I came across an article on the Guardian bike blog the other day. It had the saucy and provocative title; “Is it OK to get off your bike and walk up a hill?“.
It’s very much a bike boom piece of writing, as is most of the Guardian Cycling Blog; a lefty liberal and metropolitan take on what it means to be a cyclist. Nonetheless, it refers to a particular issue that bedevils us all: when is it OK to get off and walk? I have to be honest and confess that I have walked up a bit of a hill once before. In 2004 I was riding up the Wyche on a road bike which had jammed in the 53 plate. I wasn’t very fit and found it hard to cope with the incline whilst pushing a massive cadence. It was too much hill and not enough gear. I can’t think of any other episodes which have ended in such ignominy. I have been close to the edge, especially when riding fixed and misreading the contours or elevation of a route. On such occasions I have forced my way up and over the crest, usually at about 15rpm, because I can. I also think that most hills can be ridden up in pretty much any sensible gear; it’s a question of willpower and not physical capacity. The article in question challenges the mentality that it’s not ok to walk. I agree in one respect; if you’re wearing flip-flops or a suit and commuting to work (and don’t necessarily class yourself as a cyclist) then feel free to walk if it gets tough. It’s not worth the aggravation and there is no badge of honour.
The article goes on to quote Chris Balfour: “Some of the snobbery and sneering which exists towards riders using ‘granny gears’ or who occasionally walk is really quite divisive and disappointing. We should celebrate [cycling’s] ‘everyman’ appeal, not slide to the worst of golfing ‘etiquette’ where newer and less able players are excluded or mocked behind their back in the clubhouse bar for ‘having the wrong swing’ or ‘wearing the wrong gear’.” I do celebrate cycling’s everyman appeal, but I don’t think anyone I know has ever mocked anyone for having the wrong gear (unless that means no mudguards, in which case get to the back and stay there you slurry-spreading infidel) or the wrong bike, or sticking it in the granny and shaking it around a bit. Quite the opposite, the guy on the hybrid who smashes everyone to bits seems to be a staple of most club runs. It’s the materialistic guys in the ‘right’ kit, typically the full castelli europro lycra show, who have purloined an entry ticket to an inclusive club in the mistaken belief that it confers some sort of bragging rights. All sports or activities have a degree of snobbery, cycling included; it’s integral and important. As cycling broadens outwards, dragging in everyone and anyone, it’s fine to celebrate inclusivity, but also important to recognise that there is a justified exclusivity at the core, of those who train hard and ride hard, race and follow an unspoken creed, writ with obsessional traits and a commitment to cycling and the past. This isn’t snobbery, it’s the long traditions of the sport. You gain entry through learning from others, picking up the hand signals and not making stupid mistakes. Entry is not pilfered through the impulse purchase of a BMC Impec and full Rapha kit. And if you are riding an £11k bike with £500 of clothing, you should damn well ride it to the top of the hill.