You may not have noticed, or you might not remember, the opinion poll company YouGov launching a free ‘Profiler’ service a few weeks ago. You type in the name of a brand, a famous person, a magazine — anything almost — and you get a profile of the people who describe themselves as fans of it. Much of the media jumped on this as a very, very easy way to fill some column inches. And so did I.
In an effort to get to know you all better, I typed in ‘Cycling Weekly’. I was vain enough to try ‘Dr. Hutch’ first, but it turns out I’m not as famous as ‘soup’. (Who describes themselves as a fan of soup, you ask? Well, he’s in his fifties, works in the emergency services, lives in western Scotland, and his favourite celebrity is Valerie Singleton.)
The typical reader of this magazine is a right-wing man in his forties. He is a Welsh dog-owner who enjoys the music of the Monkees, and whose principal brand loyalty is to Twix. He reads the Guardian, his favourite celebrity is Darcy Bussell, and he has a monthly disposable income of £1,000.
My first thought was that a bit of mockery would be appropriate. I reckoned that couldn’t possibly be an accurate characterisation of the CW readership. To me it sounded more like three different people taking it in turns to fill out the polling form, all of whom were lying about being a cyclist. As a test-fire, I tweeted the Darcy Bussell thing, because it seemed so unlikely.
I got a raft of replies, almost universally along the lines of, “Mmmm… Darcy Bussell… Mmmm.” When I put the same thing to my friend Bernard, his response was slaveringly unprintable. “But she has hair like Margaret Thatcher!” I said.
“Margaret Thatcher,” he replied. “Mmmm….” I covered my ears, but I could still hear him.
From all of which I conclude that YouGov is right, my prejudices are all wrong, and I don’t know you people at all.
All of this comes as something of a shock. I have always assumed that all cyclists are just like me. It never crosses my mind that anyone might go riding for any purpose other than self-flagellation, that they might seek out congenial company while they do it, or that they might have a Twix when they get home.
It’s not just a shock, it’s a concern. When writing a column like this one, the hazards of assuming I’m an archetype are ever-present, and the consequent probability of looking like a self-absorbed tosser is very high indeed. I always want people to read the column and think, “Yes! I feel like that too!” And now, of course, my strong suspicion is that the dominant collective-thought is more along the lines of, “What a prick.”
I started looking at other cycling-related profiles as an exercise in perspective. Joanna Rowsell fans, for instance, have a favoured celebrity in Phil Harding, the West Country archaeologist from Time Team. Fans of the GB cycling team are women over 60 from Cornwall who work in social care, have more than £1,000 a month disposable income, and who love the music of The Script. Lance Armstrong fans’ favourite TV show is Pebble Mill at One. (This sets him apart; the show picked by most other riders’ fans was Dixon of Dock Green. Seriously.)
But one thing reassures me. CW readers are more likely to own a Peugeot car than any other. The deep respect for the name, and its association with Tom Simpson, Bernard Thévenet and Robert Millar is very impressive.
Although the bike company and the car company have been separate since the 1920s, so you’re not as smart as you think you are. And yes, I’m a prick.