Dr. Hutch: in my absence

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We all know that the only reason cycling is not a criminal activity is because of the woolly liberal thinking of the governments of William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli, who had it in their powers to stop the whole business before it acquired its dreadful momentum.

But I suppose when you consider that those two between them managed to ban public flogging, stop honest, hard-working sweeps sending industrious small boys up chimneys, and permit ladies to own property, one can hardly have expected better.

I was walking through London with, as you would expect, my vulnerable, elderly mother last week. A passing cyclist failed entirely to ride on the pavement.

Not only that, he stopped at a red light. And, if that weren’t enough, a couple of hundred yards later, he stopped at a pedestrian crossing, completely neglecting to run down a young mother with one of those enormous push-chairs we all appreciate so much in the aisles of our local Waitrose.

I did my best to ignore this behaviour. Like all columnists, I am, if nothing else, stoical about the actions of other people, especially in cases where they don’t cause me any inconvenience.

Love to hate
‘Really?’ I hear you cry. Actually, it made my blood boil. We need our hate figures. You have no idea how hard it is to be a columnist. We need to grab the attention of readers.

But, often, and through no fault of our own, our carefully chaotic middle-class life-styles (I mean, who hasn’t hilariously dropped a sea bass down the back of the Aga during a dinner party?) mean that we have to craft a column from a blank page starting just fifteen minutes before our deadline.

So since there’s no time to produce a column characterised by wit or incisive writing, we have no choice but to stir up fear and hatred. We take groups of people, the more sweeping the better, and write about why we loathe and despise them. It is for this that we are respected and admired.

The problem is that here are fewer and fewer groups to make examples of. We’re frightened of mocking funny foreign religions these days, in case we get struck down by a Hindu fundamentalist with a blowpipe.

Immigrants taking our jobs got tricky (though given our own special columnist logic, not impossible) when someone pointed out that the only jobs they were taking were those of the kind of work-shy pleb we always said ought to be fired anyway.

We need the groups that are left. We need our stereotypes. We need to be able to rely on the self-evident depravity of anyone who has mastered the art of balancing on two wheels. Even if Bradley Wiggins wins the Tour, he’s essentially exactly the same as a 15 year-old bag-snatcher making his getaway on a stolen mountain bike. This must remain true.

Here is the crux of it; you bloody cyclists are all the same, and you will be judged alongside the worst one of you we can find. Well, I say ‘find’; I mean ‘invent’. We badly need cyclists to cooperate with this, and conform to a stereotype we’ve devised on the basis that, if we’re honest, we feel rather threatened by people who have calf muscles that aren’t under a two-inch layer of blubber.

You’re our last hope. Bike riders are the last group left that we can make carefree jokes about killing without ending up in court. Every time one of you stops at a red light, a columnist dies. If you don’t help us, we’ll be reduced to being nice to people.

Great Inventions of Cycling – The pedal: 1860s
The very first velocipedes were generally powered by treadle systems. These were sometimes of considerable complexity, and often involved an amount of wrought iron that suggested gravity had yet to be discovered.

It was only in the 1860s that anything resembling a circular pedaling action took over. Early pedals were just cylinders of wood, rotating without bearings on a shaft. The friction was considerable, but there was so much friction going on elsewhere in the system that it didn’t really matter.

It took till the 1880s for the ball-bearing pedal to arrive, usually with a weight on the bottom to keep them flat-side-up. Primitive toe clips appeared just in time to make penny-farthings even more dangerous than they already were.

Toe straps with a buckle arrived in 1900, and Binda quick-release straps in 1947. Ask your grandfather about Binda toestraps sometime, and see an hour vanish like a memory.

The first clipless pedal was invented in 1895 in the US by Charles Hanson. No one cared, despite it having a float feature and everything. Cinelli invented another one in 1973, which required manual release with a lever. For some reason they became know as ‘death’ pedals, despite the lever being carefully designed to release your feet automatically right after you’d hit the ground.

It was Look, in the mid 1980s, who produced the first modern click-in, twist-out pedal. Bernard Hinault was an early adopter, and won the 1985 Tour on them. And beginners have been falling over at traffic lights ever since.

Next week, the full, unexpurgated history of the Christophe toe clip, 1921 to the present day. Again, ask your grandfather.

Dear Doc
“Dear Doc, your column of two weeks ago was illustrated with a mocked-up picture of a track cyclist being ejected from his bike by an ejection saddle. I appreciate that this was just a joke, but have you thought about the possibilities it presents for resolving all those instances in the elimination race when a rider refuses to leave the track?”
Keith Roberts, email.

Keith, your suggestion is an excellent one. Of course, the most important thing about an ejection saddle is that a rider needs to remember to unclip from the pedals before firing. You’ll be able to recognise any who forget. They’ll be the ones with the 32-inch waists and the 6-foot inside leg.

This article was first published in the October 4 issue of Cycling Weekly. You can also read our magazines on Zinio and download from the Apple store.