Nanaimo RCMP Cpl. Norm Smith is the only Tour de Rock support member who hasn’t done the annual ride.
Smith, 46, is head of Nanaimo RCMP’s Traffic Services division and is known to previous Tour de Rock riders as the big guy on escort duty who can whip around his 800 pound Harley Davidson like a tricycle.
He’s been a motorcycle safety escort for the tour since 2006.
One night last September while Smith and other support team were on laundry duty sorting the riders’ socks and underwear, someone pointed out Smith still hadn’t ridden a tour.
It was time for Smith to pony up, so to speak, but he faced one major challenge – he’d never ridden a bicycle. Actually, he rode his brother’s bike once when he was 10 years old and still bears the scar on his right arm.
Smith, who has 27 years with the RCMP and served in Nanaimo since 1989, grew up on a farm in Ontario where long distances to anything meant his family rode dirt bikes, not bicycles.
“Now I had to learn how to ride a bicycle,” Smith said. “I still am learning how to ride a bike.”
Smith got hooked on the tour when it needed an extra motorcycle escort for one day in 2006. Since then he has volunteered to escort one week of the tour each year. In 2011, he and other escorts volunteered to both escort and take on full support team duties.
“Last year we sort of joined in doing the laundry and helping get everything organized and I saw a whole new aspect of the tour,” Smith said. “Riding a motorcycle, I kind of just rode a motorcycle and that was it. Now, washing people’s underwear and making sure the riders are good to go, gave me even more of an appreciation of what the support crew did.”
In the eight weeks of training leading up to the announcement of the 2012 Tour de Rock team Saturday in Victoria, Smith has developed his lungs and leg muscles, pedaling and shifting techniques, learned to ride in a tight pack of riders at high speeds and gained more stamina with each training ride.
In fact, Smith started a weight loss program in October to prepare for the training.
“I had toyed with the idea of doing the ride, but figured I was out of shape and wouldn’t be able to do it,” Smith. “As my wife said, ’round is a shape.'”
Smith has lost 25 pounds, so far, and says he sleeps better because he no longer snores.
“I wouldn’t have dreamed of hopping on a bicycle and going on a 50- or 60-kilometre ride on my own, so this is definitely pushing me to become better.”
For a guy who will go head to head, motorcycle versus semi tractor-trailer rig, to clear a safe path through a busy highway for Tour de Rock teams, true fear rarely rears its head. But learning to ride inches from other bicycles at high speeds presents some genuinely intimidating moments, especially on narrow, rough, winding, steep hills on some training routes where a bike’s braking and cornering limitations become frighteningly evident.
“I’m still a big guy on a small bike,” Smith said. “You’re going down a hill at 60 kilometres an hour and you’re scared. It’s scary.”
Smith’s fundraising goal is $50,000. If that seems high, one should bear in mind Smith had already raised $7,000 before training even started in March.