The Grommet of Hawthorne Park PART TWO John Whip Cyclist

"I've always had a fixed wheel bike and the simplicity of them - is a beautiful thing, bikes should be simple. Now the young kids are seeing the simplicity of them ... there's always a backlash to anything when something goes in one direction there's a group - the rebels sort of start off in the other direction."

For you with cycle racing there's always been this theme of customising everything, bikes, cars, chairs you name it any piece of paraphernalia you could lay your hands on, so you were a bit of an innovator from the 1950's onwards, in your own style?

Yeah I wanted to make it my own I geuss, I thought I could improve the look of it.

Fads came and went over the years?

Whip in 2012

Whip in 2012

Yeah and they all came back again..this fixie thing that's happening now is incredible! Because we had to race on fixies that's what they were they were fixed wheel bikes you'd take the brakes off to go race on the track and put them back on to got race on the road on them, and we'd pedal up and down hills and it made us great bike riders because we just learnt to ride a bike in that fashion. I've always had a fixed wheel bike as I've always seen the benefit of it purely as a training thing, and the simplicity of them - is a beautiful thing, bikes should be simple. Now the young kids are seeing the simplicity of them because the bicycle has turned into this twenty thousand dollar carbon fibre proposition, as a race bike. There's always a backlash to anything when something goes in one direction there's a group - the rebels sort of start off in the other direction.

The Blastermobile was a Whip creation, the Blaster's team car, it was a matte black stickerised 1976 six cylinder Chrysler Centura - I was the last custodian of the Blastermobile before Whip and myself took it to the wreckers in 1994, that photo below - of me standing on the roof - was shot by Brisbane photographer Gary Crannitch.

It's like an underground movement with cycling?

I've always been a rebel …. so that rebel thing - if I can do something differently to what everyone else is doing I will if it's easy for me to do it, I geuss that's what brings about the colours.

I always felt that cycling needed something else, it was a bit boring, not the actual act of cycling - but the aura of cycling was always a bit boring. That's why kids that race, they give it away when they get to eighteen, there's nothing in it, so they gravitate to cars and girls. Something like surfing had a glamour and culture to it, and that's what I was trying to marry up, I was always trying to marry up cycling to surfing and to a lesser extent motorbikes and that thing about motorbikes and motorbike racing……. there's a speed factor. What I was trying to do with the Blasters through that period was bring a bit more pizazz to cycling another aspect to it, so that's colour, doing crazy things with bikes to improve them to make people see cyclist's in a different light.

Whip at Hawthorne Park velodrome back in the 1950's

Whip at Hawthorne Park velodrome back in the 1950's

I remember you had your own perspective on the word Chicane?

Yeah the word chicane, my definition - a sudden change of direction TWICE. So you know when you're riding a bike the big thing for me is going around corners, the only way you can do it on a bike - because you don't have a motor - yeah it's a whole different thing, you've gotta have speed by going around corners on a downhill or building up speed on a flat course racing up to a corner. Yeah the Chicane thing is the ultimate corner really because you've got to do it twice - and you've got a sudden change of direction.

Did you win a world masters championship one time on a corner, a left hander?

I did and it was a left hander.

The other riders found that corner particularly challenging and I remember you used that to your advantage?

Yeah well the course was laid out in such a way that I figured out the finish line was only about a hundred and fifty metres from the corner, so I figured if you got around the corner first you had a pretty good chance of winning it.

I remember you came into that corner at massive speed - where you had to make that corner?

So I changed the finish line instead of making it up the road in the straight in my mind I 'brought the finish line back to just before the corner' so I sprinted to the corner - that sort of threw everyone, then I had to get around the corner, I think the front wheel was slipping a bit. I did it twice -- I'd had a rehearsal the week before at the Australian Masters Championships on exactly the same course and one week later on the same course was the worlds. At the Aussie masters the whole field backed off me because they wouldn't take that left hander at the same speed, so they all backed off because they didn't want to go round the corner that fast and I won it. So the very next week at the world masters championship I did exactly the same thing, came into the left hander and this time they all said 'oh well if he can get around there we can too' except they didn't - they all crashed, so I won it, I was the only one left standing!

