This blog is in danger of becoming intermittent again, although to be fair I've been fairly busy at work and fretting. It's also in danger of becoming a cycling bore's blog, as that is the main thrust of this entry. Actually, it's a long held back and promised description of some of the various breeds of cyclist you tend to meet on the roads. In one way, it's highly encouraging to see so many more cyclists, as it means increasing numbers of people are staying fit and also keeping the British lycra industry afloat; on the other hand, it's highly discouraging to see so many cyclists behaving so badly on the roads and keeping the British lycra industry afloat.
However, before that, I'll describe the route. My cycling partner, Rob, suggested we do part of the Chiltern cycle route, a 170-mile circuit that encompasses the sublime (Ewelme) to the ridiculous (Luton). He wanted to try out a section of the route, short-cutting it at a point in order to make a single 50-mile loop. He wanted to do this because he is one of those people brave enough to actually write to companies and organisations to complain about things and challenge them to do things right. In this case, he'd written to the organisers behind the Chiltern cycle path to complain about the fact that their guide book is only available in one shop on the outskirts of Henley that opens at weird hours. They apparently apologised, sent him a free copy of the guide (now in my possession) and asked him to write a review of the route.
I agreed to go along with him. The track starts just outside my door anyway, so that made getting to it nice and easy, and followed NCN route 5, which takes you up to Oxford, affording the spectacular views over Didcot I've mentioned before. Once out of Ipsden, however, you hang a right to Ewelme. I'd never visited the place before, but the only reaction possible to anyone seeing it as they come down the long hill towards it, as it appears through the trees, is a surprised 'wow!' It really is a tiny gem of a place, with possibly the most spectacular primary school, based in a full-scale early Tudor mansion, I've ever seen. It also has an absolutely cracking cricket pitch, positioned in a natural basin with a wide grass bank for spectators.
Following that, we made the long slog up to Christmas Common, which I believe is just about the highest road point on the Chilterns, then over the M40 to Stokenchurch. After a break there, where I snacked on chocolate-smeared hydrogenated fat bars and Rob ate the greasiest slice of pork pie I've seen for ages, we decided to alter the route slightly. We crossed the M40 again and headed first for Fingest, then Hambledon. I have to say that this route ranks right up there with the best I've ever done: It's more or less downhill all the way, including a spectacular 10% hill. The views, in particular, were fantastic - you could almost see yourself in the Yorkshire Dales from the top, while as anyone who knows the valley in which Hambledon is set, it's almost a little slice of Heaven. Coupled with the weather - a wonderful, refulgent light with clouds scudding across clear blue sky, not too hot, not too cold - it was fantastic. I also largely managed to rein in Rob's innate desire to stop and strip the fruit off any tree or bush he passed - apparently, it's a very Polish thing to do. He did escape from me for a while, as I was struggling up Harpsden Hill, but I found him stuffing blackberries in his face. We finished the ride at the White Horse, Emmer Green, for a well-deserved cider. So, overall, a very satisfying 45-miler.
Satisfying, that is, except for certain other cyclists.
There was a time when gentlemen of a certain age would buy an open-top sports car and array of polo neck sweaters and try to impress the local au pairs with it while holding onto their wigs.Nowadays, it seems to be de rigeur to buy a top of the range carbon fibre composite bike that weighs about 5 grams, squeeze a bloated gut into improbably coloured and gender-bending lycra and attach a helmet to the wig. These are what are called Gear Wankers: People who buy the best possible gear, and are only ever seen cycling downhill. The annoying thing about super-lighweight bikes is that they are fast. My cross-breed MTB/Roadie looks like a tank next to them, and I use a fairly heavy knobbled wide tyre,all of which means I can't go particularly fast - the best I've managed out of it is 35 mph. Two such gear wankers passed us by on the downhill. One turned to me, smugly, and said 'morning! lovely light ride, isn't it!' and went on ahead. Maybe it's the pack chasing instinct, but it always feels incredibly galling to be overtaken on a bike - I always want to give chase. Anyway, the road bent to the right, then went straight on past a pub - but no sign of the gear wankers. The fact that the road was not only straight, but uphill, and they couldn't have got out of sight that quickly (it was a long straight) made us speculate what had happened to them. I reckoned that their support team had dragged them off road to administer oxygen, cpr and adrenaline.
Despite the Gear Wankers, generally the world of the sunday cyclist is a friendly one. As you pass other cyclists going in the opposite direction, you are always sure of a friendly nod and a 'good morning/afternoon'. The pastime unites people of many different persuasions, whether they are relatively normally attired, lycra fetishists or people with a distinctly sideways view of what is appropriate or good to wear on a bicycle; and from all walks of life - Software writers (Rob), Language lecturers (me), Professionals, Animal Molesters, Mass murderers, you name it, they're all out on their bikes with a friendly wave and a nod.
All apart from the Cycle Nazis.
This group are the Waffen SS of bicycle based activity. They are its shocktroops, hardened, vicious bastards to a man. Many of them have even worked as cycle couriers in Central London. Their bikes may look grimy and battered, but that's only because they're spattered in the blood of a thousand other cyclists. Their tyres are kevlar impregnated with puncture-proof inners. Their clothes are sere and shredded by the thousand winds that blow them. For some reason, they believe that plaited goatee beards are somehow an attractive facial feature. And they are, to a man, total absolute bastards. They're worse than white van drivers. They don't just believe they're better than other cyclists, they believe they've more right to the road than an F1 driver who's just been given a huge dose of amphetamines and crack. Quite possibly they too are on crack and speed. What makes them such total toss bubbles is the fact that they will happily ride other people off the road and will happily endanger other people's lives.
Should you ever come across one of them, you should do the only sensible thing: Shove a stick through their front wheels.
Anyway, that's probably enough for now - I'll deal with other more urban types of cyclist another time.