could this have happened? I was practically born on a bike, had glided
effortlessly what probably amounted to thousands of miles around the
Ohio village where I grew up: delivering papers, racing to school, pedalling
away the years between training wheels and four wheels.
I start worrying if the ferryman really is drunk. The question
is, how badly do I want to see a lighthouse which sits in isolated splendour
amidst windswept but ruggedly picturesque scenery? Is that really what's
pulled me along for 700 miles, or was it the elemental joy of cycling
in the Saddle
Who knows how it happens. A thought has leapt across a synapse which
for the past nine months has been a bridge too far, and suddenly you
fancy a ride again. So, using global positioning technology patented
by your partner, you find and retrieve your bike from the depths of
your basement or garage or wherever it is you have depths.
Presumably a jobbing Ghost of Christmas Present would be along shortly.
I contemplated the filthy river of cars. A courier zipped past, sucked
through the metal corridor, on high alert for tourists gawking at Big
Ben. I took my bike for a short walk along the embankment, gripping
its saddle, minutely adjusting its course as if I were riding no-handed.
The Ferris wheel across the Thames turned its lazy arc, spokes glinting,
a monster bicycle wheel scooping up one load of riders after another
for a taste of the sky.
We stopped in Bruges first. It was picturesque but not as picturesque
as everyone says. We struggled to understand. We left Belgium. We came
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 while 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 only kind of companionship I could get was the sort you find advertised
in phone boxes. 'Full service'. 'I'll true your wheels'. 'French mechanic'.
I know what you're thinking. But it wasn't like that. I just paid them
to talk. Routine maintenance, race results, tour reports. It ran the
gamut. One girl specialised in urban transport issues. God, she was
good. I'm not ashamed. It filled a void.
Forget the most eye-straining safety vest. A cyclist is never more visible
to a motorist than when breaking the law: a veritable ambassador of
bad will. So I thought it might be interesting to see how many of you
are scofflaws, and why.
You Need a Helmet?
As one of the few cyclists who doesn't hold a strong opinion about helmets,
I'm uniquely qualified to help you decide the issue. But not with statistics,
or by trapping you like a fly in an essay of exquisitely spun logic.
I offer, instead, a simple questionnaire.
is, on the face of it, a great idea. Doesn't hog space on the road or
in the parking lot. Abstains from greedily swilling petrol like a thirsty
car. It places the rider out in the elements, closer to nature, which
presupposes a satisfyingly vigorous constitution. The American folk
singer Arlo Guthrie once wrote a lovely song rhyming 'motorcycle' with
'pickle', which was whimsical and brave. I could go on.
My stomach gurgled for the sweet grassy freshness of bay leaf, or the
thunderous culinary orgasm that is tres sucre Pop-Tart, it doesn't matter
now, when carpe diem, I leapt on my bike and Just Did It. No helmet.
No gloves. Naked, really.
If only I'd kept to the one true path I started pedalling down years
ago when I was born-again into the congregation of the spoked wheel.
Back then I would no more have cycled the streets of London, my newly-adopted
milieu, without a helmet, than I would've danced naked in a church -
unless it was Episcopalian, they seem to be more relaxed about things.
Who am I, alone on my bicycle, keeping my balance in an unbalanced world,
cycling through the trenches every day, representing nothing but a single
free human spirit, to argue?
Fiction shouldn't cause much turbulance, should it? The book stores
are full of it, and it seems to sell well enough. You won't always be
able to tell what's fiction and what's not, but that's a little like
This is a story about a long bicycle ride, and the people I met along
the way; a cast of characters who responded to my online entreaty for
hosts to shelter me and my bicycle as we travelled from Land's End in
Cornwall to John O'Groats in Scotland.
There's No Petrol
Of course the well wasn't really dry; it's just that nobody wanted
to carry the bucket. The behemoths that make our roads shudder and shake
and flake apart (so we can dispatch more construction crews) were still.
But nobody was celebrating. Except cyclists.
a Rolling Stone
There are stretches where I won't actually have a thought in my head,
or rather, half my mind will turn into a simple but detached cheerleader
for my body, chanting to my legs to keep going, you're not that tired,
soothing my muscles, keeping my arms steady and true, while the other
half concentrates in an intense but empty-headed way on the road ahead.
It surprises me that even cyclists can get road hypnosis.
The next day
a dozen strangers gathered in an anonymous room which looked suspiciously
like a broom closet. Brooms haphazardly stacked outside the door added
to this impression. The people stared at me as if I were mad. "No TEA?!?"
one of them finally managed to choke. "You've invited us here and we're
not getting any TEA!?!"
What I'd give at times to be able to walk into a restaurant and order
practically anything on the menu. And who amongst us wouldn't love to
cycle on streets where 'critical mass' is nothing more than an overloaded
"I've got it!" shouted Captain Jack, springing up and stumbling
towards the despatch bags. He tripped and thudded harmlessly into the
pile. Everyone made it a point to look elsewhere.
Through absolutely no fault of your own, momentum has introduced you
to a parked car. You have, indeed, scratched it. Do you a) Leave an
apologetic note with your credit card details and expiration date? b)
Wait for the driver to return to remonstrate with him over his complicity
in the destruction of the environment and his questionable taste in
choosing a Skoda? c) Scratch the other side of the car so he'll think
it was a design feature?
As cyclists we assume a mantle of some small grace. We're endeavouring
not to be part of the problem, and find indifference or blanket hostility
mystifying. However, the sins are all out of proportion to the sinners.
Yes, I've seen that insane grin before. It works! You can pedal
it and everything! It's clear you're impatient to spirit it away, to
begin your new life. But my parents didn't raise me to be so cavalierly
the Looking Glass
Most cyclists probably have little trouble eyeballing their reflection.
Their conscience is clear. After all, two wheels good, four wheels bad,
right? ~ Then why do so many of us cycle as if we hadn't left those
two wheels behind? In other words, like motorists.
is an Orc on wheels. But not all Urcs are Orcs by any means. In fact
very few are. It is the few who give the vile reputation to the many.
I wandered up and down the block, feeling entirely lost. Kept glancing
at the rack out of the corner of my eye, unwilling to accept the truth
full in the face. Stumbled home, only to race back on my wife's bicycle
as if the thief would still be in the vicinity, gloating.
in the Stars
You will enter what you think is the 24-hour Red Bull race but which
is really just a bunch of people coincidentally riding around and around
in the woods all night without a clue. Nevertheless you will find yourself,
happily centered and self-actualized, doing exactly what you love: getting
lost. Subsequently you'll all eschew all directional aids, compasses,
maps, GPS devices and advice from locals, forever chasing that happy
disconnected state of never knowing or caring where the hell you are.
Despite this you'll maintain a fixed address in Hull.
To enjoy high fidelity you're going to have to budget for speakers.
True audiophiles ride in accoustical pelotons and form appropriate arrangements
as a piece progresses. Earphones, on the other hand, dangerously limit
the full range of dynamic sound.
A chance remark by a train conductor will completely change your life,
but an anonymous shop clerk will later say something which changes it
back again. Your attempts to find love while commuting will come to
fruition and domestic bliss will be yours for the taking if you can
buckle down and learn to mend a puncture, rather than just changing
the tube; if not, your searching will be in vain.