Dr Hutch: My special relationship with a cycling magazine

In Cycling Weekly's anniversary year, the Doc considers his place in a long, rambling line of the magazine's columnists

Last week we published a special issue to celebrate 125 years of Cycling Weekly magazine. I started reading the magazine before I started cycling — Mrs Doc’s father is a bike rider, and always bought it.

Initially I read it for the pleasure of trying to decode the classified adverts (For sale: Dave Marsh 653 22” c-t-c, Dura Ace/105 BB Open “CD” Rolls etc.), which usually read as if someone had been trying to kill a wasp on their keyboard.

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When I started racing, my aim was to get my name on the results page. I managed this with the first race I did. At least they waited six weeks before publishing it. I remember, too, the first time my picture appeared on the cover. It was about the size of a passport photo, at the bottom left, and was completely obscured by a cover-mount of some free energy drink.

I didn’t find the pic until three months later when I’d run out of my usual carbohydrate mix and pulled the sachet off the cover. As soon as I’d dissolved the contents and drunk it, I danced round the room with cheaply-fuelled joy.

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I still have hundreds of copies. Under beds, in the garage, in the loft and threatening to fall through the bedroom ceiling and kill me as I sleep. (“His work got on top of him, I’m afraid.”)

I still like to leaf through them, just to enjoy the feeling of omniscience that comes from knowing that whatever the magazine might have predicted in 1997, young Jan Ullrich wasn’t going to win the Tour five times, and that there really did turn out to be a market for nine-speed. And 10. And 11.

Into the archives
When I started to write for the magazine, I could delve back into the archives at the office. When I started to write this column, I found I was drawn to the work of my predecessors: Kuklos, Wayfarer, Ragged Staff, and many others. They operated under pseudonyms rather harder to crack than my own.

Cycling Weekly covers collage

Most of them dealt with touring. Their columns were accounts of things like ‘A short, four-day Easter tour of 400 miles through Northern Scotland.’ They wore plus-fours and stockings, and wrote about stopping to admire igneous rock formations and country churches, and where you might get a flask filled with tea on a Sunday.

There was more substantial advice too. In the 1930s, the female columnist Femina wrote a whole series on ‘Tent erecting for women’ that’s as relevant today as it was then. More or less all of the writers had a go at explaining how the Sturmey-Archer hub gear worked, and in fact I did the same a few weeks ago. I feel that in many ways our collective and abject failure on this front has united us across the decades.

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The historical perspective isn’t completely welcome. I worry about a successor writing for the 150th anniversary: “And after more than 100 years of wonderful, profound writing about what it was to be free and a cyclist, there was a bloke called Dr Hutch who wrote almost exclusively about going for rides with a grumpy friend.”

If I’m lucky, he won’t crack the pseudonym. He won’t ever know I had anything to do with a fresh-faced young rider still imprisoned under a sachet of moldering energy drink on the cover of an old archived magazine.