Why I'll never be a roadie (even though I look like one)

I am in their midst, but they do not know me

Since buying a bike that looks a lot like a road bike (and goes like one), I've noticed that road cyclists (the ones with all the lycra on) have started coolly nodding in my direction while streaking past.  Many have gone so far as to raise a hand; one or two have uttered a cordial greeting.  

This is, I think, because my disguise is so complete that even from a few metres away, I have them completely fooled.  I often wear road kit, from a certain Italian maker if you want the truth, mostly because it's very windy where I live and I've come to understand how much tight clothing can save you effort.  Dressing like a lesser-known Marvel superhero with short sleeves may not exactly flatter you until you get into shape, but like anything tailored, it's amazing how there will be a cut out there that will do much more for you than 10 hours a week in the gym.  Look around.  Also, the pockets behind; well, they may look a bit daft, but I see now.  I see. 

I can't quite do the walk yet - I don't wear road shoes with protruding cleats, I don't have enough stuff in those rear pockets, I don't have a little pot belly or, yet, a bad back.  I have adjusted my gearing so that my legs are not almost seized when I dismount.  So I can't QUITE do the penguin walk.  But otherwise, I'm close. 

So there are times when, with the right clothing, on the fast bike, with no bags attached to the frame, clipped into the pedals, with the right bulges behind in the pockets, with the correct size of discreet saddle bag and with my now-impressive calf-muscles free of chain marks and covered to exactly regulation height by approved socks, I am mistaken for a roadie.  

But not for long.  And certainly not by anyone traveling in the same direction.  

You see, it's this business of riding in a group, all at the same speed, centimetres apart.   

Knowing nothing about road cycling, I had of course seen races on TV but assumed they ended up in a bunch like that because they were, you know, racing, and all about the same level, and all on the same, y'know, programme.  The first time I saw a group of people actually doing it not on the telly happened to be in the states, on a road trip in California, and I just assumed one of them was the President.  

While at university, I had a mate whose brother was a fighter pilot in the RAF.  My thing then was climbing so while we were clinging to a cliff somewhere in Lochaber they'd be scaring the shite out of us in their Tornados by appearing out of the mist at Mach 0.9, 50 metres away.  They thought this was hilarious I'm told.  But we were not bitter and always helped to search for them when they crashed.  

Even by then they were skint and usually only went up singly, but when they did go up in pairs, or in bigger squads, they used to have to fly ridiculously close together.  My friend's brother told me it was terrifying and stupid, but he never said anything in case he got into trouble.  He was pretty sure everybody else thought the same though.  They lost a plane once because one guy had to swerve to avoid a power line, and he touched somebody else's wingtip.  A power line. 

So, these guys streaking about elbow to elbow.  Spending your day trying not to get clipped by some tosser in lime green.  Have you ever come off a road bike?  The average road biker has about as much control over their bike as they would over a toboggan at those tolerances.  So it's fine until somebody encounters the cycling version of a power line, like a drain cover, pothole, etc.  (Note: these are called "road furniture".)

And the other thing - how did they find so many people who all want to ride at exactly the same pace?  The few times I've tried this, I've ended up, subjectively at least, using much more effort than normal.  I prefer to start rides more slowly, because I like to conserve energy for later ("pacing"), and I'm often at the back climbing, then they drift away over the horizon on long flat stretches.  Of course, later in the day, you pull some of them back.  Then of course when I stop to take a photo or something, they disappear again.  Useless.  I did try it again with a slower group... it was a freezing cold day, and they kept stopping to wait for slower riders, which I got fed up with, and I didn't know where the coffee shop was they were going to, so I didn't see them again that day.  And it seems I descend more quickly than a lot of riders - I find overtaking a whole group of riders much more dangerous - and so is when a whole group passes you, the ones at the back of the group can't see shit until they're right on your wheel.  Scary.  When you shout at them, they don't like it and reply in kind; this at least indicates they know you're there, but may cause them to lose control of the bike.  It's like that thing where for most people, most of the time, driving a car does not occupy their full attention; but there are exceptions. 

I do get the drafting thing, it does make a big difference.  But so does checking the weather forecast and planning round that.   That's a better way to avoid the wind, I feel.  Or just hunker down and grind it out, which is tiring, but if you plan ahead it may be less tiring than riding at someone else's pace all day.  

There's one other thing... er, the singing.  None of my bikes seems to work properly without music, or on Saturdays, the Wittertainment podcast, so I listen to stuff while riding.  I can't understand people who don't - what would motivate someone to go and exercise for 5 hours without some decent tunes?  What's that about?  Anyway, I've been told that, sometimes, I sing along.  I find it's true; recently I've become aware of it myself.  An intensive study over the last month has shown that none, not one, of the other riders I've encountered has been singing.  But of course, I maybe just didn't hear them. 

Main photo: Round the bays, Wellington; an excellent place to meet road cyclists.

vélo vino dodo