My first thought was that it was a cycling term in which the straps were the cyclist’s toe straps that held one’s cleated shoes firmly in the toe clips and on the pedal (before the days of clipless cleats). However, after 40 years of racing, coaching, and as editor of Competitive Cycling Magazine in the 1970s, I had never come across this expression. However, I have been out of cycling since 1990 (a knee injury did me in) and thought that perhaps the term might have surfaced since then. But this didn’t make much sense since toe straps were on there way out by the time I quit the sport.
A check of every source available (at least to me) did not turn up anything on this phrase. A Google search, however, produced ~60 hits for ‘hit his straps’ + ‘cycling’ and I found that it was, indeed used in that context and all the examples seemed to indicate that the expression was synonymous with ‘hit his stride’ (derived from horse racing), achieved a steady, effective high level of competence. However, a wider search produced ~1100 hits for ‘hit his straps’ and ~600 for ‘hit the straps’ indicating that the expression had spread well beyond cycling, but all appeared to have the same meaning and most were from Australia, New Zealand, U.K. and were related to sports (cricket, soccer, horse racing, cycling, etc.).
After sifting through a fair number of the above, I came up with the following in a ten-year-old article on a cricket match: “Then yesterday, from the dying embers of a weather-ruined final day, Fraser ‘hit his straps,’ as they say over here, and exploited the juice in a pitch covered by plastic through two hours of afternoon rain.” This established that the expression was definitely regional and cast further doubt on whether ‘hit his straps,’ originated in cycling and that it most likely had something to do with a sport I know nothing about, such as cricket, rugby, . . .
So, my conclusion is that the expression is definitely used down under and that there is a strong likelihood that’s where it had originated and probably in a sport popular there. Any help on the origin of this expression from our friends in that part of the world would be appreciated.
Ken G – November 18, 2004