The first time I recall being aware of the importance of the bicycle in successful social integration, I was eight. Not just any bicycle either – round my way, it had to be a cutely named model like "Crystal" or "Coco" and come in a posh colour such as turquoise or cerise for full peer approval.
I, however, had a hand-me-down black Raleigh that I crashed into a large ditch after getting a frilly pair of tropical-print shorts tangled around the saddle (overcompensating for my unglamorous steed by dressing as a cast member from Copacabana, possibly). It was a kind of primal scene for me and the bicycle, and I've resolutely favoured legs over wheels ever since.
A couple of decades on and I find myself barred from the gang once again thanks to my non-cyclist status. Except it's not just the cool kids this time, it's, like, everyone.
Everyone has a bike. And when they're not talking about their bike and what they like to wear while riding their bike and how their bike got stolen or how their bike almost got stolen but actually didn't get stolen at all, they are either organising social events built explicitly around riding the thing – cycling holidays in France – or, worse, sneakily turning up en masse with their bikes at the pub so you feel like a massive drag making them walk to the next.
If I was worried that I should have improved my social mobility by perfecting my backhand or my drive, I'm glad I didn't waste my time – you have a far better chance of finding common ground by striking up a conversation about tyre pressure. Presumably you'd never get a seat in the Cabinet if you couldn't manage an ostentatious spin through Westminster.
That cycling should now have tipped so massively into the mainstream as a mode of urban transport feels a little ironic, given that the bike was once a symbol of individuality, independence, even subversion – plenty of governments regarded it with outright suspicion at the beginning of the 20th century, which is partly why it has taken us so long to begin to make our cities cycling-friendly.
Sadly, I can't find any real grounds to knock cycling. It's just that, as I'm too chicken to ride a bike in London and can't be bothered to worry about it almost getting stolen or the breathability of my shorts, it doesn't involve me. Perhaps I can get some kind of community going around people who regularly take the 109 bus. Now you really would benefit from breathable fabric on that.Reuse content