Robert Hanks: The Cycling Column

OK, so i use stuff made from oil, but i don't burn it
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online

The motoring section editor suggested that, in line with everybody else, this week's column should lean towards a green theme. Green? We're positively verdant. I myself have frequently been mistaken for a courgette.

Greenness is inherent in cycling, a fact that may help to account for that insufferable air of virtuousness that motorists so often complain of.

Ecological sensitivity, or paranoia, was a factor in my own conversion to cycling, back in my teens. I'd been scared by A Blueprint for Survival, a Malthusian rant from The Ecologist magazine reprinted by Penguin, which contained some chilling graphs of oil consumption compared with oil reserves.

Children of my generation had been preconditioned to accept that sort of doom-saying by the oil crisis and the three-day week of 1973, with our candle-lit Saturday nights huddled around the gas fire. Petrol-free transport seemed entirely rational then, and that was before anybody had thought of global warming.

In reality, cyclists are as dependent on the petrochemical industry as anybody else: we need rubber and lubricants to make our bikes go, and we need Vaseline - petroleum jelly - to rub on our chapped bits afterwards. But then, the things you can make out of oil have always been a good reason for not burning the stuff.

It's also true that cyclists are easily drawn into the economy of conspicuous consumption. There's so much neat stuff out there - better pedals than the ones you've got, a new courier bag that's so much more functional than your old one, waterproof gear, lights, water bottles, pressure gauges, fabulous tools (some time I'll have to discourse at length on my Topeak multitool - much like a Swiss army knife but more satisfyingly chunky, and I actually use all the bits).

But this consuming urge is at war with an economical aesthetic, a disdain for waste, that's deeply ingrained in cycling culture. No doubt this helps to explain the popularity of fixed-wheel bikes - machines stripped of all technological frills.

Conversely, when I see a cyclist heaving away from the traffic lights, standing hard on the pedals because he's in the wrong gear, the waste of effort rubs me up in much the same way as a baseball cap worn sideways: it's in poor taste. At the margins, this parsimony can feed into the consuming urge - people will spend a fortune to shave a few grams off their cranks - but most cyclists know the quiet joys of making do and mending, of hoarding nuts and cogs and handlebar stems, and stripping components off a knackered old boneshaker to use on a new machine.

Stories abound of fabulous things found in skips. One of the most enviable bikes I have seen was assembled by its owner entirely from bits - including a perfect, feather-light 531 racing frame - picked up at a bike jumble. Recycling takes on a whole new meaning.

Search for used cars

Comments