I grew up on farm, which means I have an innate hatred of cyclists. Ever since cycling became the new golf, my long-suffering father has endured cyclists trespassing through his fields and cutting his fences, thus causing his mules to run amok. Whenever this happens, it means another family outing to the neighbouring farms where we spend the day combing the ground for hoof prints to trace our mules.
But it’s not like I need to explain to you, dear reader, what it’s like to have your mules run amok. We’ve all been there, that’s for sure.
Because of this, cyclists are up there with my inherent agriculturally-induced prejudices like unplanned weather and moderately complicated gadgets.
The problem is, a friend and I have planned to do a long-distance cycle trip at the end of the month. And to do this, we’re going to have to become cyclists.
Also, I have discovered that running is a global conspiracy to keep physiotherapists in business, and after my latest running injury I’ve been advised to take up cycling as a low-impact cardio alternative.
So I bought a bike and I’ve spent the past few months turning into the type of person I used to despise. And I’ve made a few socio-anthropological observations of this tight-shorted tribe that society thinks is a bit odd.
Here’s why society thinks they’re odd: Cyclists look silly. The saddle is high so your feet can only touch the ground just before your bike hits the pavement – all in the name of ergonomics. The means everyone must ride around town huddling over their handlebars like they’re all hurrying to get back to their homes in Notre Dame in time to ring the 6 o’ clock bell.
“They see me rollin’. They hatin’.”
Then there’s the style aspect. Usually, whenever comfort is sacrificed, it’s in the name of style. This is the basis of virtually anything a woman has ever had to wear. In cycling, the only stylishness you get for your bent spine is unflattering lycra and a potty-shaped hat. Essentially, you’re trading in your posture to look like Dennis the Denny Mushroom Mascot. Actually Dennis the Denny Mushroom Mascot doesn’t exist but not because it’s not a good idea, it’s because cyclists do enough branding for them for free. So far, I’m proud to say I still don’t own any cycling shorts. Once you buy the shorts, you can’t go back.
The image of the common cyclist was not helped by the recent shenanigans of their patron saint, Lance Armstrong. This multiple prize-winning athlete and recreational drug user is what socio-anthropologists refer to as “a bit a dick”. As we know, the author of It’s Not About The Bike tested positive for steroids and subsequently lost his prize money and sponsors. Now, it’s not about the Nike.
This doesn’t do much for the arrogance that sticks like sweaty lycra to the types that can be found with their cleats a-clacking on the floors of coffee shops on weekend mornings. You know, the serious type. And by “serious” I mean: “I seriously bought all this stuff that professionals get for free.”
“Whoa bro! You almost made me spill soy macchiato on all these logos of companies I don’t work for.”
Before I continue to generalise about some people’s hobby, I’m going to explain the Protestant/Catholic-type rift within cycling. My unnamed triathlete friend tells me there are mountain bikers and there are “roadies”. And the former is usually friendlier than the latter. This could be because of all the fresh air and beautiful scenery, but more likely it’s because they’ve got that unmistakable buzz from having recently cut some hapless farmer’s fences and dispersed his livestock.
I can attest to the slight jolliness of mountain bikers by the slightly less judgmental looks I get when passing them. I don’t know what it is that earns these looks. It couldn’t be the old koshuis rugby shorts, or the helmet I bought on special. Or my lack of cleats and general sense of direction.
I used to get stares from fellow runners, but they were usually empathetic – ones that said “Nearly there!” or “Chafing is just weakness leaving the body.” It’s different with cyclists. On the road I get stares that say: “What are you doing here? On a mountain bike? On this road that I made with my bare hands? Doing this sport that I invented?”
Mountain bikers give me looks that say: “Lovely day, isn’t it? I like how your appearance resembles some mushrooms I just rode over. By the way, what are you doing here? On a Gumtree bike? On this mountain that I sculpted? Doing this sport that I invented?”
When they’re not keeping Mule Whisperers in business, mountain bikers invent new sports like downhill mountain biking. Which is exactly how it sounds. (Strange how uphill mountain biking never really took off?) This is basically a sport made from the fun part of another sport. There’s no time for the foreplay of pedalling up a hill when you’ve got a shuttle. It’s like taking rugby and spawning new sports from the fun parts like Diving Over The Tryline or Decoding Lineout Calls or Halftime Oranges.
The fact remains that every sport is slightly bizarre. Running, my primary sport, is ridiculous if you think about it.
“Speak for yourself, man! Ain’t nothing silly about this sport!”
There’s this trend in running to wear glove-type things where your shoes used to be. These are the Zane Kirchners of footwear. Until they stop looking silly, I can’t take them seriously.
As weird as cycling is, I’m actually starting to enjoy it. I’m cycling to work now because it’s free and it saves the planet and I’m, well, pretty much better than everyone else. People realise cycling makes economical sense and there’s Think Bike stickers everywhere, although the town planners behind Cape Town’s narrow streets didn’t Think Bike and now I spend a fair amount of time scrambling for the safety of the pavement because I Think Car.
The reality is that I’m slowly becoming a cyclist. Now I get to be smug about my carbon footprint and my calves. I can spell “derailleurs”. I complain about the lack of pannier bags in this country. I don’t even giggle after saying “lubricant”.
I should really get myself a pair of cycling shorts. You know, for comfort. And maybe a Leatherman. Just in case I need to any cut fences in my way.