Dr Hutch: Reverse ‘proper cyclist’ snobbery

All ‘proper’ cyclists are used to being taunted by civilians, says the Doc, but what happens when one turns out to be better than you?

Dr Hutch April 29 Issue
(Image credit: Future)

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.)

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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.

Child’s play

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.

“Most children are really bad at wheelies. It doesn’t stop them”

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

Oleg Tinkoff

“I’ve got two roubles left”

(Image credit: Getty Images)

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.

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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