Last week I mentioned an incident involving the aggressive actions of a driver who took unjustified exception to my friend Bernard and me riding two abreast on a quiet country road. What I didn’t tell you, because it would have interfered with the flow of self-righteousness, was what happened next.
In a reversal of our normal roles, I shouted angrily, and got out of the saddle to start a futile chase. ‘Tranquillo,’ said my friend, revealing an unexpected grasp of both the word and the concept.
I sat back down, and was about to ask this guy just who he was and what he’d done with Bernard, when normal service was resumed. He saw a nippy-looking rider coming towards us. As usual we waved ostentatiously, like Victorian fops, the better to enjoy the rider ignoring us totally. ‘Come on,’ said Bernard when he’d passed, ‘let’s have some fun.’ He turned round and set off in pursuit.
I’m afraid this is an unwelcome early sign of spring. Bernard starts to gain some fitness – just like the daffodils, it came a little earlier this year due to the warm weather – and being a competitive soul, he goes looking for places to flaunt it, in every possible environment other than an actual race.
I watched him, crouched over the bars like a Lycra Fred Flintstone, chasing after this innocent bloke, and then swung around to chase him in turn. ‘Bernard!’ I shouted. ‘Bernard, come back you idiot! Oh for God’s sake, FENTON!’
Bernard paid me no heed, for he was closing in on the rider’s slipstream. He paused momentarily to gather his strength to jump hard, then quickly sat down and shut his mouth in time to sweep past and on up the road. I stopped chasing, since I knew Bernard’s insistence on holding his breath as he overtook would have placed him in an oxygen debt that even Sir Chris Hoy would blanch at.
Within a few hundred yards, sure enough, Bernie turned left up a side-road, kept the pressure on till his victim had passed, then collapsed, triumphant, on the verge. To you or me, the quality of the victory would be undermined by it being over someone who wasn’t aware he was in a race. To Bernard, not at all.
I’ve often wondered what he would do if the other rider followed him down his escape lane, or if he miscalculated and there wasn’t a side road in the right place. I’ve always imagined pride would give him no choice but to ride until he dropped, and then out of sheer humanity, I’d have to put him out of his misery with a multi-tool.
Bernard, fit, will chase anything, even if it’s much bigger than he is. A few days later, in a similar scenario, the local first-cat-laden chaingang passed us going the other way. Bernie U-turned. I resignedly followed him. When I caught him, he was in no danger at all of making the back of the group. ‘Ride!’ he barked. Before I knew what I was doing, I was a partner in his insanity. I pulled a hard turn on the front, and twitched my elbow for Bernie to come through. ‘Don’t be stupid,’ he said. ‘Just ride!’
Slowly I managed to winch us up to the back of the chaingang. Inevitably, when I was about two bike-lengths off, Bernie came barreling past. His ears had gone purple. He pulled level with the last rider and said, with miraculous composure, ‘Hi, nice night for a ride. Love to join you, but we’re turning left here.’
‘That’s OK,’ said the rider, ‘we’re turning left too.’
I reached to my pocket to feel the cold alloy of my multi-tool.
How to… ride in a pace line
A simple piece of cycling socialism. Everyone in a group works together for the good of all. Each takes their turn setting the pace, then pulls smoothly aside to let the rider behind take the strain.
When it’s your turn, don’t make any abrupt accelerations, just calmly maintain the pace for a few moments, then pull off onto the upwind side so that the line of those coming forwards are sheltered by the line of those moving back.
When you reach the back of the group, swap onto the other line. It’s polite to tell the next rider that you’re ‘last man’ so he knows he’s about to have to jump onto the other line.
Like all socialist enterprises, the problems come because not everyone is prepared to sacrifice themselves to the group. If the pace line is a road-race break, half the riders will be weighing up their sprint chances from the off.
If that’s you, you need to master the art of going through to the front with the minimum of effort for you, but the maximum of effort for the rider coming after. Try accelerating a little in the slipstream as the rider in front finishes his turn to create a gap behind, then move aside as fast as you can to leave the next rider in the wind for as long as possible.
You can also try sitting on the back and refusing to come through. Be prepared to be shouted at a great deal. Tell lies about being exhausted. And accept that if you win the sprint you’ll never be welcome there again.
Acts of Cycling Stupidity
I was getting worked up into an irritated lather at my local garden centre last week about the lack of bike parking – I was, after all, in one of the UK’s most allegedly bike-friendly cities.
Then two things occurred to me. The first was that other than a packet of seeds there is almost nothing you can buy in a garden centre that you can then carry home by bike. The second was that no self-respecting cyclist spends their summer faffing around in the garden. They let the brambles have it to themselves and go cycling.
This article was first published in the April 12 issue of Cycling Weekly. You can also read our magazines on Zinio and download from the Apple store.