I don’t know about you fine folks, but I have a thing for speed.
Not the pharmaceutical kind, although never having tried it, I suppose it’s possible that could apply, too. (Drugs are bad, kids.)
Where was I? Right, speed. I have the need.
The exhilaration of acceleration and mad velocity has been something that profoundly affects the fizzy bits of my psyche and soul.
It has since I was a tow-headed boy in short trousers.
Specifically, it’s the speed produced by automobiles. I was addicted to Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars, and imagined I was behind the wheel of a life-size version of the Aston Martin DB5 I was pushing through the dirt at the base of the maple tree in my front yard.
In my daydream, I’m expertly piloting through Alpine curves and tunnels, revving the angry straight-six to redline, executing heel-and-toe downshifts, giving a flick of opposite lock to rein in the back end, and tossing a knowing wink at my suddenly-nervous female passenger.
I was James Bond, minus the weapons, dinner jacket, animal magnetism, or hand-fighting skills.
At school on Monday, my few petrol-head friends would assemble and compare notes about the Formula 1 result from Sunday, wondering if this was Villeneuve’s year at Ferrari, or whether this Senna kid would ever amount to anything.
Yeah, we were the cool group all right.
I read car magazines cover to cover, awaiting any news about the new 911 Turbo, and musing if the US would ever build a decent sports car.
When I got my driver’s license, my father blessed my siblings and me with the perfect urban Q-ship: A beige VW Rabbit with a brown AstroTurf interior, one side mirror, an AM radio, and a speedometer.
Oh, and a fuel-injected engine, stick shift, and suspension lovingly over-engineered by ze Germans.
It was a slot car, practically unbeatable in a game of Back Alley Chase, and completely anonymous when it came to catching the eye of John Law, Traffic Division.
I loved that car.
In my twenties, a couple of good years of bartending meant I was ready to drop my tip money on my own ride.
The used market was awash in sensible Civics, Cavaliers, and Corollas; practical, sensible, value-laden rides that would serve me without issue, for a long time.
I spent my windfall on a 1987 VW Scirocco 16V; very small, very red, very noisy, with a silly body kit, a useless stereo, and a rear wing that I could have used as a table for catering community events.
Dear Lord, WHY?
Because it was fast, that’s why. Dumb, impractical, past its prime, conspicuous, ridiculous…and fast.
Punch the throttle forward to the present day, six speeding infractions later, and I no longer own Ein Schnellwagen (I made that up).
The reality is, despite my (and possibly your) love of going fast (240km/h is my V-Max, by the way. Never mind where.), the risks to safety and financial and legal security are too great, the opportunities non-existent, to satiate my need to drive really, really, really fast; At least on public roads, certainly.
It’s a shame, seeing as it is truly a golden age for performance in the auto industry.
The need for efficiency, and the resultant technological advances, means most cars today have engines, transmissions, brakes, and other bits that would have been at home on the finest exotic machinery a quarter century ago.
Now there are options, certainly.
People with spare income, a fun ride, and an affinity for minor body repair can participate in a Track Day. You drive your sexy whip to a local circuit, cane it like it spit on a Singapore sidewalk, then drive it home again.
Go Fast Urge sated, easy-peasy.
There is a problem with this, at least from a Sault perspective: No local tracks, save Laird International Raceway, and it isn’t configured for track days, nor do I suspect the track owner would want the headaches that amateur speed merchants would present.
What about Go Karts? All the fun, noise, and giddy road rage of racing in an economical bite-size package.
I remember having a blast at the local Fun Park, drifting around the tarmac, punting my mates into the tire wall, and being politely asked to leave. Good times. Alas, it is no more.
So what is a Captain Speedy Britches like me, and possibly you, supposed to do about it?
Well, seeing as this column is allegedly about local sport, how about cycling?
Two wheels, no waiting.
No warming it up, checking your fade in the mirror, forgetting your wallet, plugging in your phone, getting the A/C just so, etc.
Get on, start pedaling, and off you go.
Heck, I used to do a passable impression of a V-8 engine while tearing down the bike paths of my neighborhood as a wee lad.
In fact, riding a bicycle did, and still does, help me get the speed itch out of my system.
It may not be as fast, but it is just as visceral a thrill: Wind in your face, bugs in your dental work, and bloody good exercise, with the added thrill of potential disaster from an unleashed dog, wayward speed-walker, or rogue paving stone to keep the synapses firing.
This city has a remarkable path system, led by the John Rowswell Hub Trail.
A better ride you could never want. Queen St. East is now bike-friendly.
Trails abound outside the urban area for the off-road bike fan.
There are several amazing bicycle merchants that will set you up with the perfect ride to match your ability, your desired driving style, your budget, and any latent Lance Armstrong delusions you may have (Drugs are bad, kids).
It’s a sport for all ages, and is a spectacular way to get and stay fit.
So you there! On your bike!
Just remember to wear a helmet. You are a race driver after all, right?