Catch me if you can, just don't make it obvious

One of my favourite parts of city commuting is the dozens of impromptu races you find yourself caught up in every week.

Maybe you're sitting at the traffic lights (occasionally you have to), and lined up next to you in the little green box are half a dozen fellow cyclists who, in typical British fashion, are all trying to pretend that they've not noticed the others around them. As soon as the lights turn green, however, everyone starts acting like they're 500 metres from the finishing post in the Tour de France - and a mass sprint gets under way.

Or perhaps you're just minding your own business, riding at a leisurely pace, when another cyclist comes up on your tail. They stick behind you for 10 seconds, before dropping a gear and racing past you. Before you know it, you've convinced yourself that you can (and must) keep up - especially if your opponent is 10 years younger than you, or of the opposite sex.

And then the race is on. But unlike any normal race, it's impossible to know how to pace yourself because you don't know how long it's going to last. As soon your challenger heads off on a different route from you - which could be after 100 metres or after several miles - the race is over.

There's nothing worse than knowing that you were just about to take pole position when your challenger cuts off down a side street. End of race. You lose. So you've got to take your chances as soon as you get them.

And that's the beauty of it. You never know how long it's going to go on for - and you never know quite when you'll be faced with your next challenge.

So are there any rules? Browsing one of the growing number of internet cycling forums recently, I discovered that one diligent cyclist had drawn up a full commuter racing code, complete with a points-scoring system.

Rule one, for example, is that there can be no red-light jumping during a race, while another no-no, apparently, is overtaking your opponent on the inside mid-race. But none of this seemed right to me. Nipping up on to the pavement when you get pushed off the road by the traffic, gaining an advantage by cutting a corner, or (safely) jumping a red light are all part of the fun of commuter races. Having a rule book might make sense if everyone started on an even keel - but it never works like that.

I used to ride a hybrid bike, with relatively thin wheels, which was quite nippy around town. Unfortunately, it was no good for going mountain biking at the weekends. Seeing as I don't have room for two bikes in my little flat, I decided to trade my commuter bike in for a mountain bike, and accept the subsequent loss of speed on my daily commute.

The downside is, that when I'm challenged to a commuter race, I know there's a nine in 10 chance that I've got tyres at least twice (and maybe many more times) thicker than my opponent - putting me at a big disadvantage.

If I'm racing some guy on a road bike, on a flat piece of road with no traffic or signals, I'm always going to lose. Their bike is designed for speed, and mine's designed for cutting through forest tracks.

But when it comes to commuting - speed is not the only factor. Weaving the right line through the traffic, knowing the patterns of the lights and being able to hop up on to the kerb when you need to, are all the little tricks that can help me get past the guy on his road racer.

Having said all that, I did like some of the forum's code. For instance, you're never allowed to acknowledge that there's a race going on, and it's imperative that you never look like you're trying too hard. These are two rules which I abide by religiously.

But if I bothered to stick to the rest of them, it would take away all the fun. Catch me if you can.

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