The best-kept secret in club cycling (see no.26)
1. The most recent thing I’ve learned is this: having taken an extended break to mark your 40th birthday, it is a challenge to get back into the swing of updating your moderately amusing cycling-related weblog. My brain is like a rusty chain; thankfully, I also have lubrication in the form of a warming pot of tea. Let’s see if that’s enough to oil my way through another 39 of these buggers. Off we go!
2. (Before we properly begin, another challenging aspect to banging out a few thoughts on the old MacBook is that I’ve chosen to do it while cycling’s greatest distraction is on the telly. I refer, of course, to the world-famous Tour of France, which I am pleased to note is now being subjected to the high-octane vocal stylings of Carlton Kirby. Did Eurosport bosses promote him to Grand Boucle commentator – Chief Grand Boucleator, if you will – after reading my enthusiastic recommendation in April last year? Why yes, they did. Of course they did.)
3. Taking a sip of my Thé des Moines – a delicate blend of black tea, green tea, vanilla and calendula petals – I am reminded of cycling’s secret truth: no cyclist really drinks coffee because they love the taste. If you actually enjoyed the flavour of refined hot beverages, then you might also seek out the odd cup of well-blended tea. But you don’t, partly because tea only contains a sixth of the caffeine content found in coffee. It’s only a mild addiction, but addictions rarely turn out well. As the old saying goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you feel incredibly tired once the effect wears off.
4. Well, we’re a tenth of the way through, and I’ve already alienated the caffeinista community. More to the point, I still haven’t properly started this thing yet. So I’ll begin at the beginning. Here we go. For real this time.
5. About 10 years ago, when I started riding seriously, I thought I’d never fit in because I wasn’t serious enough. I don’t mean the long miles or the hard work – I’ve never had a problem with either – but the attention to detail, the planning, the analysing. Then I realised quite a few amateur riders were no good at these things either. It turns out serious cyclists can be as disorganised and shambolic as anyone else. The difference is they feel the absence of discipline more keenly. This is what attracts them to cycling.
6. Pain is temporary; quitting lasts forever. Go hard or go home. Ride like you stole something. No chain, no chain! Etcetera, et bleedin’ cetera. Whenever you’re inclined to think that one of cycling’s many pithy sayings is a great insight into the bigger picture, remember that the cyclist who coined with the greatest number of them was the sport’s biggest fraud. It’s not about the aphorisms.
7. Having said that, I am fully aware the above edict is an aphorism in itself, and this list might become a veritable storehouse of sayings. This is simply my way of participating in one of the longest traditions in cycling: rank, stinking hypocrisy.
8. We need a moratorium on the word ‘velo’. What was once a signal to the more serious end of the cycling spectrum has congealed into an undifferentiated veloslop. Everything, regardless of quality or its target market, is called ‘velo’ these days. Veloriders, Velorution, Urban Velo, Neon Velo… oy, oy, oy. Enough with the velo. We’re veloed out. It’s velover.
9. Two more words that need curbing are ‘pain’ and ‘hurt’. You’re writing about a race or a sportive you have participated in and apparently it was painful. Tell me: if you were writing about swimming, would you tell me that the water was wet? It’s cycling, mate. It’s meant to hurt.
10. Actually, I’d like to make one exception to that last idea, because for some years I’ve harboured a secret desire for the Surrey League to host a race in a village called Hurtmore. In my fantasy promotional campaign, Surrey League bigwig Glyn Durrant peppers the internet-based cycling media with banner ads which are entirely blank, except for one word: “HURTMORE”. The “HURT” is in red, the “MORE” is white. Then a second wave of anticipation hits Surrey League competitors everywhere with these words: “IN 2014 THE SURREY LEAGUE IS GOING TO HURTMORE”. No spaces – “IN2014THESURREYLEAGUEISGOINGTOHURTMORE” – just the words alternating between red and white. Man, imagine the excitement. Imagine the fear.
11. I’ll be honest with you, though: I haven’t done my research on this one. If Hurtmore doesn’t have a leg-shredding climb, they’ll just have to make the race 260km long and hold it on the hottest day of the year.
12. On the subject of races, I thought, upon entering my forties, I would be happy to relinquish my BC licence and limit myself to the sportive playground. Instead, I now realise I am not a sportive rider. I ride them like I would a club ride. I miss the brutality of racing, and I realise I’ve only been competing fitfully since I came back from having major surgery a few years ago. I think this will have to change.
13. I have tried and tried, but I simply cannot forget the name Chester Hill. I saw it on a Surrey League results sheet years ago, and it remains the most old-school cycling name I know of. Despite not having a clue what he looks like, I have a fantasy that one day I might pass him on a particularly testing climb and exclaim: “It’s Chester Hill!” And he, gasping for air, would reply: “It’s not just a hill – it’s friggin’ Ranmore!” I fully realise this may never happen.
14. Cyclists are told too often that cycling is beautiful. Beautiful bikes, beautiful frames, beautiful photography… but they can’t all be beautiful, can they? Because beauty, by definition, is rare. And if you have to tell your customer that the object you’re trying to sell them is beautiful, the chances are it probably isn’t. It’s just… pleasing.
15. The tight-fitting clothing. The pipe-cleaner limbs. The shaved legs. Don’t obviate cycling’s inherent daftness by wallowing in the hollow, monochrome ‘epic’ aesthetic of ‘serious’ cycling culture. Embrace the ridiculous.
16. In the future, not every bike will have electronic gears. But every type of bike will. Think of the growth in usage in the context of the humble kettle: electric kettles are comparatively more complicated than their stove-top equivalents, but everyone uses them now because they do the job with less fuss. And, crucially, they’re not that much more expensive.
