As you know, I’m a man with his finger on the social media pulse. So I can tell you that the reaction to the news Pippa Middleton was riding the Race Across America was universally as follows: “She’s the one with the nice arse, isn’t she?”
In fairness, Fabian Cancellara is also probably better known by his rear view than by his front, but still, coming from the cycling community, this wasn’t a compliment. “Cycling’s going mainstream!” tweeted one well-respected observer. “We know, and we really don’t like it,” tweeted back everyone else.
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In a spirit of enquiry, I typed ‘cycling celebrities’ into a search engine. It was a gateway into a very strange world. “Heidi Klum, looking cool on a custom bicycle accessorised with a basket and a to-die-for retro horn.”
A paparazzi shot of Madonna, “commuting” on a hybrid in combat trousers (to where does Madonna commute, exactly?) Or a long feature in a Hollywood newspaper on Mark-Paul Gosselaar and his 100-mile a week cycling habit. (He played Zack in Saved by the Bell. Given the amount of spare time I imagine he has these days, my first thought was that 100 miles seemed a bit apologetic.
Then I discovered he is actually quite an effective track sprinter, which I have to say came as a surprise.)
There are some cycling celebrities we are pleased to have among us, and some that we are not. Gary Kemp, for instance, is clearly one of us. Spencer from Made in Chelsea, who’s riding the RAAM with Pippa, is not. Ted Danson is not. Eric Clapton is. And so on.
The key to this is actually very simple. Do we feel the celeb in question took up cycling because they thought it was fashionable? Or would they have done it whatever? In other words, were they motivated by pure spirit of velo, or did they just think it was going to make them look cool? Because here in the hardcore we have no truck with fashion.
It goes without saying that no one who reads this magazine took up cycling because it was ‘on-trend’. We all do it, every damn one of us, because we spontaneously feel the pull of the open road, and a yearning for the companionship of the wheel.
We’d actually much rather the sport was deeply unfashionable, because then every day we’d have a proper chance to show off our maverick disregard for what anyone else might think by dressing up in Spandex and doing it anyway.
It’s not as if we slavishly copy the famous riders, or even each other. All that nice Rapha kit gets sold to people each of whom has independently assessed their precise needs, researched what’s available on the market, and carefully disregarded anything that Team Sky might be wearing.
The well-known phenomenon whereby the colour and length of cyclists’ socks changes in complete lockstep, can only be down to outside environmental influences — I think I read somewhere that it was all down to sunspots. That it changes first among the pro peloton is presumably just because they spend so much time up mountains that they’re a bit nearer the sun, and it gets to them before the rest of us.
Truly, we all demonstrate our independence of thought by not being embarrassed to come to exactly the same conclusions as everyone else, and at exactly the same times.
As for the blow-in celebrities, well, of course they’ll get all the mockery they deserve if they don’t, independently of course, come to exactly the same conclusions about what to wear and how to behave as the rest of us have all independently worked out for ourselves.
Heavy work commitments mean I can’t get out on the road as often as I’d like, or get to many events. But I use the exercise bikes in the gym near work almost every day. A few months ago I noticed that the gym user next to me was gazing awestruck at my power output on the screen. This gave me an ego boost.
I’ve found that if I clear my throat and point in a casual/ accidental way at the screen, as if I was really only wiping some sweat away, I can ‘inadvertently’ draw people’s attention to my impressive numbers.
I assume I’m not the only rider who does this?
Jack Betterson, email
What you’ve done there is invent Gym Strava. And don’t worry. Everyone does it.
Great inventions of cycling – 1976 The skinsuit
In the early days cyclists wore tweed suits. This was because Victorians liked to be constantly reminded of their worthlessness in the eyes of God through the medium of constant chafing.
Then they moved onto wool, for both jumpers and shorts. This had the merit of keeping the roads dry by absorbing any rain that fell before it even hit the ground, albeit at the cost of leaving the poor bike rider weighing 14 times what he had when he set out.
Rather later, into the 1960s following the discovery of aerodynamics, silk jerseys became the preferred attire for those who sought speed above all else. These flapped as gaily in the breeze as anything else, but they were very expensive, and hence clearly much faster than any other option.
Meanwhile Lycra had been invented in the late 1950s, but foreseeing the terrible consequences, everyone was careful to keep this innovation away from bike riders. It was only in 1976 that the Swiss, who had been trusted with the knowledge in the confidence that they were, well, Swiss, finally broke out the all-over body-condom, to the horror of all who gazed upon it.
Even so, it was limited to time triallists (who also invented the skin-hood, to complete the condom look) and other varieties of pervert until Mark Cavendish used one to win the World Championship road race in 2011. Since then, they’ve turned up everywhere from sportives to club runs.
It’s not too late to go back to tweed, you know.
When Britain finally gets segregated cycle paths, we’ll also be hit with speed limits, reckons the Doc — and then