There is no cure.
He plays in a world-famous band and has toured the globe for the last 40 years. And yet, all he really wants to do is ride bikes. And if he can’t, then he likes nothing better than to talk about them.
Words & Photography chipps
The bass guitarist prowls the stage in front of the sold out festival audience. As the band plays one of its many top ten singles, the bass player glares menacingly at the audience, pointing his low-slung black bass at the crowd like a flamethrower. The glossy black body of the bass is plain, apart from some mysterious ancient runes in white. The runes doubtless have some significance to the thousands of black-clad fans and… wait a second… that’s not an ancient rune, that’s an Orange Bikes logo. What the…?
There’s no easy way of saying this, but Simon Gallup, the long-standing bass player in The Cure, yes, that The Cure, is an out-and-out bike geek. Give him the choice between attending a VIP music industry shindig and a cold, wet, muddy ride somewhere over the Ridgeway, and he’ll leap at the latter. And despite being legitimate rock royalty – having played bass with The Cure for 40 years – it turns out that he has more bikes than bass guitars.
I first met Simon at Mountain Mayhem a couple of years ago when he was racing in the Ride for Michael team, promoting the charity that supports the paralysed bike industry stalwart, Michael Bonney, a long-time friend of Gallup’s. In the way of people you might have seen somewhere before, perhaps on a stage or a poster, he seemed somehow in sharper focus than the people surrounding him, all jet-black hair, Iron Maiden T-shirt and cut-off denim jacket, but any fears I might have had about rock diva (or divo)-ness were instantly dismissed when he introduced himself and asked what bike I was riding. After meeting again at Mayhem the following year, we bonded over a common love of bikes and beer, swapping notes about bikes, gear and complaining about the weather. When I asked if he’d mind being interviewed about his bikes and relationship to them, he seemed genuinely excited and so, on a sunny August afternoon, I found myself at his house in a quiet, leafy bit of Hampshire.
Simon came to the door in trademark sleeveless black T-shirt, tall Doc Marten boots and Orange-branded baggy shorts. Contrary to his brooding stage persona, he’s warm and friendly and it doesn’t take much to make him crack into a smile. Apart from a music room with several bass guitars, a keyboard and an ancient tape-cassette Portastudio, there’s little to suggest that he’s been in a world-famous band that’s been touring the world for the last 40 years. A glance at his bookshelf reveals mostly biographies of road riders. There’s not a gold record to be seen and Simon refers to ‘the band’ in the way that you and I might talk about ‘the office’. Get him talking about bikes – mountain, road or ’cross – and he lights up. He loves them in all of their forms and is incredibly clued up about bikes, components and the riders who ride them. It’s a love that grew from utility cycling and then a mountain bike epiphany in the 1990s. So, the beginning seems as good a place as any to start.
At the beginning.
“I’ve always ridden bikes. Ever since I was a kid. I did the normal thing when you’re that age where you got a road bike and then went down the dump and put cowhorn bars on. I had a friend who was in the first band I was in at school and he was really good at mechanical things so I always used to leave things to him. Looking back they were probably really dangerous…
“When I first left school I worked in a factory and it was such a lowly paid job I didn’t have enough money to get driving lessons, so I just rode a bike. And then when I joined the band, I’d just turned 19, we were away for nine months of the year and coming back, writing, so I never had the time to learn to drive then. So up until my thirties, I couldn’t drive, so a bike was a means of transport, getting to the pub, going to see friends.”
So far, so ordinary ‘cyclist joins band, tours the world’ story I guess. Simon went on to achieve fame and fortune with The Cure in the 1980s, but that also brought the predictable rock and roll lifestyle, which rarely includes early nights, eating vegetables and taking regular exercise, and he admits that he wasn’t the most healthy of people back then. However, there would be a couple of seemingly insignificant moments that would disproportionately affect Simon’s relationship with bikes. The first is the gift of a bottom of the range, newfangled, mountain bike…
“In the summer of 1991, I got given a Specialized Rockhopper. It was a bit of a beast and it just stayed in the corner for a long while. I used to live in Ashdown Forest, right in the middle of the woods, to write. You’re not allowed to ride there, but I just thought I’d give it a go. And at the time I used to smoke and drink whisky, so the first couple of rides were just sweat and puffing, but I thought ‘This is really good’. And because that summer lent itself to riding, I found that I became addicted to riding a mountain bike.
