Introducing the cyclist

Matthew Adams, 33, on being mistaken for a Brummie, his favourite cycling routes in London and Berlin, and how retiring from BMX to a ‘grown-up bike’ has changed him.

Photography by Marcus Gaab
Words by Samuel Bakowski

Most people assume I'm a Brummie. I'm not, I'm from the Black Country, it's close but it's not the same, not by a long shot. It's a place with a ridiculously rich history of making really good stuff from the Industrial Revolution to Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant. It's overlooked by most of the country but it doesn't care and that's an attitude I like, it breeds a certain type of person.

The only difference between looking up a mountain you're about to climb and down a set of steps you're going to launch down is which part of your body is going to hurt. While the mountain slowly destroys your legs and the stairs impact each and every joint, what takes a real beating is your state of mind. Most cycling decisions are mentally draining to the point of wanting to quit, but the equal and opposing force is always there to keep you pedalling the next time, and the next, and the next.

I think cycling in London and Berlin reflects the cultures of the two cities. In London my friends jostled for position at the top of leaderboards and it seemed to be far more about climb times, mileage etc. while Berlin seems to be a bit more innocent, relaxed, lazier you could say. Here it just feels more about enjoying the act of cycling not anything else that comes with it.

For years the only tools I owned were two allen keys and a hammer.

I've never been one for bike maintenance, as long as the bike rolled I was cycling. Through the years the kindness and knowhow of friends and strangers have kept my bike, and on occasions my body, going.

My favourite cycle routes in the two cities couldn’t be more different. In London I somewhat sadistically look back fondly at Swains Lane. It’s one of the toughest climbs in London,  between Hampstead Heath and Highgate Cemetery. In Berlin, I love cycling out to Potsdam and discovering new lakes.

For years the only tools I owned were two allen keys and a hammer. I've never been one for bike maintenance, as long as the bike rolled I was cycling. Through the years the kindness and knowhow of friends and strangers have kept my bike, and on occasions my body, going.

I think my BMX days will always shape my outlook. I still see new places and cities through that lens. As if all street furniture has potential  It's strange to be waiting at the platform to go to my job at an advertising agency, and to find myself still casting envious glances at a set of stairs I could no longer attempt to jump down.

I love cycling with other people. I think this is something left over from my BMX days - I love that sense of anticipation and achievement you can share in a pack.

You don’t appreciate what you have until you lose it. It was so tough giving up the BMX, but when my handlebars went through my groin and I needed 17 stitches on the muscle and another 20 on the outside: I knew the game was up. There were some really dark days during my time out with injury, but overcoming that and returning to cycling on ‘grown-up bikes’ has definitely made it feel more like a natural progression than one which was forced. I feel blessed for all the people I have met and places I have seen along the way.

I love cycling with other people. I think this is something left over from my BMX days - I love that sense of anticipation and achievement you can share in a pack.

Some places have the power to really make you stop pedalling and take your mind off the road. The first time I rolled back down the Straße des 17. Juni towards Brandenburger Tor with 150km in my legs only to be struck dumb by the fleeting thought of the people who have followed the same route before you, from Napoleon to the World Cup champions. It’s eternally humbling to know that no matter what road you're on, you're never the first.

This summer I am looking forward to cycling in the Pyrenees. I love the contours and aridness of those mountains - it feels like you are cycling on a different continent. I am also looking forward to cycling down to the Black Forest this autumn.

I think I'm still yet to have my happiest moment on a bike. That will be when my son turns the pedals for the first time. I hope to see the same glint I had in my eyes in his.

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