I am normally indifferent to sport, and the most physical activity that I typically indulge in is my daily power sit in the couch with a book for weight-lifting purposes. But today, over the course of about twenty minutes, I witnessed a sport that had my dander up, my blood fiercely pounding through my veins, and my entire body tensed and trembling with expectation and elation. It was a sport that would have required the combined talents of a race caller, a football commentator, a boxing journalist, a live rally-car compere, and Jeremy Clarkson, to do justice to. You know how rare those talents are - but anyway, you're stuck with a still worse option. You've just got me.
I catch the 86 tram back home from Spencer Street on Monday nights when I finish work. This evening I was on the 86 as it came round the corner of Gertrude onto Smith Street, and I was idly looking out the window wondering how much longer it would take. That was when he came into my view: the unlikely hero of this story. Him and his freakin' bike.
He didn't look up to much: just a scrawny little runt in a blue hoody. He was one of those people that look like they want to look like they're mean. He seemed to leer at everyone in the tram, like he was angry at us all for even existing. I didn't particularly like the looks of him, at first, and I was rather glad that he wasn't in the tram. Then, before we even started going again, he was off: head down, hoody up, legs pumping at the wheels. This kid was going somewhere, and he was going somewhere fast.
Well, the tram overtook him, and stopped, and he overtook the tram again, and I managed to get another look at him. Clearly, this guy meant business: and business, for him, was whopping this tram driver's arse. He wanted to outrace the entire tram! He even appeared to have streamlined his body for aerodynamic purposes: he wore shorts, which were lighter than pants, and his hair had been put up in a Mohawk. Still, looking at him, I didn't think he stood a chance. How wrong I was!
It soon became apparent what advantages and disadvantages each side had. Bike guy's maximum speed was much slower than the tram's maximum speed, and he was more vulnerable to traffic. But he was able to nip in to empty spaces on the road or footpath, and he just kept on going, and going, and going: he only stopped at traffic lights, and only begrudgingly. (When we reached Westgarth Road, in fact, he got a head start on us by nipping across while the lights were orange.) The tram was fast, and it had the 'tram' road lights that let it go over intersections ahead of other traffic; but it had to keep stopping for people to get off, and it was rather ponderous going around corners.
Tram and bike guy were neck and neck to Alexandria Parade, and round the corner to Clifton Hill, with the tram periodically stopping and bike guy periodically racing up past us. He zoomed on ahead through most of Clifton Hill. We caught up with him at the strip of cafes and shops, where bike guy had nipped into some empty carparks and was whooshing through them, avoiding the roadside traffic. He jumped on to the kerb going over Merri Creek, and caught a huge march on us - I began to think we'd never catch up with him again. But still, there was always that bright blue light bobbing in the distance, and coming under the bridge and up to Northcote, we finally caught up with him again at Westgarth Road.
Then he was off again, pumping pistons with his feet, and we were loitering up through Northcote, and naturally, stopping at every damn stop along the way.
But bike guy's ultimate downfall was right ahead. The hill. The Northcote hill is not very steep, but it's steep enough to present a problem to a single cyclist putting pedal to the metal. The tram powered up Northcote hill, and we caught up with bike guy probably at the servo station. Another block, and we were up at the Northcote town hall, and still not stopping; two blocks later, and we had well outstripped bike guy and were humming at Separation Street. It looks like we'd well and truly beaten him, I thought to myself.
But who knows? Bike guy could at any stage have declared a moral victory. He had us on the run there for a while, and if the traffic had been a little thicker - if people had got off and on at a few more stops - he could have outraced the tram right to Bundoora, for all I know. But maybe he actually had just reached his house.
Picture a mite in a duel with a mammoth, a mouse wrestling a mountain, an ant weightlifting an avalanche. That, I contend is the courage, the valour, the sheer unmitigated heroism that bike guy displayed in his thrilling duel with the tram.
And I like to think that, somewhere out there in the night, blue light bobbing up and down like a willo-the-wisp, bike guy has zoomed off, looking for other trams to pursue, and other battles to fight.
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