Name: Ben Ackland
Do you have a cycling name? If so, who gave it to you and why? Captain, on account of my nautical beard, I assume. You’ll have to ask Lowell…
What do you do when you’re not riding a bike? I’m a father and a teacher.
What bicycles do you own and, importantly, why do you own them? I’ve had a Focus Cayo for the past 5 years; I bought it back when the idea of buying a road bike online was unthinkable. It goes down a col very fast. My town bike is a handmade steel Raleigh which I ride fixed; I love being on it in London traffic, the flow and focus is like nothing else – it keeps me sane; ‘meditation at gunpoint’ as someone once described it.. The newest addition to the stable is a Condor Bivio-X, a lightweight cyclocross bike that currently sports green-stripe Vittorio pave tyres – it was the bike on which I rode the Paris-Roubaix Challenge this year. We both survived the cobbles unscathed only to viciously wipe out on a wet gravelly bend on the Rapha Roubaix homage ride the week after. It’ll get knobbly and gnarly in some mud this winter. My touring/holiday/towpath/everything else bike is a Singular Peregrine, a steel beauty that I love. I built it up with Alfine hub and discs to ride the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, a ‘pilgrimage in stages’ that I’ve started, but that will take the rest of this decade to complete.
What’s your cycling history? It’s like one of those diagrams that show the process of evolution, where the ape slowly stands up to become Man. I started cycling to work every day 10 years ago on return from overseas to a new life in London and didn’t have a clue how to get anywhere. A friend gave me an old white Trek mountain bike. I rode it until it was stolen and replaced it with a Gary Fisher Wahoo. I rode that until it was stolen, too. A Spesh Stumpjumper next, by which time my choices were starting to be guided by a desire for speed, (a trait inherited from my motorcycling grandmother.) Slick tyres. SPD pedals. Carbon bar, post, and still bikes would pass me, still I could think faster than I could ride. In 2006 I took the plunge and bought a carbon road bike, a Madone, blue. Then came my first fixed and the rest is the rest. I rode my first col in 2007 (Col de Marie Blanc – savage) and saw Rasmussen drop Contador on the Aubisque. Hooked.
What have been your favourite and worst moments on a bicycle? Too many favourite moments… Some are widescreen: epic summits in the Alps or Pyrenees or surviving half-hour descents at extreme sports speeds. Others are about camaraderie, seeing the B-train stretch out in front, rolling round in a chain gang exchanging smiles as you drift back from your turn on the front; and some are personal, the way the bike lets me lose myself when I need to, or shows me what I can do when I dig deep.
Worst moments? They’ve all been about being not able to ride: having my first precious stable stolen, all at once, uninsured; falling and smashing myself up so I couldn’t even ride to work, for months. Few and far between, thankfully, but all part of the picture. I wear a St Christopher these days, and one on the bike for good measure.