NED GETS OVERFAMILIAR IN HIS BID TO REACH OUT TO FEL­LOW CY­CLISTS

Cycling Plus - - FINAL WORD - NED BOULTING

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

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