Robert Hanks: The Cycling Column

Cycling is a part of everyday life, not a hobby
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Since it looks as though this column is going to be a regular fixture, it would be worthwhile laying out the sorts of things that we're going to be doing, and some of the principles on which we'll be operating.

I say "we" because I want this to be a co-operative effort. One of our founding principles is that cyclists are, or should be, a community. This is a practical point: most of what I know about bicycles I learnt from chatting to bike-shop assistants and customers, fellow cyclists I've struck up conversations with at traffic lights, people who've stopped me on the street to ask where I got my handlebars and whether they're any good (we'll go into my handlebars in depth another time). It's also the case that, as I said last week, the way our roads are built and regulated takes little account of cyclists' needs, and communities are much better at lobbying for change than individuals, so send in your ripostes, tips, queries, interesting routes and amusing/ horrifying experiences.

Everybody contributes, and everybody should get something out of it. Like anyone with more than a passing interest in cycling, I have a fund of stories about being pooh-poohed and blinded with technicalities by snotty bike-shop assistants. We aim to help the casual or tyro rider feel more at home in the shops, as well as on the roads. We'll try to explain some of the technical issues in plain language.

Another founding principle is that you can get more out of your bicycle, and save money, if you know how to perform basic maintenance, but we'll also bear in mind that cycling is meant to be a pleasure, not a chore. On the other hand, if Lycraboy, the hardline enthusiast, feels it's all beneath his level, we'll have cocked it up. And let's not leave out the motorists and pedestrians (those cyclists manqué).

Perhaps it will be in order to say something about my qualifications for leading this endeavour. I've been cycling moderately seriously for 25 years. I've had a number of different bikes, I've spent a lot of time reading, thinking about and tinkering with bikes, and this year I built my own, which looks nice and works, although I need to spend some time on the rear derailleur. Also, I know a couple of very helpful bicycle mechanics. So while I'm not an expert, it's probably fair to say I'm a more than averagely useful idiot.

And since all your contributions are going to be filtered through my prejudices, we should say a little about them. The most important is a bias in favour of economy and elegance, and this is the foundation of my love of the bicycle: it is the most perfect means devised of translating human effort into forward motion. From this springs the corollary that bikes should be mechanically simple. I'm automatically suspicious of fancy suspension systems and complicated gear-shifters.

Second comes a conviction that cycling is part of everyday life, not a hobby stuck on the side; you stick to what's practical, and don't invest a lot in specialised equipment and clothing. I do most of my riding in a sturdy cotton-twill suit (mind you, things might be different if I had the buttocks for Lycra). Finally, cycling should be as comfortable as possible. As far as I'm concerned that implies drop handlebars (placed higher than the saddle), lots of gears, and a light steel frame - things that put me at odds with most contemporary cycle manufacturers. I probably have a few other quirks; you'll pick up on them as we go along.

We'll also be featuring the odd interview with interesting people, notes about useful books and websites, and, I hope, some product-testing. So come on, bike manufacturers: there isn't much I wouldn't put my name to in return for a decent set of bicycle clips or a rear reflector. Next week, feet.

cycling@independent.co.uk

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