News and views from the heart of England - Issue 2    © David Smith 2018

Flash gear

Pete Wheels is a keen cyclist in his late sixties. He has cycled regularly since giving up cricket twenty five years ago. He aims to cycle at least ten miles every day, and to do a longer ride, up to 30 or 35 miles, each Saturday or Sunday morning, weather permitting. Pete has a 27 speed leisure bike with suspension forks, and a nice padded saddle – not for him the self-inflicted torture of a knife-thin, razor sharp gel saddle - and he likes it very much. He has had this bike for two years, after he decided that his trusty old Marin had had enough punishment from carrying Pete’s solid 18 stone frame around the lanes of East Anglia.

The terrain of West Norfolk and Cambridgeshire can be compared with flooding in the Sahara desert – it is pretty much non-existent. The landscape, while spectacular in its own way, with wonderful open vistas and huge skies, is not a demanding one, even for aging cyclists. The biggest handicap that Pete finds is the wind. There is very little in East Anglia to impede the flow of air, and if one happens to be sitting on a bike, cycling into a brisk wind can be quite challenging, not to say punishing, at times. For this reason, Pete always chooses his routes with some care, so that the outward journey is into the wind. On the return journey Pete then resembles a Spanish galleon under full sail, bearing down on his home destination, with a helpful tailwind blowing him along.

Pete used to live in West Norfolk. He got to know all the routes around his home area, and although there weren’t a great many cyclists sharing the lanes there, greetings and smiles were always exchanged when two cyclists passed each other. Pete is not normally a man for stopping and chatting to anyone, but he was more than happy to acknowledge a fellow cyclist sharing the West Norfolk byways. Pete has now moved to Cambridgeshire. There are actually fewer roads in Pete’s part of that county than in West Norfolk, but there are a great many more cyclists. Do they wave and say ‘Good Morning’ as they pass Pete? They most certainly do not. Just recently, Pete was cycling contentedly along when he approached two cyclists in flashy gear coming towards him. He smiled and said hello. They turned towards him, looked him up and down, decided he didn’t pass muster in his plain shorts and unadorned shirt on his ordinary looking bike, then carried on with their ride as though Pete didn’t exist.

They take themselves very seriously do some Cambridgeshire cyclists. They dress like professionals, in very flashy gear, and ride very flashy bikes, strutting around on them as though they are god’s gift to the cycling world. Pete is often amused – and yet rather saddened – by them. Their clothes are smothered in names and logos, almost as if they – amateurs though they are – are being sponsored and paid by top cycling equipment manufacturers. Pete would love to stop one of them one day, and ask how much they are being paid to advertise the products of these manufacturers. Why would anyone want to do it for nothing? The manufacturers themselves must be laughing all the way to their respective banks with such free advertising. Pay out money for our products, then use them to advertise our company for nothing. Pete is not what is commonly known as a team player, and doesn’t like anyone to know what he is thinking. He just can’t understand why anyone would want to be so blatantly and slavishly identified with commercial goods and team brands. For Pete, cycling is a time and chance to be alone, solitary, rather than taking part in some kind of group outing, social activity, or bonding session. Pete is not even vaguely interested in social media, and Strava holds no appeal for him.

Now, Pete has always believed that correct and appropriate clothing is important to sport. If one plays a game or sport, the participants should respect the sport, and its rules and traditions, as well as fellow participants. Pete saw, in his cricketing days, far too many hack players in jeans and trainers to have nothing but contempt for them. But he feels there is a line to be drawn between appropriate clothing and equipment that allows the sport to be enjoyed and respected, and clothing that is simply a statement of self-importance, posing in front of imagined admirers.