Are You a Real Cyclist?
by Rob Ainsley

Real cycling is not about gear ratios. Or wearing lycra the colour of rainforest toads. Or pedalling to the country pub in the sun, then getting a taxi back because it's dark and raining.

No. Real cycling is fixing your second puncture on a windy night. It's buying a three-metre curtain pole, then realising you have to bike it home like a medieval jouster. It's crunching your way to work through thick snow, arriving half an hour late icy-toed and white-fingered -- to find everyone else has taken the day off because their cars wouldn't start.

Real cycling is frustrating, inconvenient, exhausting -- and huge fun. See which of these things you've done to find your Real Cyclist rating out of 100.

Have you ever...

Shifted a huge load
What's the biggest thing you've moved? For real cyclists, having cargo doesn't mean you go by car. And we're not just talking plastic carrier bags dangling from the handlebars. We're talking hatstands, vacuum cleaners, sofas, coal bunkers, trees. They've all been biked, and today's trailers can transport anything you could fit in a small car. Score 5 pts for big shopping, 8 for mid-size appliance (computer etc.), 11 for comedy items (snooker table, canoe, double bed etc.).
5-11 pts

Biked Across Britain
The ultimate British ride is Land's End to John O'Groats (the tailwind way). The 900 or so miles take one to three weeks -- plus, if you're doing it for charity, about six months to chase up all your sponsors. Too busy? Sustrans's Coast to Coast (C2C) route is a quick and convenient way to 'do' Britain side-to-side. The inspiring 120-mile route from Workington or Whitehaven to Sunderland or Newcastle can be done easily in a long weekend; a sort of End-to-End Lite. Score 7 pts for the C2C, 16 pts (max) for the End to End (or similar length routes); 2 pts if you actually managed to collect all your sponsorship money.
7-18 pts

Biked to work frozen
Score one point for every degree C below zero (max 10) of your coldest-ever commute. "There's no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing"; true, but arriving at work on a winter morning looking like Sir Ranulph Fiennes is rarely looked on as promotional. But then, no-one ever failed to start their bike because of the cold. And carless snowed-up roads under a clear sharp sky are breathtaking. Literally.
1-10 pts

Failed a repair
Punctures miles from anywhere are bad enough -- especially back-wheel ones from the invisible gramophone needles infesting cycle tracks. But no points for those. To score here you must have failed to fix (2 pts) something major (buckled wheel, blowout, collapsed rack etc. - 2 pts) with hopelessly makeshift tools (e.g. rock, grass to stuff tyre, coat-hanger - 2 pts) and had to push or freewheel back to civilisation (2 pts).
8 pts

Busted the speed limit
Real cyclists know their law. For example, cycle to church on Christmas Day and you contravene the Holy Days Act, 1551 (you must walk). On the other hand, you cannot be charged with speeding on a bike. There is no such offence. (This on the authority of His Honour Patrick Halnan, no less, in a letter to The Times in Nov 1997.) You can be done for cycling "dangerously", "carelessly and inconsiderately" or "furiously"; but if you're safe, careful and considerate, there's nothing to stop you zonking along at 45 in a 30 limit. (Minus 20 pts for Christmas cycling to church. Cycling Plus cannot condone breaking the law.)
5 pts

Been carless
Few things show as much commitment to two wheels. Bask in the respectful astonishment of friends and relatives as they grapple with the enormity ("but how do you take the kids to school... get the shed back from Homebase... train-and-cycle to Gosport?"). Make them feel guilty (fossil fuels, pollution, asthma, road accidents, etc.). Score 5 pts if you have been or ever were carless for over a year in adult life, 5 more if over three years, 5 more if carless now.
5-15 pts

Dripped all day
English rain, unlike foreign precipitation, can also go upwards, sideways and backwards. It knows where your feet are. In cahoots with puddles it will keep them squelching all day. The exquisite dread of putting on wet shoes after camping in the rain is unforgettable.
5 pts

Been thrown off bus / train
Bikes on trains? No problem: simply call the information line on your mobile phone to see what changes they made to the regulations that morning. Bikes on coaches? They're welcome, so long as you enclose your machine in a six-foot concrete case that's so convenient to carry around. Score 5 pts for any enforced exit from public transport; 2 more for aggravating circumstances (the carriage was empty anyway, you'd checked up by phone before, etc.)
7 pts

Ridden a recumbent
It doesn't matter whether you're for ("easier, faster, better on your back and private parts") or against ("dangerous in traffic, impossible up hills"), just so long as you speak from experience. Score 3 pts, plus 2 if you careered in circles before falling off first time round. And round and round.
3-5 pts

Had a bike nicked
...plus a bonus point if you a) kept looking round the local streets expecting to see it ridden by the thief or b) scanned the paper for reports of someone painfully injured in an accident while riding your machine. But zero pts if you made on the insurance.
6 pts

Been on a demo
In those pub conversations where you put the transport world to rights, your opinion counts double if you've been on a demo. London's Critical Mass rides, usually 5.45pm on the last Friday of the month from the South Bank, are generally sociable, well-attended shows of gentle force from thousands of cyclists simply happening to congregate. Extra 5 pts if you buy the next round.
5 pts

Back-marked in a race
The Ashes. Argentina. Eddie the Eagle. We're obsessive about failure. You get more attention from being a heroic last than an effortless first, in cycling like everything else. Sadly for the sneerers, Audax rides are organised more for sheer enjoyment and personal challenge. They don't publish 'results lists'. Your satisfaction in happily bringing up the rear will be between you and your friends, many of whom you'll have made on the ride.
5 pts

Your Ratings

Real Cyclist
If you run into Adam Hart-Davis, Josie Dew, Jeremy Paxman or John Snow in a cafe, you can swop stories as peers.
Real Good
Indurain might beat you up the Alps, but you'll be first back with your groceries from Asda.
Real Trouble
Look at your bike. Why is it so clean and new-looking?
Real Bad
Driving your bike to the shop to have a puncture mended is not big or clever, you know.

© Rob Ainsley
Cycling Plus

other stories by R. Ainsley