Dr Hutch harks back to a rocky college romance with the belle of the time trial ball
When I was a student I noticed, in the classified ads of this very magazine, a Lotus 110 monocoque carbon frame. This was the road-going version of the bike Chris Boardman rode in the 1992 Olympics — the carbon-fibre bike that looked as if it had been beamed back directly from 2030.
It was my dream bike. It was £150, which even in the 1990s was the bargain of the century. I had to overcome some scruples about paying that little for it from someone who didn’t really know what it was worth — he was a non-cycling Lotus employee who’d bought it when the company stopped making bikes and wanted rid of excess stock — but overcome them I did.
Because I was saving up for the rest of the parts one at a time it took a long time to solidify into an actual bike. The frame sat in my college bedroom for most of a year like a Shimano tree, occasionally growing a brake caliper or a gear lever.
When it was eventually ready, I took it to a local time trial. The first thing I noticed was that to
go as fast as Chris Boardman you apparently needed more than just his bike. I’ll be honest, that was a disappointment. The second thing I noticed was the star power of the Lotus.
I have a friend who is married to a well-known actress. He complains that most of their attempts at an evening out consist of him taking pictures on other people’s smartphones of drunk strangers cuddling his wife.
That was what life with a Lotus was like. Not only was it an iconic design, they were very rare. The fact that a Lotus looked like sex on wheels didn’t dilute the effect at all. It wasn’t unusual for me to come out of a race HQ after a last-minute loo stop and find a group of other riders standing in a reverential semi-circle around it, as it reclined against a wall like Marlene Dietrich.
Often they were pretty put out when I explained that I was now going to ride off on it. “That’s not a bike for riding, that’s a bike for looking at,” said one of them once. “Can I rub your Lotus?” someone else asked, as if he expected a genie in an aero helmet to appear. “No,” I said. People requested pictures with it, as if it was Shergar.
That was one reaction. The other was more like this: “Hey, f***face, you must think you’re something pretty special with that thing. Your daddy buy it for you?” One of the local time trial stars tried to kick it out from under me as I rode to a start line in Bedfordshire one morning.
Living with the Lotus
Even I had a troubled relationship with it sometimes. One of the problems of owning the bike of your dreams is that you’ve cut off a valuable source of excuses. Deficiencies were now 100 per cent my problem, something that people were always willing to point out, frequently with the words, “That bike deserves better than you.”
A related issue was that even if I rode like a god, everyone else attributed it to the bike. Here the key phrase was, “My gran could have done that on a Lotus.” It was clear that I wasn’t riding the Lotus, the Lotus was riding me.
The moral of the tale is that you can certainly own a bike that is too good for you — and that it’s not necessarily about how much it costs. On the other hand, there was something very special about racing one of the great bikes, even if it outshone me so comprehensively.
I still have it. I keep it chained up in a dark corner of the attic, just to remind it who’s boss now.