“I stopped drinking whisky, gave up smoking and just used to go out more and more each day. Going out for four hours a day on this beaten up old Rockhopper. And I thought ‘I’m going to progress to a Stumpjumper’ and I did and was just so proud of it. Fully rigid, but you didn’t know any better then. It sort of overtook my life. I stopped playing for a while because all I wanted to do was ride bikes all the time.”
He even (briefly) got the rest of the band into bikes…
“That same year, we went to Oxford to record the album ‘Wish’ and I’d written all the stuff I was going to write, prior to getting into bikes and I went over there and started riding around and the rest of the group were like ‘What’s that?’ so I explained and the next day they all went and bought bikes too.
“My timescale has always been different to [the rest of] the band. I like getting up at 7am. I used to get up in the morning, go out for a ride, get back about 1pm and they’d all be getting out of bed and faffing around for a couple of hours. It was in September and they used to ride up the canal path to the pub. I could tell they were really pleased with the bikes, but it was funny as all they used to do was the two miles up to the pub and back again. It was good to see, but it was short-lived. It lasted September.”
Practice makes perfect excuses to ride.
Even today, Simon keeps different hours to the rest of the band. Before The Cure’s recent Hyde Park gig, the band were rehearsing 60-odd songs, ten hours a day for two weeks in preparation for another of the band’s signature two-hours plus performances.
“If we rehearse, if we record, I always take a bike along and just go and do it. You know, the thing is with Robert [Smith], he’s not a fake, he is what you see. He is Mr Goth – he goes to bed at seven (am) and gets up at 2pm. So I get all the cycling done and he doesn’t really know. We rehearse in Brighton a lot, so I leave my bike at the rehearsal studio, shoot along there, go out for a few hours and just get back – it’s like having a secret life.
“Rehearsals, I get in about 12, Robert will come in around four. Sometimes we’ll go on until midnight, two in the morning, but there’s always time to get a bike ride in.”
That’s not usually the case on tour. For a start, Simon’s not insured to mountain bike when he’s on tour, as any injuries could mean cancelling a show, or even a whole tour. And while he tries to sneak off when he can, common sense usually strikes and when he’s on tour, he sticks to the gym. “Where I can’t get into an accident.”
The lure of a bike ride is often strong, though, and for the band’s headline Hyde Park gig, Simon had wanted to ride to the venue from the edge of London.
“Robert didn’t put his foot down, as such, but when he wants something, he always starts with ‘I beg of you…’ and he said ‘I beg of you, please don’t. What happens if you fall off?’ I said ‘Fair enough…’”
However, on the morning of the show Simon was still being about as far from rock star as could be. (Let’s hope his fans never find out.) The day started with a short local road ride where he was reminded of that evening’s responsibilities as he saw a fan in a Cure T-shirt making her way to the train station. “I was tempted to pull up on the bike and tell her not to bother, as The Cure was rubbish, but I decided against it,” he says with a mischievous grin. And the day got even less rock star once he got back home as he then had to collect his daughter from Saturday morning dance club before the family made their way up the M4 to London.
Enough is never enough.
Enough talk of music, though, and Simon is always happy (and usually trying) to turn the conversation away from his day job and back to bikes. He’s always had a strong connection with Orange bikes, which dates back even before he bought his first one.
“I’ve always liked the Orange brand and the bikes, going back to the early ’90s. I’ve always loved the way the bikes look. I like the logo, everything. I used to put Orange Bikes stickers on my bass cabinet and on my bass guitar. The lad that was working for me at the time (as a bass tech) took it upon himself to send a picture to Orange. And Michael Bonney got back to me and sent me a riding top to wear. So I phoned up to say thanks and even that first conversation, on a Friday afternoon, I was on the phone for about three hours (Michael is an obsessive music fan). And that was the start of a long relationship.
“My first Orange was a Sub 5. My knowledge of bikes at the time wasn’t that good. I saw the pictures and I liked that radical sloped top tube on the smaller sized frame, the way it sloped down, and I went over to the bike shop in Pangbourne to buy one. I thought that the 18in frame had too horizontal a top tube, so I put some longer forks on to make it look better.
After that, I just kept buying Oranges and became obsessed with them. I’ve given more away than I’ve got now, so I must have bought around… easily 18.”
Any duplicates? Surely he hasn’t bought one and then bought another the same but in a different colour?
