Sir Chris Hoy is a household name. Even those who are not fans of track cycling would have almost certainly heard of the man born and raised in the Scottish capital city of Edinburgh and who grew up to be one of Britain's most decorated Olympians. Between 2000 and 2012, Hoy secured a staggering six gold Olympic medals, one Olympic silver medal, and 11 world titles on the track – bringing track cycling to the forefront of British sport.
But what led the track cycling star to pursue his Olympic dreams? “E.T.,” he laughed on the phone to Rouleur. “I saw E.T. when I was about six, and that was it. I’d never seen a BMX bike before E.T., and that was my inspiration. Immediately, I started pestering my parents to get me a BMX bike.”
From humble beginnings, Hoy’s parents bought him a second-hand bike from a jumble sale that cost them £5, spray painted it black, changed the handlebars and grips, and put some BMX stickers on the frame. So, thanks to Steven Spielberg and his thrifty parents, Hoy found himself on the bike – the next step was learning how to ride it.
Hoy had always had a competitive fire inside of him, and it was when he saw his friend’s four-year-old brother riding a bike that Hoy was determined to learn to ride his. “I was peeved that I couldn’t ride my bike and a four-year-old could,” he said. “I was determined then that I was going to learn that day.”
And this fire only burned brighter as he grew up. He started BMX racing at age seven before discovering mountain biking, cyclo-cross and time trials, racing in all the disciplines. “I’ve always been competitive. I think it comes from being competitive with my sister. It didn’t matter whether we were playing Monopoly or swing ball in the garden. I wanted to win,” he admitted. “Even with BMX racing, I was not particularly any good. There were certainly other riders you would have picked out for potential champions. I was just good at working out how to get better, learning quite quickly that you couldn’t just show up and win.”
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Hoy found the velodrome in 1993 when he joined his first cycling club, Dunedin C.C then the City of Edinburgh Racing Squad, and this winning mentality and work ethic certainly put him in good stead for his career that was to follow as four years later, Hoy was selected for the British national team. His pure determination pushed him to become the team’s best sprinter, and from there, he went from strength to strength, securing his first world title in 1999 and his first taste of Olympic success at the 2000 Olympic games in Sydney, Australia, where he won a silver medal in the team sprint.
But it wasn’t always a joyful experience, so riding for the joy of it was also an important part of his training. He added, “Each time I swung my leg over the bike on the track, I knew it would be painful. That's why it was crucial for me to also ride for pleasure. Every day, we would do an hour-long recovery ride so that you didn’t have that relationship with the bike that was just pain. And I think that speaks volumes for a lot of people who finish their cycling careers and continue to ride their bikes for fun.
“It’s not like that with all sports either. I look at some swimmers, rowers, and badminton players, and they haven’t done their sport since the day they retired. But with cycling, at the heart of it, it is a fun thing to do.”
Hoy has now been retired from professional cycling for 10 years, having closed that chapter of his life after the 2012 London Olympic Games. He still continues to ride his bike most of the time, however, whether that be indoors on Zwift or out in the real world, taking in the sights and sounds of his home town, and he even dips his toe back into the competitive world from time to time with challenges to raise money for charity. Most recently, he completed a challenge with Dame Kelly Holmes and endurance swimmer Ross Edgley, with Hoy taking on the cycling leg of the challenge. “It’s just nice knowing there is no pressure on you, but you're also able to test yourself. There’s no one competing against you, it’s just against yourself, and there are some days when I just want to turn the legs, but on other days, you want to dig a little deeper and see how your legs feel. Then, at the end of it, you’ve achieved something great.”
He also undertakes these challenges to inspire people to get on their bikes, a passion he has held for a long time. When Hoy retired in 2013, he launched his kids bike brand, Hoy Bikes. Now, he has helped develop and back an e-bike clip-on drive system called Skarper that can turn any bike into an e-bike. Both of these projects have been to help encourage more people into cycling. “I’m a bit evangelistic about it really,” he said. “But I really do believe in the benefits of cycling, and that goes beyond trying to get people into the sport and to compete – it’s recognising there is a place for everybody.”
Having ridden his bike all his life it’s natural for Hoy to cycle most of the time. However, he realises that this isn’t always the case for the rest of society and knows that there are sticking points for people choosing their bikes over other means of transport, highlighting that people don’t need to wear cycling kit, have a £10,000 carbon bike and be super fit. That’s why he believes that Skarper and the rise of e-bikes is very positive because “it really opens up cycling to a much wider audience”. Hoy uses an e-bike himself, especially when taking his two children to school. He emphasises that it is a "no-brainer" to use e-bikes and encourages more people to do the same.
But, having started out on a BMX when he was a child to spending hundreds, if not thousands, of hours on the track bike, and now embracing the e-bike, what does cycling mean to him now it has been 10 years since he retired?
“Cycling is for me is just a thing of pleasure,” Hoy said. “Now, as a father, teaching my kids how to ride a bike, and just being able to step back from the real intense life of a professional cyclist and still having that love for the bike and seeing how your kids fall in love with it as well, is wonderful. So my relationship now to cycling is just purely for the joy of it.”