When I got up this morning the first thing my wife said to me was "there's a great article about cycling, in the Guardian. You should read it." Actually I think we talked about why the hell she was in the spare room doing yoga at 6 in the morning, but at some point she definitely mentioned the article.
I read through it and nothing really bothered me. Then I saw it again on facebook. Then on twitter. As a cyclist I follow fellow cyclists on these things, today Tom Marriage's article was on some kind of permanent social media feedback loop.
I didn't think much more about it, I just got dressed and went out for a ride. 4 hours around the lanes of South Yorkshire and back to Glossop.
As is always the case on a solo ride, after an hour or so everything becomes a little more clearer. Ideas appear out of nowhere into the vacuum of my mind, forgotten conversations are recalled, and weirdly Bob Marley's Redemption Song, or any of Counting Crows back catalogue always seem to appear. I'm still trying to work out why that last one happens.
Today, during that mid-ride mind void, Tom Marriage's article pushed Bob Marley aside and demanded my attention. I'm not sure if it was the article itself, or just the incessant headwind I was going to face all the way home, but I started to feel more than a bit annoyed.
If you haven't read it, Marriage laments the death of adventure in cycling, and the fact that the community is now top heavy with amateur sports cyclists who are just mainlining whatever expensive gear the manufacturers are pumping out.
Marriage reckons that it used to be possible to be a serious cyclist and wear denim shorts and stop for a spliff at the top of Ditchling Beacon. As someone with a huge enthusiasm for THC, I love the thought of this, but it has been cycling that has saved me from that side of myself. Racing my bike has been the push I needed to give up the habit, and make sure it stays given up. Also the last time I went out cycling and got baked I pretty much forgot how to ride my bike. It was a fixie too, so there were only two actual options, pedal and move or don't pedal and stop. The A1000 wasn't the place to be having this kind of crisis.
I get Marriage's point about the lack of denim in cycling, though. I think I realised it was just as valid as lycra after watching Thereabouts, where pro-cyclist Lachlan Morton attempts to rediscover his love for the sport. He does this mainly by riding to Uluru in a beanie hat and denim shirt. It looks dope and it works. My teammates and I are so inspired by this that we're planning our own ride of denim rediscovery, in the middle of the season. We're not actually sure where we're going to go but I've got my outfit picked out already.
What Marriage seems to be most disenchanted with is the lack of jeopardy in the changing cycling culture. Every route is preplanned; every rider is just following a path so well ridden the tyre tracks are starting to eat away at the road surface; Even with their heads down they'll still end up back where they started, and with an expensive coffee in their hands. But what our writer doesn't see is that these people are new, they're just waking up, they're Neo in the Matrix when Laurence Fishburne has just pulled him out of a gooey pod. They need some instruction and guidance before they can find that true independent spirit. Marriage should take a look at The Rules, particularly rule #2, lead by example. It takes these eccentrics and mavericks to guide us in the ways of the cog. The worst thing you can do as an enlightened one is to keep that knowledge to yourself.
To get to the point where you can enjoy a true adventure you need to build your confidence. I see this all the time in my club, CC London. Any new rider is welcome to join us. We'll give you the tools to create your own adventures. It's these tools that will see some of our riders spend a week riding and camping in the Pyrenees, a 12 hour orbit of greater London, or that denim ride that no one knows where it's bloody going yet.
Even in just this small world of one club the idiosyncrasies are easy to spot. There are the scientists with their wattage and power metres. They're riding next to the luddites who espouse these things and just ride on feel alone. There are the futurists with their electronic groupsets and things made out of stuff from space shuttles. They're riding next to the girl on the single speed steel frame that only she could love. Either way they're all still weird if you drop them anywhere outside of the cycling bubble.
I might be one of the guys that Marriage is complaining about. I ride my bike fast. I train hard. I endeavour to get a bit faster. But I understand that it's the spirit of the community that makes riding special. I may be on my limit but I'll smile at you as I go past. If I can get the words out I'll also attempt an audible 'hello'. We've got a bond, you and I. It might be made of steel, carbon, titanium, or aluminium. I might have cost ten grand or just the effort it took to lift it out of a skip, but it's a bond nonetheless.