It was only when I was getting the kit on to go mountainbiking in the Forest of Dean last weekend that I realised that where bike shops are concerned, I am a living nightmare.
It’s not so much that they have the raving heebie-jeebies when I go in, it’s just that I don’t go in, much. I’m a failed consumer. They’d all go out of business if it was up to me.
The bike I’d just lubed, propped up against the wall outside, waiting for me is about 18 years old. Orange P7. Hardtail. Light as a feather. Updated along the way with Shimano’s spiffiest groupset, Avid Juicy brakes and couple of new wheels, for those interested in the technicalities. That’s as technical as I get. (Actually I was annoyed about the wheels. I specified wheels which were on a par with the original wheels with knackered hubs and the guys at Williams Cycles, Cheltenham, when they couldn’t get them, just ordered what they thought, without consulting me. Never been back since. They also argued the toss about me faulty rear light so two black marks and sod off forever.)
The T shirt I put on was a Rox T – 20 years old at the very least. It’s my favourite Banana T shirt with a big beautiful – guess what? – banana image on the front and a very small hole in it, in an unobtrusive place. It’s endured thousands of washings.
The shorts are five years old – pocketed grey jobs so I can take my phone and cool tool without bothering with a seat pack. Cycling shorts underneath – surprisingly only two years old – and gloves only two years old.
I have nothing new. But, hey, bike shops can breath sigh of relief – I’ll be looking for a new pair of cycling mitts soon, having lost one of my favourite purple ones. Those could cost as much as a tenner. I’ll have a look in Leisure Lakes first in Chelters and if that fails, it’s trip down to Bristle to my favourite bike shop Mud Dock, where you can have decent brekkies, lunch, supper plus watch old Grand Tour + Classics footage.
I saw loads of cyclists taking advantage of a beautiful sunny/cloudy warm Bank Holiday. The roadie boys l – like adverts straight out of cycling mags; lycra, new-looking white bikes, beautiful shoes with white on them for God’s sake…
But while cycling is very much each to his own, looking like an advert isn’t, to be honest what cycling is about. Aspiring to the sparkly and new kind of distracts from the fact that cycling as an activity anyone do at virtually any age with a bike that works.
A cycling pal of mine admitted his bike is nearly forty years old and he has no specific cycling clothing apart from a new helmet. He’s just getting back into cycling again. I predict that within a year, he’ll be in some kind of lycra and white socks to show off the honed leg muscles!
So while I think the new spiffy white bikes look lovely, I’m happy with old purple Orange. Like its owner, it scrubs up fine when the occasion demands. My road bike is a practical black, so while you can still see the mud, it doesn’t look so blatantly awful as a white bike covered in mud.
Off-road, my style is neutral, not look-at-me. I’d prefer it if people didn’t look. One of the great things with cycling is the freedom to look however you end up looking. You don’t take a hairbrush mountainbiking unless you have a meeting straight afterwards. Unlikely.
I’m riding for the craic… for the pure peace, the challenge and the joy of it. I don’t much care what I look like. It’s gloriously and most definitely not about making an impression on anyone else. I don’t give a toss if the young guns posing with their brand new downhilling bikes (over-engineered to look like scrambler bikes) look at me and think “Just how old is that Orange?”
Having said all that, road riding is different. You need to think about clothing carefully – to be as visible as possible, to be prepared for weather and, importantly, to wear nice undies in case the white van moment comes.
But mountainbiking… wet or dry..makes worrying about appearance pointless. Nature provides its own make-up – a light covering of dust or globs of mud up your nose and splattered over your cheeks. It’s the outdoors! A girl’s natural glow should come from sun and effort. And the hair? People I know pay good money for BedHead products to get the same look I have when I take off the helmet and shake out the hair!
So I’ve come back from the ride with wild hair, dusty legs and the usual oily chain mark on the back of my right calf.
Time for a shower.