Making Waves
by Steve Worland

Not a lot of people know this, but when musical desperados The KLF got the late, sporadically great Tammy Wynette to sing "They're justified and they're ancient, and they like to roam the land," they were having a bit of a dig at the state of old school British cycling. As if!

For the averagely paranoid UK cyclist, almost everything could be misinterpreted as a dig. Touring roadies moan about racing roadies not waving to them. Cross country mountain bikers moan about downhillers not waving to them. BMXers just want to moan about everything but really can't be assed. And does it all matter? Course not. Cyclists are simply a wide cross section of the UK's public at large, and the public at large loves to moan. It's part of our national character.

But there's a sinister undercurrent to all this moaning. Just as the average motorist regards him or her self as a breed apart from each and every other average motorist (thereby definitively proving that there is no such beast as an average motorist), the average cyclist has become a misnomer too. There was a time when cyclists were filed under racers, tourists and the rest. 'The rest' were kids, shoppers and commuters, all seen to be on less 'serious' bikes. We never waved to them, did we? But as the soft spoken social stigma of cycling has been largely replaced by a hard nosed social acceptability that verges on enthusiastic embrace... and as those 'get off and milk it' calls have been muted... cyclists have become ever more diversified.

And here's that sinister undercurrent. This further diversification of cycling types has launched a complex cross fertilisation of prejudice and bias from previously non bikey aspects of the UK's social spectrum. People who were confirmed non-cyclists in Eighties 'enthusiast' terms have swallowed their pride and climbed aboard a new all-encompassing bike bandwagon. It is no longer assumed that two cyclists have something in common. Even their love of cycling is not necessarily a common cause. A downhill mountain biker's reason for riding (for that is what they do from time to time) may be totally at odds with a cycle tourist's reason for riding. Not waving to other riders is fuelled by all those simplistic prejudices and moods of society at large, like clothing style (or a lack of), facial hair (or a lack of), body bulk (or a lack of), sleep patterns (or a lack of) and biorhythmic karma (or a lack of).

But here's the rub. There's nothing sinister in not waving. My own feeling is that not waving is a blessing in disguise. Wave if you want to but remember that there are new breeds of riders out there who do not consider themselves to be in a dwindling minority in need of peer group support. Could it be that waving to other people just because they're on a bike could one day be regarded as just as oddball as waving to another beer drinker just because they're on a binge? Personally, I will carry on waving, but only when I feel in the mood, and only to riders who look as though they may have something remotely in common with me. The rest will have to make do with nothing at all, a surly nod or a half smile.

© Steve Worland
Cycling Plus, February 2000