Oiling the wheels: Would you like a drink while you cycle?

The Christmas party 'sod it, I'll cycle' season is upon us, and some genius has just designed a minibar for bikes. Drinking and riding is a bad idea, as Simon Usborne has learnt, but it has a long – and wobbly – history

Simon Usborne
Wednesday 12 December 2012 21:46
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Booze and bicycling would seem to be an unwise combination, which is why we can't officially endorse the handlebar minibar. Its maker, Yannick Read, is appealing for funds to produce a plastic flask to be stored inside the grip of handlebars. "I love cycling," he writes at the Kickstarter website, "and I'm also rather partial to cherry brandy."

He's not the only one and his device reflects a long and occasionally wobbly tradition of drinking and cycling. We see it now during Christmas party season, weather permitting. A nasty night bus home from the work do, or a bracing bike ride?

Drink cycling is not smart, obviously, and I was justly rounded on a few years ago for admitting in a column to having a "three-pint maximum" and to crashing a Boris bike while under the influence. A surgeon emailed me to warn me of the consequences of a more serious accident and a reader directed me to a grisly study in New York City: one in five cyclists who died within three hours of accidents between 1996 and 2005 had alcohol in their systems. Drink can fool a cyclist into thinking they are stronger, a potentially dangerous effect which, dare I say it, can also feel good. Before doping and energy drinks, professional cyclists knocked back brandy, whisky or even champagne, partly to dull the physical discomfort of racing.

The social pariah status of drink drivers doesn't seem to have changed attitudes on two wheels. Perhaps "pub" cyclists think more readily of ruddy Frenchman creaking past vineyards than death or imprisonment (it's illegal, by the way, to be "under the influence of drink or a drug to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the cycle," but small fines are the most likely punishment).

I've become more vigilant with age but perhaps Read can expect funding from one prominent cyclist. When Boris Johnson was asked for ways to rescue the British pub in 2009, the mayor said: "I have just one idea, if more people rode bicycles and fewer people drove cars you would not have to worry about the drink driving laws... I have absolutely no prohibition about drinking a pint of two of beer and riding my bicycle where as I would not do that in a car."

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