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Can cycling stop being popular please?

Can you all just bugger off? All of you. Swelling the roads with rides and sportives and pedaling with friends and having fun on bikes. Bugger off please and leave me alone.

Can I have Cycling back please? Cycling was My Thing and now Everybody’s bloody doing it. It’s lost a little bit of the Special for me. Actually, quite a lot.

I was that Weird Bloke in the street that rode a bike, the thing that I surely should have grown out of by now? As a child I was shit at most sport; I was always picked close to last for games, I played on the left wing in football purely because I was left-footed not because of any perceived skill at elegantly floating the ball into the box, I’ve scored one memorable goal, which bizarrely was from the right wing. My football career pretty much ended right there, my rugby career lasted exactly one game. I did a lot of being a linesman and jotting down the scores at the cricket. Other things that I could do quietly away from everyone else I quite enjoyed; squash, shooting, if I could bunk off on a Wednesday afternoon and play tennis with my equally team-phobic mate when no-one was watching that was fun too. I really enjoyed Fives, because not many people knew what that was. You have no idea what Fives is do you? Yes, I went to the type of school that did shooting and Fives.

When I was a kid riding a bike was just something that everybody did, no big deal, you rode to the shops for sweets and comics, you pedaled round to your mates, you mucked around on bikes with those mates. There were three channels on the TV, and they all turned off in the afternoon, there were no video games, well, maybe ping-pong if you were posh, there was definitely no internet, entertainment options were few so you made it up yourself. It was mostly bike related. In that respect I never actually ‘took up’ cycling in the way people self-righteously do nowadays, I just didn’t stop doing it, it just slowly and imperceptibly came to take over larger chunks of my life. When I wasn’t making Airfix kits if it was raining. The first crappy second-hand bike gave way to a nicer but still cheap new bike, which turned into the first proper grown up bike, which became a nicer bike, and onwards and upwards through a lifetime of different bikes ridden in increasing distances away from home and then to various places around the world. A natural progression rather than a damascene revelation and a fat credit card.

So Cycling became the Thing I did. I loved it because I didn’t need anybody else to do it with, I’m not so good at team sports remember. It became my saviour. My escape. It fed into my happiness at being alone with myself, it steered me away from people, it took me to the quiet places. These were my main reasons for cycling, fitness and countryside and then eating lots were positive yet fringe benefits. I also didn’t need to join a club although I was aware that this was an option, I’m not so good at group activities. I also didn’t need to go to a special place to do it, I could just leave the house and be there instantly. Cycling also took me into town, and to the shops, and round to friend’s houses, like it always had done, that never went away. It was handy like that.

But now cycling has become the Thing To Do and everyone’s doing it. And I hate it. I liked being that odd person that rode a bike, that adult who rode a bike, the one that must have a little something wrong with them. There was a bit of me that secretly enjoyed being the outsider. It made me Me. The bloke that was socially awkward at gatherings as it was made worse by not being able to make polite idle chat about football or cars or mortgages. I could talk at length about all about the wonderful places a bicycle took me but instead there was the “Did you really cycle all that way?” when “all that way” was less than ten miles. The “Do you really shave your legs?”, “Have you done the London to Brighton/Are you in the Tour de France?” and the gentle explaining of things without being boring I had to do. And pedaling home early. All that way.

I’m not the odd outlier any more, I’m One Of Them. I’ve never wanted to be One Of Them, whoever the Them might be. Even if you’re not a cyclist you know what cycling is now, the secret is out, you know some of those funny French and Italian words that were once used to confuse and catch out the unwary. You understand the Tour de France, well, bits of it, you can recognise Bradley Wiggins and Lance (sigh), and I will smile sweetly and nod at your knowledge and might obligingly correct you on a few salient points.

I may appear to be selfish, far from it, well maybe not that far. I’m really glad that you’ve discovered cycling, isn’t it bloody great? And I’m happy that there are so many of you now and it’s become a mainstream activity, and that the sport gets the kind of coverage and everyday exposure that cycling could only dream about a very short while ago. And you can now buy an awful lot of t-shirts and nick-nacks with Cycling on. Smashing. I’m delighted that as more people cycle the more it will become normalized and hopefully something that more people just do day-to-day rather than being that silly druggy sport that needs funny tight clothes where you can see all their bits, or a way of getting about if you can’t afford a car. I love all of this, it’s something I’ve been quietly waiting to happen for years, but now it’s here I don’t like it. These are my feelings, don’t confuse them with reasoning.

