Every Tuesday evening, from the beginning of May through to the middle of August when the light starts to fade, if you drive out past Garlogie a strange sight meets your eyes.
The Evening League, an Aberdeen cycling institution, will be taking place. Sixty-odd people, and the word “odd” is used for a reason (!) will be riding up and down the Aberdeen to Tarland road on a variety of iron (or increasingly carbon) steeds. And they’ll be wearing the oddest and most revealing clothing you’ve seen in your puff.
Looking like out-casts from some bizarre Dutch porn flick, in figure hugging blue lycra with pointy hats – maybe it was a Smurf theme – the cyclists of Deeside Thistle will be taking to the road for the weekly time trial.
The Race of Truth – just you against the clock. Many believe that the time trial is the purest form of racing. Typically over set distances of 10, 25 , 50 & 100 miles, the time trial is all about judging your effort so that you’ve nothing left by the end. Go too easy at the start and you’ll lose valuable seconds; go too hard and you’ll blow up. It takes years to learn how to pace yourself, how hard you can push, and at what point you blow up. All in pursuit of those magical two letters – a PB, or Personal Best.
But the Deeside Evening League is about more than that. And that’s why so many people don’t “get” it. “You’ll get 64 people doing the EL, but less than 20 doing Open Races”, they complain. There’s a reason for this. The Evening League is, for the majority, a social event. A chance to catch up with friends old & new. To chat about bikes & new equipment, the latest news from the Giro, or swap gossip about local racers; to compare our performances, we all know riders of a similar ability to ourselves. How did they get on? Did we beat them? He looked like he was going well tonight.
And it’s relaxed. At a race, everyone’s got their game face on, or that’s the newbies impression. In reality, races in Aberdeen are the friendliest in the country. But as a newbie you’re still a bit frightened. So many don’t even bother to try.
The evening league satisfies their competitive instinct, without having to get out of their comfort zone, and that’s absolutely fine by me. The beauty of the evening league is the sheer variety of people & equipment you see. There’s the serious racers, guys like me with our TT bikes, disc wheels & pointy helmets. Warming up on the turbo trainer, dripping in sweat when next to us there’s a guy who doesn’t know what a turbo trainer is, pulling a 1978 Raleigh Lo-Pro steel bike from the boot of his car, slipping on his wool DTRC jersey from back in the day and riding up to the start. Warm up? Why would I do that he says?
And the irony? He’ll likely kick my ass! Ha ha, you’ve got to smile and love it. My left brain kicks in when it comes to cycling. For me, with my power meter, data is king and my rides are all based on aiming for a target average power – 300 watts for a 10, 285 for a 25. The guy in the wool jumper? He’s just riding his bike as hard as he can. Maybe I need to try that some time.
For me the man that sums up the evening league just now is Phil Kelman. Phil’s a legend around these parts. Third in last year’s Scottish 25 and the winner of our evening league for the last couple of years Phil exemplifies, for me, what cycling should be all about. Whilst I’m doing an easy “race prep” ride the day before the Ythan Hilly a couple of weeks ago, Phil was out doing a 200km Audax ride. And he still raced, and won, on Sunday.
Phil thinks nothing of riding for hours on end, and eschews all that “look like a pro” shave your legs nonsense. Phil just points his bike in the direction he wants to go and rides. Hard. Commenting on a post on the forum about the national 10, which is in Aberdeen this year, Phil said “I’d love to ride that, it’s a fast course, but there’s a 600km (!) Audax the day before that I just HAVE to ride so I probably won’t do it”.
Ride your bike ‘cos you love it, race if you want to, but just make sure you’re enjoying being out there.
Chapeau Mr Kelman.