Two riders on motorcycles head towards a ski town in the Swiss pre-Alp region, and pull into the (free) car park of the cable car station that runs throughout the year. It is a warm & dry August evening. At the point of arrival, the two riders have approximately 3 hours before it gets dark. The sunset process is just starting by showing a few dark shadows across some of the mountains, which in complete contrast, has other mountains lit up with a warm glow. It hasn’t rained for a week, so the ground is dry. As its August, and this is ‘cheese making country’, there are cows spread out across the mountain pastures, and there is the rhythmic sound of cow bells, as grass is being eaten. For the cows eating at this point of the day, the grass has been warmed by the sun, and it also has the first showings of evening dew on it, so the grass is both crunchy and moist at the same time. Good to eat plus good for milk production, equals good for cheese making.
The two riders dismount their motorcycles, remove their special rucksacks, and start to peel off their motorcycle helmets, gloves, jackets and over-trousers. Whilst they are both a bit overdressed for the current conditions, they’ll need the warmth of all this gear to ride home later as it will be much cooler. All of their gear goes into boxes on their bikes in a well organised fashion. Both riders are now dressed in summer mountain gear, light treaded shoes, high-tech’ fabric trousers and jerseys. They put on their rucksacks and head for the cable car station kiosk to pay for their journey up the mountain.The bottom cable car station is at 900 metres above sea level and it will take the two riders up to 1650 metres, where they’ll exit the station at the top and start walking further, and upwards. The cable car takes about 15 minutes to get to the top, with a brief stop at the middle station. This cable car runs all year round, so it serves skiers, mountain bikers, walkers, climbers and paragliders. In summer, its well priced. In the ski season, its more expensive. The two riders get their tickets, remove their rucksacks so that they can get through the small turnstyle gate, and climb into the next cabin which swings round with its door open. The cable car can seat four adults, but with their rucksacks, there’s only room for the two riders. The cabin glides swiftly upwards, out of the station and into the setting sun. The views are stunning.
The two riders are ‘skivers’. They are ‘skiving off’ from their respective family evening duties to get some fresh air and some downhill, trail riding in. The term ‘skive’ is actually an English language verb and used in terms like ‘I skived off school today’, which is either about avoiding doing something or leaving early. The origin of the word is 19th Century French, which is similar to ‘slink away’. The word has taken a 21st Century brand spelling twist, by being spelt as skyver.
Whilst the two riders have had respective authorisation for their evening out together, they both feel like they’re skiving off from day to day reality. There are just the two of them in a quiet cable car, and with their rucksacks. These rucksacks have a pair of handlebars sticking out of the top of them, and each rucksacks contains a small bicycle. Whilst riding over on their motorcycles earlier, the two riders got some quizzical looks from people, who couldn’t quite work out how a bicycle, or part of one, can be fitted into a rucksack, and why someone on a motorcycle would want to carry a bicycle as well.
The bikes in the rucksacks are small, folding, full suspension mountain bikes with disc brakes, and carbon fibre and aluminium frames. Differentiating them from normal bicycles, they have no seat to sit on, and no pedals or drive mechanism. To get them into the rucksack, the front wheel is removed, the rear wheel and swinging arm is folded underneath and it all goes neatly into a rucksack, which itself is a technical work of art, because its comfortable to carry the bike in over long distances, and with the bike removed, it folds up quite small. Its also designed to carry a helmet and any other gear or food that’s required when ‘skiving off’. In keeping with this verb of ‘to skive’, the two bikes, which are made in Germany, are called ‘Mountain Skyvers’. Their sole purpose is to be carried uphill and ridden down. A true gravity toy!The journey to the top has perfect views, the noise of the cable car fits in with the scenery i.e. its very quiet and most of the cable car cabins are empty. On reaching the top station, the two skivers with their mountain Skyver bikes, emerge onto a plateau that is the both the start of the winter, ski run area which goes downhill, and of the summer walks, that go uphill. The plateau also hosts the mandatory alpine cafe and some big notice boards showing all of the ski runs, walks and bike rides. From this point, you can walk for days across well signposted mountain walks and into either France or Italy.
