Saturday, July 02, 2005


There is one occasion when it’is perfectly acceptable for a grown-up heterosexual man to shave his legs, don a pink lycra all-in-one-unitard and go out in public and that’s when he’s sitting atop a crushingly expensive combination of iron bars and wheels called the modern bicycle. Have you seen what these people look like when they get off that bike? More to the point, have they? Don’t they have mirrors in their houses? It’s fine when they’re on top of their nimble little steeds, thighs all bunched up, smooth bronzed calf muscles flexing and straining, but take Lance Armstrong off his bicycle and, excuse me, he looks like a yellow alien with a bulge from the Planet Lycra.

I’m suspicious of fanatics of every stripe and cycling people tend to take normal bracing exercise further out into left field than is entirely healthy. If you can make gazillions of dollars winning the Tour de France every year until you’re 80, I can see the sense in it, but judging by the popping veins and frozen death-grin on the average cyclists face he’s in agonizing pain. I know there’s that natural endorphin thing, but beating your head against the wall is really only nice when you stop doing it. Is it some sort of attempt to live forever or a way to impose the will on a body that may have plans of its own?

It’s not that I’m envious or anything, but don’t cyclists have jobs? You see them at all hours hunched over the handlebars, trying to keep upright until the light changes, in their goofy Evil Knievel helmets and wraparound bumblebee sunglasses. Clip them over with your side mirror, entirely by accident, and you’ll never hear the end of it.

Due to frequent accidents and mishaps, they now want their own cycle lanes. Cycle lanes? How about pedestrian lanes just for starters, because it’s a fact that pedestrians came first and as the traffic safety ad so helpfully points out, we’re here to stay.

I once lived in a country with proper bicycle lanes and I owned one but guess what? The cycle lanes were full of joggers, mothers with double-wide prams and couples walking hand in hand. Sure there’s Holland, Germany, China, but those countries have a serious bicycle riding culture, not so here in South Africa where the colossal 4x4, driven by some tiny pin-headed woman who can hardly see over the steering wheel, rules the road. What chance does a bicycle have against two tow trucks on the way to an accident scene or on Louis Botha Avenue at 5pm?

And what do they wear to protect themselves out on the mean streets of Jozi at rush hour when nothing less than body armour would be called for, a clingy wisp of fabric with fetching red stripes.

Cyclists like to promote the view that they are persecuted by cars, which is true enough, but some cyclists have only themselves to blame. Time was when you could walk along the street and the only thing you had to worry about was having your cellphone snatched or being hit by a can thrown carelessly from a BMW. Not anymore. At least you can hear a car bearing down on you as you saunter along, but you’re flat on your back before you hear yourself scream and all you see are pumping buttocks whizzing away atop a Schwinn, his feeble sorry snatched away by the wind.

Then there are those massive alien conventions, the races where they take over the streets and you and I have to wait until they pass, kind of like funerals. My sister who lives in the path of the Argus dreads the coming of the hordes, apparently it’s impossible to cycle en masse without incredibly loud music of the thunk thunk thunk variety blaring out all day. It might sound alright when the wind is whizzing past your ear flaps, but it annoys the hell out of the earth-bound locals and scares the goats.

I used to go to the gym almost religiously, climb on a stationary bike and pedal away with the rest of the sweaty masochists. One day while I was pounding away, watching the next big virtual hill coming up on the screen, I looked out of the window and a cluster of bicycle riders wafted past. I had an epiphany, what was I doing on a bicycle going nowhere? Time to buy the real thing and feel the wind in my ears, the tang of real sweat, the adrenalin rush as a taxi cuts in front and stops.

So I gave up the gym, still can’t afford the bicycle, but you’ll never catch me in pink lycra and a hat that makes my head look like a penis.

No comments: