Nothing cuts the tension out of getting to know someone better than sitting a table together while putting away some good food and drinks. It's almost as if meat and booze act as a sort of time machine that immediately fills the void of never really having spent any time with the person sitting across from you. If that connection isn't going to spark, it's usually pretty obvious by the time the other person has licked the last remaining chicken wing sauce from their fingertips. And if they make an unwarranted fuss for food sans gluten? Cheque, please!
I'm not quite sure why, but I often find myself pondering who I'd like to sit with at a sticky table in a dimly lit pub while eating questionable food. You know, the kind of establishment where a fifty-six-year-old woman named Gina says ''Here ya go, babydoll,'' when she drops off your beer that you asked for fifteen minutes earlier. The delay? She was outside inhaling an entire pack of Marlboros like they're keeping her alive rather than killing her. Maybe not the best place to take your Tinder date, then, but probably the ideal setting to get candid answers from someone who's seen some real shit. And people who've really lived are the best ones to drink with, aren't they?
At the top of my dream list of dinner dates, for lack of a better term, would have to be British explorer, geographer, writer, soldier, and spy, among many other things, Richard Francis Burton. I feel like anyone who's had themselves circumcised (a Muslim tradition) in the mid-1800s as a grown man in order to ''safely'' sneak into Mecca as a non-Muslim would not only never ask for a gluten-free menu, but would also have some pretty decent stories to tell after a few brews. If there were a few extra seats at the table, I'd have to fire off texts to the unfairly persecuted Alan Turing, Joan of Arc, and cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.
A lively table, for sure, but think of the questions you'd get answered. I might forget to eat. Or blink.
Canonized French teenage war prophet and the first human in space aside, there are some people from the two-wheeled world that would make great dinner companions as well. Sure, their impact on history might be negligible compared to the headliners named above, but we should at least try to stay a bit topical now that we're almost five-hundred words deep. This is is a mountain bike website, after all.
Who would be at my table? I'd like to talk to a top decision maker at Shimano and ask him or her why they're not the leaders that they once were. I might wait until we've had a few rounds of drinks before I popped that question to Shimano-san, though.
Sure, Di2 is neat and all, but it seems like the Japanese giant is responding rather than leading these days. And now we have the long-anticipated Koryak dropper post from Pro, Shimano's off-shoot component range, that looks as if it has followed the same 'me too' approach that many other companies with far fewer resources than Shimano possess: Oh look, another cable-activated dropper with a hydraulic cartridge, air spring, and run of the mill weight. Mr. Shimano, you have more technology in one of your factory washrooms than most brands have in their entire engineering department, but we get the 120mm-travel Koryak? I almost want to believe that the yawn-worthy dropper is a decoy and that Shimano is about to release an electronic post that goes both up and down with the push of a button, and can be tied into a bike's rear suspension to automatically lower when it's set to full-open and vice versa. Now that would be taking the lead.
Who knows; maybe the Koryak can run trouble-free for years, which sure would be nice, if kinda boring. Leave that to someone else, Shimano, and make me say ''Holy shit, look at that,'' like you did with your first Di2 drivetrains.
In any case, the chance of me getting a high ranking Shimano official into a pub with a long list of health code violations so I can ask him questions he surely doesn't want to be asked is somewhere between nada and zilch. Anyways, there are a few other people who'd I'd share a pitcher with.
Anyone who was suspended from racing road bikes because his hair was too long only to go on to race at a high level, and who helped put together the legendary Repack downhill event back in the mid-1970s, likely has a few good stories in their back pocket.
Gary Fisher did a lot more than that, however, and he's often credited with "inventing the mountain bike,'' although I suspect a bunch of garage tinkerers were doing similar things, some even earlier than when Fisher bolted a bunch of tandem bicycle and motorbike stuff to an old Schwinn Excelsior frame.
Big tires, a wider gear range, better brakes, and inspired geometry added up to a more capable bike than anything else at the time, and those four points are still some of the same ones that we talk about today, only now we're often discussing a 27lb, six-inch-travel carbon wonder bike that has geometry not that far off of what Fisher's custom Excelsior X was running back in 1974.
I'm sure Fisher has countless stories about those days, and I bet most of his best ones don't even involve bikes.
At the other end of the spectrum is The Alien. In the 90s and early 2000s, downhill racing was still trying to figure out if it wanted to be its own thing, or if it wanted to pretend to be motocross. There was a lot of blonde highlights, wild parties, and a good amount of money, stuff that made racers look like they were on vacation rather than at work, at least from a fan's perspective. A Frenchman changed all that when he took a much more serious, scientific approach to his job, and funny thing, it worked.
Nicolas Vouilloz won sixteen World Cup downhill races, all in a shorter span of time than it's taken most to come anywhere close to that tally, and he's also a ten-time World Champion. Ten. Freaking. Times.
In a way he could be considered the Michael Schumacher of downhill racing because of how the team and bike seemed to be focused on him winning; his BOS suspension was made for him, and he went on to have his own bike designed for his needs, the V-Process. Oh, and he was also a Peugeot development driver in both the WRC and IRC series. He won the IRC championship in 2008, by the way. While I doubt Nico drank much beer back in his racing days, I'd hope that he could sit down for a glass or six with me now that he's mostly retired.
I'm not sure how the conversation would go having a CEO from Shimano, Gary Fisher, and Nicolas Vouilloz all at the same table and all of us a few pitchers deep, but I'm pretty confident that things would get a bit lively.
Who would you want to kill a few hours with in a dingy pub?