What I miss is what felt like an essential part of me. I was a little bit different and this is slowly being dissolved away with each new cycling convert. I quietly hate you all for this. Well, some of you are probably very nice, and I will imperceptibly raise my hand off the bars in subtle acknowledgement as you pass the other way, but could you all just sod off? Leave me alone.

 

Until then I’ll just have to ride my bike quietly by myself on Tuesday afternoons. Or take up Fives again.

Jo Burt has spent the majority of his life riding bikes, drawing bikes and writing about bikes. When he's not scribbling pictures for the whole gamut of cycling media he writes words about them for road.cc and when he's not doing either of those he's pedaling. Then in whatever spare minutes there are in between he's agonizing over getting his socks, cycling cap and bar-tape to coordinate just so. And is quietly disappointed that yours don't He rides and races road bikes a bit, cyclo-cross bikes a lot and mountainbikes a fair bit too. Would rather be up a mountain.

46 comments

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harragan [226 posts] 1 year ago
3 likes

Hear, hear!

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Dicklexic [74 posts] 1 year ago
2 likes

Well said Mr.B!

Funny but also very true!  3

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bikebot [2118 posts] 1 year ago
10 likes

Maybe try golf?

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shutuplegz [53 posts] 1 year ago
4 likes

With you all the way on this!

 

I used to think how great I was cycling/commuting throughout the winter when the roads were empty of other 'fair-weather' cyclists. Nowadays there are loads of 'other nutters' out on the roads in all conditions too!

 

On balance though I think I'd take all the positives associated with the increase in the popularity of cycling in this country over the 'negative' of sharing my hobby with loads of new people! The only real negative I have experienced is increased intolerance to cyclists from other road users sadly.

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srchar [717 posts] 1 year ago
2 likes

It's funny 'cause it's true.

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usedtobefaster [207 posts] 1 year ago
2 likes

It's like reading about myself.

 

I remember the days when you could turn up to the finish of a ToB stage (Milk Race) and grab a great spot on the finish line 10 minutes before the finish, now you've almost got to camp out the night before for a big event.

 

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Darren C [116 posts] 1 year ago
4 likes

This almost reads as if I had wrote this myself!!

I remember those 'good 'ol days' with much fondness, being the weirdo who rides a bike, with workmates being incredulous that I cycle 150+ miles a week, as you comment the only information on cycling you could get was courtesy of 'the Comic' (60p a week at the time).

Well done, a good article reflecting the true spirit of cycling for many of us.

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enrique [2388 posts] 1 year ago
3 likes

If there were a 'like' button for the entire piece, you'd get one from me!  1 Nice writing!  1

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TurboJoe [77 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

I'm still the 'Weirdo' in a department of forty people. Not many of us on my commute through suburban south London either, and long may it continue. Maybe if you moved house and changed your job you'd be the 'Weirdo' again too?

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mingmong [297 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

What a great piece.  I identify with *everything* you've said.  Can we have some more, pretty please!

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Nudecyclist [10 posts] 1 year ago
2 likes

Amen! I've even had to take up Roller Derby refereeing so that I can still be that weirdo  4

Although *whispers* I quite like that it's now perfectly acceptable to wear lycra into a coffee shop.

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Username [229 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

Ha ha, it's like reading about myself. Except we didn't have anything as exotic as cricket; it was football, football, football. Oh, those Wednesday afternoons, standing in the rain, pretending to play bloody football and being shouted at by various teachers.

 

I never got into the competitive side of things but utility cycling for me has always been there. I cycled to school, that's what we all did, when I moved onto university I was the only one in my class who was still cycling. Everyone else considered themselves too grown up for that and took buses until they could scrape together enough money for a motorbike. I carried on cycling, I never really sat down and philosophised about it, it was just cheaper, quicker and available.

 

Through most of my career I've been the only one, or one of the few, in the office who cycle every day. Again, I never really planned it; it just seems so obvious: an hour on the Tube, an hour and half by car, or twenty minutes on the bike. A no-brainer.

 

But now everyone does it  1

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777jdyl [3 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

Agree all the way. Nicely put  -  I feel less of a non conformist these days. 

