View from the Sofa: Blokes, bikes and the potential benefits of regular 'cyclotherapy'

BeSpoke, Radio 5 Live

Cycling appeals to a lot of men. There is a dazzling array of kit with technical-sounding names, plus all manner of accessories to adorn your bike with, from internet-connected route trackers to ergonomic hydration packs. Then there is the dressing-up-and-taking-on-the-world (or at least the double-decker bus and old person on the motor scooter) part of it that many enjoy on their daily commute.

This is not to imply that women have pretty little heads that are too full of home cooking and autumn sales at Zara to care about cycling. Far from it. It’s just that bikes and their bits draw in men with their fact-over-feelings brains, their intrinsic competitiveness, their love for gadgets, their... OK, I will stop before the letters come pouring in. Look, I am a man, I’m not that good at explaining myself.

Speaking of which, BeSpoke on BBC 5 Live told us of another reason why cycling should appeal to men. The hour-long magazine show, hosted by O J Borg, is informative and at times unashamedly blokey, with segments such as an appeal for listeners to reveal the most expensive or outrageous accessory they have bought (one of the guests admitted to purchasing an oxygen tent), along with in-depth discussions of races and events. Last week they even had cycling legend Graeme Obree on the show.

But the bit of last Thursday’s show that struck a chord was a piece with Dan Koeppel on the late comedian Robin Williams and his love of bikes.

Williams’ long battle with depression, which ultimately led to his death, has been well documented. But what wasn’t so well known is that he was an avid cyclist, a regular figure on the hills surrounding San Francisco and often at big races such as the Tour de France as a spectator.

He counted many professional riders among his friends, including Lance Armstrong (oh, to have eavesdropped on their conversations over the last couple of years), and, in the words of Koeppel, a cycling journalist who interviewed Williams many times, the actor would cut a “gorilla-like figure” riding next to the stick-thin elite riders near his California home.

Koeppel added on BeSpoke that cycling to Williams was a form of therapy. He speculated that his love of getting out on the road “might have kept Williams alive for longer than we may have expected. It is a comment on how strong the cycling drug can be.”

Was Koeppel right? Of course, it is impossible to know. But as Borg said, anyone who gets on a bike knows the feeling of escape and freedom it can bring. And the very fact that he and Koeppel were discussing a potential poultice for a disease that people – and men in particular – find it difficult to talk about in public was worthwhile.

And it gave us folk with a Y chromosome – who, incidentally have a suicide rate three times that of women – one more incentive to get on our bikes. As if the lure of Lycra, the siren song of Strava – even the draw of a derailleur – were not enough.

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