At 7:29pm sharp, the lights go out in Paul-Heyse-Straße number 26. The sound of massive church bells fills the futuristic velodrome in Berlin, and I single out the intro to AC/DC’s „Hell’s Bells». Soon after, laser beams of all colours cut through the weighty darkness. All cycling fanatics are summoned for prayer, worship, and sacrifice on the wooden track boards of «Das Berliner Sechstagerennen», and I am here to follow the path of the Maloja Pushbikers!
Coming from the hard school of road cycling, Berlin Six Day bears resemblance to a deranged mix of circus, amusement park, nightclub and German Oktoberfest, with powerful legs at the center of things. Everything is on rotation: Disc wheels and pedals, DJ Tomekk’s turntables, the flash lights and the giant mirror ball hanging down from the ceiling. It’s easy to let your mind wander back to ancient Rome and the gladiators‘ bloody battles in the Colosseum when the riders enter the stage and are cheered by the numerous devotees. The ambience is colossal. This is rock’n roll!
Joining a new group of people is sometimes a gamble, but teaming up with the Pushbikers is easy. I’m here to do what I do best, photography, and what I get is a mountain of big smiles, thumbs up and open doors. I learn as I follow the path, and I adapt to and adopt the game plan. I get it, and I’ve probably been there a while myself without being conscious of it: It’s not about the number of podium spots or the amount of UCI points, but about the joy of crossing the finish line with your teammates. It’s not about cold numbers on your powermeter, but rather about the beads of sweat on your forehead and the flood of lactic acid in your legs. Cycling is still a painful exercise and always will be, but for the Pushbikers it also has be fun. Basta.
The riders grind out lap after lap on the velodrome like small satellites in orbit round a microcosm of flashing light and deafening noise, relentlessly, night after night. Eighties glamrock is followed by oompah from Tyrol, suddenly interrupted by a starting shot and the jingle of bells in a random order, but I try not to despair. In all the chaos and madness, I remind myself that this is Germany, and that there must be a system, somewhere, and the pleasure is all the greater when confusion turns into fascination and admiration for what happens on the pitch after two nights inside the track.
The new year has been troublesome for Pushbiker-protagonist, Christian Grasman, pulling out of Bremen with «Die Grippe». On the third night in Berlin, bad luck strikes again as he slams in the parquet. The sound of carbon fiber hitting hard wood is harrowing. Christian limps off the track to receive medical care. A gaping wound on his right leg is cleaned and stripped, but the internal injuries are far more serious.
«Grasi» is out of the race, but instead of returning home to his wife and newborn child, he shakes off his bad fortune to stick up for his teammate, Maximilian Beyer. With stoic calm and a contagious enthusiasm, he manoeuvres his young comrade safely through the last, laborious nights in the velodrome. Christian leads the way, handing out praise and comfort pats on Max’ shoulder when things blow up. On a mobile cooktop he makes coffee for the team, and limping around with a damaged knee, he serves homemade muffins to his competitors.It’s nice to be around Christian, and I have no trouble understanding why he is so highly valued on and off the track. Christian is the real deal, a real Pushbiker.
I got to be a Pushbiker for six days, and I loved it… Be a Pushbiker, too!
Pictures and Words by Kåre Dehlie Thorstad