So you had a whole lifetime of experience in cornering and that no doubt helped you?

It came from the surfing because in surfing turning is the big thing, the bottom turn is the first turn you do, then you do a cut back, so it's all up and down left's and rights so my thing when I got back into cycling again I was riding a bike like I was surfing, or I wanted to have that freedom of surfing, you're sort of using the road and the terrain to take you where you want to go, that was my thing with cornering. At one point I read an article written by Davis Phinney, he was one of those early American cyclist's who was any good. We never thought those Americans were that good, they never had any credibility in my book - maybe …. it was just that period you know, and I thought they were just 'Johhny come lately's', they just pick up these things and then become good at them.. anyway I read this article where Davis Phinney described this cornering technique, then I started practicing it and it really made a big difference to the way I rode a bike, so if I won a world masters championship - the event was going around left hand corners.

The other thing I did that day was an idea that came from Arthur Dowse, he was a masseur and he was an old Brisbane stalwart who'd ridden with Jack Pesch and Tom Wallace, just ask Joe Cosgrove about Arthur. Dowse had stories … coming out of his ears, a bit like The Crank. There was this story by these old guys where if you put vinegar on your tires when it was a wet race, they used it as a drying agent it dries the rubber out, so that water doesn't seep into the rubber. The day of the world masters it was a bit damp, on that left hander my front wheel was slipping a bit and I dunno if the vinegar worked or not, but it always gripped and didn't completely let go.

So are you going to share the Davis Phinney technique or is it so top secret you'll take it to the grave?

No you'll be able to find it out pretty easily! The Davis Phinney technique is that left and right thing again, when you're steering a bike round a corner you're not really steering it with the handlebars that's for sure. So the only reason you've got movement in the bars is so that the bike can lean and as it leans the front end's going one way and the back end's going the other way, so the concept is that to go around a left hand corner you need to concentrate on what the right hand side of your body is doing because you're not steering it you're leaning it - so on a motorbike you shift your weight but on a bicycle you can't really do that, the only weight you can shift is to throw your knee out, but I thought that looked ugly, instead of throwing your leg out so you've gotta have your left knee up to keep the left pedal from hitting the ground, so instead you push all your weight down through the outside leg, what it does is it gets you a bit further over on the lean and you've got control over your lean because you're controlling it with that leg, and on a push bike you're used to controlling a bike with your leg. You're steering with your hips, when I'm teaching this I get people to walk along with their bike holding onto the saddle and you can make the bike turn and do everything just by holding the saddle, so that's what happens when you're riding a bike you're steering with your hips and your legs you're not steering with the bars. The other aspect of the cornering technique is you've got to have something to aim for, an apex, so you have to come out far enough to be able to sight an apex so that you can see it, come out wide sight the apex, ideally corner entry and corner exit speed is high.

Note: Whip explains here how to make the bicycle more stable through a corner by locking your outside leg into the most favourable position on the bike to allow for maximum control, motorcyclist's do this by locking their knees into the tank, shifting their weight underneath the bike. Whip elaborates on this by explaining how to use your 'hips' to aid steering the bicycle.

The technique Whip explains is totally dependent on the rider being relaxed on the bike allowing the bike to 'do the work' the way the engineers - designers intended - here all that tech stuff like geometry, compliance and stiffness comes into play.

Just because you're locking out the outside leg to aid stabilising the bike - doesn't mean that you want to tense up. Key here is to be relaxed with your bar input too, there should be no tension through the shoulders, arms and grip at the bars. Once you've mastered being relaxed on the bike and know where to point it, you should be relaxed and focused on looking through the corner - being relaxed is the key.

