The other day I was riding into a headwind that was so strong it blew my eyeballs back into my head and out of my ears and left me looking even more than usually fish-like.
It was an appropriate look, though, because I felt like a salmon, swimming furiously to make imperceptible progress against an ever-strengthening current. I was wondering why I didn’t just turn round, go with the flow, and ultimately get the train back (from wherever the hell I ended up) to the spawning ground, when it started raining.
That special sort of rain that, while not very heavy, soaks through technical fabrics almost instantly. Every inch of the slog home was a special sort of miserable.
It left me thinking. Bicycles, in these post-colonial days, are vastly more popular than ships, yet sailors still have their own special forecast. You see where this is going? I want a Radio 4 cycling forecast.
Hoy, poor becoming moderate
We can name the areas after cyclists. ‘Obree’ for the rain-and-wind-swept Ayreshire coast. ‘Hindes’ for Germany. ‘Hoy’ for the warm, dry interior of Manchester Velodrome.
There’ll be a description of rain strength by reference to how many miles it will take for the water to soak through your overshoes, shoes, and socks. Temperature by how many layers you’ll need.
Most important of all, though, will be proper wind information. It’s wind that truly defines a bike ride. You can dress for everything else, but you can’t buy a jacket to make you immune to the soul-numbing effects of grinding into a 30mph headwind.
I’m happy to use the Beaufort Scale, which grades wind of strength from force zero to force 12. For example, force-two is usually described as, ‘light breeze; small wavelets on the water surface; flags flap limply.’ Or force 12, ‘hurricane; buildings uprooted whole; death and destruction on a massive scale.’ We’ll just change the descriptions.
Force zero: perfectly still; time triallists leap from their beds and dash to the nearest dual carriageway.
Force one: Light air; undetectable on a bike, except by time triallists who will use it as an excuse to explain their failure to set a new PB (usually explained outside the race headquarters, amid the thunderous uproar of dandelion spores crashing vertically to the ground).
Force two: Tight breeze; time triallists go back to bed, and are of no further use in determining wind strength.
Force three: Gentle breeze; other riders will complain you’re going through-and-off on the wrong side. If challenged, they won’t actually be able to tell where the wind is coming from, but they’ll be certain you you’re wrong.
Force four: Moderate breeze; gentleman cyclists of a certain age defer their ride till the next day and retire to their sheds.
Force five: Fresh breeze; everyone you ride with will be unanimous about the wind direction. You’ll still be getting it wrong.
Force six: Strong breeze; those who shelled out for a pair of extra-deep-rimmed carbon wheels start having to make excuses to their riding mates for their random zig-zagging, “I’m avoiding all these tiny thorns. Can’t you see them?”; outside at the cafe stop, that guy will have coffee blown all over the vintage Peugeot casquette he’s been boring everyone about for months; everyone else will laugh.
Forces seven and eight: Gale; properly bloody windy; grandmother pace into wind; Wiggo pace downwind; Roberto Ferrari corkscrew trajectory across wind.
Forces nine-11: Storm; bike riders hanging on to lamposts with one hand, their bikes with the other, both feet blown clear off the ground.
Force 12: Hurricane; bike riders have to choose which to let go of; you’re only a proper cyclist if it’s the lampost.
How to… be a cycling fan in the face of constant doping scandals
In the midst of some of the most significant doping revelations to hit the sport of cycling, there are four broad approaches for the cycling fan. The first is to give up being a cycling fan. Contrary to expectation, this is not actually all that popular.
The second is denial: “What doping scandal? Lance who? Dr What? Oprah? Seriously, Oprah is doping? Sorry, I don’t understand. Pass the Spring Classics calendar, I wish to plan my viewing.”
The third is fundamentally the same as the second, but harder to argue with because it bores its critics into submission: “Of course, all this happened 10 years ago, with a different generation of riders.
None of us ever really trusted any of them, you know. I mean, you only have to look at the way Armstrong used to be able to just, y’know, win stuff to know he was up to something. It’s appallingly unfair on the current generation of riders that they’re expected to pay for the consequences of something that happened when they were barely more than children. It’s all totally different these days. Yes, I know that every generation up till the last was cheating too, but now I’m sure it’s all fine.” (This is broadly the approach of this column.)
The fourth is to glory in the whole mess. This adopts a sort of cynical high ground, where you explain to the pure and innocent that all sport, all society, all life is fundamentally crooked, revolves round money and is there to manipulate all who are naïve enough to believe in goodness and honesty.
Acts of cycling stupidity
The press a couple of weeks ago reported the Holyhead lifeboat being launched in a gale to rescue two cyclists from the end of a breakwater. I tweeted something along the lines of, “You know your bike ride has gone wrong when you find yourself in conversation with a lifeboat crew.”
I got a message in reply from a member of the lifeboat crew, pointing out that they weren’t real cyclists, just a couple of lads on bikes.
In other words, we’re finally getting the message across. I’m genuinely delighted to see that the rest of the world is accepting that 90 per cent of people on bikes aren’t cyclists at all. We’re winning. Three cheers for bike snobbery!