It was around man number 19 I started to lose steam. I’d written half of the names next to the wrong numbers and my voice was starting to crack, but I was having fun. In the space of a few short minutes I’d spoken to Eduardo, Elko, two Bens, a Geoff and too many more to mention.
I’d never tried ‘regular’ speed dating, so had no idea what to expect when I arrived at Look Mum, No Hands! in Hackney for cycle speed dating. I imagined the whole thing could be embarrassing and awkward, and half pictured a bunch of middle-aged men in socks and sandals. But I was surprised not only at how ‘normal’ these people were, but how good-looking, too — though maybe that was the candlelight. More reassuring was how relaxed everyone was — after all, we were all just here to meet someone with shared interests, there was nothing strange about it.
Organiser Marge rang the (bicycle) bell every three minutes and a new man came and sat opposite me (the men rotate, the women stay seated). Thinking about something new to talk about was surprisingly easy, from conversations about each other’s cycling, what we did for jobs, and even, with one man, his recent cycling trip to Scotland with his ex-wife.
Sometimes those three minutes were enough, sometimes too much. One guy speed talked at me for the whole three minutes, after which I reminded him our time was up and just wrote ‘no’ next to his name.
Only one encounter was slightly awkward after I complimented the man’s watch and shirt in my opening gambit, and then blushed as I struggled in vain for words. The organisers had provided handy questions on little laminated cards, however, should the awkward pause threaten to morph into a black hole.
My friend Duncan had come along, so when it was his turn to sit opposite me, we got to swap our experiences so far and try to make sense of our hastily scrawled notes. He was pleasantly surprised at how fun it was, too, and after his initial horror that I was also bringing a photographer, I think he was glad to have a friend there.
As there was one more woman than there were men, I had a short break in the middle, during which I could look around, listen to the buzz of conversation and even witness some hand-holding. The event seemed to be going well for most people.
There was a good mix of people at the event and not all were serious cyclists; from those who cycle for fun, to one man I spoke to who during his youth cycled 300km a week. Not only were the men a good bunch but the women I spoke to seemed the kind of people I could be friends with too. There were even a couple of people I already knew.
One woman, who had done cycle speed dating here before, said she liked the people so much last time she brought three friends along this time, including one who didn’t cycle at all.
At the end, you hand in your form ticking anyone you would like to ‘match’ with, and Marge then sends any mutual matches via email. There’s also the option of ticking whether you’d like to be friends with a person.
I had just one romantic match, which was a little disappointing, but I’m confident practice makes perfect and am certainly up for trying again.
About cycle speed dating
Marge at Look Mum, No Hands! grew up in the Netherlands, so cycling was a part of her life until she moved to London. “The first three years I didn’t cycle because I found it quite dangerous,” she said. “I applied for a job as a Dutch tour guide — with London Bicycle Touring Company — then I found out how much I missed cycling; it does something to your body and your head.”
Marge was keen to meet other people who cycled: “I thought there would be something like this already but when I was looking for it online I couldn’t find anything.”
Marge didn’t waste any time — a month later she held her first event, in December 2013, at Look Mum, No Hands! “I think you get a nice variety of all types of cyclist — we have Brompton riders, people who just take their bikes out on weekends and a few professional cyclists. It’s always a really nice vibe, the people are really nice and even if there is no romance afterwards, our guests meet like-minded people.”
Marge also runs same-sex evenings, and she hopes to run cycle speed dating bike rides in 2015.
Are relationships formed through common interests more likely to succeed? By the law of averages, the more opportunities you make to meet new people, the greater likelihood you have of meeting someone special.
A shared hobby can be a great way of socialising, it can be a great ice-breaker when you meet someone new, while the added bonus of meeting a person with shared interests means you have something you can get out and enjoy together.
Perhaps we’re less self-conscious if the first date involves getting covered in dust or rain, or meeting over something we love, rather than just staring at one another over a candle and the messiest dish on the menu you’ve accidentally ordered. You’ve got your hobby — or the ride — to talk about, and it’s a great way to get to know a person, too, from whether they are good in a crisis after their third puncture, to if they’re terrible company when tired or hungry.
Over time, cycling may be the thing you do together, a chance to bond over shared experiences. In the long term, psychologists say shared values are the key to a successful relationship — that said, you can have all the hobbies in the world in common, but if your date’s politics, or the way they slurp spaghetti makes you shudder, or their conversation bores you to tears, you may find you’d rather go for that ride with your mates.
This article originally appeared in Cycling Active magazine, March 2015 issue