Well, we’ve had a few days of bright weather in this neck of the woods and, just like the crocuses, the daffodils and the bluebells, the season’s crop of gaily coloured cyclists have been pushing their way out onto our roadsides.
I’ve done my share
As a kid I was cycle mad and I’m not quite sure how I managed to live through to old age (shame I hear some of you say!). I rode throughout the south, on all sorts of roads, in all sorts of weather, all over London, without protective gear, with a packed lunch, but that was when the world was young! The most geekish outfit involved, and only used in extremis, was the cycling cape! Based on some kind of fisherman’s oilskin, these bright yellow, over-the-head, one-piece capes had to be carried in order to satisfy one’s parents before being allowed out of the house on any kind of expedition. They came with a truly vile, matching oilskin fisherman’s hat. I’m proud to say that mine never saw action and remained tightly rolled up and stuffed in a roll beneath my saddle.
I’ve ridden on the Herne Hill circuit, done a bit of push bike grass track racing, and informal road racing and had all sorts of scrapes. Mainly though, it was all a bit Famous Five – even though it was almost always just the two of us; me and my best pal Ralph – see what I mean? They don’t make names like that any more. We spent all the time we could, out and about, riding from South London, down through Epsom, towards Brighton and Worthing and all places between. I remember coming down Box Hill at a fair lick and scaring myself. I remember losing control, careering down Leith Hill and crashing through a hedge at the bottom. I recall trying out a fixed wheel rig for the first time and bobbing up and down like some kind of deranged fairground rider until I got the hang of it. I remember my mate crashing down on top of me after I had fallen into some road works – nice rope burns!
However, it’s all different now. Back then traffic levels were reasonable, speeds were much lower, attitudes seemed much gentler and we actually understood some bits of The Highway Code. Didn’t necessarily obey them, but had a good idea of what we should and, as importantly, should not be doing.
So, back to the curmudgeonly bit – The Lycra Louts
What a scourge these are! Of course not all cyclists fall into this category; some ride with consideration for other road users and some even wear inoffensive outfits; but increasingly the latter seem to be the exception in these parts.
There seem to be three basic dress codes: the all-in-black Ninja types, who dress like some kind of stealth bomber and have a deliberately menacing look; the Semi-Pro types, festooned with Tour de France – style logos who inhabit an imaginary world where they lead The Peleton; and the simply garish and overstretched in more ways than one.
Here in West Yorkshire our similarly overstretched roads suffer from a surfeit of all three, but they all feature the lure of Lycra*….
*Other appalling fabrics are also available
The Ninja Stealth Bombers whizz through our towns and villages scarcely causing a ripple in the space time continuum. They are fully equipped with head cams and hi-tech strobe kit capable of causing maximum visual disturbance during the hours of darkness. These folk come from the dark side – so don’t cross them!
The Semi-Pros are relatively harmless, if a bit self-righteous, as they mainly seem to compete with each other in terms of go-faster stripes; obscure logos, preferably in foreign tongues; and references to teams and races that they have not taken part in. They do tend to shout a lot, so keep a safe distance to protect your hearing.
Now to the crème de la crème. Every spring, hordes of multi-coloured, garish, somewhat hesitant, amateurs wobble up and down our highways and byways. Often more than two abreast, inadvertently maximising inconvenience to other road and footpath users, they grit their teeth in their determination to showcase the most gaudy and grotesque forms ever displayed. Being trapped behind (an appropriate term) a fairly typical Jack or Jill Spratt and partner is no joke. The sight of acres of shrink-wrapped lard, or saggy bony arses leaves little to the imagination and is no joy to behold as they labour very slowly uphill. They are propelled by legs either bulging in shimmering plastic reminiscent of overstuffed bangers in pork butchers’ shop windows, or by incredibly spindly splinters of legs connected by almost bare sinews in a macabre skeletal display that could grace The Blackpool Ghost Train. Neither is a thing of beauty.
But it’s very green, I hear you say…and they bring trade to the local communities en-route,
All is not all that it seems on the traffic front. OK, they don’t have much of a carbon tyre tread but they still have an impact on pollution. When they have tired of driving pedestrians from our narrow footpaths, these multi-coloured hordes also make a decent contribution to small market town pollution by exacerbating traffic congestion and generating lots of stops and starts in narrow town thoroughfares. I know that our roads are in a dire state, and that this is a huge deterrent to riding close to the roadside edge, but riding side by side does not help!
They also tend to be fans of self sufficiency, which basically mean bringing their own food, so unfortunately, these freewheelers hardly ever seem to hit the shops. Still, I guess they do make a small contribution to our local waste mountain.
At least cycling is a quiet pastime – or so you might think.
I used to live on a major valley road that was a haven of tranquillity until the first Tour de France came our way. Then our really peaceful Sunday mornings were torn apart by the frequent outbursts of groups of cyclists “Riding the route” and bellowing as they shared inane and inappropriate conversations with each other, and, incidentally with anyone else living within 50 metres of the road. I have always been relatively slow to burn, but these people, making more noise than any passing convoy of lorries, have roused me to respond in kind by making my own, admittedly mildly obscene, contribution to the morning melee.
What is the world coming to? Our local Boy Racers can scarcely hear the roar of their own exhausts!