I had a birthday a little while back, which prompted the wife of a friend to postulate aloud: “I think you’re now middle-aged enough to be a proper Lycra warrior.”
In terms of economy of words, this might be the worst thing anyone has ever said to me. It has everything. The patronising ‘warrior’; the dreaded ‘Lycra’; the patronising (again) ‘proper’. And there’s some other stuff too chilling to contemplate.
I appreciate that I don’t have a full perspective on anything to do with aging, because I’m not actually dead yet. All the same, here is a postulation: there are seven ages of man, but there are only three ages of cyclist.
There’s young. There’s old. And there’s that bit in the middle. Think of it as going up, flat-lining, and going down.
The old hate the young, because the young have so many things the old miss. They have the legs. They have the ability to bounce when they fall off. They have opportunities, they have raw speed, and worst of all, training still makes them faster, rather than just exhausted.
The young hate the old, because the old spend so much time telling the young how great it is to be young. The young get especially annoyed about the fact that when an old rider tells them how great youth is, they have to stand and listen politely, but when they want to tell the old rider how nice it must be to be able to go for a long, lazy ride slap bang in the middle of the afternoon with all his retired friends, they’re screwed.
The old rider will tell him to shut up because he’s too young to know anything about anything, and there’s not a damn thing the young rider can do about it.
The old rider will probably be that rude because what the young rider characterised as a long, lazy ride among friends was a group of septuagenarians trying to rip each other’s legs off, just like they’ve done since they were kids, but these days topping out at about 15mph.
Meanwhile, both groups hate the middle. The middle are old if you’re young, young if you’re old, and frankly, as evidenced by my friend’s wife’s comment, the middle is also truly terrible for everyone’s public image.
The middle don’t hate anyone at all, because there’s nobody there. No one thinks that they’re a middle-aged rider training like hell to go exactly nowhere.
Granted, there’s a self-effacing need for cyclists within a certain age range to refer to themselves as such, but it’s just a cover to deflect potential mockery. In their hearts, which is where it matters, they’re young or they’re old.
The transition from young to old can be abrupt. I know old riders who can show you the hill, sometimes even the very yard of asphalt, where it happened.
Everyone has a competitive instinct that makes promises their legs can’t keep. But the bonk of ages isn’t like that. The bonk of ages is where your body doesn’t even come up with what you honestly, rationally, had every bloody right to expect.
“The bonk of ages is when you realise your only option is to look like you don’t care”
The bonk of ages is the moment when you suddenly realise that the only dignified option is to try to look like you genuinely don’t care. You can take comfort from the fact you can go the other way. All it takes is a better day, weaker riding companions, or even a downhill, and you can flip back. You can do it several times a ride, even several times a hill.
You can switch so fast that you feel young and old at the same time. But you’ll never, never, be average. You’ll never be in the middle.
Acts of cycling stupidity
An anonymous reader emails:
I was looking for a replacement for a bike that was recently stolen, and found a classified advert for something that was almost identical. I met the vendor at his home. He showed me the bike, which was in perfect, nearly unridden condition. We quickly negotiated a suitable price.
When I’d written the cheque, handed it over, and was about to put the bike in the car, he said, “Oh, hang on a moment.” He fetched a broom handle. “You’ll want this,” he told me. “The saddle kept slipping down, and when I was tightening it, I stripped the bolt. If you want to change the saddle height, you’ll need to saw this to the appropriate length and wedge it down the seat tube.”
He didn’t seem to think that this was something he should have mentioned at any earlier point in the proceedings.
Great inventions of cycling 1860’s – The mudguard
Mudguards were one of the first additions made to the basic boneshaker. This wasn’t surprising, since in the Victorian era a huge stripe of road muck up the buttocks and lower back had not yet become established as a stylish addition to the rider’s wardrobe. Such are the vagaries of fashion.
Mudguards also performed a valuable secondary function; in an age when riders couldn’t yet rely on a regular surge of adrenaline stimulated by close-passing lorries, the infernal, unstoppable rattling prevented them from falling asleep.
In these modern, enlightened times, most riders have come to realise that adding mudguards to their bike robs them of the sheer pleasure of riding through a soggy landscape with wet feet and a pair of sodden freezing-cold shorts full of grit.
The carefree joy of guard-free riding is further enhanced while riding in a group, where the pressure hose of crap coming off the back wheel of the rider in front means you can pass the subsequent winter evening in front of the fire gently exfoliating your eyeballs every time you blink.
The sex appeal of the guard-free rider at the cafe stop is much enhanced by the sweet aroma of the accumulated road muck, which is invariably of a delightful aromatic nature, and has never, ever been inside a cow.
Meanwhile, a certain Luddite variety of old-school rider misses out on all this by sticking with the antiquated mudguard… despite all its terrible, well-documented shortcomings.