As I was riding through the forest on my way to work earlier this week another rider swept on to the path from a side track about 50 yards ahead of me. As I normally have this track to myself I was immediately interested and I did the quick cyclist’s snapshot of man and bike. Looks like a rigid mountain bike, he is in cycling clothes but not full on racing gear, woolly hat not helmet and a backpack no doubt containing clothes or work.
Pretty much like me in fact.
As he turned the next bend and began to drag up into the trees he briefly looked back and I knew he was making exactly the same audit of this unexpected cyclist behind him. And then he sent out a signal. He hunched forward and pedalled harder.
A challenge! The hundred and fifty year old sign that says “Don’t catch me”, a signal between stupid men conditioned to think because we ride bikes it is some sort of competitive act.
Guilty as charged your honour. 50 years spent around racing cyclists takes over and of course I do exactly the same thing to see if I can catch him and within seconds we are both dashing along the tracks at massively higher speeds than is sensible for the time of day, the terrain and in my case my body. And had you been an observer you would have noted that both were trying to maintain a pose that says “Trying? Oh not really, I’m only riding to work”
For about ten minutes the distance fluctuated between 30 and 50 metres, me climbing a bit faster but him pulling away on the flat, neither of us changing pace or style. I was just so desperately relieved when he turned off though, honours even.
Why – why do I do that? I spent the rest of the day desperate for a quiet nap somewhere. It would have been so much better if it had worked out like most of the rest of my time so far in Belgium. I see another cyclist, they ride off, I watch. I keep convincing myself that all those people passing me at apparent high speed are actually refugees from Belgian cycle racing culture and they just commute on upright bikes in day clothes so I shouldn’t be upset that I can’t keep up. It really amazes me how well those ex-top racers can disguise themselves as little old ladies on shopping bikes, quite remarkable.
Will I ever learn? Probably not I am afraid. Sorry to all those who believe that Middle Aged Men in Lycra (MAMILS) are the death of daily cycling, I am who I am, I just need a few slower Belgians to keep me company.