17. Miles, not kilometres. Kilometres will always be with us; kilometres are the building blocks of a race, the countdown to the finish line. But say both words out loud: ‘kilometre’ is sharp and factual-sounding; the long ‘i’ of ‘miles’ is expressive. Miles are what you have in your legs, or what you have yet to get in. Miles are units of yearning, not matters of fact. ‘Miles’ conveys incompleteness – and all of us, as cyclists, are incomplete.
18. I have been part of a very big club ever since it was no bigger than a few dozen members. For the first five years, I put together a weekly newsletter about the club called DYNAMITE!, which I set up this blog to archive. Writing DYNAMITE! was one of the more worthwhile things I’ve done. It brought hundreds of strangers together. It kept them entertained. It recorded, in the course of more than 200 issues, just how much we love the sport.
19. Strava and route-sharing websites should’ve killed off cycling clubs, or at least diminished the importance of club runs. Instead, cycling clubs are getting bigger. Nothing surprising about that: cycling can be a miserable sport, and it helps if you’re surrounded by people who will help you cope with terrible form or terrible weather. What is surprising is how little of the culture of cycling clubs is reflected in cycling media, given that club cyclists are the basis of their readership.
20. I like being a loner. But what I like even more than solitude is being out on my bike and stumbling across an old clubmate I haven’t seen for years. Being part of a large club, I often get these little surprises.
21. I miss seeing heart rate monitors on the wrists of strangers. Before Garmin GPS units became ubiquitous, I would sometimes spy a chunky Polar beneath a shirt cuff and realise that, yes, this person is indeed one of us. Now I have to look for daft, mitt-shaped tan lines, like the ones I currently have demarcating my pale hands from my brown arms.
22. If you really want to know what cyclists talk about, don’t look on the internet. This is because the internet has become The Fact Olympics – “Look at my big, juicy facts! My facts are far more powerful than your puny facts! Just face facts – preferably my bulging, pulsating facts!” Relatively few of the face-to-face conversations I have with my cycling chums are about doping, and none of them have deteriorated into an argument. I suspect this is because competitive cyclists prefer to use their bikes and legs rather than words to best each other.
23. I used to believe in strength in numbers, that bad drivers would be shamed into curbing their worst behaviours if we simply had more cyclists join us on London’s streets. Well, we have, and they haven’t. I don’t think there are more bad motorists, but I do think the worst ones are behaving even more badly. We need stronger laws, and better road infrastructure.
24. Having said that, I don’t believe that an adversarial, them-and-us culture is the motorist’s default mindset. You can pass dozens of cars on a single ride without incident. Drivers generally don’t have an issue with us.
25. The best time to ride in London is after 1am. There are fewer cars and, perhaps because there is less traffic, the standard of driving is less aggressive.
26. The best-kept secret in Surrey-based club cycling is Fairoaks Airport. You may not know it, but there really is an airport nestled amidst the roads you train on. It has a nice cafe. You can watch light aircraft and helicopters landing and taking off. It’s like a little day out in the middle of a ride. You will feel like a kid again.
27. Speaking of being a child, the funniest phrase in the cycling lexicon is ‘anodised nipple’.
28. The second-funniest phrase in cycling is ‘Edvald Boobsandhardon’. (If you think it’s disrespectful, please blame my romantical partner Littlejen who made it up.)
29. The third-funniest phrase in cycling is ‘Fartlek’.
30. I rarely drink. I ride quite a bit. I don’t put on much weight. These three things immediately pop into my head when I come across a cyclist who has signed up to a complicated and restrictive diet plan.
31. More than speed, more than distance, cycling is about time. Time is the agent of anticipation, and we’re all anticipating something: the next ride, the next bike, the moment when everything – the right level of fitness, the mental focus – finally comes together.
32. You will know if your bike is the one for you if you keep it by your bed. Wake up. Look at it. Does it make you want to ride even when though you are exhausted? Then congratulations – you have made the right choice.
33. Nobody needs to spend more than £2,500 on a bicycle. I’ve experienced the full panoply of frame materials – aluminium, steel, titanium and carbon – and I’ve loved them all. You can experience the same joy as I have done without spending the equivalent of the price of a new hatchback.
34. I have never envied another person’s bicycle. I don’t go looking for another bike to own. All my bikes found me.
35. I can recall miserable wet rides from years ago – the people I was with, where we went, where we stopped when we punctured – but I can remember barely anything from some of the warm, sunny rides that should have been more memorable. Hot days wipe my memory.
36. Women are the best people to ride with. Men specialise in talking about facts and objects; women tend to talk about people and experiences. They are more observant of character and more aware of absurdity. If I’m going to chat with someone for three hours or more, I know which gender I’d prefer them to be.
37. Book and magazine publishers, please note the following: no one has ever said, “Brilliant! Another lengthy retread of obscure cycling history, told with a personal twist! I’ve just got to read this!”
38. Bicycle races are even more fun when you watch them with Littlejen. My romantical partner is quite a reserved person, but my goodness – you should hear the gob on her during the Tour.
39. Jen is that rarest of people: a cycling fan who loves cycling yet hardly ever rides. She enjoys the spectacle and occasional absurdity of professional cycling; the nerdery and punditry are anathema to her. We need more Littlejens in cycling.
40. Sometimes, when you’re out on your bike, you’ll want to go as hard as you can. On other occasions you might be out for a pootle. Similarly, when I’m being serious, I try to be as engaging and argumentative as I can be; if I’m being daft or whimsical, I put in as many funny bits as I can think of. I wish more people did the same. Write like you ride.