The return of the Tour of Britain causes Archie Hume of A Hume Country Clothing to reflect on the impact of cycling in the countryside
Ihave a mate, let’s call him Stuart…he’s not called Stuart, but it’ll do. He’s a farmer. Big unit. Ex-rugby player. Likes to litter the countryside with enormous farm vehicles that trundle slowly from farm to field guzzling up road space and flinging clods of muck everywhere. He drives with a sense of entitlement that a certain elderly royal can only aspire to. These roads are his. His family have been clogging these byways for generations and I’d say, he takes a certain pride in seeing a trail of BMWs and Nissan Qashqais in the rearview mirror.
For years he was top dog in the hierarchy of things that annoy people about driving in the countryside. He and his ilk were the butt of every Top Gear joke Cotswolddwelling Clarkson cast, in the direction of the country driving experience.
Until out of the distance came the sound of a thousand locust wings beating and arriving like a new plague in the countryside as in whirred the peloton. Swarms of Lycra clad, bike borgs with thighs like Herefords massed on the roads in unexpected places. Frequently at the foot of steep hills and on the other side of tight bends. The breaking power of executive cars was suddenly being tested as fund managers across the land sped back from cities to their country homes right up the back end of a cycling club.
The impact on the countryside was dramatic. In one fell swoop red diesel was no longer the leading cause of rural road rage. And how did my tractor driving chum Stuart react? He bought a bike.
I’m not claiming this change happened overnight or that my farming friend Stuart bought a bike entirely because he enjoys upsetting other road-users. He would claim, with some legitimacy (and after the passing of several years in which he hated cyclists) that it’s because cycling is the perfect, low impact exercise for a man in his middle years who was (pre-cycling) carrying a generous endowment of condition and hadn’t troubled the world of sport since he was injured out of rugby 20 years ago.
And besides the health benefits, cycling has opened up a whole new social life for Stuart. He’s always enjoyed a gibber and a pint. Now he just cycles for 40 miles with a bunch of folk he’d previously never have met before supping a nice cold, frothy ale.
Lots of his new cycling buddies are new to the countryside… cycling really is the new social glue. Plumbers, builders, country clothing retailers – there’s possibly even a fund manager and a few exec car commuters. You can spot the city boys a mileoff. They’re the ones on the Pinarello carbon fibre bikes.
Pelotons of MAMILs freewheeling around shedding cash in cafes and pubs across the county whilst saving the NHS a bucket in heart attacks that didn’t happen. It’s the rural economic regeneration/social cohesion stuff of a politician’s dreams.