Should You Vote?

So, you ride a bike. Should you vote in the next election? Who for? So, you don’t ride a bike – the same questions apply. And the answer? After a few rides thinking about it, all I can say is that the answer isn’t straightforward.

This week’s seen just a couple of fairly desultory trips. Fog has made it hard to get out, and when it’s not been foggy it’s been pretty grim and grey. It ain’t enticing. And when you do go out, what do you find? The same ol’ same ol’.

I was on the A4 near Twyford this week and I was seriously squeezed by a lorry because of a) his bad driving but b) because of the traffic islands they’ve put in the middle there, with no thought to the consequences for anyone on two wheels. The same applies to some relatively new hatching they’ve put on the road, which plenty of drivers interpret as meaning they’re not allowed to cross over, which of course means they cut cyclists more closely. And there are all the pot-holes – now getting worse again; there are the meaningless ‘advisory’ cycle lanes which probably mean some local council wonk has got a bonus for box-ticking but achieve nothing positive … and so on.

I’ve pondered before on cycling not equating to any notions of left or right in politics.

Now I’m thinking that the very act of voting has to be open to question, whether you’re a cyclist or not. Whether you make your cross on the ballot paper on not probably is going to come down to whether you’re hoping for long- or short-term gains. For what it’s worth, I’ve tried to explain why I’m thinking that in another ‘openDemocracy’ article here:

openDemocracy

Top-Level Sporty Types (Are Just A Distraction)

A decent-length ride circumnavigating Reading (Twyford, Aborfield, Theale, Pangbourne) and, in truth, it was fine – not much traffic, no wind to speak of, not that cold. However, it was unremittingly dull – that grim uniform grey sky that the Thames Valley in particular seems to do so well – and everywhere is soggy and starting to get a winter sheen of dirt on it. It’s not enticing.

An artist’s impression of today’s sky over Berkshire

An artist’s impression of today’s sky over Berkshire

The Lance Armstrong scandal about doping is raging at the moment. I suppose it’s understandable that people ask me what I think about doping in cycle racing because I ride a bike … but in reality it is of very little interest to me. Besides, in what way is a highly paid sports person cheating really news?

Even if there wasn’t a hint of drug taking in any sport, I can’t seen any top-level sports person as a good role model; they are almost by definition mono-maniacs; freaks, if you like. I can’t see what I’m going to usefully gain by taking an interest in them. You may or may not admire their ambition, their drive and their achievements, but don’t hold them up as people to ‘follow’ or emulate. Enough already – I’ve gone on about this before.

I guess that I get asked my views on doping in pro cycling is a reflection of how few cyclists many people actually know. In reality, it’s akin to asking any car driver his views on Formula One racing drivers: no-one assumes every car driver will automatically have something to say on that front. I don’t mind being asked, it’s just a misplaced thing for people to do and a sad reflection on how relatively rare cycling still is.

Shocking For Everyone

Earlier today, if you’d been around the Bath Road/Twyford area in Berkshire, you could have endured the mildly shocking sight of a fat old bloke riding an old fixed wheel bike. You’d probably have thought something along the lines of ‘he looks like he’s struggling a bit’, and if you could have said as much to him, he’d have agreed. He’d have bemoaned that he couldn’t pedal much over 100rpm, mentioned that he felt just a little bit on the cold side of right, admitted that he was feeling very aware that he was an over-weight ex-smoker, and added that because this was the first time out on a fixed wheel bike for quite a while, it was all a bit of a shock to his system.

If you’d been able to speak to him at the end of the ride he’d also have added that riding a fixed wheel for the first time for ages on a cool day with the added frisson of heavy rain was even more of a shock to his system, because rain it most certainly did for the last 10 miles or so.

Needless to say, that fat old man was me, and that was one very tiring, soggy jaunt. The obvious conclusion, of course, is that I must do it more often.

