A cyclist without a bike is a strange sight; waddling around in their impractical shoes, sheepishly conscious of the indignity of wearing lycra. Even in that designer Rapha jersey – and especially if you’re all togged up in Assos – you will look like a prize pillock to the general non-cycling population. And no, they’re not even impressed by the size of your calves.
So I suppose we can agree that to complete the look, no cyclist should leave home without accessorising their outfit with an actual bicycle. Which is a shame, because I hate them. They’re temperamental, highly strung, require constant pampering, demand to be adorned with expensive bits and bobs. Neglect your bike and it whines at you, it creaks and moans. It drags it’s heels, mangles gear shifts. The little bastards think this sport is all about THEM.
Well, I can assure them, it is certainly not. Those glossy centre fold spreads of whizzy carbon steeds in cycling magazines leave me cold. I fail to get aroused by talk of ’46-ton carbon’, ‘beefy bottom brackets’ and ‘asymmetric chainstays’. Much like in life, it’s the pretty ones that require all the fawning pampering and attention (The Damien Hirst-designed bike for Lance Armstrong is a prime example. As delicate as the butterflies squished into its frame, I bet even Lance doesn’t get much use out of it) – ugly brutish bikes will just plough on without complaint, suffering the mud and wet of winter, wanting only a squirt of oil and a hose down now and again in return for its efforts.
Admittedly however, my criteria of assessing a bike is based almost entirely on aesthetics (I’m shallow and superficial like that). Yes, Sky’s new Pinnerallo Dogmas have had the attention of more engineers and scientists than the Hadron Collider, but it looks like it’s made of jelly. In contrast, slickly engineered Cervelos look sharp and mean, ready to cut through the air like a hot knife through butter.
With so many team kits looking practically identical bikes are a useful way of identifying riders during a race. Obviously remembering their race numbers would be better, but I’m not that smart (yes, stupid as well as shallow and superficial. I’ve got a lot going for me).
Equally, a quick survey of the bikes lined up outside race HQ can you give you strong clues as to their owners identity. For example, a pristine vanity-machine with whizz-bang gizmos and deep section carbon wheels may suggest a rider with more money than time to train. Conversely, something plain and black with inexpensive components and a dirty chain will no doubt be owned by a dedicated natural athelete, gifted with cycling flair and majestic style, concerned with hard graft rather than showy bling. So watch out for him in the race – he’s very likely to be awesome. *Cough*
At the weekend we saw the spectacle of the world’s greatest one-day race, Paris-Roubaix – a sort of perverse celebration of France’s worst roads. Many sections are no more than crudely cobbled farm tracks, with only the strongest rides able to negotiate them with speed. Despite being one of the most highly prized addition to a rider’s palmarès, the race is equally revered and reviled by even the toughest men of the sport – Bernard Hinault called Paris-Roubaix “plain-stupid”. Many simply stay away completely.
Back on the roads of Surrey and racing has developed a whiff of the ‘Hell of the North’. Ordinarily, life in the bunch isn’t so tough; gliding along at a steady rhythm, being sucked along in the slipstream of the guys up front. But throw into the equation the wide deep potholes caused by our recent bitter winter, and the story changes. Any rider without a clear view of the road ahead encounters sudden obstacles – made no easier by the riders around them; the swerving, the evasive action, braking, hopping. The smooth shoal of the peloton becomes chaotic and staccato.
Positioning in the bunch has taken on a greater importance this season. You can expend far too much energy mid-bunch slowing, then accelerating, hitting holes with gritted teeth and crossed fingers. But there are gains to be made for those canny enough, either installing themselves firmly near the front, or for those even braver, taking their chances in a small breakaway group able to navigate through the obstacles at greater speed and fluidity.
In addition to the bone rattling, it feels as if money is literally being shaken out of my pockets. The pitted roads of Surrey have been gradually bumping my bike to pieces – spokes are loose, rims are crooked and bearings are shot. Just this last week potholes have claimed a bottle cage and my bike computer (its innards knocked loose and now rattling around inside). In some ways I’ve been let off lightly having raced so far without puncturing or having all my teeth shaken out of my head. Others have been less fortunate, as the long list of DNFs on each result sheet shows.
Let’s hope that as the winter disappears and the sun emerges, we’ll see some cleaning up of the roads this spring. I am definitely not made in the mould of Fabian Cancellara – my delicate body appreciates a bit of velvety smooth beneath its bottom.
EDIT The Tour of the Milbury’s has been cancelled due to poor road surfaces. Read the story on the British Cycling website here.
EDIT 2 If you spot a pothole that needs repairing, register it on www.fillthathole.org.uk. Fingers crossed the relevant local council will get around to mending it. Eventually.
For those of you who closely follow the sport of low-level amateur cycling in the south east, you will already know all about my semi-incredible performance this past weekend. Suffice to say, dozens of words in reports and analysis have already been written on how I spectacularly achieved 4th place – which is basically as good as is possible without actually stepping onto the podium – a result which is being hailed by aficionados of the sport as my best result yet, bar none. Which would be correct.
In some ways it’s fortunate that I didn’t somehow – through fluke or default – manage to win the race. Winning for me continues to be an elusive exotic state in which grown men regard you with awe, and young ladies clamber to touch the hem of my lycra shorts. If I were to ever glimpse the reality – that no one other than myself would give a toss – my faith in cycling may crumble. How would I ever motivate myself through all those grueling training hours? Suffer the pain of intervals? Be arsed to clean my bike? Winning would certainly trigger the terminal decline of my cycling career. Or at the very least, success would be accompanied by an undignified failure, such as tripping off the podium or falling across the line during my unrehearsed victory salute.