Tim Stones is the head distiller at Manly Spirits in Australia, former global brand ambassador for Beefeater gin and one of the most respected and loved people in the UK bar scene. We asked him to put into words why riding a bike is so important to him.
As I write this, it’s 6 am on a Sunday. I get up early these days. When I’ve finished, I’m going to get on my bike and go for a ride. I’m going to do my favourite route here. It’s going to be a lovely sunny day (I’m very lucky to live somewhere that’s almost always sunny) and I’ll ride up a long twisty climb through a forest down to a bay and along a quiet rolling road to a café where I’ll stop for a coffee before winding my way home. And I know the rest of my day will be good because I’ve been for a ride.
Two people got me hooked on cycling when I was 11. One was my father, a keen cyclist and all-round hardman. The other was Greg Lemond. The American who beat Laurent Fignon in the 1989 Tour de France by 8 seconds. The closest margin in history. Ever since then cycling has played a major role in my life. It had caused me broken bones, road rash, and major psychological challenges. But it has always given me endless pleasure.
Over the years, I have ridden for a variety of reasons. In no particular order, here they are:
As a kid, the times I spent cycling with my dad were among my favourites. It was something that just he and I did. We would go out on a Sunday morning and ride around West Dorset for a few hours. Sometimes we’d talk about our weeks, sometimes we’d not say a word for hours on end. Just enjoying being out in the fresh air. Sometimes we’d go hard, racing each other to the top of climbs and seeing how fast we could go down the hills. Unfortunately, we came unstuck one summer’s day and my dad had a terrible crash and broke his neck. That pretty much put an end to our rides. I was 15. We didn’t ride together again until I was 36. While I love riding by myself, there’s something wonderful about riding with like-minded individuals. The friendly rivalry, the encouragement when you’re having a bad day, the shit chat at the cake stop. One of the things I miss most about the UK is my riding buddies. Most things are better with someone else.
Believe it or not, I was always tall and skinny when I was young. A pretty good build for cycling. However, at the age of 17, I discovered cider and girls, and cycling began to fall by the wayside. At 18 I discovered I had a knack for bartending and late nights and heavy drinking became a career. Over the years, I ballooned to 120kg. Not a good look, even on a 6’ 2” frame. My fitness disappeared. I hadn’t thrown a leg over a bike in almost 15 years. I was a long way from the whippet kid that used to think nothing of racing the adults in a summer evening time trial. I bought a bike. A thing of beauty. And on my first ride I was so disappointed with my fitness it gathered dust for two years. In 2011, my marriage had ended but I had the good fortune to meet a lovely Australian girl who inspired me to get fit again. The bike got dusted off and I persevered. Mile after painful, wheezing mile. 6 years and 30kg later I’m the fittest I’ve ever been. And I eventually fulfilled a lifelong desire to ride in the Alps, and with two awesome friends, rode some of the iconic Tour de France mountains including the Col D’Izoard and Alpe D’Huez in what was the best holiday I’ve ever had.
Freedom and escapism
I love the simplicity of riding a bike. It’s such a basic thing but for many of us, it’s the first time we experience freedom and independence. I used my bike to escape from things as a kid. Mostly homework and parent/teacher evenings where I would be shamed for being a lazy student. I still get that feeling. You start down a road you’ve not ridden before and there’s always the thought at the back of your mind: how far does it go? Should I just keep going and find out? However, in Australia, there’s a good chance the road doesn’t end. It’s also my meditation. My girlfriend asked me what I thought about when on a ride by myself. The answer is nothing. I totally switch off and before I know it a few hours have passed.
Probably the main reason I ride. Riding my bike makes me happy. As I said above, if I’ve been for a ride, it’s a good day. I’m a much nicer person when I’ve exercised. It gives me a sense of fulfillment. There’s nothing like that happy/tired feeling knowing you’ve achieved something. The Australian knows this and has never said no when I’ve asked if it’s OK if I disappear for a few hours on a Sunday.
Ultimately, in the words of US book editor James E. Starrs: melancholy is incompatible with bicycling. Words to live by.