You’re standing there, with everyone else, before the start. It smells funny to the untrained nose; body odor and what seems like bad cologne, or an unfortunate mix of both. You’re a bit too close to your neighbors, and although you’re somewhat used to it, it still doesn’t feel good – at least when you’re just there, waiting. Heads surround you as you look back; you glance at the stage as someone says something through a speaker, or a bullhorn, but you don’t really pay attention because you’re busy with your thoughts, trying to hush the rush so you can devote all of your attention to the next few moments. Even if you did pay attention to the words spoken, you can’t hear anything because everyone around you is talking and fussing and eager to begin with the procedures. The quiet impulse to stay close to the front before the start forces your elbows, arms and legs forward, someone presses back on you, you relent. Then you do it again. It has been a while since the last event, and you wonder what it will feel like this time. You check your pockets, patting yourself lightly, making sure you have everything with you, that nothing was forgotten or left unaccounted for. The lights go out, intro score goes on, and the crowd goes crazy in a collective and deafening-loud cheer as your favorite band stomps on stage.
What, you thought I was referring to a bike race?
Music and bicycles, for me, have so much in common that they overlap in many feverish layers, keys and notes and spokes striking and whirring and singing just the same. In other words, both activities spark chemical reactions that work independently of my will. They just happen. They have always just happened. And when that feeling hits again, I want more of it. Unlike an addiction, the perceptions alone, gutsome in their essence, aren’t originated as a hedonistic streak that must be satisfied at all costs. Hedonism is not in the saddle, driving the break. Rather, as with the guitar, bicycles are an iconic instrument of freedom and beauty whose seductive call is impossible to ignore. I am specifically referring to road riding and a not so popular (in the US) type of, ahem, rock-and-roll. A sure fire conversation-ender, folks react to metal as if I had just emerged in scuba diving gear from a frothy septic tank: surprise, incredulity, and scowl-worthy disgust. “Oh, you’re into hair-bands?” I confess that it is very challenging to recover from this line of questioning, mostly because the equivalence is just not there. I don’t ever remember anyone placing “speed-metal” side by side with any hair-band and painting them in the same color. Comparing them both is basically comparing apples to oranges (my bands being the oranges, just so you know).
So what is the appeal anyway? Well, there’s the gear: If bikes are shiny, instruments are shinier, some made with specific purposes, like the beveled frets on Malmsteen’s Fender, or the extremely cool white Paiste cymbals Nicko McBrain rocked during The Clairvoyant Tour. It’s physically demanding, too. Imagine how spent you’d be if you were these guys, playing every night for an average of 2hrs30mins, for weeks or months at a time (World Tour does mean Tour of the World for those pros). The metrically precise, high-frequency dugga-dugga is nothing short of hypnotic, simultaneously mesmerizing and enthralling, ensnaring the listener in a synergistic, sonic trap. You hear it, feel it and it clicks just right. Multi-day festivals, surgically-accurate timing, stamina, collaboration, courage and strength: some of the many poignantly positive, forward-looking characteristics that are predominant in both cycling and metal. Fans wait for days, sleeping outside in order to get a good place during a mountain stage at a Grand Tour, sharing a similar dynamic with those who stage from dawn to dark a few times over to purchase a ticket for that long-awaited festival spot. And as both activities touch the core of millions of fans, we address our idols with familiar irreverence, granting them nicknames as we would with close friends; after all, we have welcomed them long ago in our lives, into our homes. We have The Eagle of Toledo, The Professor, The Octopus, The Air Raid Siren, to name a few.
We stand far away from the stage, singing along with old songs that are dear to us, as loud as we can, as if we were at a bar together. We see them grimace in pain, and we know how it feels because we have just ridden up that mountain to see them pass by, a flickering rush of spokes, so physically close, looking exactly how we expected them to. They have stories, drama, ups and downs and myth-like redemption that are so human and so amazing yet so mundane, so like us. We rejoice when they win, and we tear up when they play our favorite track. It’s a beautiful thing to join throngs of others who feel just like you; a leveler that works universally and ignores age, country or context. For a few precious moments we’re boys again, enjoying a great time without getting in (too much) trouble.
And when this all ends, we relish the fact that, luckily, we like bikes too.