation which, if it wasn’t on the cusp of BS, could sometimes be mistaken for worthy reflection. One is left feeling “this was important”.

These experiences are the building blocks of pure friendship and their value far surpasses the ridiculous status seeking of power meters and Strava accomplishments. They are part of a package of recollection and reflection that accompany us to bed that night and greet us – stiff and sore and maybe hung-over – the next morning.

And then there are ever more memories, although occasionally inaccurately recalled at times of fuelled frivolity but usually with sound historic precedents: we might not have been on that adventure but we remember it well. Before Karbonkelberg was occupied by the tik addicts it was our Holy Mountain. We rode up for weddings and bachelor parties; we struggled to the top to watch sunsets and moon-rises, our back packs full of booze and sandwiches. The loss of this option, and of the old Tokai, have been bitter blows. Fuel price increases have impeded the weekly retreats into the mountains of the Boland but their less frequent occurrences are cause for nostalgia-enhanced celebration. We are comrades, dammit, a band of warriors in search of adventure.
The cast list of these troupes changes over the years by natural processes of dispersion and in-gathering, but the alliance has been made and will stand recollection in times of need.

I have ridden mountain bikes in Israel on three separate occasions: these guys are just like us. Once I fell in, for a few hours, with toppies about my own age. I couldn’t understand a word they were saying but their display of joy and mischief on the trails was so familiar that it didn’t matter.

Long association has the ready capacity to turn vaguely recollected incidents into half-fictional feats of courage and daring, while inebriation (even if the least correct tool of recollection) conjures up unlikely legends. My own memories are made up of years of laughter and satisfaction and now, with creeping hints of dotage, especially as the younger riders begin to slip away, I miss the deceptive myths of inter-tribal competition, but keep on looking for newby victims… or catching some of my old chums on an easy day.

I know that I’ll probably not lose status in the face of my inevitable decline but I’m determined to retain enough fitness to, at least, be acknowledged as that most honoured of our ilk: a cyclist, and one of the family.