I bought a bike 3 years ago. This year I became a cyclist. There is a difference between people who ride a bike and cyclists. I didn’t realise before but when I rode my first 50 mile sportive, on a hybrid with a basket on the front and an ill-fitting red helmet that looked like a cherry on top of my Bakewell tart bonce, there was a reason why fellow riders were sniffy. I get it now.
Here are some of the things I have learnt about being a cyclist.
- Cyclists are intense. I like to use the acronym NOBs (needlessly obsessive bores.) In this male dominated sport NOBs will ask you what group set you have, instruct you on what cadence or power wattage you should be pushing and can talk relentlessly about tyres, air pressure and wet vs dry lubricants, (I kid you not!) It’s intimidating to newbies like myself and can give the impression of sexist, male feather fluffing but actually these blokes are genuinely interested in this stuff. To them it matters.
- One of the main criteria of being a cyclist is knowing the weight of your bike. Basically, the lighter the bike, the better it is; we are talking grammes here rather than kilos. Carbon is king and the dedicated cyclist is obsessive about how to shave off any weight. I find this strange when most rides then include…
- …cafe stops. On Sunday mornings around the British countryside cafes are filled with blokes in lycra. There are even dedicated cycling eateries with bikey names and old roadsters and jerseys on the walls. Every cyclist has their own particular favourite mid-ride snack; some go for tea and cake; others profess to ride better after poached eggs. I once witnessed a group of around a dozen men loudly demand cheese and marmite on toast.
- Cyclists are pack animals. They like to pretend they are in a peloton, drafting, taking turns on the front and all that. Really, they like to meet up with their mates and have a good chinwag.
- Whereas most sports make you hot and sweaty, cycling is the opposite. You have never felt cold until you’ve ridden without gloves and overshoes in the rain. In winter, wind permeates your bones and it is one of the few social situations where it acceptable for a bloke to wear his wife’s tights. Conversely, summer brands riders with a cyclist’s tan; the more startling the contrast between the ombre legs and the milky white outline of your bib shorts, the more kudos awarded.
- Cycling is expensive. Even after the initial outlay of a perfectly good bike there is a tendency to pimp-my-ride with spec components. A bike fit will knock you back 75 quid for some fella to adjust your saddle with a spanner, (and it’s worth every penny.) Despite Aldi selling budget, decent quality kit; you are a nobody if you’re not sporting something with a Castelli scorpion mortif. People that wear Rapha are special.
- Bikes are precious. They are cherished, named and kept spotlessly clean. Taking your chain off to wash in the kitchen sink is acceptable. Apparently you can spot a triathlete because they don’t scrub the handlebar tape with Cif.
- One bike is not enough. There are lots of reasons used to justify another purchase. The truth is buying bikes is both wonderful and addictive.
- The Tour de France is the highlight of the year for cyclists. It’s 3 weeks of unadulterated bike nerdiness. It’s time to brush up on Cyclespeak (which is part French and includes words like domestique, peloton, chapeau and allez.) Watching cycling is inspiring and mystifying. There are jerseys for points, gc and King of the Mountain which can be won without ever winning a stage. Riders crash, get pushed off and cycle with broken bones yet adhere to an obscure form of unwritten gentlemen’s conduct. It is brutal and tactical. The TDF takes over your life and is closely followed by the Vuelta which is basically the same but in Spain. You have to be a slave to the cable guide to find this stuff.
- Just like not wearing a seatbelt was once the norm; cycle helmets are a relatively new thing. However many photos are bandied about of smashed up helmets coated in blood, captioned “my children would be orphans if it weren’t for this,” old skool cyclists and idiots still opt not to wear one. Instead they were a jaunty little cloth cap. Everyone agrees the snazzy, weird caps look amazing with a pair of jazzy mid-calf length socks.
Yes, cyclists are an eccentric bunch. Obsessive, focussed and creatures of ritual. It is easy to think them rude as they zip past without a wave or a smile. With a little experience of being clipped in, rounding a downhill bend at approaching 30mph and with a fear of potholes and Audi drivers you can relate to the supposed arrogance.
Cycling is not the most inclusive sport; certainly intimidating for women. One of the first things I did when I bought my bike was enrol on a maintenance course. I can change an inner sharpish but I still rely on my lbs (local bike shop,) for anything else. I’ve had my share of mechanicals at the side if the road. I’ve created an Ibiza style foam party with one of those cans of puncture repair sealant and once snapped off my valve hitting it with a brick, (erm…rookie error?)
I ride solo and each time I’ve had a problem, a fellow cyclist has stopped and offered assistance. Sometimes I’ve accepted, other times not. I’ve had long chats about routes over a cuppa mid-ride and have learnt to spot the barely discernible nod, rather than a wave, as riders pass. Men do seem to feel the need to look out for the lady cyclist but, also respect a gal who can ride the climbs complete the distance and has a decent set of wheels.
These are just some if the quirks I’ve noticed about cyclists. Really though, the thing that has finally turned me into one of the gang is that thing that unifies us. A love of being on the bike; the exhilaration of the wind rushing past, the satisfaction of burning quads, the peace of quiet country lanes and the freedom to travel a long way under your own steam. Once you have discovered that, the rest is irrelevant.
That is how to become a cyclist.