Life’s A Cycle
I remember my first bike: a tiny blue (or maybe it was red?) BMX. I got for my fifth birthday – a Thursday. The training wheels came off Saturday morning, and I rode to church on Sunday. Not bad for a toddler.
Not many people in Anguilla cycle for transport anymore. There are no bike lanes, and safety is definitely a concern – I know I’ve been guilty on occasion of impatience towards some two-wheeled road user. In my defense, I was in a rush, and they were hogging the road. The idea of kids riding to school on Anguilla’s roads would give most parents fits.
That’s not to say that there is no bicycling culture in Anguilla; on the contrary, cycling has seen a renaissance in recent years. It is interesting, though. There’s an edge to it – competitiveness, seriousness. Nary has a cyclist taken to the road without full regalia: sponsor-emblazoned shirts, bike shorts, helmets and cycling shoes with cleats. To the uninitiated, it’s downright intimidating. They all look like they’re training for the Tour de France.
Though it may seem isolated, cycling culture is everywhere. There are over half a dozen cycling clubs on the island, and a number of local events appear on the calendar, the most prestigious of which is the annual John T. Memorial race held each July.
Andy Connor, good friend and “Nature’s Design” columnist (p. 70) mentioned that he was into cycling and went out 3-4 mornings each week with a group of other guys. I figured that it might be a good way to get a peek into what I saw as an exclusive Anguillan subculture.
Generally, they ride for fun, but a few compete professionally, and you can tell. “We have a few elite racers who ride with us in the mornings,” Andy explains, “and all but maybe 3 of us rode professionally at one point.”
The route takes them along the main road from South Hill, through Stoney Ground, and on to Welches, where I was to wait. Andy had said they’d pass by around 5:45 am. True to his word, at 5:46, I hear the light buzzing of rubber on pavement as a group around 10-strong whoosh past.
I hop into my car, my wife behind the wheel, and follow, snapping photos. The late-winter sunrise means it’s still dark, but most of the guys have headlamps (some literally on their heads), and all have flashing rear lights. That’s good, I think. Safety first.
We trail the group as they pedal through Welches, on to Island Harbour, and then to East End. At times, I feel we’re a nuisance more than anything. At this time of the morning, they’re used to having the roads to themselves.
The core of the group has been riding together for about 15 years and switched to the current morning circuit about five years ago. A few still ride competitively in local and regional races, but for the most part, this group seems to be all about fun. That much is evident when they all pull up at J. W. Proctor’s Supermarket for a breather and to wait on, and poke fun at, a few stragglers.
I check the time and, by my watch, we’d been on the road for only about 20 minutes and had covered roughly 20km. At the outset, I had considered riding with them – journalistic integrity and all that. But I had thought better of it, and it was a good call. I’d been crazy to think I’d be able to keep up with that kind of pace.
I finally got a chance to survey the group, a motley crew of a few older guys, a few cycling pros and one or two other guys riding with the group to get in shape. But these were hardly a bunch of middle-aged men on kids’ toys trying to escape from their wives. For the most part, these were athletes on finely tuned machines.
The phrase “boys and their toys” more often than not refers to something that takes you somewhere: boats, cars, monster trucks, motorcycles, and even jet skis. High-performance bicycles are not much different. They offer all the customization that guys like to tinker with – carbon frames, custom wheels, puncture-resistant tyres, titanium pedals, and memory foam seats. As Andy pointed out, “the bikes are very expensive, but they’re built to last.”
The two stragglers finally show up, caught up in a mini-race of their own. They get some good-natured ribbing from the others as the group poses for a photograph. After a few snaps, game face on, Captain Carl Thomas punctuates the morning quietness with a sharp “Let’s go, gentlemen; time is of the essence!” The Anguilla Air Services pilot and owner knows a thing or two about keeping schedules. With the sun peeking over the trees in the East, the riders bid their goodbyes and set off, headed west, another morning ride under their belts.
They ride for the freedom. I think I can relate. I still remember the freedom I felt the morning I pedalled my tiny bicycle to Sunday school and, even now, any child is happy to receive a bicycle for Christmas. The little ones who live in the apartment next door enjoy exploring our neighbourhood on their shiny, new two-wheeled pieces of freedom. I like that.
Supporting the Sport
An interview with Anguilla Amateur Cycling Association president, Miguel Leveret.
How did the Association start?
It started around the time of John Thomas [John T]. He was a former footballer who fell in love with cycling. He started promoting the sport in the early 1980’s, organizing local races with riders invited from other islands. He also took local riders overseas to compete. The Association became formal after his death in March 1992. Evan Gumbs, President [of the Association] from 1997 to 2005 created the John T Memorial race in 2000 in his honour.
How many races are there locally?
We have races twice per month from February to October.
Any age limits?
We have three age groups; Juniors (15-18), Elite (18 and up), and then we have the Masters category (40 & up).
Any programs to get school kids involved?
We’ve tried, but it’s difficult. Cycling can be very expensive.
Are there any professional riders here?
No, but we do have aspiring professionals. Their best option is to go to Europe. There are guys [in Europe] that race for a living: they train all day, and have all the proper facilities. It is hard to compete with that when we have very little funding.
How do you get funding?
We have [a benefactor] in Italy that owns a bike company. He sends us cycling gear and bike frames free of cost. We get the other parts ourselves, but it’s still expensive. We get sponsorship from Digicel, and also do fundraising events to add to funds from the Government.
The sport helps to give youths positive things to do. Also, this year will be the 15th anniversary of the John T race and we want to make it really big. This year’s race is again being partly sponsored by LIME, with the Government also pledging its support.