Not long ago, out for a ride, I was approaching our local hill. Ahead of me by about 100 metres was a man on a mountain bike, wearing jeans and a hoodie, probably riding home from work. He glanced over his shoulder, saw me coming, and started to sprint.
I’ll be honest, this effort increased the amount of arse-crack on display much more significantly than it did his speed. After about 10 seconds, he backed off, glanced over his shoulder again and was clearly astonished that he had not seen me off. He repeated the process, and not to the betterment of the view. When I rode past, he spat at me, then said, “Sorry, mate, didn’t know you were there.”
(He missed, because he failed to allow for a moderate right-to-left crosswind – he’d have been shredded in an echelon. Experience in echelons is why if a pro rider spits at you they never miss.)
This was an example of what you might think of as reverse ‘proper cyclist’ snobbery. Just as occasionally a small percentage of those of us who own the proper shoes for cycling might feel superior to ‘normal’ people on bikes (‘How you know you’re a proper cyclist’ is a lucrative riff for columns such as this one, so I have to bear some of the blame) so the tide can flow the other way.
There are plenty of people out there who ride bikes but would be horrified at the idea they were cyclists. I have a warm memory from a few years ago of a badly shaven shambles in a tracksuit shouting “Fookin’ cyclist!” and waving a lager can at me as he trundled along on the under-inflated tyres of an old Raleigh-Banana replica road bike.
Kids out playing on bikes have a similar riff, sometimes even the lager. Kids put themselves above us in the pecking order because while we cruise the miles effortlessly they hang around outside the newsagent’s doing wheelies. Most children are really, really bad at wheelies. It doesn’t stop them. They yank the front wheel a few centimetres off the ground, then jeer, “Can’t you do a wheelie, mate?” at you as you ride past. I always say, “No. But then again, neither can you. At least I can do a 17-minute ‘10’.” I am confident that one day I’ll find a child who’s stunned into silence by this.
More often than not, young or old, they want to race you. I’m never sure quite what they’re trying to prove. The result is almost always the same – they sprint like mad, weave about the road, and after a while you cruise by as they pant and huff. They’re admirably convinced that this showdown has demonstrated how much cooler they are than you.
A few years ago my friend Bernard was involved in such a spat, which climaxed in the other rider’s left crank falling off, dumping him onto the top tube in a manner that warmed Bernard’s heart. “Look what you made me do,” the rider shouted at Bernard. I still bet he limped home thinking, “I showed him all right.”
Just occasionally you get a thrashing from one of these people. A teenager sees you coming, hits the gas, and rides off at 40kph. Quite honestly, I never mind when this happens, because I like to see raw talent in action.
It’s one of those problems that solves itself, too, because if you can’t catch them, you can avoid the whole ethical minefield of feeling obliged to tell someone that they have a real untapped talent, while simultaneously wanting to avoid inviting people into the sport who’ll only beat you when they get there. And that way, I like to think that we’re all winners.
How to… own a cycling team
Have you got vastly more money than you want? Would you like to get rid of it? Would you like to get rid of it very quickly, while attracting as little gratitude as possible, and with almost no publicity whatever? Have I got the investment opportunity for you.
Buy a professional cycling team. A cycling team can reduce you to penury in a single season. It’s simple. You hire a squad of hungry, thirsty young cyclists, and give them lovely shiny bicycles to break. You put them up in nice hotels, so that they can complain about the food. You give them clothing that they will destroy by sliding down roads, or, more likely, just lose.
To help get rid of more money, you hire some sports directors, and give them each a new car to bang against the cars of the other sports directors who are following the smell of burning money that tells them where the race has gone.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get rid of your money and move on. If you’re unlucky you’ll get rid of it, but discover a deep love for bike racing and actually want to keep the team. Should that happen you will be reduced to begging for money off other people so you can get rid of it as well.
You’ll probably end up living in your car hoping the creditors never find you. But you’ll have had a good time.
This feature originally appeared in the print edition of Cycling Weekly, on sale in newsagents and supermarkets, priced £3.25.
You can subscribe through this link here (opens in new tab).
That way you’ll never miss an issue.
Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
Michael Hutchinson is a writer, journalist and former professional cyclist. As a rider he won multiple national titles in both Britain and Ireland and competed at the World Championships and the Commonwealth Games. He was a three-time Brompton folding-bike World Champion, and once hit 73 mph riding down a hill in Wales. His Dr Hutch columns appears in every issue of Cycling Weekly magazine
As a writer, he wrote the award winning The Hour about his attempt on the sport’s most famous and sought-after record. He followed that up with Faster, about the training, the science the genetics and the luck behind the world’s fastest riders, and Re:Cyclists, a history of cyclists from 1816 to the present day.
He’s written for outlets ranging from Cycling Weekly to the New York Times, and has presented and and commentated for the BBC, Eurosport, Channel 4, and Sky Sports.
Before he did any of that he was a legal academic at Cambridge and Sussex universities. He now lives with far too many bicycles in London and Cambridgeshire.
Enric Mas drops Tadej Pogačar to prevail in Giro dell’Emilia
Elisa Longo Borghini won the women’s edition of the race earlier in the day
By Tom Davidson • Published
Nairo Quintana to leave Arkéa-Samsic, six weeks after signing new contract
The Colombian is currently appealing his Tour de France disqualification
By Tom Davidson • Published