Michael Hutchinson is a writer, journalist and former professional cyclist. His Dr Hutch columns appears in every issue of Cycling Weekly magazine.
If you’re reading this, you can at least reassure yourself that you’re still here. All the same, I fear not all of us have made it this far. Cycling in the UK is undergoing what our erstwhile friends in the City of London might have called a “correction” and the rest of us would probably call a slump, or at the very least a sustained spell in the little ring.
British Cycling membership is down, so is their sponsorship revenue. The Tour of Britain hasn’t got a headline sponsor, the UK Women’s Tour didn’t happen at all. The big online retailers are in trouble. No one has fixed a pothole since Chris Froome last won the Tour. We’re not surfing along on the crest of 2012 and Sir Bradley Wiggins anymore, and no random strangers are going to flag you down to offer you free cake in exchange for an explanation of the Tour de France General Classification rules.
We are no longer the height of fashion. The in-crowd has moved on – they spent the summer trying to figure out how their air fryer works, or wearing rubber suits and being plucked from their stand-up paddleboards by the RNLI. Meanwhile we stuck with Lycra, bickering about disc-brakes, and being close-passed by scaffolding lorries, as our God intended.
I have friends who are at least slightly pleased about all this. There is a certain sort of old-school rider (and I seem to know an awful lot of them) who disliked the boom years. They were suspicious of the newcomers, whom they felt had only taken up cycling because they liked it, and merely liking it shouldn’t be enough. Their belief is that those of us now left are proper cyclists, riders who don’t do it to just bumble around the countryside enjoying ourselves, but because owing to whatever personal demons we’re failing to deal with, we couldn’t stop if we wanted to. We’re lifers. True bike riders.
But I’m not one of these people who has been waiting for this downturn since the day Team Sky rolled their first Death Star bus out of the service course. Like many of my friends I was here for the last slump, and I don’t think it was as much fun as some of them seem to remember.
In truth, the boom times were the good times. We could watch the Olympic medals piling up, we could bask in reflected glory, and honestly nothing has ever felt as good as being able to buy cheap bikes on eBay off people who upgraded through three different Pinarello models in their first six months in the sport.
It’s hard to pick out what is the cycling-specific downturn from what is just the economy sucking the discretionary spend out of everyone. Turnover is down, memberships are down. There’s less money about, but there are still a lot more people riding bikes (for all sorts of good reasons) than there were during the 1990s. Back then, to be a cyclist at all was to mark yourself out as just a bit odd. I would tell people I was a cyclist, and they’d correct me. “You mean motorcyclist,” was a phrase I heard over and over. We’re not back to that, not by a long way.
So we’re slumping much better now than we slumped back then. We should take some comfort from that. The line on the graph waggles up and down, but it trends up, and in another 20 years the supply of cheap second hand bikes will be back and this time will be even better. It’s probably worth keeping fit to be ready for it.
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