Michael Hutchinson is a writer, journalist and former professional cyclist. His Dr Hutch columns appears in every issue of Cycling Weekly magazine. Relevant to this column, 'Hutch', has held the title of 'Brompton folding-bike World Champion' three times.
I’ve been a fan of folding bikes for years. In a nation where secure bike storage is almost non-existent, and where bike theft is seen by the police as more of a punchline than an actual criminal offence, the idea that I can just fold a bike up, take it into my destination and stick it in a cloakroom or under a desk seems so simple and logical.
Folding bikes go on trains without having either to book a space or fight off three other riders for it. With a very few demented exceptions you can take a folder on a bus or a tram or the Underground. You can take it in a taxi. You can stick it in the back seat of your helicopter. Round a city the practical effect is like a teleport.
But here is one downside. As soon as anyone sees you arriving somewhere, you are classified as “Crazy Bike Guy”.
For instance, a couple of years ago I was doing a freelance commentary shift for a broadcaster. I was wearing black tie, because I was going straight on to an awards do that evening. (Where, you may be interested to learn, I failed by miles to win the award for “Columnist of the Year.”)
Just as I was leaving the studios, I got a text from an optician to say my new monocle was ready to collect. This isn’t an affectation – I have an eye condition that means monocles are quite useful.
Thus it was that I arrived at Specsavers to collect my monocle, wearing a dinner jacket and carrying a Brompton folder.
Had I arrived on a “normal” bike, the staff would have seen me as an unremarkable man; a hard-working magician who felt his stage persona wasn’t irritating enough already, or maybe an astronomer on his way to a meeting of the Royal Society. Because I was on my folder, I got classified as Very Crazy Bike Guy. I bet they still talk about me...
What rankles even more is that this sort of view isn’t confined to opticians. There are altogether too many cyclists who also view folding bikes with something between scepticism and contempt. “They handle so badly they’re dangerous,” I get told by people whose “normal” bikes have no front brake and carcass showing on both tyres.
I accept that bikes with small wheels handle a little differently from larger-wheeled bikes. It might take, oh I don’t know, maybe fifty metres of riding to totally adapt to it. I’ve ridden a folder up Alpe d’Huez and, perhaps more to the point, back down – no problem. Yet there are plenty of riders who refuse to believe this is even possible, as if the laws of physics stop applying as soon as your wheels shrink.
I think it’s the same people who push past me when I’m waiting at a traffic light because they can’t deal with being behind a Brompton. Then after I’ve overtaken them again, they do the same thing at the next lights, and the ones after that. I feel like telling them it’s about the size of the watts not the size of the wheels.
The thing that stops me doing so is the thing that reassures me when I see an optician giving me a sidelong glance. I’m right. We’re right. We folder riders are a chosen people, even if we’ve chosen ourselves. You might want to be an uptight arse about my funny little bike, but when I’m on my folder I can appreciate that that’s not your fault. That’s just the way you are, you uptight arse.
And one day you’ll see it my way. Everyone will ride a folding bike. Either that or someone will invent a decent bike lock. But that seems very unlikely.
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