What does the layman observe when he sees a cyclist in the wild? While we do our utmost to Look Fantastic, in our own eyes and minds at least, outside observers may as well be witnessing little green aliens who’ve just stepped off their spacecraft and are heading to their very first fancy dress/drag party on this weird and wonderful planet called Earth. We go to great lengths to carefully match our kit, keep our shoes clean, make sure we are smooth and hairless, tanned, toned and terrific. We check the mirror as we’re leaving the house and see Merckx or De Vlaeminck looking back at us, hair slicked back and perfect sideburns. We see the brown skin and lean, lithe body of Contador or Nibali. Others may be greeted with a reflected visage of a Thor, Tommeke or Spartacus if more on the ‘Classics’ scale of the cyclist’s BMI. We see greatness, a fine example of athleticism and presentation, bound to turn heads and elicit breathless epithets as we glide easily by.
What the man in the street sees is a twat. And he probably has a point.
You’re out for lunch or coffee and witness a bunch of podgy, balding, pale middle-aged men ride up, awkwardly dismount then stand in the coffee queue while dripping sweat, smelling like a deceased polecat and talking loudly about how they “got spat out the ass” or “took a huge pull until I blew”. Your first reaction would probably be to grab your children, or anyone’s children, by the arm and quickly vacate the premises, protecting their eyes and ears from the freaks in tights and ballet shoes standing in their own puddle, oblivious to the small piece of snot perched on their crusted, bristly upper lip. The poor student behind the counter notices it though, and does his best to stifle a dry retch as he takes the Amex card from the increasingly crimson-faced road warrior. The clip-clop of his ridiculous yellow, red and silver shoes resonates on the tile floor, now glistening with salty accountant discharge, filling the remaining patrons with hope that there may be a fall coming… not bad enough that said patrons may have to actually help the stricken fellow who appears to work for SkyTV, but just enough so that there’s some major bruising to the ego of the whiffy real estate agent who apparently has recently returned from a trip to Kazhakstan.
This may all seem far-fetched, but it’s how myself and other Cyclists are perceived every day, from whichever side of the fence one may be positioned. No matter how good a Cyclist looks, or thinks they look, we still come off as tossers by the very nature of our sport’s equipment and apparel requirements. But try telling your 45 year old colleagues that it’s all for performance and you’ll be rightly met with a comment of the ilk of “what, are ya racing the farkin Tooer dee Fraaance or sumfin, are ya?” Once again, they may have a point.
Why can’t a serious cyclist wear less revealing and body-hugging attire, even if not racing? Why not a pair of shoes in which we can walk like a normal person, rather than a duck with a gammy leg, if we know we’ll be making a coffee stop before and probably after the ride? Do we really need to be pushing our spuds to the side of the plate and adjusting ourselves in full view of the Sunday brunch crowd who only want a sausage in their mixed grill, not in their faces? Why can’t we just be more normal?
Because it doesn’t make us feel Pro or remotely Fantastic, that’s why. It doesn’t make us feel like we are Cyclists. The same reasons weekend rugby players don’t wear their jeans and hoodies onto the pitch, even if that’s their uniform off it. But face the truth… we are average men, with average talents and average ambitions (if any), despite the possibility that your talents and ambitions are at a level above most of your other average cronies. We can, and should, do our best to look good when we ride our bicycles. But remember, no matter how good we think we look, we don’t. Especially in cafes and pubs.
Here’s my tips for a successful coffee/beer ride with minimum twat factor:
1. Go for a ride.
2. Don’t dismount anywhere, ever.
3. Go home.
4. Showered? Changed? Now you can go to the pub.