the commuter bicycle race is about as close to racing as some people tend to get. it’s a fraught, violent affair, with some unspoken rules. generally, a commuter race tends to evolve gradually as two people acquire a proximal space, which then becomes somewhat liminal as they slowly become engaged in a mortal battle to the death. no quarter is given and none asked. it’s essentially an odd, interrupted variant on the ‘ride someone off the wheel’ trick, slowly upping the pace until they drop.
i have to add at this juncture that i don’t do this sort of thing. there are several reasons why i don’t, and in setting two of these out i’m going to sound like a bit of an asshole. and so it goes….
– commuters don’t play fair. they attack at the lights, or when you’re napping. they are probably doing a 2 mile round trip; i’d say a maximum of 5 miles. they have no idea of the kind of mileage the other guy/lady may have done, or be doing. and furthermore, that ‘douche in some club jersey’ who you ‘thrashed on the gloucester road’ might well be doing a recovery ride from a huge weekend, or mountain time trial, or even national time trial. i once thrashed some guy up Redhill, he was in full Wilier garb. he was Ben Luckwell, on a recovery ride. if we were really racing he would have smashed me into tiny little pieces.
– i consider this sort of thing beneath me, in the same way that i might consider riding a claud butler or a pinnacle to be also beneath me. (paradoxically, if i was riding a pinnacle, it would be beneath me). this is because i race, regularly, and thus have no need to test myself against the nodders.
– usually i ride hard on the hills. i do this on the commute. when i ride hard on the hills i generally find that no-one can keep up. this is something that i have learnt over the past few years. occasionally someone comes past me on the flat because i’m riding fixed and spinning. i wait for the road to go uphill, then carry on at the same pace, more or less.
however… despite all my better judgements and lofty, snobbish pretentions, yesterday, much to my chagrin, i found myself locked in a full-on commuter battle. it was a fight to the death. i was honking up a climb, not a particularly long one, but i definitely was honking. i rode over the crest in the saddle and settled in for a gentle ride home, when some chap came hammering past me, and i mean, he was going fast enough to make me sit up and take notice – he must have been going a similar speed up the hill. not only that, but the guy was pushing an enormous gear. he rapidly opened up a huge gap in the time it took me to decide whether to go after him or not. in the end, i went for it, and really started to push it. he was doing at least 25mph.
i have to say at this point that this is the hardest i have ridden since the nationals. it was a long and straight bit of road and i could see the guy around 50 metres ahead. i had to really dig deep and take a slight risk at a roundabout just to half the gap. eventually i dragged myself up and onto his wheel and sat there for a minute or two, lungs heaving and body palpitating like a shitting dog. the guy was still pushing a monstrous gear. it was enormous. he was churning and mashing it into destruction. i presumed he must have been a hardcore mountain biker or some such. it was unpleasant.
we both slowed somewhat in the approach to a roundabout so i pulled alongside to have a chat, obeying the golden rule of commuter racing: make it seem as though you have put in no exertion whatsoever. he was riding a strange hybridised mountain bike thing, and i glanced down and noticed something odd. he was riding one of these bad boys:
it’s an electric city bike. he said he needed a ‘bit of help’ to get to work and back. i laughed, heartily, with some relief.