Sunday, 21 February 2016

Vignettes from the Road - FreeRider

We're making our way along the autopista that leaves Medillin, heading for the north and the last few climbs that conclude the Andes. An articulated lorry hauling a shipping container passes. Attached, limpet-like to the back doors is a youth. The driver slows at a roundabout. Stops. The boy climbs down and crouches down to look under the lorry's undercarriage; he's watching to see if the driver is aware of his presence. I pass. In my mirror I can watch the unfurling story. From my perspective I can watch the driver climb down, making his way along one side of his unit as his stealth passenger mirrors him up the other side. Then I lose track of the story only to get an update a short distance further on. That same lorry passes, moving downhill, climbing quickly through the gears. There, latched on yet again, is his stowaway.
The antithesis of the free-rider.
One example of the 'free rider', an extreme one, but not unique. More usual is the stunt rider. Male, exclusively male, and as we recently discovered, not necessarily young. He's coming downhill. Fast. Brakes hard when he sees us sitting by the roadside, executes a perfect u-turn and stops for a chat. Tee-shirt, sneaker and jeans. Defiantly no helmet. It gives me a chance to inspect his diminutive bike. Twenty inch wheels, heavily augmented front suspension, with front and rear disc brakes that would do credit on a motorcycle. Swatches of steel have been welded at vulnerable joints, a massive drive sprocket powers a single rear gear. He doesn't need extra gears, he wouldn't have time to use them. All he needs is a slow, climbing articulated lorry labouring up a long hill, one with a hand-hold on it's rear. Pedal frantically up his slipstream, grab on to the tailgate and free-ride for awhile. The really skilled don't even steady their handle bars, too busy waving to the incredulous traveller.

This is X-sport at its extreme. Oddly, I've not noticed it on offer alongside 'tandem jumps', 'white-water rafting', 'down-hill mountain biking' and the other standard visitor attractions. Although the 'risk assessment' along would make for amusing reading. And yet, is it any different from riding the 'Poma' tow on a dry-ski slope?
Our chat concluded, he speeds off downhill, sweeping gracefully through a linked succession of bends, there to cadge another tow uphill. Should he know better? Don't see why - he's only in his mid forties.