“His remark, ‘cycling is new golf’, troubles me. My instinctive reaction is one of defiance. The thought of cycling becoming a social platform to facilitate business transactions is disturbing”
By Anthony Walsh, BL
The Sunday morning alarm clock sounds. For normal folk this a day of rest but for cyclists it’s another opportunity to log some precious winter miles as the season draws closer. A cursory glance from the window reveals a strong breeze but a dissipating frost.
The military nature of my preparation is too precise to be labelled a ‘ritual’; this is a ‘routine’. Everything is timed backwards from my departure time. Breakfast volume is dictated by the hours we plan to ride and clothing is chosen to tackle the prevailing weather. Comfort is prioritised over style and performance – our bikes are heavy, weighed down by fenders, saddle bag and frame pump.
I pedal gently for ten minutes, shaking out the previous day’s fatigue from my legs, to meet a local group. I wait as latecomers frantically inflate tyres and stuff gels into jersey pockets. The preparation which has become routine for me is still unique for some. The distinctive ‘click’ as a cleat locks into position serves as our signal to depart. I haven’t previously ridden with this group. We ride a rotating pace line and make small talk. I rotate into position beside a forty something year old – he is over-weight and under dressed. His docile, open demeanour encourages conversation. A nice guy, a business man – he’s new to cycling. Amidst the small talk he mentions how many of his colleagues are getting into cycling and jokes ‘cycling is the new golf’.
I complete a rotation and sit at the back, odd man out, surveying the group. I notice my new friend is not alone. His peers are easily distinguished. They have the physical attributes and skills of a beginner but their tools are not those of a humble apprentice, they are more akin to a seasoned professional. I observe the group demographic – it’s changing. He is a member of a new generation. A growing mid-age, middle-class participation base.
I pedal pensively at the rear of the group. His remark, ‘cycling is new golf’, troubles me. My instinctive reaction is one of defiance. The thought of cycling becoming a social platform to facilitate business transactions is disturbing. When one thinks of golf, immediate connotations of exclusivity, affluence, and elitism come to mind. None of these are values which I think would enhance the cycling community. I resolve not to make a hasty judgement. I am contemplative for the remaining hours as I rotate throughout the group.
Western society has normalised the idea that during one’s life time we should endeavour to move up a notch on the social ladder from our parents standing. We strive for a more advanced education, higher paid jobs, to live in better neighbourhoods and drink finer wines. This concept of stepping up a notch on our imaginary social ladder touches all areas of our lives – including cycling.
From the very moment I threw my leg over a cross-bar I continuously strove to reach the next level. Never satisfied, never content – the nature of a competitor. Humble targets like not getting dropped on the Swords Club Run morphed into grand dreams of securing professional contracts. The same can be said of many club riders; always in a state of flux – looking to progress A4 to A3, A2 to A1. We feel the goal in cycling is to step up on our metaphorical ladder and cast dispersions down. We label and stigmatise riders of lesser ability; ‘fred’, ‘choad’ or ‘Jonathan’.
As we roll back into the car park to conclude our spin I have decided we should welcome our new friends. They are bringing a fresh non-competitive perspective to a sport with rigid ethos – fresh ideas and a new direction.
Sure they need to be indoctrinated, learning cycling customs and rules for safe participation but we can also learn from them. At this time of the year we can learn to slow down, enjoy the sights, the sounds, the conversation and the coffee stops. Let ourselves slip a little into their world – where cycling is just for fun. where we explore new roads and it’s always fresh. Remember the magic of when we started out. A fresh youthful enthusiasm now will make the hard work to come that much easier.
As the evenings get longer this relationship dynamic will change – we can suck them into our world and more A4s will be battling to become A3.