“Actually yes. The old 26in Five, I had five of those. Five Fives just sounded good. I went and bought a second-hand Five frame from the bloke who used to own Sunset in Wales. I asked Orange if they’d give it a respray and the young lad who used to work there said ‘How many Fives have you got?’ ‘Five.’ ‘Why do you want five?’ ‘Five Fives! It just sounds good.’”
Show us your Ferrari. Oh…
Most international rock stars seem to have three-car garages and Simon Gallup is no different. While a Mini and a Ford pickup truck sit outside on the gravel drive, one can only imagine what treasures lie inside. Anyone who guessed ‘exotic sports cars’ doesn’t know Simon that well as his garage is full… full of bikes. More than full actually as he’s started to fill a shipping container that sits behind it. There are some lovely road bikes (a Wilier Triestina, a Specialized Venge and a few others) and there are many, many mountain bikes. A Specialized Enduro sticks out among the Oranges, but it’s mainly Orange bikes. And even though he’s been trying to thin the collection out, there are some he can’t bear to part with. An ST4 gets a loving touch as he passes, as does a singlespeeded P7 and any number of Fives – both 26in and 27.5. The Gyro is the sole 29er, but it doesn’t sound like it will be for long.
“When it’s Friday night and I’ve had a couple of beers, the computer comes out and I start looking at the Stage 4. I think it’s just an ideal bike. The new Stumpy is a nice looking bike too. It’s one of those things – I’ve sat in the living room some nights and once you start to delve into things, I can go on for hours, wittering on about bikes. The aluminium Tallboy, that caught my eye, that’s a nice bike. With the advent of 29in wheels, a lot of things have changed. A bike that would be wallowy in the past, with too much travel, you can get less travel and still have comfort and roll over stuff.”
“That’s the problem I have with non-biking friends: I get really excited about a bike purchase. I’ll say ‘Look at this!’ but they only see a bike. I think ‘Can’t you not see the design beauty in it?’ and they’re just oblivious to it.
“When I first got my Orange Gyro, my elder daughter – she must have thought I was off my head because I said ‘Come and look at this bike! Look at that!’ and she said ‘OK, but what’s different about it?’ and I pointed to an old Orange Five. And she couldn’t see any difference. ‘But look at the wheels. Look at the wheels!’”
The world’s not interested.
“I was so pleased I’d got this 29er. It was quite conservative geometry at the time, but I was so happy with it. You want to tell the world about it. But the world’s not interested. People will say ‘Do you want to go to this gig, or that gig…’ or ‘Do you want to come to this party?’ and if I’ve got a sportive that weekend, or I know that I can go for a ride with a friend, then I’ll take that over something more prestigious.”
Simon would rather spend time with bike people it seems: “I’ve found a lot of people in the bike industry, they’ve got this really, strangely dark humour and that appeals to me. I remember when I was introduced to Steve Peat and Rob Warner. For a start, when you initially see them – they’re bloody giants, but they were more rock and roll than just about anybody I’d ever met. That they could maintain that certain athleticism, but still be, I dunno – a cross between Chris Boardman and Lemmy.
“When I first got into mountain bikes, there was a whole bunch of them, like Wil Longden and Andrew Titley and I still look at that lot and think ‘They were pretty wild really’. And somehow they looked pretty cool. They were riding pretty rudimentary bikes at the time and doing a lot on them.
“You could tell that they were living the life. Getting pissed, but still going riding, but it was their innate talent that got them through. I think that because they [Peat, Warner et al] had this wild persona about them, they did more for mountain biking than what’s happened in the last few years. Any sport has got to progress, but I think that when it all got a bit sensible and the sports side started coming in – ‘we don’t drink and we’ve got this kind of diet, and we’re only doing this and doing that’ – it got a little bit sterile and it put some people off, really.
“One of the only riders you’ve got left who balances the two well is Greg Minnaar. You can tell that he’ll have a beer but he’s also disciplined.”
It seems that Simon is trying to keep that spirit alive in his own riding. Riding for him is still about friends and chatting and pub lunches and mid-ride views and mid-winter ciders more than athleticism (though he must have the most chiselled calves to have played at Hyde Park), and whenever he’s not supposed to be doing something with ‘the band’, making noise, you’ll find him out in the lanes and woodlands of south-east England. Just riding around on a bike.