I got a complaint recently from a reader who felt it would be good for all our souls if I commenced each column with an appropriate quotation from a sacred text. So, just for you, Mary Connelly of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, my text for today shall be:
Ned Flanders: ‘You were bicycling two abreast!’
Homer Simpson: ‘I wish. We were bicycling to a lake.’
The Simpsons, series 20, episode five, ‘Dangerous Curves’.
From Homer Simpson it is, of course, but a small step to my friend Bernard, with whom I was out for a ride last week. We were bicycling two abreast. I was on the outside, trying to subtly squeeze Bernard into the rubbish in the gutter so that he’d get a puncture and I could mock his choice of tyres. Bernard was on the inside, trying to sag back a bit so he could complain I was half-wheeling him. It was as companionable a ride as we’d had in some months.
Just to be clear, the Highway Code is fine with riding two abreast, unless it’s on a road that is busy, narrow, or has bends. The road in question was two miles’ worth of dead straight, wide, empty fenland highway. Never mind seeing oncoming traffic, the only thing stopping you from seeing Oslo was the curvature of the Earth.
None of these factors meant that by riding side-by-side we weren’t upsetting someone. From behind us, I heard the sound of a driver changing down. I had the sudden lurch in the stomach as I sensed the approaching miasma of stupidity and aggression. The car roared past, swerving in towards us, its wing mirror zipping by mere inches from my elbow. There was a shout from the window, abusive in tone, in which the only discernable words were ‘…ucking to abreast…’ (Sic – I’m pretty sure that’s how he was spelling it.)
I have no idea how someone like that makes it through the day. If two people riding side by side, causing no danger, threat or even the most trivial of inconvenience can reduce them to an aggressive, screaming, purple-throbbing-veined moron, then what do they do when faced with a genuine disaster, like the service station having run out of Ginster’s sausage rolls when they’ve got a hot date sitting in the car waiting for the luxurious dinner she was promised?
Or so you’d think. The thing is that somehow they can cope with that, while cyclists riding two abreast remains an utterly irrational trigger. Somehow the idea that it’s illegal has lodged in a certain sort of mind, the kind that is very particular about how other people behave, rather less so about themselves. Hence the notion that attempted murder is a proportionate response.
You used to get something similar in London’s Richmond Park; when they reduced the speed limit to 20mph, somehow the entirely fictitious notion that they’d also introduced a 12mph limit for bikes took hold. You’d be riding at 20mph, when a car would overtake mere inches away and going so fast that you could only just hear them abuse you for speeding. ‘Hypocrite’ is a big and complicated word, and I don’t think any of them understood it. (But it’s a surprisingly satisfying thing to shout – try it sometime.)
It’s the same with the idea that bike paths are compulsory, even when the path in question is a narrow shared-use pavement frequented by pensioners and children. Last year Bernard was told to get the hell off the village high street by a woman who, when he caught up with her at the Post Office, said that if there were vulnerable users on the path, well then he’d just have to slow down and be considerate.
He tried to point out the irony. But that’s a very difficult word as well.
Great inventions of cycling
Hard though it may be to believe, the zip-tie or cable-tie was not one of God’s first works. Invented in 1958 as the Ty-Rap by the US electrical company Thomas and Betts, it was originally made of metal and designed to bundle together wires in aircraft electrical systems.
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This does leave one speculating on the other-worldly patience of the previous 100 year’s worth of cyclists, who all had to stop their mudguards rattling by installing and adjusting them properly rather than just slathering them in zip ties.
Other than mudguards, cyclists have come to rely on them for attaching computers and associated sensors, GPS units, wheel magnets, lights, seat-packs, tribar pads, for tidying up cables and for holding the exhaust onto their cars.
They are also of use in an emergency – it’s possible to join a broken chain with the skillful application of a zip tie. You’ll get home very slowly, but you should get home. The skilled operator can use sophisticated arrangements of multiple zip ties threaded through each other to produce such objects as the zip tie bottle holder, or use several dozen zip ties to make a studded snow tyre.
It is only a matter of time before the zip tie and a roll of gaffer tape are used to create an entire bike from scratch. Of course you’ll have to attach your mudguards to that with carbon fibre.
Acts of cycling stupidity
A story reaches me of a rider and his coach. The rider was on the coach’s premium package – you know the routine, regular exercise testing, one-to-one consultations, the daily phone calls, and the individually tailored training programme. And the very substantial monthly invoice.
Then one Monday morning, the week’s training programme arrived in the rider’s inbox. Alas, a simple administrative error meant that the coach had sent him the wrong programme – it had another rider’s name and details at the top of it, with a different target event scheduled. He rang his coach.
‘Oh, sorry mate,’ he said. ‘Look, we’ll need to fix that. You see at the top where it’s got someone else’s name and stuff? Just delete that and write in your own.’