This week, we've been catching up with a rider who needs no introduction (mostly because we've already featured loads of his ridiculously epic riding). Steve Bate was a prolific climber, with sights on a solo attempt at the ridiculously tough El Capitan in Yosemite, until he was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa in late 2011. After losing his driving license and ability to independently do the thing he loved, he turned to cycling.
For a hobby taken up as a second choice, Steve happens to be quite handy on a bike. This guy covers ground like carpet, it's absolutely unreal. He recently rode 501km across Scotland in 22hrs and 20mins. Not bad for a guy who's rapidly losing what remaining vision he does have left. He's an inspirational rider and all-round decent bloke, who won't take no for an answer.
Name. Steve Bate (MBE - if thats your sort of thing)
Age. 41 (too old to be a professional bike rider)
Ice Breaker! Describe yourself in 3 words. Blindish Ginger Commuter
What’s your secret hobby/passion away from the bike?
Adventures. I’m a massive fan of having epics, whether thats climbing or riding. I really enjoy bike packing and journeying by bike, and if it pushes me to both my mental and physical limit, even better. Other than that, I’m a massive music fan and love it when Spotify stop your playlist to sell you some shit promotional goods, it’s the whole reason I don’t go to premium.
How did you get into riding?
I rode a bit as a kid in New Zealand but was never any good (nothing's changed there really!!!), but I guess when I got diagnosed with this eye condition and lost my driver's licence, a bike became my way of life. Losing my licence was a good thing looking back, I’m far happier not sat in traffic.
What is your earliest cycling memory?
Riding home from school on my red BMX down the footpath, and eating shit over the boot of a car reversing out of its driveway. I must have only been 5 or 6. I jumped up, didn’t say anything to the driver and rode home flat out. The dude came and knocked on our door 10 minutes later to check I was okay. Pretty decent of him really.
First bike & favourite bike?
Red BMX I think???? Favourite bike, My new custom made Ti Fat bike from Sonder. I just need you guys to make me some badass HUNT fat bike wheels and I’ll be ready for the Iditarod ;)
As many will know, before being diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa in late 2011, you were a pretty handy free climber (with ambitions to solo El Capitan that were later fulfilled). What made you jump on a bike after the diagnosis? Did you ride already?
It was a meeting with a friend (Karen Darke, check her out!) who told me I could race on the back of a tandem, I guess the opportunity to go to a games was a big draw. I rode, but I wouldn’t say I was hardcore, more chopper-like. You know, grease on the inner calf, I’d think sportives were races, you know………. To be fair, I’m still not hardcore.
After being diagnosed (given that you lead a life & followed passions so reliant on your vision) it’s fair to say you’ve been a shining example of how to overcome adversity. You took it and ran with it, and are out adventuring and exploring the world, doing things most of us don’t have the balls to do. What would your advice be to anyone out there who faces similar obstacles or difficulties with any of their senses and/or physical faculties?
Haha thanks man. Yeah it’s funny, people see all the things you’ve achieved which is great, but I had a pretty tough time coming to terms with the diagnosis at first. It took a long while to realise life was passing me by and no matter how pissed off I got, that diagnosis wasn’t going to change, so I guess I just got on with how I wanted to live anyway. I still struggle with some basic day to day stuff, but that’s just how it is. I don’t think I’m the masterful wizard to enlighten everyone on overcoming whatever's getting them down, but I guess the way I look at it is - it’s pointless feeling sorry for yourself, as there is always someone in a worse situation dealing with life much better than you are. Life is short, so get the shit you want to get done while you can, don’t put it off, cause you may not get the chance. The best example of this is my mate David Andrew Smith MBE, check him out, a true fighter, hero and example to us all!
Onto your riding this year… you’ve kicked this season off pretty impressively, taking the win at the Manchester International Track Event, in the 4000m Pursuit over The Netherlands (fairly convincingly, as well). The sensations must be pretty good? What have you been up to over the winter in terms of preparation?
I can’t tell you as the Dutch boys might read this……….haha…….. I don’t do so many long hours on the bike anymore, those old school classic big winter miles. I can do that stuff, riding for long periods isn’t an issue. I like to hit the gym and build strength and smash horrible interval sessions. If you want to get good, do the things you hate doing. Everyone loves riding 100 mile rides in zone 2, not many people want to rinse themselves on a turbo in a cold garage. There's a reason we win stuff, it’s not because we're the best riders, it’s because we work the hardest………or we're just really lucky!
With the confidence that must put in place, what are you shooting for this year?
We race at track nationals this weekend in Manchester, then it’s onto the Track Worlds in Holland in mid-March, at which we’ll be defending our title. Then when all the track riders take a month or two off to chill out (a cheap shot at my sprinter teammates), Adam (my pilot) and I go straight onto the road and will start to build towards the World Cup series and the Road Worlds and defending our rainbow jersey in the TT, so it’s a pretty busy year. Tokyo 2020 qualification has started now as well, so we are pretty keen to make sure by the end of this year we are where we need to be to make selection for the games again. No rest for the wicked, as they say.
Which events are you most excited about racing or attending this year? Anything out of the ordinary?
The Worlds are always good fun, nice bit of pressure to get the blood pumping, and more so this year as we are defending champions. Other than that, to be honest it’s just like any other job, hard to get to excited about thrashing your body till you puke, it doesn’t really get me going like it used to….. I’m stoked that we are under two years to the games now, it feels like you are working towards something that really matters, and it’s easier to stop drinking and eating pies to get in really top condition and see what you have in the tank. Adventure wise? It’s all on hold until after the games now, but there is a epic in the pipeline thats for sure!
We always like to end with a good crash story – what’s your worst and how much stuff did you break?!
Just imagine, you’re sat on the back of a tandem, flat out down hill on a training ride (going for a KOM for a laugh), 50mph downhill and we double puncture! Adam does well to keep us upright, however there’s a sweeping corner coming up with on coming traffic. As we rattle across the white line, a car and motorbike thankfully see whats happening and allow us to plough into the verge, hitting the deck and coming to a stop. We are both okay, with a bit of skin missing. Adam has a badly torn calf muscle which keeps him off the bike for 4 weeks, I’m okay as I’ve landed on Adam (top bloke!) but my right hand is caught under the bar, so my knuckle is ripped open. The folks in the car and motorbike stop to check we are okay. We all have a good laugh about it, knowing we have got off very lightly. The bike is trashed and unridable. I must say we survived this epic due to the unbelievable bike handling skills of Adam. We stayed upright for a couple of hundred metres and he managed to reduce our speed to 20mph before slapping off. If you are ever sat on the back of a tandem when the shit hits the fan, he’s the guy you want on the front, trust me! A few weeks after this at the Road Worlds in Switzerland, we hit 64mph on a decent twice, Adam was rock solid, I was shitting myself.
Massive thanks for taking the time to chat to us, Steve. You're a huge inspiration to most of us, and we'll be screaming at the telly for you on your road to Tokyo 2020.
Cheers guys and thanks for the support, all the best, ride fast and take risks! Steve
Some homework for you readers - check out the documentary Focus, for a fantastic insight into Steve's life and his attempt at the Rovaniemi 150 race in Iceland!