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An open letter to Bradley Wiggins

September 6, 2013

My husband has exhorted me to undertake a spot of dictation. We are in the car, on the way to my mother’s, and have recently narrowly avoided squishing two pink-lycra-clad ladies on pushbikes, who decided the ten-metre gap in front of our 60-mile-an-hour, two-tonne estate car, was their preferred choice of cycling space just a few moments ago. Now the swearing has died down, and I’ve unclenched the white-hot ball of knuckle that used to be my fingers from the handle of the passenger door, Ben has decided he should take out a full-page advert in The Times, to attract the attention of Mr Bradley Wiggins, and alert him to the damage he’s caused since his Tour de France and Olympic win last year.

“Dear Bradley,” he begins.

“Isn’t that a little informal?” I ask, meekly. (I do not wish to further inflame the husband’s ire, given that he has got back up to fifth gear in remarkably short order.)

“Dear Mr Wiggins,” he agrees.

“I think it’s Sir now,” I offer, but am won around by the excited way his hands flap around the wheel that he probably wouldn’t be upset by a lack of formality, on this occasion.

“Wiggo,” he begins again, and I do not stop him. “As much as I admire your sportsmanship, your athletic prowess, and your deftness with a razor, and as fully as I enjoyed the fleeting feeling of pride in my nation, and flush of success at beating the French at their own game… as much as I believe you are fully deserving of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, and your hug from Weller – I would like to draw your attention to the subsequent menace you have inflicted on British society.

“I am of course talking about cycling.”

We slow for a speed camera, and I read back what he has written so far. “Very good,” I say. “Great opening. Precise. Attention grabbing. Enjoying your use of the word ‘menace’.”

“New paragraph. Yes, cycling. We all know the benefits of this form of transportation. It’s good exercise. It’s cheap, and quick. It’s ‘carbon neutral’.”

We swerve dangerously as both hands are taken from the wheel to emphasise the derision Ben places on those speech marks.

“It clears space on our roads, it gets fat people thinner, and if this country’s economy was based upon lycra, all our troubles would be over. But it has one definitive, overriding disadvantage, this cycling malarkey.” He pauses for dramatic effect.

“It means people are cycling – on the roads.”

I stop writing for a moment, pondering this choice of words, trying to decide if it’s the fact I’ve heard this argument too many times to count that is spoiling the overall effect – or if it’s the fact it makes no sense. I’m an editor. I have to raise the issue.

“Ben, your argument makes no sense.”

“It makes perfect sense! Ever since that bloke got on his bike, every man, woman and pensioner thinks cycling’s a great idea! They’ve squeezed themselves into decade-old lycra and now firmly believe that the nation’s highways are their own private cycle lanes! All that nonsense about never forgetting how to ride a bike – I don’t think so!! Some of these people, swerving in and out of traffic, jumping lights, taking up half the bloody road because they’re bored and want to have a bit of a chat – I seriously wonder if they even remember learning in the first place! Where’s their lane discipline? Where’s their hand signals? Why do they have to wear so much lycra? Is there a law against folds of material?”

I sense we’re on the brink of agitation, and with some miles to go before our destination (including, from memory, a number of junctions in which we’re likely to come into contact with cyclists – literally, if he carries on in this vein), I attempt soothing tones.

“I imagine the craze will soon die down, my love. It’s nearly the end of the summer and the bad weather will have them all back in their cars soon enough.”

It doesn’t work. The evidence is all around us (if aliens landed in Cambridgeshire they’d believe humans had two arms, two wheels, and came in luminous shades of orange and green), and whilst some of these cyclists might indeed be once-a-year-on-a-sunny-Sunday bikers, the ones with snap-in shoes, pedometers, and (oh my heavens) rearview mirrors on their helmets, show no sign of letting up any time soon.

“The serious cyclist,” mutters Ben under his breath darkly, shadowing a particularly sprightly looking pensioner on his aluminium frame, trying to ascertain if his glare is making its way through the man’s mirrored sunglasses. “Anyway, where was I?”

“I think you were asking why cycling didn’t lend itself to a more flattering outfit.”

“Ah yes. Indeed. That shade of pink those two ladies were wearing back there would have looked lovely smeared halfway across the road. I had no problems seeing them with their lights and reflectors and luminosity! Just a shame they couldn’t see the 13-foot long car with a very angry quarter-Welshman in it!”

“I think they saw you eventually,” I countered, recalling the 30 seconds of expletives that were hurled out of the driver’s window, the half-inch of tyre marks on the tarmac, and the worried looks of the children on the school bus. The quivering lower lips and wide-eyed stares of the two ladies on their bikes won’t leave my mind for a while either.

But he does have a point. Lycra aside, the road infrastructure in our particular county simply isn’t up for the dramatic increase in cyclists that the past 18 months has seen. Cambridge is famed for its bikes, and every tourist has a picturesque photo of some long-haired, satchel-toting, loose-breasted young undergraduate hurtling along its narrow cobbled streets on a push bike. The fact the Government has announced it will invest £8.2m for cycling in and around Cambridge over the next three years is great – as long as it’s focused on those roads that really need it.

The long Fen commuter roads, with single lanes and blind corners, need cordoned-off cycle routes and under- or over-passes, so that drivers aren’t forced to sit behind slow-moving cyclists where there isn’t room to get past, or to manoeuvre dangerously into oncoming traffic when they’re too impatient to wait. And cyclists using these roads should be forced to wear helmets, use lights and reflectors, and desist with those silly snap-in shoes that make them fall over at traffic lights. Actually, no. Let them keep those. It is very funny when they do that.

As for us, perhaps we should be a little more patient with our healthy, fashion-challenged friends. The fact they are choosing to exercise and save the planet at the same time is very commendable, and at least the trend for overgrown facial hair is dying down. As we pull into my mother’s driveway without further incident, I breathe a small sigh of relief. I’ve just read that a full-page ad in The Times costs £16K. Imagine how much lycra you could buy with that!

From → Blog

One Comment
  1. Lycra is just the start, you ‘aint seen nothing yet.

    Just wait until all those men who have recently taken up cycling at the behest of Sir Wiggo go the whole hog and start shaving their legs….metrosexual doesn’t even begin to describe it! 🙂

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