A Cinelli Record handlebar stem - for readers of a certain vintage

A Cinelli Record handlebar stem – appreciated by readers of a certain vintage

Thirty Years

Over near Twyford, I was overtaken today by a young cyclist; she was really shifting, in a superb aerodynamic position that I can’t contemplate getting down to. My head is the highest thing when I’m on a bike; on her I suspect it was around about her 10th lumbar. (And despite her speed she was able to offer me a friendly not-at-all-out-of-breath ‘hello’ as she passed.)

Thirty years ago, when I took going fast on a bike vaguely seriously, aerodynamic positions such as she was in just weren’t on the agenda. Things move on.

Seeing her ride by, it was perhaps inevitable that I’d end up thinking about expectations, ageing. Thirty years ago I could at least day-dream about riding fast, even if I knew all the while that I was never going to be a champion bike rider.

Now? Now I don’t even have that day-dream. That’s not quite right. It’s more accurate to say that now I don’t even have the ability to have that day-dream. I don’t know if that’s the result of wisdom or disillusionment. I don’t think I’m defeatist. Is it just a sense of realism? Perhaps it’s stupidity; there’s nothing that says age is guaranteed to bring wisdom.

Just how long is that palm's lifeline?

Just how long is that palm’s lifeline?

And if I can’t day-dream because I’m too old to? I don’t know how important dreams are. What’s salutary to remember is that it’s not unreasonable for me to expect to live until I’m in my 80s – another 30 years or so. If the folly of youth is gone, it had better be replaced by something equally inspiring, something equally sustaining. There’s been a lot of change since my 20s; there’s an awful lot more to come.

Wave

The Twyford-Henley branch line. Charli and I were rewarded for our waves with a toot on the horn. Thank you!

The Twyford-Henley branch line. Charli and I were rewarded for our waves with a toot on the horn. Thank you!

When crossing railway bridges, particularly over quiet branch lines, you should always give a friendly wave to train drivers. You just should. They’ll often wave back; sometimes they’ll even reward you with a toot on their horn – which is excellent.

Foolish nostalgia? Harmless whimsy? Who cares?

(There’s possibly something interesting in the fact that when you wave at a train driver, that’s normal. Do the same to passing cars and people will think you’re crazy.)

Being Happy With Crumbs

The sky remains threatening, though there are small patches of blue. The ground is saturated, roadside ditches are full and there’s plenty of standing water where there shouldn’t be. It’s not very warm. The air’s quite thick. It’s nothing like July should be.

Meanwhile … people everywhere today were – I am sure – downright chirpy. The numerous cyclists were cheery, the walkers waved, motorists were merry and horse riders were happy. Sonning – Woodley – Hurst – Twyford – Wargrave – Henley was a route lined with people cutting grass, trimming hedges, doing a bit of weeding, a spot of digging. A school fundraising sale was heaving. A riverside ice cream kiosk was doing a brisk trade.

The swamps of Central Berkshire, nowhere near a river.

The swamps of Central Berkshire, nowhere near a river.

It’s a lesson in human nature. The weather’s been dismal for weeks and is set to continue to be as bad. This is a one-day break in it, a brief respite, and we’re all out there grabbing the opportunity, making the most of it and, most importantly, actively enjoying it, even though it’s not a particularly nice day by any regular measure of a summer’s day.

We, humans, are very good at adjusting, at being grateful for small mercies, at picking up crumbs of comfort. We become accustomed to a situation and then are pleased whenever it’s not as bad as we’ve become accustomed to. It’s what allows humans to survive when they’re in extreme circumstances.

It occurs to me, that’s also how the rich can continue: as long as the system doles out a few crumbs of comfort to the masses, it’s human nature to just get used to iniquities and be happy with the crumbs. It occurs to me to wonder how long governments can continue to maintain this system on behalf of the rich – the crumbs are getting harder to give as the rich fail to see they need to pay enough to maintain that status quo, as their greed overtakes any sense of self-preservation.

It occurs to me, too, that the very, very rich operate the same ‘crumbs’ approach when reeling-in politicians. It’s easy for billionaires to butter-up actual and wannabe millionaires, the graspers who make up our political class.