“Why do we do this?” asked my friend Bernard. I’ve learned never to answer this question, whoever asks it. Anyone who asks this question is already grinding an axe with the world. I assumed this bit of axe grinding was the result of us plugging our way home into a cold headwind that was enlivened only by the occasional sharp shower.
“Well, come on Einstein, why?” he asked again.
Since there was water dripping off my helmet and into my eyes, saying, “Because I’m enjoying it” would clearly be preposterous, so I muttered something about health.
“I’ll tell you something about cycling and health,” he said. “I saw a TV documentary where an actuary showed how cycling prolongs your life. It prolongs your life by exactly the same amount of time that you spend actually on your bike. Not a minute more.”
I thought about this for a moment: “So that by the time you’ve spent 15 minutes cleaning your bike after you get home, you’re actually losing out?”
“Exactly. Isn’t that just bleeding hilarious? That’s why I never clean my bike.”
I did what you’re probably already doing; I started to work out how much of my life I’ve spent cycling. I came to a figure of around 18 months in total. It feels like both a very long time and a very short time, depending on which way you look at it. This was, I suppose, Bernard’s point.
“I guess I’ll be able to use it to catch up on all the work I didn’t do because I was out cycling,” I suggested.
“I’m not sure the world is waiting with baited breath for that column about Lance Armstrong that you never got round to finishing in 2009,” said Bernard.
I didn’t notice his sarcasm, because I’d just had a horrible thought: turbo training. I used to spend hours on the turbo. And please don’t imagine it was because I enjoyed it. Nor, in fairness, would it be quite right to say I was doing it because I wanted to prolong my existence. But it seemed an extraordinary act of malice on behalf of a turbo trainer to extend your lifespan by only the hour or two needed for it to slot in a little slice of hell.
If that’s not a net loss of happiness to the world I don’t know what is. If anyone had ever put the choice in those terms, I would quite literally rather have been dead than on a turbo trainer. I don’t know what Satan has planned for me, but if it’s worse than short intervals in his kitchen I’ll be quite seriously impressed.
But there is at least an upside. Think about old bike riders. There is something special about an octogenarian cyclist — someone who looks 85 from in front and 26 from behind. They have an evident fitness and a zest for life, and I’ve watched some old time trial riders crack out amazing performances.
For instance, I remember one of them spending 30 minutes telling me how easy younger riders had it these days without deviation, hesitation or repetition, and while barely pausing to breathe.
That’s what I should be looking forward to. One day I’ll be able to tell some young whippersnapper about a cycling stone-age of mechanical gears and 7kg carbon-fibre bikes. That extra 18 months will be very rewarding — at current rates of progress that’s probably an extra sprocket and a whole new braking system that I’ll be able to abuse the youngsters about.
The idea that there was something to look forward to cheered me considerably. I even picked up the pace a little, headwind or no headwind.
“Whoa, there,” said Bernard. “The longer we take to get home, the longer we live, remember?”