My job is not well paid and given that I am so physically unattractive I can alarm people in sporting venues, gym membership was out of the question. I have failed at fencing and Aikido, so such sports seemed to be pointless, though I did consider badminton, though was worried it would simply be too middle class all round. I was not able to find any swimming pools around. I considered taking up running. It seems to be a common urban sport. In addition, I have always had a curiosity to find out where specific roads go to. My interest in modernist and other 20th century architecture means that I can actually find going through suburbs pretty interesting. I know it is sad, but there it is. Given I have spent much of my life living in suburbs, I suppose it is a good safety mechanism. Saying that I would never go back to Perivale. That exceeded my tedium level and I could not get out of there fast enough. I imagined that running would be a comparatively cheap sport. Yes, I might need so decent shoes and one of those fluorescent tops that would keep me safe but not sweat too much. However, reading 'The Guardian' guide to running last month: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/the-running-blog/2013/may/28/running-etiquette-10-commandments I was utterly put off even trying. It might have been good for my fitness but facing up to the scrutiny and the disdain were too much and threatened to throw me into the haunted state I had when living with my parents. I know the locals now and disdain flows from every pore even if you skulk away from them. Shoving myself into their line of sight so clearly was bound to lead to heckling. I have experienced this when cycling for not wearing cleats, but the advantage is you can get away from it easier than when running.
With running ruled out, I thought of a return to cycling. As regular readers know, I used to cycle a great deal, even going on cycling holidays of my own making. One key problem is that I cannot cycle fast enough. I average 14.5kph (around 9mph) whereas cycling clubs require you to go at 15mph (24kph). My father averages 10kph but he is 75 so I think they give him some leeway. My father only cycles mid-week and whilst he comes past my work, I would only cycle on weekends so there would be no chance of humiliatingly running into him. There was one big challenge and that was that whilst I had a bike that had once cost £329 (I got it in a terrible state for £90), I had not ridden it much. The last time had been when unemployed in 2012 and I had felt terrible vertigo as if I was constantly going to crash over the handlebars; I often felt nauseous though never actually vomited. That was on a 3Km ride to and from the job centre. I thought that given my blood pressure was down, I should be in a better state. However, thinking about it the woman who used to live in my house had similar symptoms and had to stop motorbiking as a result, so maybe there was some inner ear infection we caught, I do not know.
Anyway, the decision about whether to return to my bicycle was soon made for me. I know I live in a snobby area, but no-one who cycled passed me did not look like they were about to race for a leading team. The bicycles were generally more expensive than my car (it is insured for £1000); I have now seen bicycles for sale at twice that amount. Even Halfords sells bicycles for £850 (€977; US$1300); let alone the Giant dealership I passed, with bicycles for £4499 (€5699 - their exchange rate; US$6883). As when I drive it is clear that I would be disparaged for simply what I was using. The other thing is the clothing. Very few people ride around on a bicycle in normal clothes, let alone work clothes. The time when people would ride in their suit or overalls to work are long gone. The only people in ordinary clothes on a bicycle are either children generally in school uniform or people riding on the pavement. These days adults riding on the road, whether it is a weekday or the weekend must ride in a pristine cycle team strip. I used to have the Credit Agricole strip because Chris Boardman rode for that team and they were only bank in Falaise which would change my traveller's cheques. That was my kit until I got chocolate ice cream on it at a restaurant somewhere South of Fecamp. I guess these people change when they reach work and probably shower too. Given that my workplace has no air conditioning and the window beside me does not open; it has an extractor fan embedded in it which does not work but madly is cleaned periodically. I would arrive with sweat dripping from me and having to squeeze into a toilet cubicle to change.
What soon became apparent is that like football and running, cycling is no longer a democratic sport. Football was captured by the prosperous middle classes (as opposed to me who was middle class and not prosperous) in the 1990s and running soon after. In swimming there has been a similar attempt, but fortunately most pools at least leave some segments of the pool clear of the swimming lanes that these 'elite' practitioners favour to demonstrate their skills. Heaven help you if you attempt to swim in them, you will be swamped and even kicked to get back into the non-laned area. The sense that 'you are not doing it right' and thus open to public ridicule, sometimes very vocal, has now become embedded in all of these sports, cycling among them. It is as much about how you appear as about what you do or what benefit you are gaining. The other day I sat in central Esher for about an hour; 34 cyclists in small groups of individually came passed me going off in different directions. It is clearly a crossroads for different routes around that part of Surrey. Of those that I saw, and there may have been others I missed, only three cyclists, all men, were not wearing a pristine cycle team strip and riding a bike which, at least, would be at the top of Halfords range if not that of Giant.
As they whizz past, you get that look of disdain and often are told to get off the road, back on to the pavement, apparently nowadays the cycle path for those just using a bicycle as a mode of transport rather than a status symbol. Non-status symbol cyclists now get it from all sides. Of course, we have always been shouted at or pushed by car drivers, for 'being in the wrong place' or 'not knowing the law' especially when turning right or using a cycle lane. On the pavement the large pushchair mothers shout as if cycling there is tantamount you trying to abduct or crush their child and now the poser cyclists have a go at you for being where they want to be and not dressed 'right'.
Yes, you can have your Sky Rides around city centres and all of the initiatives to get more people cycling. However, it is too late, certainly in southern England. Too many influential people want to keep the average person off their bicycle. As with running and visiting gyms, cycling is now the preserve of the rich. They identify themselves by what they wear and ride and have no tolerance for 'plebs' trying get in on the game. It is all about status, as Professor Felipe Fernandez-
I read an article in 'The Guardian' on Saturday 3rd August 2013 which seemed to sum up my fears. One person interviewed said that 'cycling has become the new golf' for upper middle class males. The newspaper's own coverage of Sunday's 100-mile ride for serious amateurs seemed to reinforce this view. It is all about the kit and now increasingly about downloading the statistics regarding your ride from some on-board device. Performance now seems to out-rank achievement. Despite the newspaper arguing that cycling has become 'less cliquey' in fact itself is showing that simply the clique has shifted from rather nerdy individuals of the past to snobby ones of the present. Nothing is going to keep me away from cycling more than knowing I am going to be heckled for not only what I am wearing and riding but also what electronic equipment I might be carrying. Cycling, like running is now an elitist hobby. What is going to be next? Darts?