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gazzaputt [232 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

I so adhere to your part that cycling as kids was just a thing we did. Choppers, to Grifters and then to BMX in the 80s. Cycling wasn't a pastime as you say it took you to the shops or your mates house. Some of the best adventures as a kid was on a bike and some of the worse injuries (5 broken arms, broken foot and servered top of finger!)  Xmas day '82 14 of us on shiny new BMXs delivered that morning. It was a laugh it was fun. And it grew with you. Into MTB enjoying trails and pitting your wits on scary descents.

 I'd had a road bike I used as bit of fun and was good practise for the MTB. May see 2 or 3 on a ride around local lanes. Odd club ride of about 8 to 10 riders at most.

Then the Le Tour 2007. Road biking really became noticed.

I still love riding my bike. I love the solace of it to be honest. I'd like that back to.

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supermarioracer [12 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

Judging from the reaction I get at the office and at mates places when I rock up in lycra cycling can still be percieved as niche in some circles!

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Ciarán Carroll [43 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

Hipsters, all of you.

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the little onion [177 posts] 1 year ago
2 likes

Ha - I empathise with this piece, even if I do note the tongue-in-cheek and self-depricating nature of it. I remember the days when you had to mail-order Campagnolo components because all the local bikes shops sold only mountain bikes....

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kitkat [481 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

I can sympathise with this as the self styled person who 'brought cycling to Ireland' it is a bitter sweet situation

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Veloism [75 posts] 1 year ago
6 likes

What a load of egotistical waffle...

It's all true, though!

 

veloism.cc

 

 

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Adders69 [15 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

As a relative newcomer (9 years behind 'bars) - still very good piece. Should I bugger off now?

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CaraBao [3 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

An activity or place is pure until the crowd gets into it. wink

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Threeh [35 posts] 1 year ago
2 likes

As a cycling writer, doesn't the popularity of the sport thus generate better financial returns? If so are your career goals to become the self-styled Clarkson of cycling?

Is that a taste of bitterness under the tongue-in-cheek? Are you actually the one other cyclist I see each day who never says 'good morning' back?

We need answers.

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TheLonelyOne [362 posts] 1 year ago
3 likes

Jo, you are not One of Them.

You are One of Us.

 

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taoyuan [4 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

Great Fives reference. I've drafted a similarly styled article on Fives. Just in case it ever becomes 'popular'.

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Rossired [5 posts] 1 year ago
4 likes

What a good read, I was already to hate this piece but then on getting to the end I realised that I was not really part of the new generation of cyclists (thanks Wiggo and others) but that thanks to Wiggo and others that I re-discovered a passion that had been missing from my life since childhood.

 

So I am torn between whether to bugger off or not!  Still a brilliant read.

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RichK [35 posts] 1 year ago
2 likes

Fives! Rugby or Eton?  

Maybe I'm the one other person here who knows what you're on about having played (Eton) Fives all round the country - even at Eton itself once... 

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ianj [20 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

Seem to remember this conversation with you in an airport terminal Jo....well done for finally writing it  3

 

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Carton [395 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

It's the Pixar dilemma: when everyone is special no one is. In a world littered by millions (I dare you not to have read that in your best Don Lafontaine inner voice), were information lag is measured in milliseconds, it's righteously hard to convince yourself of your own authenticity. The responses to this post may not be particularly constructive in that aim. But hey, at least when this unlikely scattering of others (Cyclists? cyclists?) delves into misanthropy we seem unanimously self-aware enough to do so with our cookie-cutter tongues firmly lodged within our generic cheeks. That may not be help much, either. Nor will the fretful subtext beneath the awkward knowing nods and haphazard waves you'll keep getting in passing, surely, vaguely, unsettlingly.

Still, you can always get a penny-farthing.

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mike the bike [995 posts] 1 year ago
2 likes

Nice.

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Grizzerly [369 posts] 1 year ago
3 likes

Fives, shooting,  squash racquets,  rugby football  (always simply called 'football' in tacit denial of the existence of the oiks game. ) and finally,  blessedly,  cycling.   Salford Park schools coaching on Wednesday afternoon with Tommy Godwin.  Sunday morning club runs in the winter and Time-trials in the summer,  forays into road racing,  (the older guys said  "massed start") and cyclo-cross and the glories of holidays touring from Youth Hostel to Youth Hostel. 

Then it started to get popular,  even mainstream.   The shouted comments from the roadside stopped,  no more witty cries of "Yer back wheel's goin' round".  

Now it's accepted,  now it's commonplace.   Now it's overrun with people who don't know it's supposed to be FUN. 

What's the point of being an oddball, misanthropic git, if everyone else one is too?

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