Dr. Hutch: TV cameras

There’s nothing the Doc likes 
more than moaning, but even he 
can see the advantages of putting 
cameras on pro riders’ bikes

This week, a break from this column’s normal contents of cynicism and reactionary mud-slinging. The UCI is contemplating allowing TV cameras on bikes. This is a brilliant idea. It’s trivial as hell — compared to the things that actually need fixed in cycling, 
it’s of no importance whatsoever. But for the fan… well, it’s going to be sensational.

I don’t know which camera angle excites me most. There’s the camera on the bars facing upwards towards the rider — nostril-cam as I’m thinking of it. In critical moments of the Spring Classics you’ll be able to see straight up Fabian Cancellara’s nose to his throbbing, plotting brain. Or, for that matter, up the noses of one or two of his rivals, to a monkey playing the cymbals.

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Or the rearward-facing camera bolted on below the saddle. This will be at its best in those moments when the race is at its fiercest. What wouldn’t you give to see, close up, the view of rival sprinters banging the bars with disgust that will be available from Marcel Kittel’s bike? Or the look of resignation on Andy Schleck’s face as he gets dropped on the first climb of this year’s Tour de France that will be available from almost anyone’s bike?

Schadenfreude factor
It’s only fair to point out that the rearward-facing camera will have downsides. Just imagine the view after a wheel change, as the mechanic pushes the rider back up to speed.

Crotch-cam, as I’m imagining it, biscuit crumbs, sweat marks, suspicious stains and all.
I suspect that either of those shots are a little further off than the simple forward-facing camera. But even that will be pretty good — if you check out YouTube you’ll find that literally thousands of videos of people’s daily commutes have been uploaded. These are, without exception, gripping beyond description.

Of course, the most popular commuting videos on YouTube are a clue to what we’ll really use all this technology for. Crashes. We’ll yelp in involuntary sympathy as the bike hits the floor, the sky and the road form a confused blur, and the rider tumbles past our field of vision, preferably with a comical expression on his face. We’ll make horrified “oooh!” noises as the pile-up continues, and the sky is gradually blotted out by the new arrivals on the heap.

I have to admit that while I like the cameras, I’m less convinced about the accompanying microphones. These may turn out to be a step too far. Just wait till the sound of the rushing wind is drowned out by the sound of an altogether more mundane wind. Well, you try a diet of 4,000 calories of carbohydrate a day and see what happens.

Live ‘bonk’ porn
And when it’s not wind, the microphones will pick up nothing but cursing in eight languages, interspersed with the sound of the riders in the break furiously negotiating bribes with each other as to who’s going to take the intermediate sprint.

The final element to this TV coverage revamp could be live data from the riders’ power meters. And with this we’re back to normal-service columnist cynicism, because I can think of nothing more pointless. Raw power meter data for a group of riders all going at the same speed just tells you which one of them is biggest — which you can see anyway. Data for an attack just tells you who is going fastest — which you can see anyway.

The only high point of the real-time data stream would be seeing what happens when someone blows up. That wretched bit where they go ashen and catapult backwards out of the group will be much enhanced by knowing to three significant figures just what a horror has befallen them.

You might like to think of the resulting footage as ‘bonk porn’. And there’s always going to be a demand for that.

Dear Doc, I’m writing about electric bikes. I’m sure you hate these as much as I do. Essentially they’re cheating. People ought to ride real bikes properly, or not at all. As a proper cyclist, you 
must agree?
Simon Saunders, email

Simon, do I detect the shrill tones of one who has been overtaken on his commute by a middle-aged woman with a shopping basket? Perhaps in front of a busy bus-stop’s worth of spectators?

Still, you’re quite right. Electric bikes allow the unfit, inexperienced and infirm to use bicycles to get about, and we can’t be having that when I’m sure we’d all very much prefer them to drive cars.

1960s – Chamois cream
Chamois cream is an invention with so little publicity that it’s almost a ‘best-kept secret’ 
of cycling.

It was originally needed to maintain the pad in a pair of shorts in the days when such a thing was made of actual chamois — that is to say, a bit of dead goat.

It was necessary because real chamois liked nothing in the world quite as much as to dry up into something with the colour, shape and all-round comfort of a very large Pringle crisp. Chamois cream, applied carefully, kept it flexible and smooth.

It also provided a layer of anti-chafing lubrication. And while modern synthetic pads require no specialist maintenance, modern arses still do.

Many riders swear by proprietary products produced by specialist makers, generally with stupid names. Some use nappy rash creams, on the basis that they cost a fraction of the price. Some just smear petroleum jelly over everything on the basis that it’s so cheap it’s almost free, even if it does gradually turn the pad into a horrendous object on which you can grow an invertebrate from scratch.

In extremis, stage-race riders, especially those already suffering from sores, used to occasionally replace the chamois cream with a steak. This provided cushioning, a soothing balm, and on the basis that nothing tenderises a steak quite like being sat on for 200km through the Alps, it was usually then cooked and eaten at the hotel that evening.

It did, however, require a certain trust 
that the chef would give the riders back their own steak.