I watched the television coverage of the Tour de France this year and I’ve decided that it’s time my bicycle was taken off the garage wall, the tyres pumped and the cobwebs dusted off the frame in time for summer. Apparently cycle sales have soared in the UK and that’s not just because the impecunious poms are now too poor to drive cars. It’s largely thanks to the Tour de France which has convinced people that cycling is an easy and relatively inexpensive way to keep fit.
The problem is that the participants in the Tour de France make it look easy. They cycle up mountains at speed and they don’t stand on the pedals or get off and push. Their faces rarely grimace in pain and, at the end of the day’s race, the top cyclists still have enough reserve energy to sprint across the finishing line. Do they then fall off their bikes, double up in pain, cough their guts up and lie on the ground groaning? No they don’t. They hop off their bikes and stroll across to hug their team mates and they look as fresh as if they’ve just ridden down to the village post office to collect the mail.
And that, I think, is the essential difference between the professionals and the tens of thousands who will be buying bicycles having been recently inspired by the T de F. I have been riding a bike since I was 7 and in my teens I bought a rather spiffy racing bike with my saved up pocket money and would go for long energetic rides. That’s why I have thighs like tree trunks to this day. Then cycling gave way to sex in my late teens and early twenties and I only rediscovered cycling when I met my wife. It was a rather ingenious way of combining sex and cycling.
After a few years I sold the racing bike and bought a mountain bike because I thought I could get away with not looking a complete dork when all I wanted to do was get some exercise. But that didn’t work because one of the rules of cycling these days is that you have to spend almost as much on kit as you do on the bike. You need a Darth Vader yarmulke even on a mountain bike. Then you need those tight cycling shorts with a padded codpiece. Plus a skin tight shirt in a garish colour like lime green. And have you ever seen a serious cyclist without those wrap around designer sun glasses? Those will set you back a few thousand at least and then you need the special cycling shoes.
This is all fine and dandy if you look like a cyclist and have a flat stomach and waxed legs. But if you’re a hairy legged man in late middle age with a paunch that won’t go away unless you live on a diet of pulses and root veggies then you’re stuffed. And you can’t wear the helmet with baggy shorts and a grubby pair of tennis shoes because people will warn their children about you. So I have had to give up cycling because I don’t fit the cycling stereotype. Which is a pity because whenever I go to countries like Germany and Holland I see people of similar age and body shape to me happily cycling around on very sensible bikes with pannier bags and baskets on the front. None of them are wearing silly clothing and yet they all look happy and healthy. So if and when we start importing commuter bikes with nice wide comfortable saddles and bicycle slips I will be at the front of the queue. And I will be wearing a Panama hat to cycle and have a large ashtray welded to the handlebars of my bike.