By Rashid Nix
The idea of a cycling holiday is something that I have often thought about- usually after being cut up by an ignorant van driver- but never taken any further.
That changed when I decided to join a group of riders who frequent Brixton Cycles on an off-road tour of the sunny Caribbean island of Barbados.
They handled all the logistical stuff – flight, accommodation, tour guide and optional but highly recommended insurance – and for seven beautiful days my routine consisted of exploring the early morning trails, relaxing for the day, followed by an off-road night ride under the stars and moonlight. It was cycling heaven.
Transporting my mountain bike 4,500 miles was, surprisingly, no stress. The friendly folks in Brixton partially dismantled it, removing handlebars, pedals, front wheel and seat, then boxed it up ready to fly.
Brixton Cycles is probably- without fear of being sued – the coolest bike shop around. A workers co-operative based in Brixton for 25 years, they supply and service bikes for riders, commuters, Yardies and an increasing numbers of hipsters.
Getting from Brixton to Gatwick in an MPV cab was £40 door to door. I could have gone via Gatwick Express but I lacked the time – or inclination – to be lugging a very large box plus my baggage around the place. (Yeah! I’m lazy like that.)
Check-in was a doddle. The magic words are: “Specialist sports equipment”, at the check-in desk and you’re through. Weight? About 10 kilos.
Once in Barbados, the first thing that gets to you is the difference in temperature. It’s 82 degrees farenheit, with a gentle breeze, and I can’t wait to ride.
The first morning we have a 5 a.m. (Barbados is 5 hours behind UK) meet at the Top Rock gas station along the south coast road.
Half a dozen or so serious looking riders – all suspension and Lycra – plus me wearing jean shorts with NO helmet. Disapproving glances? I assume wrongly… the fraternal order of cyclists is global so everyone and everything is super cool but I make a mental note, “helmet”.
Our tour guide Els, who’s just back from winning three races in Trinidad, is overflowing with positive energy. The guy never stops smiling. There’s also Monique, who is riding a very souped Specialised S-Works, and Hadley – a local motor mechanic – who has a passion for anything with wheels. And finally, there’s us Brixton riders repping for SW9!
Els explains the basics: “No racing, remain single file, point out pot holes and hazards to guys behind you and most of all…smile n’ enjoy yu’self! Your bikes are made for riding so lets go.” Simple.
Barbados is small, only 14 miles by 21, but there is plenty to discover so that means 166sq miles of cycling pleasure.
We swoop through a mixture of terrains which take us down towards the edge of the rugged Atlantic coast just in time to catch the sun rising over the vastness of the ocean.
Breathtaking. If you have never seen the sunrise on the horizon, put it on your ‘things to do’ list. That alone was worth the £900 holiday fee. After witnessing the sunrise over grim tower blocks in south London for the past 30 years, this was an awesome sight.
We pause for a few minutes to behold the majestic beauty of our primary energy source, a period for quiet contemplation…and then, whoosh, we’re off again.
Pedalling like crazy, we criss-cross more trails, my sweaty hands slipping off the grips way too often for my liking (Mental note no. 2 -riding gloves!), and pass through a fishing village before diving into a gully for some overgrown bush trailing.
The riding was exhilarating but not particularly difficult; however you do need a degree of fitness and confidence. Barbados isn’t mountainous- just hilly.
Locals are friendly too and we received shouts of encouragement as we pedalled through small villages, occasionally stopping to stock up on bananas and fresh coconut water.
A couple of Rastas – who knew Brixton – rode alongside and wanted to buy our Brixton Cycles jerseys.
“Give me your details, Rastaman, and before we leave I’ll make sure you get the shirt.” A quick stop, numbers exchanged, fists bumped. Forming a friendship in Barbados is that simple.
Els, has breathtaking technical abilities and gently coached us novice off roaders along. The man is a champion cyclist, so it is understandable. He is also a first class guide.
At no time did we feel at risk and to be part of a crew of riders on slick machines, riding the island trails with the right amount of difficulty to make it interesting, but not stressful, made for a perfect balance.
After two hours the feeling was one of sheer exhilaration.
And this was only the first morning! By 8.30am I’m back at the air-conditioned hotel, showering, about to wolf down a humungous buffet breakfast of fruits, cereal, omelette, hash browns and anything else that’s tasty and edible. I didn’t realise early morning riding would effect my appetite.
By 10 am the sun was hot, broiling in fact, so forget about cycling until the evening night-ride (Wow!) and hit the beach instead, armed with a good book and cold beer. A wonderful routine…ride, relax, ride. A Zen like, 21st century, eco-friendly version of Easy Rider. Blissful
Brixton Cycles are planning a re-run for March 2013. Very limited availability so I’ve already booked, because it beats dodging Black cabs, blue Boris Bikes and white vans on the cold grey London streets.
Call Brixton Cycles on 0207 733 6055 ask for Linx.
Rashid Nix is a Genesis Radio presenter, documentary maker, and London cyclist