NED GETS OVERFAMILIAR IN HIS BID TO REACH OUT TO FELLOW CYCLISTS
Ihave become one of those weirdo cyclists you try to avoid. I don’t know when or how this came about, but it is now beyond doubt, sadly. If I met me, I would try to avoid eye contact with me. I would certainly not talk to me, and I would try to cycle away from me as soon as I possibly could.
I’m ‘one of them’, a person who approaches others, often invades their personal space, and, on opening a conversation, pays little heed to the willingness of the other party to engage in it. This is a character flaw in cyclists. We lack self-awareness to an awful degree. Let me add some context.
My friend Mike, a long time ago, used to work in the subterranean offices of a bookseller’s. It was his first job, callow youth that he was. I held a job just down the road, and after work, we used to meet for a pint, where he would routinely have me in stitches telling me about his encounters with a co-worker called Tim.
Tim was a straggly, balding, wispy chap in his mid-forties, who had never worked anywhere else. He used to wear a huge rally sport-style jacket, many sizes too big for him, and covered with motor company sponsors. He loved motorsport, you see.
Every lunch hour, as they unpacked their sandwiches, Tim would silently rise from his desk, walk over to Mike, and show him, quite unsolicited, a photograph, another photograph, of a racing car. “She’s a monster of a machine,” he would inform Mike on a daily basis. Then he would return to his desk and resume silently eating his tuna mayonnaise. After the first three days of this Mike stopped even trying to answer him. Five days in he ceased politely nodding. And by day seven he’d quit even grunting a response. “She’s a monster of a machine.” Silence.
While I have lost contact with Mike, I often think about Tim. I fear that I may have picked up where he left off; the master of the uncalled-for, unreciprocated and unanswerable approach. Since when did I deem it appropriate to say, “Nice panniers,” to the commuter next to me at the lights? By what means do I think it fitting to touch the leather on the saddle of a complete stranger’s bike? Can it be right that I feel uninhibited about staring intently at someone else’s bell? If it carries on like this, it’s only a matter of time before I’m arrested. And, given the current climate of antipathy towards all things cycling that prevail in the learned members of the judiciary, I wouldn’t expect leniency.
My newfound and unwanted garrulousness is partly born of boredom. I’ve just completed a three-week stint of work (that may or may not have coincided completely with the three weeks of the Vuelta a España), which has required a 15-mile commute along the same roads every day, there and back. I got tired doing this, and seized every opportunity for a diversion. Thus, having spent half an hour passing, being passed by, and then passing again a fellow cyclist using the same route at roughly the same speed, I couldn’t resist opening a dialogue as we came to a collective halt at a junction.
“We’re going about the same speed,” I said, grinning amiably, or possibly creepily, “aren’t we?”. My fellow commuter didn’t reply, choosing instead to stare with steely resolve anywhere but at me.
But my delusions of kinship run deeper than that one misguided attempt at engaging a co-rider in banter. I fondly imagine that we cyclists are all voluntary members of an unarticulated community; one whose bonds extend invisibly from one rider to the next, binding us together in shared love and mutual respect. For this reason, I am tricked into thinking that people care enough to answer when I say, “looks like it might be about to rain”. I forget that people might be mildly put off, indignant, or even alarmed, when I sidle up next to them and ask them how far they’re going.
I suppose I am forgetting some simple truths. We, as people, and especially British people, are instinctively private. Riding away, alone, is a time to think, a time to be immersed in one’s own inner world.
Finally, a bicycle is mostly about transport, riding from A to B. It’s not like going to the pub. That’s the bit I keep forgetting.
I imagine cyclists are all voluntary members of an unarticulated communtiy