As a self-confessed cycling nut, I’m invariably positive about all things on two wheels. However, that doesn’t mean I offer my unconditional allegiance to the pursuit of life in the saddle. Sometimes, it can be indescribably grim on the bike. At such moments, when my facial expression resembles the strained visage of an early-twentieth century, ‘convict of the road’ (smeared in grime, emaciated and with a permanent, needy look of startled agony) I have to remind myself that I’d still rather be pedalling through life than fighting for breath wedged upright inside a packed train carriage, or waiting in a blizzard, for a bus, which never arrives.

So, in the time-honoured fashion of lazy journalism everywhere (and especially online cycle-writing) which says you can easily turn a random list into a piece of copy, here’s my top five bugbears about two-wheeled living.

Give me a rainy day every time. There’s nothing more soul-destroying than pedalling gamely into a headwind. The experience is truly degenerative. The more you push the cranks trying vainly to make some progress, the more you tell yourself it’s useless. Fighting against the gales like this quickly becomes a psychological battle which, in my experience, the forces of nature nearly always win. Lethargy takes over and by the time you trundle up to your destination, wind-induced tears streaming down your cheeks, you’ve been moving at less than a walking pace. It’s no surprise that a pro-team’s lead rider always shelters behind the work-horses (Hincapie, Thomas, Voigt et al), letting the hard men who never win, take all the punishment from the wind. On the commute home on windy days, sadly, I am always the domestique.

This may sound perverse but one of the things I detest most is being caught on the bike in the rain but that’s not because of the all-over soaking being dished out. My gripe is much more specific than that. If I have to stop at the kerb on my ride, to pull on my gossamer-thin rain jacket, it’s the worst thing in the world to do so, wearing a short-sleeved cycling jersey. Rainwear may be designed to keep the rain out, but it also has the habit of gathering condensed sweat inside the garment. Very quickly the jacket sleeves start sticking to your arms. It’s an unpleasant and distracting sensation, like fighting with a clingy shower curtain which seems magnetically attracted to your legs. It’s why I always carry arm-warmers to use under the rain jacket to act as a barrier between the clammy, moist sleeve and my skin.

It’s extremely infuriating to be cut up, or in some other way abused by a car driver, only to realise you don’t possess the leg speed to catch up with them to impart your righteous indignation. Invariably, when you do remonstrate with another road-user you accuse of inconsiderate or downright dangerous road craft, the exchange deteriorates into an unedifying slanging match, replete with the kind of  hand signals which you won’t find in the pages of the Highway Code. But nonetheless, the feeling of impotence and vulnerability left when the motorised miscreant commits their crime and flees the scene unchastised, is mortifying. Sadly, many drivers I suspect don’t even realise they’re guilty of close-passing a cyclist. And as their rear bumper disappears up the road I’m saddened by the fact that they will almost certainly go on to be repeat offenders. The chances are they don’t even check their rear view mirrors to catch my ineffectual attempt to give them ‘the bird’.

Knowing the road like the back of your hand is no cliché. It’s a matter of utility and basic survival. Motorists can blithely plough on in a straight line, charging over dips and bumps and ridges and potholes, as if they didn’t exist. Cyclists need to employ much more finesse, navigating the topography of the Tarmac ahead with the utmost care. I’ve had as many punctures from riding unwittingly over a protruding metal manhole cover or a cavernous gouge in the road surface, as I’ve had from sharp objects impaling my tyre.  There is a flip side. On my well-worn route to work via Hammersmith (a stretch of road I’ve been pedalling regularly for at least 20 years), I have intimate knowledge of the pothole placement. On one particular area which has not been resurfaced in years, there are two potholes which I instinctively move out to avoid. I have watched these growing slightly bigger each year. It’s almost like nurturing a pot plant. So familiar have they become, I would almost mourn their passing, if the council did find something in its coffers with which to pay for road repairs here. There’s scant chance of that with the authorities recently telling the press they had no cash for road improvements, but merely for emergency fixes. I would love it if drivers looked ahead scanning the road as cyclists do. We anticipate uneven ground and move to avoid it. If drivers were as vigilant, they wouldn’t be surprised when bike riders change line in front of them. As it is I sometimes feel forced to ride over cavernous potholes because the revving behind, tells me the driver bringing up my rear is oblivious to the fact that we are both fast-approaching a sizeable gouge in the tarmac.

The worst type of puncture from a morale point of view, is the unseen event. You leave your bike securely parked and chained and head into work. Relieved to be free at the end of the day, it’s infuriating to find your bike has developed a flat tyre in your absence. It’s surely the work of a puncture ‘devil’ rather than a ‘fairy’. This is even more exasperating when you manage to get an ‘early out’ from the office (a rare event indeed) only to have to squander the extra time, while you fix the offending tyre. I have toyed with the idea of solid tyres (Tannus for example) but these need to be specially fitted and I’m not totally convinced. A work colleague who tried them out said they didn’t feel quite the same as normal clinchers. The other problem with shunning conventional tyres with inner tubes, is that people will have nothing to hold up their trousers! I refer to those recycling charities (ie: Cycle of Good) which refashion used tyres and tubes into belts, phone cases and wallets. Punctures are a fact of cycling life and all regular cyclists will have spent time in despair, on their knees, at the side of a busy road, cursing as they again fail to pry the cold, unyielding rubber of their tyre, off of the wheel rim.

Reviewing these gripes it’s enough to turn you away from the bike altogether. The flipside of course, is the glory of riding along deserted sun-drenched lanes in Mallorca, or getting a run of green lights on the commute along London’s Wigmore Street, or hurtling recklessly down the flanks of Mont Ventoux in Provence after conquering the bald mountain. There are some things I hate about cycling – but there’s nothing I’d rather be doing.


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