Riding along a quiet road some eight or nine miles from home, with the sun easing towards the horizon and the very beginning of an evening chill nipping my fingers, I saw a figure trudging sullenly along the roadside, wheeling a bicycle. It was my friend Bernard.
“Bernie! You look as distinguished on foot as you do awheel,” I said, slowing down to ride alongside.
He scowled at me, and reduced his speed further to make it more difficult for me to keep my balance. “You can naff off,” he said, “and you can naff off now.”
“Do you need anything? I’ve got a multitool and a couple of tubes,” I offered. “I’m happy as I am. You should go home. It’s getting dark, and it would be a real tragedy if someone left you bleeding in a ditch.” He glared at me. I left him to it.
There are many reasons why a cyclist might walk. Some are innocuous; for instance, occasions when it’s wise to pick a bike up and walk past hazards, like thorny hedge-clippings and potholes. This was not such an occasion. Nor was it the result of a ‘cyclists dismount’ sign. There was no such notice in sight, and in any event, Bernard is an inveterate disobeyer of any instruction issued to cyclists that didn’t come from Richard Ballantine.
Normally, the only time he walks is when he’s popping into a cafe. But it wasn’t that either. Firstly, there was no cafe. Secondly, if there had been a cafe, he would have by now, as usual, slipped on the smooth floor, crashed into the cake display and been carried into an ambulance, covered in whipped cream and complaining of a fractured coccyx, causing long-term trauma to the sexual fantasies of all who viewed the spectacle. (Or so I hear.)
No, this was a much more negative sort of cyclist walk. It was not the walk of defeat, where the hill wins. I could tell that because we were in the flatlands of Cambridgeshire, and the walk of defeat has never been witnessed here. (I’d go as far as to say that anyone reduced to walking by a Cambridgeshire gradient probably ought to reconsider their choice of hobby.)
It might have been the long walk home. The LWH happens when you break your bike and no one loves you enough to come and give you a lift. The LWH wears out your shoes, trashes your hamstrings, and usually culminates with meeting someone 200 yards from home who tells you how you could have fixed the problem with two twigs and a sock. But that still wasn’t it.
Bernard had too far left to walk for dignity to trump pragmatism. He’d have asked for help, even if he’d had to do so in a way that made it seem he was doing me a favour. (“Got a spoke key, have you? Bet you don’t know how to use it. Give it here, I’ll show you.”)
I think this was the walk of despair. The walk you walk when you know that walking is what you deserve. The walk you walk when you’re going to go home, put the bike in the garage and never even look at it again because you know in your heart that you have no business pretending to be a cyclist. Clearly he had suffered some sort of inner crisis.
It was sad to see him like that. I thought about turning back to gee up his spirits. I could tell him that, despite all the ribbing I give him, he’s a very decent bike rider. Then I thought, “Would he do the same for me? Would he hell.” I rode on homewards in the soft evening light.
Acts of cycling stupidity
Recently riding through a 20mph zone street in south London, a road with speed cushions – the speed humps with the gaps at the sides – I naturally rode down the side rather than over the hump.
At the lights, a driver in a car pulled up beside me and explained that I was not allowed to do that; I had to ride over the middle of the bump, otherwise it wouldn’t slow me down. He seemed quite relaxed, though, about the huge number of cars that speed down this particular road at well over 20mph every morning and evening. Anonymous of Streatham
Cycling greats … Bernard Hinault b. 1954
For many, Bernard Hinault is the last real winner of the Tour de France. The last of his five wins may have been 28 years ago, but for purists, and especially French purists, there has been something or other wrong with all the winners since, i.e. most weren’t French.
Hinault was a hard man of a variety rarely seen in the modern peloton. When he won Liège-Bastogne-Liège by 10 minutes in 1980 after a 50-mile solo break, it was through a snowstorm that forced the abandonment of more than half the starters before the first hour of the race was up. Hinault barely noticed, though the cold paralysed the middle and index fingers of his right hand for three weeks, somewhat limiting his expressiveness.
His last Tour in 1986 saw him radically reinterpret the role of the domestique. He had agreed to support Greg LeMond, after the American had been bamboozled into supporting him the year before. Hinault, with his trademark cuddliness, said he would “give him an education”. The education consisted of riding in a consistently threatening position, never helping, never hindering, but always there, ready to take advantage.
The tension was considerable, and the result was in doubt all the way to the final time trial. LeMond was furious. Hinault’s view of the matter appeared to be that since he’d let the youngster win, how much more helpful could he have been?
He will have been pleased that Bradley Wiggins had to pull out of the Tour this year; otherwise, his crown as most reluctant team-mate might have come under threat.
This article was first published in the June 13 issue of Cycling Weekly. Read Cycling Weekly magazine on the day of release where ever you are in the world International digital edition, UK digital edition. And if you like us, rate us!