Slow cycling

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There’s a lot of competitiveness and snobbery in cycling (as there is in car ownership, flying and so many other activities – ask me sometime what hackers are like). It seems as though, if you don’t know the precise gearing of your bike (and have modified it yourself), or ride anything costing less than £3,000, or have never done a century, then you can’t consider yourself a real cyclist.

A greenway in France. Not a nodder in sight.

A greenway in France. Not a nodder in sight.

Over on the highly informative I Bike London blog, Mark Ames describes how a cyclist friend of his referred to the UK’s greenways being “stuffed with nodders on bike-shaped-objects”. Indeed, we’ve seen that ‘bike-shaped object’ phrase pop up a lot on forums. It’s an insufferably arrogant attitude because it assumes that you have to somehow ‘qualify’ to be regarded as a cyclist.

It also suggests that you don’t deserve use the greenways unless you qualify, which is especially short-sighted. Without a sufficient number of people using greenways, the responsible authorities won’t be encouraged to build more and maintain the ones that exist. Those ‘nodders’ are doing all cyclists a great service by increasing utilisation of the facilities we all want.

But in any case, why denigrate people just because their interest in cycling does not match yours?

I’m not an athlete. I don’t set goals. I don’t give a stuff about ‘pushing’ myself. Indeed, I have reservations about people who are that self-absorbed. And if I want to go somewhere fast or distant I’ll use the car, thanks.

Cycling is not intrinsically about fitness. It’s not necessarily a sport (which is just as well because I have an allergic reaction to all sports). Cycling is whatever you happen to do on a cycle – any kind of cycle.

Maybe you use a high-performance, carbon-fibre, hand-built road bike to power your way through the Paris-Brest-Paris without sleeping. If so, good luck to you (though I don’t really want to hear about it, thanks). Or maybe you use your gran’s old district nurse bicycle, or a cheapie from Halfords, or your kid’s BMX to pootle en famille a kilometre or two down a greenway to get some fresh air and enjoy the scenery. Now you’re talking. Both are equally valid. Both qualify you as a cyclist. Neither has any greater intrinsic merit than the other.

just-rideI think I’m going to become a fan of Grant Petersen. He wrote the book Just Ride (which I have on order), as well as Eat Bacon, Don’t Jog, which also has its own blog. He founded Rivendell Bicycle Works in California – a firm that prides itself on using traditional technology. He’s been known to rant against “racing’s influences – the detestable miles of high intensity pointless training while wearing tight synthetic clothing”.

Over on the Eat Bacon blog he has a post prompted by the death of a competitive cyclist. He memorably writes: “Quit riding these things for your health, or for the adulation of strangers or the facebook attaboys, or whatever. Riding a bike is so fantastic when it’s not work and you aren’t riding it for glory.”

So that’s what I’ll do. Just as the world has slow food and slow cinema, I’m going to be a devotee of slow cycling. It’s going to be so much more fun that way.


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