Rucksacks are donned and the two riders start walking, uphill. They intend to walk further up the mountain for about 45 minutes to get to a point where they can then ride down, which would give them enough time to get back to their motorcycles at dusk. Its cooler at 1700 metres altitude, but as they’re generating warmth by walking up, body temperatures are fine. The walk is single track up a rocky part of the mountain and the tempo is slow, but consistent. Its also not too tough a climb that the two riders cannot talk, due to being out of breath. This is important, because one of the riders has something he wants to discuss, and wants to get a view from his friend.The two riders stop for a breather/view stop/drink of water, when one breaks the news to the other one that he’s not keeping up with the ‘change’ required from the modern world that he’s caught up in. The other rider, who is from Sweden, looks a bit puzzled by the statement, and he asks for clarity. His friend, who is from Chile originally, had been living in Switzerland for 3 years with his wife and kids. They moved from Santiago to Switzerland because his wife got the chance to take a global and more senior job with her company. After much discussion, they decided that they would move with her job, so he had to finish his work and follow her career, look after the kids, and look for some work when they’d settled down. As a computer programmer, he had managed to get some short term contract work, which fitted in with picking the kids up, and doing the housework etc. He also got time to ride both his motorcycle and bicycles, which his wife’s job had paid for, in between everything else. He explained to his Swedish friend that he was struggling to deal with the traditional, cultural and latin way of living, where the man is the provider in the family and the woman follows. When he first broke the news to his parents that he was giving up his job to follow his wife to the other side of the world, there were some comments about his ability, or lack of, to provide for his family adequately, otherwise they wouldn’t be moving in these circumstances. He’d tried to ignore these remarks, but it was always in the back of his mind, especially when they met other families in Switzerland from South America and he was the only one that had followed his wife. All of the other successful career types were men. Whilst he found no problem with talking to other Mum’s at school, and in some cases didn’t mind being the only man, it was tough in certain situations. His parents also still asked him if ‘he’d got himself a job with which ‘HE’ could be the family provider. He told his Swedish friend that his wife was being really successful at work and that they had the opportunity to move to Barcelona, where the company she worked for had their global HQ. His Swedish friend said that was great news. Barcelona was a great city for him to move to, and he spoke the language, and more selfishly, they could meet up to do some motorcycle and mountain bike rides in Northern Spain. So he asked him, ‘whats the problem?’ His Chilean friend said that the way that their family life was going, his wife would always be the main breadwinner, and he would be the follower. Whilst he was happy in himself to continue like this, there was an inner pressure that made him feel like he was letting everyone down and that the perception of him to others, would be negative. He stopped talking and looked out at the mountains before them.His Swedish friend laughed, which raised the eyebrows of his Latin friend in response. Mr Sweden went on to say that where he comes from in the Nordics, its irrelevant who takes what role in the family, as long as the family is healthy and have everything they need. He also went onto say that very few men have in the past, had real opportunity to be there for the kids as they grow up. He asked if it really mattered to him about what his parents thought? He went onto explain that he took 18 months off work to look after both of their kids when his wife had finished her maternity leave, and he was sad when he had to go back to work. He asked his Chilean friend if his wife ever felt guilty, because she was at work and couldn’t be there for the kids when she felt she should be? He said that she did feel like this, particularly when a meeting always seems to finish late on the night that they have to go to school or something like that. Mr Sweden says ‘welcome to the modern world’, where everything is being caught between the tensions of tradition and evolution. He also said that his friend and his family situation would be a role model for future Latin families, so as a pioneer team, they are going to feel uncomfortable at times. Mr Chile smiles and agrees that change isn’t easy, and he thanked his friend for the advice.The two riders walk up the single track for another 10 minutes and then they arrive at a high mountain meadow. There are cows in the meadow and a wooden chalet, with a woman farmer sitting in the sun, on the porch. She