Spring is springing, and with it comes a slight elevation in temperature, longer days, improvements in visibility and a lifting of mood for road users. While we all know and respect the hard core of cyclists who brave the British weather all year round there is a slightly softer core who are only now finding it bearable to get back in the saddle. And so it should be no surprise that with the high-vis increase of cycle-mounted traffic comes another wonderful element of the British springtime which I shall dub the Great British Bicycling Backlash (GBBB).
Around this time of year it usually manifests itself as an increase in “lyrcra-lout” type stories bemoaning the arrogant and irresponsible nature of cyclists whose impulsive, unpredictable and downright illegal actions put themselves and others in danger on the roads and pavements and at the roundabouts and traffic lights of our nation. It’s the time of year when everyone gets a little bit hot under the collar about the delicate issue of different transport types “sharing” potholed and debris-scattered roads not always designed for such a noble concept to flourish. But this weekend several columnists seem to have decided to get the cleat-clad boot in first, venting their anger in a series of amusing rants in the national papers.
First up on Friday was a 500-word “defence of cycling” issued by Hugo Rifkind in The Times. Truck drivers, car drivers and pedestrians pulling “duckling lines” of children all came under attack from this admittedly “angry” young man waging his own pre-emptive strike against the GBBB. Then in the Independent on Sunday, James Daley complains of annoyed responses from readers incensed by him wearing his iPod while cycling. After stating that he listens to his iPod at a moderate level, which allows him to hear the traffic over it, Daley further attempts to justify himself with the argument that his hearing “has never been particularly good” anyway, so he always relies on his eyes before taking a decision on the road. Taking all these factors into account I was left wondering if his real reason for donning the white earphones is simply to annoy people as his poor hearing would surely mean that at a low level, he wouldn't gain much benefit from the iPod anyway. Perhaps he should just dispense with it altogether as, now it’s warm enough for motorists to wind down their windows and demonstrate booming in-car stereo systems, cycling is like listening to an iPod Shuffle anyway.
Meanwhile, again in The Sunday Times,“Cycle Girl” Kate Spicer pens a self-deprecating and hilarious account of a journey to Edinburgh to join proper cyclists practicing for the Etape Caledonia, which she is signed up for in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support.
A late night and a long journey were her main excuses for finding the whole thing so daunting but Spicer describes how, having fallen far behind the pack, a succession of “kindly club cyclists” on “care duty” took their turn to ride with her. When she considers giving up, a “smashing chap called Jimmy” tells her she’s reached the two-thirds of the way round mark, “so I celebrated by stopping at a cafe full of fit cyclists for some coffee and cake and to run my ice-pop fingers under the tap,” she says. “Through the large picture window they all watched me do that sideways cleat tumble. My dignity having left me a long time ago, I scampered in on my cycling shoes.” Bless! Thankfully she stayed the distance and is looking forward to the real thing in May.
And last but not least, the Sunday Times exposes the “Secret of the hairless cyclists” in an extract from Nicholas Hobbes’ book, Who Would Win a Fight Between Muhammad Ali and Bruce Lee? The Sports Fan’s Book of Answers.
Forget speed, Hobbes says it is a common misconception that bare legs improve streamlining sufficiently to achieve results. While swimmers can gain a 2% boost in speed in water, “Any gain in speed for a hairless cyclist or sprinter would be so small as to be unmeasurable,” he says.
The two reasons professional cyclists claim they shave their legs are 1) it’s easier to clean gravel from a wound if you crash, and 2) the massages they receive after every stage of a race are more comfortable with smooth legs.
Another cyclist writing on the web goes further and says that an unshaven cyclist is seen by many professionals as inexperienced at riding in a pack and more likely to cause an accident, his hairy legs leading to him being “shunned” by experienced riders.
But Hobbes claims the real reason can be found in cycling writer Matt Seaton’s 2002 theory: “It is because everyone else does it. No one likes to make a direct admission of the fact but, secretly for all, shaving one’s legs has, above all, an aesthetic dimension: it is simply how the racing cyclist should look.”
I doubt female competitive cyclists, like the rest of the female population, will spend too much time pondering these "secrets". Personally speaking, thanks to hairy-leg related taunts at school by teenage boys with high-pitched voices and balls yet to drop, my first skinning at the hands of a bic razor was self-administered at the tender age of 12. I have suffered the torment of razor rash and stubble ever since. Really lads, get over it!
(Some people are way past 'getting over it' - ed)