There are sometimes when you are cycling down a busy A road, cars and lorries squeezing past at 50mph – not a cyclist in sight, and you start to wonder ‘why am I the only person cycling here?’ In some areas of Britain, cyclists can be so rare on the road it feels a little disconcerting. And if nothing else you’d like to see a cyclist just for the irrational re-assurance, bikes haven’t been banned on this particular stretch of road.
Motorists cocooned in their warm and comfortable cars are effectively another species, there is no empathy between their experience and yours. If I see a cyclist going the other way, I will invariably nod, smile or briefly wave. I don’t expect anything back, I’m just glad to know someone else is ploughing the same furrow. If nothing else, at least you know a fellow cyclist isn’t going to try and muscle you off the road, beep at you or shout out of the window for not cycling on a non-existent cycle path.
Catching up a Cyclist in the Road
Then there are the times when you catch up with a cyclist going in the same direction. This provokes a minor dilemma. Do you:
- a) Catch up and then slow down to their pace, chatting about the joys of cycling, how far are you going? are you training for any event? e.t.c.
- b) Continue exactly at the same speed you are going, with a brief and professional hi as you cycle past in a very business like manner.
- c) Slow down a little until you get behind and then accelerate really quickly past them, pretending not to be even out of breath as you say ‘good morning, nice day for recovery ride isn’t it?
Being Caught by a Cyclist
Sometimes, you are plodding along, enjoying the scenery when a cyclist comes along and passes you by. This also presents a minor dilemma. Do you:
- a) Get immediately on to their wheel and stick there religiously telling yourself, ‘I’ve got to save that 25% aero drag at all costs.”
- b) Say very nicely ‘hi’, and maintain exactly the same speed and effort you were doing anyway. You won’t be budged from your 60% heart rate recovery zone, even if it was a rare opportunity to cycle with Victoria Pendleton and the whole British Cycling Team.
- c) Sit on their wheel for a few miles before having a go and accelerating past them as fast as you can – hoping they won’t be able to follow you for very long. After a few minutes of course you regret this because you would feel foolish if they re-overtook you but you dare not look over your shoulder as that would indicate you are being very competitive (of course you are being competitive, but you’re trying to pretend you’re not). Anyway as you’ve burnt yourself out, you dive into a small minor road to recover and end up getting lost. But, you tell yourself at least you’ve beaten an old man on a training ride.
- d) Catch up with them and start a nice conversation about how you were just digesting a nice sandwich / dealing with a mechanical, whilst trying not to appear out of breath.
Just to make this minor dilemma worse there are the occasions when you get overtaken by a women. It’s one thing to get overtaken by a young pro cyclist in all his aerodynamic skin suit and £5,000 bike. But, what happens when you get overtaken by a lady riding a £150 hybrid bike from Cycle King?
Invariably the shock to the male ego, invariably skews the decision making process more towards pretending you have a mechanical and then catching up -. ‘… nice looking £150 Ammaco bike you have there.’ ‘I’m just recovering from 4 hour interval session yesterday, how are you doing?’
At some stage, I’ve probably done all of the above (except I haven’t been overtaken by Victoria Pendleton or any member of British Olympic Team. I’m sure that would never happen…).
It all depends how I feel, sometimes you bump into someone on the roads and it’s nice to have a chat about cycling, at other times I don’t feel social. In Britain we’re not great about chatting to strangers. If you’re on a train, you wouldn’t really strike up a conversation about the state of rail travel. But, with a fellow cyclist, there is always that common bond – bicycles. If nothing else, being a cyclist means you can always talk to a complete stranger about the relative merits of Speedplay v Look / Shimano v Campagnolo. (though, perhaps that is why my roadside chats don’t last very long)
Usually I nod and wave at cyclists going the other direction. If nothing else you feel you want to offer encouragement to anyone willing to cycle on the roads. I don’t always do it if I’m training really hard, and I don’t do it on the commute to work, as it would be very repetitive. But, it’s definitely nice thing to do.
When I bump into cyclists on the road, unless I’m doing very specific training, I will briefly chat. If it’s a single cyclist I may spend a few minutes, sometimes even longer. But, there’s no hard and fast rule. However, I’ve met some really interesting characters over the years.
There have even been times when a motorist has given a brief nod and smile of encouragement. Now that does feel like a miracle!
BTW: if you happen to overtake me whilst training today, just remember I frequently have problems with my chain slipping at just the wrong moment.