Out for a ride last week, alone, I met another rider. It doesn’t matter which one of us caught the other. We started chatting — where have you come from, where are you going, isn’t that a nice bit of carbon you’ve got there — until he suddenly announced he was turning left at the upcoming junction.
“I thought you were heading for Saffron Walden?” I said. Left was not the way to Saffron Walden.
“Yeah, yeah… but I have this, um, this thing I have to do first,” he said.
He was clearly lying. Which brings us to the disturbing thought: is it possible that I might not be such good company as I’ve always imagined? Could it be true that I’m not simply delightful?
When I think about it, I’m not even sure what sort of riding partner I am. There are many varieties, some more appealing than others. I tend to classify them by the names of their archetypes.
There is, for example, the ‘Chris Boardman’. This variety of rider rides with a cheerful enthusiasm, and no obvious competitive urge at all — they will ride at the speed you want to go at, while giving you the flattering impression that you’re riding at the speed they want to go at. They are, in many respects, ideal companions.
In fact they are, in one respect at least, better companions than the actual Chris Boardman, who greets anyone he sees riding a Boardman bike with a cheery, “Nice bike!” Most people recognise him. But for the handful that don’t, you’re suddenly one half of a peculiar pair of men who go about the place handing out unsolicited bike reviews to complete strangers.
“You assume a ‘Chris Hoy’ can’t climb faster than you. You’re wrong”
There is the ‘Sir Chris Hoy’ — a lot like the ‘Chris Boardman’, but faster. They leave a trail of exhausted riders in their wake, every single one of whom thought they were going to be able to keep up.
The actual Sir Chris Hoy contains an additional hazard, which is that you are tempted to assume that someone that big and that sprinty can’t possibly climb faster than you. You are wrong.
The ‘Sean Yates’. This variety likes to dish out the hurt, because they can’t imagine why else anyone would want to go cycling. They will ride exactly the same way whether you’re there or not. It’s not aggressive, just remorseless.
The ‘Simon Richardson’ is named in honour of this magazine’s editor. They always look poised to launch a devastating attack with an air of serious ability and calculation.
You tremble in anticipation of the sudden acceleration, and the way you are about to be made to suffer. The attack never comes. Somehow you end up heading home deeply impressed without ever, technically speaking, having seen anything impressive.
Watch: How to ride in a group
The ‘Brian’ denotes a friend who isn’t even called Brian, because for reasons that will become clear I don’t want him to recognise himself. This category does not look like a bike rider. They seem permanently on the verge of the kind of cardiac catastrophe that makes you nervous about whether you have enough phone signal to call an ambulance.
But they are impossible to drop. No matter what you throw at them, they doggedly match it. They almost never do a turn on the front, but they’re indestructible. A ‘Brian’ could quite clearly give you the hiding of your life if it ever occurred to them to try. It never does, and long may it remain so.
And finally there is the misery guts you meet when you’re out for a ride. The one who makes pathetic excuses when you catch him, and then drones on at such length that eventually you feel obliged to take a random turning just to get away from him.
Or, as a guy from Saffron Walden apparently calls this category, the ‘Dr. Hutch’.