Perhaps it’s just part of the ageing process, but I’m finding myself increasingly tempted to ride an Audax event – the long distance cycling discipline favoured by cheerfully eccentric men with beards and sandals – for not only is there a minimum speed that their rides are required to be completed in, but there’s also a maximum speed too. Racing is quite clearly frowned upon.
Living in a city like London, the pace of life can sometimes seem unrelentingly hectic. Commuting by bike should provide a chance to escape the shoulder-to-shoulder rat race of an over crowded tube, train or bus, yet instead it so often degenerates into just another race to or from work.
A common reason given by commuters why they choose the bike over more sedentary forms of transport are the health benefits – cycling helps keep you fit, it saves on gym membership, a way of squeezing a workout into a busy day. I’m not denying these things might be true, but it sort of misses the point. Commuting by bike should be about pleasure – not speed, time, fitness or training. There could be no other more infuriating environment to choose for your daily exercise than the rush hour streets of London – clogged with traffic, crammed with junctions, crossings, roadworks, u-turning taxis, snaking bendy busses – as soon as you’ve got your heart rate into that target training zone you’ll be grabbing the brakes as the lights turn to red.
London Smithfield Nocturne. Photo by Ben Ingham/Rapha
…a good selection of pubs on the course has helped make the London Nocturne a popular cycling spectacle. Taking over Smithfield Market for the evening, the main attraction sees the likes of Cameron Myer (Garmin Cervelo) and Russell Downing (Sky) challenge the cream of our domestic talent. Local racers get their opportunity to race the technical circuit cheered/heckled on by enthusiastic crowds in the women’s and support races. Motorpoint and Horizon Fitness look like the teams to watch in the women’s event, while young talents Germain Burton and Tao Geogan Hart look good bets in the 2nd cat support race – although the London Dynamos have strength in numbers and will be looking to gang up on the young lads and spoil their evening…
Races are won and lost on the hairpin bend at Crystal Palace. Photo by Andy Waterman
It’s difficult to understand how some people’s favourite season is not summer. In terms of racing there’s more on offer than at any other time of the year; living in London it’s easily possible to race three times a week if you so wanted, and that’s not to mention time trialling and sportives (if you’re that way inclined). Racing after work is possible because of the longer evenings, and Tuesday night alone there’s the choice of either Hillingdon or Crystal Palace. But for me the only choice is Palace.
I remember in my first year of racing I didn’t stray far from Hillingdon; as a fourth cat your racing options are fairly limited anyway, but I’d heard stories about Palace. About the crazy narrow course. That’s in a public park with dog walkers straying onto the road. The chaos as the various concurrent races mingle and tangle, and all the confusion that ensues. But bored of circling a flat featureless track out by an industrial park at the end of the bordering-on-hostile Uxbridge Road, I gathered my courage and headed one evening instead to south east London… I’d never enjoyed myself so much during a race than during that first taste of Palace – sprinting out of every corner, tentatively getting to grips with the tricky bends. I regretted listening to the nay-sayers and the doom mongers, and for not racing there sooner.
Introducing a new, possibly regular (possibly not) series where I ask various cycling folk what they’re liking right now…
- Screen printing… every time I see it – such as this piece by illustrator Will Scobie – I know it would suit my own work. I love the results, even when they go slightly wrong and don’t match up properly.
- Cyclocross… I’m about to pick up my first ‘cross bike, a Cannondale CAADX 105 – nothing too crazy expensive or whiz bang, just a good quality bike that will do the job and something I can upgrade later. I’ve been drawn to ‘cross by the countryside in and around where I live in Sussex. The nature of the single track on the South Downs is perfect for Cross training, and I cant wait to get racing in the autumn. I’ve found myself looking out of the window on the train looking at fields in a new way, wondering whether they would be a good spot for training.
Not a thread of lycra in sight. Photograph by The Sartorialist
If you’re reading this blog then the likelihood is that for you cycling is a year-round activity. However, to much of the London population, cycling is something that only happens during the summer (and tube strikes). In the same way that tennis hibernates year round and only emerges during the brief weeks of Wimbledon with every public court booked out morning ’til night, London’s roads become clogged with cyclists the moment it’s warm enough to leave the cardigan at home.
As an aloof, elitist and snooty racing cyclist, I of course endeavour to look down on these fair weather cyclists with disdain, overtaking them with my nose held high in the air. It is important for the world to see the distinction; they are merely people riding bikes, whereas I am a cyclist. Through thick and thin, through bad weather and good, I am dedicated, committed and devoted to the bicycle. And if my assured riding style, and nonchalant regard for complex road traffic systems isn’t proof enough of my cyclist status, then my lycra shorts should be.
But then something started to change, and over the past few months I’ve been getting increasingly self-conscious in my serious cyclist’s kit; I tug down slightly at my jersey when stopped at traffic lights, feel a little foolish when clomping about in my figure-hugging shorts and ungainly cycling shoes upon arrival at the office. All of this stuff, all this cycling-specific lycra, started to feel slightly unbecoming.