Father and son - bonded by bikes

Matt Lamy and his dad Arthur prepare to revisit their ride across France

Father and son - bonded by bikes

Cycling journalist and Cycling UK member Matt Lamy explains how he and his father bonded over bikes.

I’ve had my trusty Dawes Galaxy — finished in British Racing Green, naturally — for 22 years. As a teenager, I used it to cycle to work experience placements. As an adult, I’ve used it for sportive feature articles in national cycling magazines (when other, sexier carbon wünder bikes have let me down). As a dad, I’ve used it to potter round Bedgebury Forest with my children. And as a cycle tourist, I’ve used it to ride right down across the middle of France... twice.

However, it’s not my most loyal cycling companion. From my first tentative pedal strokes as an infant, to mountain bike racing as an adolescent; from leisurely, sunny Sunday afternoon rides, to cycle touring across France — yes, twice — there’s been another regular factor in my cycling life: my dad.

For more than 25 years, Dad ran a bike shop back in Jersey. While the natural reaction for many children is to rebel against their parents, if I ever did, it was never about cycling. The reason why was simple: other than a literal heave to give me impetus as I first learned to ride without stabilisers, Dad never pushed me or my brother Ritchie to cycle. (So much so that Ritchie only learned to ride a bike last year, at the tender age of 33.) However, we rather enjoyed the old fella’s local celebrity as ‘the bike shop manager’, and he was always there to encourage a love of pedalling should we show interest.

Looking back, it was all rather idyllic: living on Jersey a small, pretty and relatively safe island with a huge network of quiet country lanes to explore. But, as you’d expect, there were bumps and bruises along the way.

As a child I seemed to have an unerring knack of letting go of my brakes at the wrong time. My earliest cycling memory is of sticking both myself and my Raleigh Burner in a bramble bush down an embankment. My second earliest cycling memory is of Dad, who is a quick learner, rugby tackling me and the bike when I repeated almost the exact same ineptitude a year or so later.

Physical injuries notwithstanding, Dad and I had our share of pedal-based emotional setbacks, too. There was the time we entered a pedalo race at Centre Parcs, quietly confident of success, only to beach ourselves on one of the boating lake islands while the French organiser implored “Lamy et Lamy” to get a shift on.

Then there were our adventures mountain bike racing, which was an unusual experience for all concerned. I had what was then a cutting-edge aluminium Cannondale frame, which had actually been returned by one of dad’s customers as faulty. Dad ordered the chap a new one, got the original repaired, then stripped the paint off. Together with multiple tubes of Autosol, we polished up the bare metal frame. It was a beauty, far too good for my podgy body, much less my unexceptional ability.

Still, my performances weren’t quite so shocking as watching the veteran’s racing, which Dad often seemed to win. That might have been partly due to the vast curtain of drool and phlegm flapping in the breeze over his shoulder — rather like a sticky version of the scarves worn by drivers of open-topped British sportscars. None of his rivals dared to get past it. After the races, we’d both then enjoy an energy bar, which dad would stick in his jersey and hopefully warm up enough to not require a visit to the dentist.

Dad and I have been separated by the best part of a couple of hundred miles and the English Channel. But on the bike he’s always with me in spirit and we’re constantly chatting on the phone about whatever bikes I’m testing.

Matt Lamy, Cycling UK member and cycling journalist

Of course, childhood had to come to an end. I not only left home and Dad, but left Jersey entirely to go to university and then have a career in journalism. For almost 20 years, Dad and I have been separated by the best part of a couple of hundred miles and the English Channel. But on the bike he’s always with me in spirit and we’re constantly chatting on the phone about whatever bikes I’m testing, or he’s advising me on how to set things up. Most often, he’s just sending crazy emails with links to unusual websites — only ‘bike porn’, I hasten to add.

When my own twin boys were born, it was no surprise to hear the first things Dad had bought them were balance bikes. He’d actually bought them before the boys had even arrived — how’s that for enthusiasm? It took a couple of years until they were able to swing a leg over, but each trip back home wouldn’t be complete without the old fella getting out this pair of Ridgeback Scoots to see how much further the boys had to grow before their feet could touch the floor.

To be fair, he knew what he was doing. The boys rode their balance bikes for a year, then jumped on their first Islabike pedal machine without stabilisers and were riding unaided in — literally —10 minutes. It’s as close as I have ever come to personally witnessing a real miracle.

Throughout all of this, though, one shared experience stands head and shoulders above everything else Dad and I have done. Aged 15, as part of a local initiative for teenagers, I decided to take on the personal challenge of a cycling trip to France. This vague notion quickly grew into the idea of Dad and me cycle touring right the way across the country — from Saint Malo on the Channel coast to Sète in the Mediterranean — self-supported and camping en route.

Back in 1994 we had no mobile phones and no Garmins to show us the way. All we had were paper maps, decent linguistic skills and, as paid-up CTC members, the ability to access route suggestions and advice before we left. Once we got off the ferry in northern France, though, we were on our own.

It was a real adventure as we negotiated the eccentricities of French life, the searing heat, incredible climbs and expansive vistas. We made it to Sète in 10 days and we spent the next 21 years boring mum, Ritchie, then my wife Manda and my own children with our stories.

To quote Oscar Wilde: “To get back one’s youth, one has merely to repeat one’s follies,” so last year we resolved to do it again. We were certainly older, although as it transpired, not any wiser. But again we made it to the Med without killing ourselves or even each other. Then we decided to write a book; not just about our tour from the Channel to the Med, but also about our relationship as a cycling father and son and the life journeys we’ve gone on since that original ride more than two decades ago.

Did we recapture our youth? Personally speaking, I felt significantly older than 15 (or even 36) by the time we reached Sète. But I can’t deny that hopping aboard any bike helps take me, if only momentarily, back to childhood. And I’m very lucky that on some occasions I even have one of the magic ingredients from that time still pedalling right next me: my Dad.

In 15 years as a cycling journalist Matt Lamy has been author of 'Lance and Le Tour', editor of 'What Cycle', chief writer for 'Cycling Active', and a regular contributor to 'Cycling Weekly'.

Rides of Passage by Matt and Arthur Lamy has just been published, it's available from www.ridesofpassage.infoAmazon.co.uk and Kindle. 

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