I first laid eyes on my red Specialized Hardrock bike in June 2004, as I prepared to cycle halfway across Japan for a month. You’d think someone who was just weeks away from a multi-week cycle ride would own a bike, but I didn’t, and I had no idea what doors I was about to start opening. Some of my fellow cyclists on the BEE Ride, an annual environmental education ride across Japan, opted for higher-end bikes with lighter frames, upgraded parts, or fancier Shimano components. For me, the Hardrock was such an upgrade from any bike I’d ever owned, I stuck with the standard offering, solid and sturdy.
And sturdy she has been. She carried me across Japan that summer, stopping at Patagonia shops to do talks on the environment, visits to Japanese school and community groups, and a few days at the Sado Island festival for performances by Kodo, the breathtaking Japanese drummers. We had front and back panniers (which I later upgraded to amazing Arkel ones) for of carrying our bike gear as well as food, a sleeping bag, a tent, and all sorts of camping gear. We rarely needed the camping gear though, as each night we’d pull into an onsen, a Japanese hot spring building, which are nearly ubiquitous in towns across the country, and as we were a mixed group of Japanese and foreign riders, we’d attract a lot of attention. It was rare that someone didn’t offer us a place to stay or a meal to eat, with invites to sleep in the tatami rooms of many onsen, to set up our tents on the steps under the awning of the ferry building in the rain, or to eat in someone’s home. Each night, tired, dusty, and proud, we’d go to bed with aching muscles, feeling like we really deserved the food and sleep we indulged in. I was hooked. Why drive or fly across a country when you could see it at a more human pace, gliding through towns, able to stop and chat as you liked, and feeling stronger and more alive with every pedal.
I had already had a dream of biking across Cambodia, inspired by other friends who had done the same a few years prior, and the trip across Japan made me determined to plan my next ride. The first PEPY Ride, our annual cycle trip across Cambodia, started in December 2005, and once again, my trusty red steed carried me across the land. This time, the red dust wafted up all around me, camouflaging me and my trusty chariot, and leaving me to pick out dust from my finger nails for weeks afterwards. At the time, I didn’t realize our five week journey would lead to many years of living and working in Cambodia, nor could I have imagined that I’d be in Siem Reap again for the 10th annual PEPY Ride recently!
And you might not believe this if you ride anything other than a Hardrock, but my bike is going strong. It has ridden across Cambodia many times, and 10 years after I got her, nearly all of her parts are still the original ones from that first ride in Japan. In fact, it took more than 3 years before I even got a flat tire, and the day I mentioned to someone, “My bike has ridden across two countries, one of them three times, and yet had nothing so much as a flat tire yet!” was actually the day I got my first flat. I guess my bike was listening and thought it should try to fit in with the rest of the bikes. It’s only had one other flat in the decade (knock on wood!).
In a last minute decision, I decided to bring my lovely Specialized bike to the UK with me after my last bike ride in Cambodia, so here she is now, taking me on my daily commute to work, going strong, and reminding me of all of the friends, fields, and fatigue she has brought me over the years… Anyone up for a bike ride to Paris?