Saturday’s weather was bipolar. Stinking hot till the afternoon, then the southerly came along and down the mercury plummeted, along with the rain. The planned slopestyle event was cancelled and I wondered if Sunday would fare any better.
But Sunday turned out to be one out of the bag. It seemed as if Mother Nature had taken her pills, mellowed out and more or less decided to play ball, exhibiting in a restrained glory a beautiful spring day, perhaps one of the last to arrive before the encroaching summer heat.
Wispy clouds dotted the sky, tand he lazy sun peered over the craggy crumbling cliffs of the Port Hills engulfing the cauldron that is Lyttelton in light. The only point of contention was a restless wind, that while helpfully cooling the assembled crowd, played havoc with anyone who had plans of venturing skyward.
The course, starting high up the hills, looked down the valley over Lyttelton and out across the harbour. A track a couple of metres wide had been mown in from the start gate down through scrubby grass paddocks where people as yet were not game enough to develop. As the track rapidly descended, the surroundings progressively became more built-up. Following roads where parents would drive to work, steps that children walked to school on and pathways the postie used to deliver mail, it zeroed in on what is left of the heart of this charming isolated little port town.
Sandwiched between our city’s favourite things—road cones, danger tape and temporary fencing—the track wound its way down the hill, searching for gradient and interesting features on the smooth, safe passages of daily conveyance. The track had a kind of ticky tacky, slapped-together feel; our number eight wire attitude at its best, built of utilitarian materials: pallets, containers and generous amount of plywood, all expertly fixed together guiding the riders as they danced their way down the hill.
While all the structures and features designed for the event had a very transient feel to them, the juxtaposition was easy to spot with those features that had been built to last, and without a thought of riders racing past them. Fences, handrails, steps, retaining walls, gutters, houses: all immovable objects waiting patiently and ever ominously to stop some overzealous rider right in their tracks. While normal downhill tracks have rocks, roots and trees, all just as unforgiving, somehow in a “safe” urban setting, the former appeared a lot more daunting.
The crowd was made up of those who you wouldn’t normally find at a downhill event; average members of society, who came out in droves to see these brave (see crazy) guys and girls goad their bicycles down the hill. Most places it was shoulder to shoulder with good viewing spots at a premium.
I don’t think many of the spectators would have been enticed by this event into giving downhill racing a go, such was the spectacle of it. But I doubt few walked away having anything other than a grand old time.
Often I find it hard to gain perspective on the skill of athletes when all who are competing are so evenly matched at such a high level, thus make things look easy. But the mistake of thinking these riders were your average weekend warriors was not one that could be made. All I could do was tip my hat while shaking my head (at their state of mind) to all the riders' skill and boldness.
I really enjoyed my first experience of an urban downhill event and judging by the buzz in the crowd I felt that was a common theme. It reinforced in me, and I hope others, the need for quality, professionally organised public events, especially ones that for most people are way out of left field.
But what I really liked was how the riders looked; it took me back to days past. They were the personification of how I used to feel when I rode my bike home from school. Racing the bus, winding through the back streets and dropping off the pavement, jumping the transitions where driveways met the curb, past houses, past shops, away from school.
All day through the crowd ran little kids, and I couldn’t help but think that tomorrow on the way home from school a lot more buses would be raced and curbs would be hucked. And that made me smile.