I'm a lapsed cyclist. I rather unkindly laughed out loud this week at a work colleague who now commutes the 1500m distance between home and office by cycle and is a recent but enthusiastic cyclist. When I mentioned I was thinking about getting a bike for the Spring, he suggested I attend a cycling proficiency course. After I'd stopped laughing I explained that I had more than 20,000 cycle miles under my belt and used regularly to cycle 80 mile a day round trips on some of the most dangerous 'A' roads in the country, that I used to build my own bikes from bits and spares to achieve bespoke perfection and that I came from the generation that anticipated using a puncture repair kit on a long road trip and could still lever-off a tyre, extract the tube, find the leak with the aid of a wet drainage ditch, fix it and ride off again. Never mind taking a link out of a heat-stretched chain on a baking Summer roadside with only a Yale key, bent nail and a lump of flint.
In place of Isotonic drink holder was nothing. To assuage true thirst stop at a field with cattle in, locate the trough, plunge your face in the water and take deep draughts. They don't mind sharing. I've never owned a little torpedo hat, never worn dayglo lycra and frankly find those expensive little clicky shoes much favoured by city commuters rather comical. In Summer, a breast pocket to keep your fags in and in winter a well-zipped Barbour. This was an age in which cycle-consciousness amongst drivers was non-existant; to survive you had to front-up 30 ton Sugarbeet wagons on 'A' roads, high-speed artics whose passing vortex pulled you towards the heavy trailer wheels, coaches that raced past you at 60 with just a few inches clearance and of course car drivers blind to anything with fewer than four wheels sharing the road. At junctions you needed the courage at all times to take the centre of the road and compel the queue behind you to follow until the other side when you could safely fall back to the left.
But I can't remember ever being angry or militant about it; even during all those angst-filled years of youth when even the slightest injustice would move me to fury. It was just the way it was. Many times I had to flick the bike into a ditch or a verge to avoid collision and suffer lesser injury by choice, twice I've ridden straight into carelessly opened offside doors. It was par for the course.
So get ready, London, for a large smiling middle-aged man in a wax jacket riding a home-made cycle. Appearances can be deceptive.