A Golden Age

A decent length ride looping around Binfield to the south and Henley to the north. From near Billingbear, it struck me just how flat a large part of Berkshire is; I’m not sure I’ve ever thought of it in those terms before. I think it’s not that far off to call it a flat county riven by a river valley.

The Plains of Berkshire

The Plains of Berkshire

What was notable was that for ALL the non-main road stretches, out of urban areas like Reading and Henley, there were more cyclists than cars. This is between about 11 am and 1pm. It has to be a golden age for riding to some degree; the question is, whether this peak can be capitalised on.

I can think of a number of reasons for the growth in riding – there’s a recession and it’s affordable, we’re getting more health conscious, we have a charismatic World Champion in Mark Cavendish and, of course, British success in the Tour de France this year has to be a contributing factor too.

There are plenty of far more knowledgeable commentators about cycle racing than me; all I’ll say is that two things strike me about this year’s Tour winners above everything else.

  • Firstly, the true team work in Team Sky, involving everyone in the organisation, seems stunning, and that combined with the incredible individual talents has made it a pleasure to witness.
  • Secondly, it has to be that the success of the British is also a reflection of the cleaning-up of the sport in recent years and the subsequent levelling of the playing field: it’s given opportunities for ‘non cycling nations’ (without the doping culture).

If there’s one ground-level thing I’m sure of, it’s that the entrenched, established cycling culture in England – and presumably Britain – needs to change.

I think it’s been weakened considerably – brands like Boardman being in shops like Halfords have made buying a decent bike far more accessible than having to brave what can be the intimidating ‘LBS’ (local bike shop), much as they are wonderful institutions for initiates. And I was pleased to read a review a while back that said even the really quite cheap bikes sold by Decathlon are good to ride, unlike the often unfit-for-purpose rubbish sold by people like Tesco.

No, not all local bikes shops are intimidating – I think my local one, AW Cycles, is friendly to all-comers – but many are. (And maybe I’m no judge – I’m a cyclist so perhaps I’m not that sensitive to it). Either way, if there’s going to be a surge in interest in cycling, they’d all do well to think hard about how they come across to someone coming in the door with no cycling experience at all.

As for cycling clubs, if today’s club riders are typical then they remain poor ambassadors – as they’ve been for as long as I’ve been aware of them. There were any number of visibly new cyclists in the lanes today and it’s always the club riders who’ll go by them without so much as a glance, all macho and trying to pose as intimidatingly good on a bike. More often than not they’ll also ride badly in terms of basic road-rules and simple politeness too. It’s daft and it’s short-sighted. All riders would benefit from an increase in cycling’s popularity. New riders need to be encouraged. And all riders need to think of themselves as ‘proper’ road users, obeying the rules, if they want to be respected and treated as ‘proper’ road users themselves.