Dr. Hutch: hatred towards cyclists

The accidents involving Bradley Wiggins and Shane Sutton a couple of weeks ago had the effect of putting cycling safety in the foreground of media land for a few days. Given the hero status of the two riders, the debate was often a bit more evenly balanced than we’ve grown used to.

Often, but not always. The evidence of the last few months suggests that my name is in the BBC contributor database under ‘H’ for ‘Happy to be shouted at by random lunatics’. And so it came to pass that I was on the Radio 5 Live morning phone-in debating the subtleties of safety with David from Nottingham, whose opening address started off with, ‘Look, you bike-riding Muppet’, and grew progressively less overawed by my celebrity status.

I yelled at him, he yelled at me, and bricklayers in their thousands switched over to Woman’s Hour on Radio 4.

By general consensus I won on points. But given I was arguing with a man who seemed to reckon he personally owns the A1 dual carriageway on the basis he’s got a tax disc, I’m not rushing to put the whole thing on my CV. I might have won the battle, but we shouldn’t be having a war at all.

It was interesting that Edmund King, President of the AA, recently suggested the view some people have of cyclists is ‘almost like racial discrimination’.

He picked his words carefully, and rightly, because while he was expressing a feeling that a lot of bike riders share, no one should think that the problems we might have are as socially corrosive as racism. There is a critical difference: you can get onto a bike, and you can get off it again.

My gang
The psychology is the same though – it’s the out-group thing. People love nothing so much as finding a distinct group that is different from their group, and which they can then hate. It gives everyone a warm sense of identity. Hatred is what holds society together. Without it we’d live on one giant hippy nudist-colony, and I don’t think any of us want that. We hate, therefore we are.

Cyclists can do it among themselves. Not many months ago, while wearing a suit and riding a folding bike in London, I was shouldered aside at the traffic lights by an overweight man on an expensive-but-unloved-looking Italian bike who told me to ‘let real cyclists go first.’ You’re thinking ‘Typical, I know the type, they’re all like that…’ You see? You’re doing it too.

There’s a curious side to this tribalism. Most bike riders I know, including me, have an almost macabre fascination with abuse that gets directed our way. There’s even a Twitter feed that diligently gathers together the thoughts of every idiot who ever tweeted ‘I hate bloody cyclists, I say kill the lot of them, LOL!!’ There is something very satisfying about tutting over this stuff. It helps us to define our own group. We can stand back-to-back with our brothers, holding off the barbarians by wielding track-pumps.

It’s important to challenge crap like this when it turns up disguised as serious journalism in the papers, because there it does real harm. But getting excited over an idiot 17-year-old trying to impress his two idiot mates just legitimises his stupidity. You wouldn’t take him seriously on any other topic.

Last ones riding
The irony is that of course we’re just about the only group left that it’s OK to hate. Racism, homophobia, religious intolerance, all pretty much out, and rightly so. Given the crucial importance of hatred, I don’t think it’s overstating things to say we cyclists, by our very existence, are the glue that holds society together.

You really would think that people would love us for that, if for nothing else.

Great Inventions of Cycling – 1998 – Recovery
Until fairly recently, it was universally accepted that the only way to become a better cyclist was to go cycling, as often as possible, for as long as possible, while eating as little as possible, and being as miserable as possible. As Fausto Coppi said, ‘ride a bike, ride a bike, ride a bike.’ He was, of course, too busy shacking up with his doctor’s wife at the time to go cycling, but his sentiments were both honestly meant, and the full extent of his English.

Then along came the notion, that ‘recovery’ might usefully play a role. This was the theory that after one ride, and before the next, an athlete ought to schedule a period of sitting about mainlining Quality Street and stuffing the wrappers down the back of the sofa.

This idea took a while to catch on.  At coaching conferences, for many years the sessions on recovery presented not much more than an excellent opportunity to vacuum-clean an empty lecture theatre.

However, the recent upswing in recovery as a hot topic has produced problems. Just as overtraining is one of the major causes of illness, injury and general underperformance, now over-recovery is becoming an issue.

This is where the athlete schedules repeated hard recovery sessions without allowing enough cycling in between. It produces a decline in performance, unexplained weight increase, and a very curious ability to explain the current goings on in the world of reality TV.

It’s a scourge of the committed, dedicated athlete who’s just trying to do the right thing.

Acts of Cycling Stupidity
I have, over the years, heard of exhausted riders ringing doorbells at random in a village far from home to beg for water, or even sweets. I’ve heard of carrots being stolen from allotments, and riders drinking from puddles. But an anonymous reader offers a new, and excellent, variation:
‘On a ride a few weeks ago, I got badly lost.

I was hungry, badly dehydrated, and increasingly desperate. There didn’t seem to be anyone around to ask for help. Then I saw a freshly washed car in a driveway. It was still dripping with fresh, clear water. Before I knew what I was doing, I was licking the back windscreen.

I practically licked the whole car dry. When the owner eventually noticed me, he was actually quite understanding. But also, I think, quite frightened.’

This article was first published in the November 29 issue of Cycling Weekly. You can also read our magazines on Zinio and download from the Apple store.