Boris Johnson is in mourning — for his bike. The Mayor of London’s machine — affectionately referred to as Old Bikey in his latest column in the Telegraph — was destroyed by a fatal combination of the weather, a pothole and Mr Johnson’s touching but sadly misplaced faith in the ability of Transport for London to keep the capital’s roads in good repair.
Any of us who’ve written off a bike will be able to sympathise with Mr Johnson, who writes of his grief: “Think of Alexander grieving for his favourite mount Bucephalus, or Wellington mourning the death of the great Copenhagen.”
As he rode away from a “detailed” lunch with his father, he writes: “I saw a puddle ahead; well, not so much a puddle as an inky mere that spread six feet across the road. I wonder how deep that puddle is, I said to myself, as Old Bikey whizzed me nearer. I wondered whether I should steer round it.”
Not how anyone who’s ridden in London for as long as Mr Johnson would react to a possible pothole, you’d think. With just a year of riding across the City every day, my reaction would be ‘Argh! Avoid!’ But the Mayor had faith in a higher power. You have to wonder if some of the details of lunch had clouded his judgment just a little.
“I thought, nah. This is my road, a Transport for London road, serviced to the most exacting standards. To steer round a little pool of rainfall was not only wimpy; it was positively disrespectful to the superb roads-maintenance team in our Surface Transport division.”
You can guess the punchline, of course. This was not just a puddle, but the opening to a watery netherworld, and Mr Johnson rolled right into it.
“Down, down, down went the front wheel for what seemed like a very long time, before jack-knifing on some storm drain or sunken U-boat or other obstruction at the bottom; and then, sploof, I went over the handle bars before making brief but thorough contact with the wet tarmac; and, boing-oing-oing, I bounced up again – as we old rugby players have learnt to do – a millisecond before the taxi behind me could organise a swift election, and I had taken the bike off the road to assess the damage.”
On superficial inspection, all seemed to be well, but when Mr Johnson got back in the saddle, things were clearly amiss.
“When I turned one way or the other the rear wheel would lurch in the opposite direction,” he wrote. “It was like trying to run a coalition with the Lib Dems.”
A couple of bike shop visits revealed the problem to be a broken frame, “slain by the rain” after eight years of “jouncing and bouncing over potholes and cobbles”.
The silver lining to this dark cloud is that Mr Johnson now has an excuse to go shopping for a new bike and plans to correct “the only defect [Old Bikey] had”.
“It was made in California,” he wrote. “Now is the time for a bike that won’t expire beneath me, a bike that won’t snap. It’s time for a British bike.”
[Footnote: Old Bikey appears to in fact have been a Californian-designed hybrid, almost certainly actually manufactured in Taiwan. Nevertheless we extend our sincere condolences to the Mayor on his loss.
It sounds like the Mayor could have done with to use Fill That Hole to report the gaping chasm that destroyed his bike — or maybe he was able to just call TfL personally.]
John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.