The following is a transcript from a Cyclists Anonymous meeting. Although the names have been changed, the individual stories are harrowingly real.
I’m here at my partner’s request. Personally I consider this to be a waste of time. No offense. It’s just that I could be out on my bike. You’ve heard of Audax? They revoked my membership after the last ride I organised made too many people commit suicide. But it’s not an obsession. Far from it. It’s just a hobby. Like model airplanes, or collecting novelty condiment jars. There’s no Marmiters Anonymous, is there? So why a Cyclists Anonymous? I really don’t understand. But I promised my partner, so here I am. She had a fit when I did the London-Edinburgh-London run. We were living in Edinburgh at the time, and I insisted on riding to and from the start of the event. So that made it Edinburgh-London-Edinburgh-London-Edinburgh. What’s the big deal? It just makes sense. I needed to warm up and warm down.
I’m into charity in a big way. My favourite cause is cats which have been forced out of their homes due to personality clashes with their owners. It’s a vexing problem, quite underreported in the mainstream press. They need money to start a new life. I’ve always felt for them in my heart, but never knew how to help. Then a friend of mine told me she was doing an end-to-end in aid of retired end-to-enders. I asked her what that was. When she explained, I couldn’t believe that people could actually pedal that far without dying or something. These days I think, oh, it’s Monday, time for another e2e. I’m an old hand now. My only accident happened last year when I ran over a cat on the outskirts of Shrewsbury.
I’ve always been attracted to unicycling as a lifestyle. I guess it’s because I’m a bit of a minimalist. A unicyclist has pared cycling down to its basics: a wheel and a saddle. To be honest a saddle isn’t even really necessary. I removed mine when I realised it was getting in the way of my oneness with the wheel. I feel that I’m a remarkably well-balanced individual. So I really don’t belong here. But it was a condition of my parole.
It started with a dream I had one night. There was a big cassette with a thousand cogs spinning dementedly. My mum was hanging upside-down from a top tube, eating ice-cream with chopsticks and shaking her head sadly whilst liaising with an audience of executive garden gnomes. What was bizarre about it was that she doesn’t particularly care for frozen deserts. I asked her what was wrong and she whinnied like a horse but didn’t offer any other comment. The cogs spun faster and faster, whipping up a hurricane, knocking over all the gnomes except one. Later I found out that gnomes are standard dream parlance for gears. What my dream had been trying to tell me was that all I needed was one gear! I knew singlespeeding was for me subconsciously before I knew it consciously. The mind is a really amazing thing.
I’m just a regular commuter. 6.8 miles round-trip. It’s a good route. I even catch a nice long cycle lane, nearly half a block. After I’d been doing it for awhile I couldn’t help but notice that other commuters were going faster than me. It seemed like they were doing it on purpose. I told one of them “This isn’t a race,” but she just looked at me funny and increased her pace. It was really ridiculous. So I did the only thing I could do: I went a little faster, just to show her this isn’t supposed to be a competitive sport. Every day brought new outrages. After awhile I realised that ‘winning’ isn’t what it’s all about. What’s important is keeping up appearances.
I got another cycling computer for Christmas. It was just what I wanted. I already have three, but I like to have each one set at a different function, to avoid pressing buttons and altering my aerodynamic profile. I wear a yellow jersey but it’s not what you think. There’s scientific reasons for yellow being a faster colour; Procycling did a story. Something about optimal wavelengths of light and human photosynthesis. It’s highly technical, I can’t explain it in so many words. I’ve entered myself in the Tour every year now for the last 5 years, but you have to know somebody to get in, it’s like everything else.
I was carrying my bike upstairs one day when it suddenly struck me: I could get to like this. Cruising along without a care in the world is one thing, but hauling my bike o’r hill and dale — that’s something else again. I find the weight on my shoulder calming, reassuring. Often I don’t even bother to get on; ‘cross biking in its purest most sublime form. Sometimes when I’m in the Zone I carry two, one on each shoulder. A friend of mine altered his car rack to fit on his back instead and carries five. I’m in awe of him.
It all started when Larry, my boyfriend, begged me to put knobblies on to spice things up. I hadn’t a clue what he was on about. I told him fine, but I wasn’t going in to Ann Summers to ask for them. He just laughed. The next thing I knew we were pedalling along Striding Edge on Helvellyn. Well, not quite. I had to work up to that. Larry started by blindfolding me and sending me into New Forest: “Be the trail,” he chanted. I’m still banned. Soon I was able to do more technical trails. Next year we’re hoping to give K2 a go. Still waiting for the permits.
There’s a joke by the comedian Steven Wright: “I’m not afraid of heights. I’m afraid of widths.” Well, I’m afraid of heights and widths. That’s why I ride a ’bent. As I’m sure you’re aware by now, the saddle is much more comfortable than a ‘wedgie’. In fact it’s so nice I don’t see any reason to get off. I’ve found I can do all sorts of things on my recumbent bicycle that you wouldn’t have thought possible. In fact my firstborn was conceived on a long wheelbase model. Try that on an upright.
I would be irresponsible if I didn’t think about cycling most of my waking hours. After all, I’m a journo for a cycling mag. That’s what I get paid to do. And I need every one of my 17 bicycles (and another dozen or so in pieces). You choose the right tool for the job, don’t you? Some of my bikes work optimally only at certain temperatures. You wouldn’t understand unless you UNDERSTAND. Other bikes are theoretically on loan; I’m reviewing them for the mag. I’ve been putting one through its paces for 5 years now: I’m that thorough. It’s a matter of professional pride. The bike company complained about 4 years ago, but I just told them I was still uncovering its nuances.
I’ve got it bad. Not only am I addicted to cycling, I’m addicted to cycling forums — they’re the bomb, if not always in execution, in potential. I hope to one day liberate myself from them, as well as from the tyranny of the ride report, but who am I kidding.
Cycling Plus, July 2002
*The Zero Club, April 2020