Dr Hutch: The art of the cycling excuse

Dr Hutch reasons that a good cycling excuse should be totally unbelievable or downright alarming

In the days when I contested the occasional bicycle race, the post-race interview was quite a welcome part of the routine. In my world, it wasn’t often for broadcast, when you have the chance to shame your whole family by not wiping your nose first. It was almost always for print, more often than not for this very magazine.

One of the questions you could rely on getting asked was, “Did you have any problems?”

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“No,” I’d say as often as not. I might add something like, “It was a fantastic day for me, I had a great ride, and I felt just terrific.”

“And no problems at all — no dodgy corners, missed gears?”

“Well, now you mention it, I did brake a bit late for one corner, and perhaps lost a couple of metres, but it was really nothing, and it didn’t change the result.”

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The headline would then invariably be, “Late braking mistake costs Hutch!”

And why shouldn’t it have been? Cycling is an activity long in thrall to the excuse. You can’t ride a bike without them. Making excuses is one of those irregular verbs we all love so much — I can explain my poor performance, you make lame excuses for your own inadequacies, and Bernie over there is just full of crap.

They’re a part of everyday life for cycling people, but the thing that is striking is how terrible they are: “I haven’t done enough training recently.” Of course you haven’t. No one ever has.

“I’m a couple of kilos overweight.” Yes, so are we all.

“It’s the bike.” No, it really isn’t. There’s no bike that bad.
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I’ve heard one or two more inventive efforts: “I’m running 22mm tyres, and I think the roughness of the road has set up a frequency oscillation which has increased the rolling resistance.” That was a particular favourite, coming from an engineering student who ought to have known rather better.

Can’t kid a kidder
The excuses are so rubbish because they’re not really designed to be believed. They’re to make you feel better, not to convince anyone. If they were intended to actually make anyone change their opinion of your riding, they would be different.

I occasionally try a different format of excuse completely. I find that if I get dropped on a climb, I can make surprising progress with a line like, “I think maybe I’m just more of a cycling connoisseur than you. I know you enjoy pretending that every ride is a race, but I think I like to be a bit more laid-back. I don’t feel I’ve got anything to prove when it comes to bike riding.”

This is very hard to argue against. “No! You do have things to prove! Almost everything, in fact,” is a good answer, but there are very few riding partners who’ll use it, because it’s a bit too aggressive. Same with, “But every ride is a race!”

Every so often someone comes up with a new and much more effective category of excuse. I was once out with a group of relative strangers, and was at one point a little off the back of the group keeping one of the stragglers company, when he said, “It’s the overhead power lines, I think.”

“Of course it is,” I replied. “Oh yes, I think they’re interfering with my pacemaker.” Never have I been so fast to start pushing a stranger up a hill.

Not the very best excuse, though. That was a team-mate, who was riding with a Yorkshire club when one of the older riders on the run apologised for failing to point out a pothole. “I’m a bit distracted,” he said. “When I woke up this morning I found the wife had died in the night, and I’m half thinking I should have phoned someone about it before coming out on the run.”