waves to them and they wave back. They then remove their rucksacks, break out the bikes, assemble them, and don helmets and gloves. This takes about 5 minutes. Tyre pressures are checked again and they’re ready to launch downhill.Just as they’re about to push off, the woman appears at their side and asks them where a) the pedals are or b) the engine is? This is because she couldn’t work out what the bikes actually were. She had spoken perfect English as she had heard them talking. It turns out that the woman isn’t usually a farmer in jeans and boots. Her day job was as a solicitor in Geneva, and she had managed to get 3 months off work to live in the mountains to look after cows, to milk them and to make cheese. She said it was a bit tough to do this because her husband was also a solicitor and they were having to balance jobs, kids and life. Three people with different life scenarios, but all actually trying to do the same thing of balancing family, work and something for themselves.Goodbyes are said and the two riders head downhill on their journey to their motorcycles. The first part of the ride down is through meadows, so the hazards include cows, cow shit, wet grass and the setting sun blazing into their eyes. The meadows end and they disappear into dark woods and onto single track. The bikes have small wheels so that the bike can go in a rucksack. The front wheel is slightly larger than the rear one. This is because it has to get over things like rocks, gulleys, trees roots etc and in conjunction with the air-assisted suspension fork, it works really well. The rear wheel, not being driven by anything, just has to follow the one in front. The rear suspension shock is an elastomer type, as nothing as expensive as an air shock is required, and its also very robust, cheap and easy to maintain.
The darkness of the forest single track after the setting sun means that it takes time for eyes to adjust, so the two riders take it easy until they can see where they are going and can react accordingly. Neither want to fall and break any bones. They come across a deep ravine which has a narrow footbridge going across it to the meadow beyond. A quick assessment means that the handlebars of the bikes won’t clear the hand rails, so they dismount and carry their bikes over. They cross a smooth meadow really fast and then turn onto a rough track that is used by farmers. The track goes under the cablecar and then winds its way down hill for about 1 kilometre. Its great fun on these bikes, the disc brakes allow the bikes to be tipped into corners sideways. As there is no way of increasing speed on these bikes, accelerating out of corners relies on the amount of drop in altitude, the speed taken through the corner, and the use of bodyweight over different parts of the bike.The track runs into another meadow and the two riders stop to look at the view and have a drink of water. The summer sun is still high in the sky, and there is only the sound of their breath, cow bells and the gentle whine of the cablecar. The cablecar will stop in 15 minutes, and most of the cabins are empty, apart from one, which has a couple in it, who are obviously well into the throes of having sex, and are oblivious to the two riders below them. Their cable car sways gently from the activities inside, and then it disappears over the trees.The last kilometre is on smooth grassy slopes, which are used for the ‘learners’ during ski season. The two riders enter the car park at full speed and come to a sliding halt by their big motorcycles.At the same time, the two ‘cable-car-lovers’ emerge from the cable car station, and walk arm-in-arm across the car park, both with relaxed smiles on their faces of recent satisfaction.The bikes are disassembled and packed back into their rucksacks. Bicycle helmets are swapped for motorcycle helmets and engines are started. Its 9.45pm and they’re bang on schedule to get home for 10.30pm. The Chilean rider gives his Swedish friend a ‘manly-Latin-hug’ and thanks his friend for a great night, and more importantly helping him to deal with change. As they’re wearing helmets and with both motorcycles engines running, he says all of this really loud, which startles a local dog walker, and who looks at them both quizzically.
The two lovers get into a white sports car, and then head off out of the car park.The two riders, two motorcycles and two bicycles all head off down the twisty road to their homes. The net result of the evening? Two good motorcycle rides, a great cable car ride, a man-to-man chat, a new solicitor-part-time-farmer acquaintance made, a great downhill ride, amazing scenery, the knowledge that it is possible to have sex at dusk in a cable car, and most importantly, they get safely back home to the families that they love. As the Chilean friend parks up his motorbike next to his wife’s luxury, company car, he realises that its up to him to create his own path, contribute to the path of his family, and predict and set the tradition of the future.
All photos by Rodrigo Macip