I’ve spent a bit of time recently thinking about the Corinthian nature of cycling as a sport. In part it’s an ongoing reaction against the relentless consumerism of the cycling leisure market, the over-marketing of over-engineered machinery and a shift away from the egalitarian origins of cycling towards a more elitist and expensive realm. It’s not a simplistic paradigm, as evidenced by some of the recent comments on this blog, and it’s a difficult argument to present. On the one hand, I’m hankering after a more niche and narrow definition of cycling, one driven by a fellowship of participants, less prone to flawed notions of epic grandeur, more accepting of the past and tradition as a good thing. On the other hand, I’m completely welcoming of new entrants into the sport, and the more lowly and unpretentious their beginnings, the more welcoming I am. It leaves a middle ground, defined by high-end leisure wear, beyond the wallet of all but the most affluent wearer, of high end erotica straddled by low-end riders, of cash cows and the unspoken tenet that somehow an explosion of cyclists is somehow an unambiguously good thing (the ‘more cyclists is always good’ mantra).
Cycling Weekly has had a bit of face-lift recently. It looks a lot better and seems to have stronger content, less sportive-related guff or completely bogus advice (shocking news: train more and you go faster), more acknowledgement of the identity and roots of cycling in the UK. It’s not the finished article though (no pun intended). One of the things they have resurrected is a weekly feature on clubs. This is a good thing, but it’s interesting that the two clubs featured thus far are clear examples of ‘bike boom’ clubs. These typically consist of a group of individuals banding together, deciding that the current world of bike clubs is unwelcoming, somehow symptomatic of everything that’s wrong with everything, run by petit-bourgeois mittel-englanders as some kind of labyrinthine bureaucracy designed to crush the soul of anyone who wants to join. They then knock up a kit that looks suspiciously like a knock-off of Team Sky, declare loudly that they are going ‘to do things differently’ and ‘shake up the sport’ and point to the five billion members they’ve signed up in 5 minutes as proof of their evangelical and revolutionary power and the defining mark of success, as well as the definitive statement that somehow other clubs were doing it wrong all along.
It’s some way wide of the mark. It’s interesting how few events the new clubs organise compared to the amount of races run by other clubs, including the weekly TT series run by the local club, usually since time immemorial, by volunteers giving freely of their time. It’s also interesting how many events the new clubs and their legions sign up for, run by the luddite and monstrously outmoded Yesteryear Wheelers. The bike boom CC is a shaky model, one rooted in the superficial, the here and now, the mode, the representation of what they think cycling should be. It would be nice to see the Comic focus on one of the established clubs, document the warm welcome given to members, the support for the community, the roots established over a hundred years, the change in jersey design, the significance of the colours, the unbroken lineation back to the founder members seeking time and space away via the emancipatory power of the bicycle. The club as a corinthian institution, not a willing reflection of consumerist mores or the grubby power of professionalism which has the Astana debacle at its zenith. The myth of an unwelcoming cycling club is exactly that.
There is no greater representation of the Corinthian ideal at present than Steven Abrahams. I can wholeheartedly recommend the recent bike show interview with Jack Thurston.
“This is not big money professional cycling. Steve has quit his job and cashed in his life savings to better the record of the man he regards as the greatest cyclist of all time. He’s assembled a small team of volunteers who will organise his routes and overnight stays, fix his bike, feed him, wash his clothes and upload his ride data to the Ultra-Marathon Cycling Association which is validating the record attempt.”
Steve’s shortest ride this week was 187 miles. Thats 60 miles further than my longest rider ever. He’s managed 10,000 miles so far this year, twice my annual distance.