Counter steering a bicycle is another concept, not covered here by The Whip as he's concentrated on explaining how to make the bike more stable through a corner. On counter steering a bicycle - remember Mac's description of 'handlebar input'. "The definition of neutral steering is the bike responds to both leaning and to handlebar input fairly evenly. A different steering geometry with more trail, say you increase the trail – the bike it responds a lot more to leaning and less to the handlebar input, and as you decrease the trail it responds a lot more to handlebar input."

Do you have a concept on tires you might choose?

Well tires are my favourite thing on a bike - it's a very important thing - because it's the contact point between the bike and the road. My view on the technical aspects of tires came out of using tubulars, we even used to use them when we were kids, tubulars were the racing tires and we even trained on tubulars so we didn't even use clinchers, we used cheap ones to train on and good ones to race on. Well inQueensland we could ride tubulars, but in NSW they used to have to use a tire called a Mitchell Track which was a special beautiful tire that was invented especially for Juevniles for that purpose. In Queensland when I was a Juvenile we could ride on tubulars but when we went to the nationals, in line with other states we couldn't use tubulars.

My tire thing came out of tubulars, I like to ride big bag tires, I think you get bit better grip from them, they are a bit more comfortable, the tread on a bicycle tire they reckon doesn't really mean that much, but tire pressure is really important for handling depending on your weight, it's a personal choice and also the conditions. So tire pressure in the wet is important, use a little lower pressure to increase your contact patch. The casing of the tire allows the tire to conform to the road surface, if it's a good tire it's categorised by threads per inch and it'll be around three hundred threads per inch TPI, a training tire will have less say as low as 60TPI. The casing is what keeps the tire on the road, not the tread, the higher the TPI the better the compliance to the road surface. The reason they put a tread on a tire is to reduce the surface tension of a tire, with a lot of surface tension the slightest cut will open it up, with a handmade compliant tire you shouldn't get that so much. The casing has to give you that handling feeling, not the rubber, it's able to flex and move, there's no heat like a motorcycle tire and a very small contact patch, so that's why the casing of a bicycle tire has to conform to the road surface to increase the contact with the road, it's so very important.

So how does the choice of wheels and frame affect your tire choice?

Particularly the forks have to be able to handle that side pressure too, lateral and torsional compliance in the forks is important, if the forks give way it doesn't matter what type of tire you have fitted if they can't keep the wheel where it should be.

Now with deep rims you are taking a very specific component and using it in an every day situation, which isn't going to work really but for the market out there today the people want to look like racers. I've noticed the pro's using those deep rims in all sorts of races and if you can handle it, well, those guys are good enough to handle it and be able to ride those wheels in cross winds, but it's a bit of a worry when you see people buying those really deep wheels and just riding them around. I think there's not a lot of technical interest in tires and there's not much interest in many of the technical aspects of bicycles these days of people who are buying them, they are buying a look. When we were racing there were some guys who had the crappiest bike and they were great bike riders and they used to win a lot of races, then there were the guys who had the most immaculate bikes and they couldn't ride out of sight, then there were the ones in between. I dunno if I'm just being a grumpy old man but these days it seems like the bike has taken on a whole new thing, it's become very expensive and people are judging it by how much money they spend on the bike - on their entry to the sport.

Yet cycling as a result of the look has become a lot more appealing, no more wool clothing, we were riding around on steel frames getting bottles and bananas thrown at us ..

Getting laughed at

.. it wasn't so much of an appealing sport, now people can ride to the coffee shop and look good, it's popular.

Yeah that's a plus, it's fantastic.

Blastermobile photo by Gary Crannitch, title photos of Whip racing at Hawthorne Park in the 1950's photographer unknown  - all other images by Robert Cobcroft

Robert Cobcroft, author of this article, stands on the roof of the Brisbane Blasters Blastermobile in 1992

Robert Cobcroft, author of this article, stands on the roof of the Brisbane Blasters Blastermobile in 1992

John Whip

John Whip

John Whip 

John Whip