Some cyclists eat what they want and to hell with their power to weight ratio, some have no interest in preening and admiring their shaved legs and well defines calves in every reflective surface they walk past, while others not only have no great knowledge of obscure towns in Belgium, they don’t even know very much, nor even care, about the great Eddy Merckx.
To these less than obsessive cyclists, riding their bike is nothing more than a hobby; simply one of the things they do in their spare time, which has a status in their life well below the likes of family, friends, work…maybe even beer or wine!?
As my top ten guide to the traits of a cycling obsessive demonstrates, there are those who take things too far:
- If you spot a cycling obsessive twitching randomly, fidgeting uncontrollably, and displaying the thousand-yard stare of a nervous Vietnam veteran, the chances are they have sensed that simple carbohydrates are nearby. Pastries, pies and white bread are like Kryptonite; the chink in their armour capable of raising the body fat percentage and lowering the power to weight ratio. This situation is amplified by the fact that, because the cyclist lives their life on the precipice of constant calorie deficit, they are permanently hungry and therefore tormented by the ever-present threat of empty calories.
- When you spot a cycling obsessive walking around like a normal member of society, perhaps even wearing casual (as opposed to ball crushingly tight) shorts, watch for their eyes flicking downwards from time to time to admire their thighs and calves. Because the cyclist spends almost every waking hour honing (and if not honing, then thinking about honing) their leg muscles, they can’t help but admire them, silently congratulating themselves on the magnificence of their drive-train. As you observe this, you may be tempted to suggest that this excessive preening does them no favours and looks, frankly, a bit odd…but there’s no point. They are too busy trying to catch a reflection of their quads in a shop window and are unlikely to notice you.
- Because your friend the cycling obsessive has spent so long reading up on the science of what might make them ride more quickly, and the fuel they might need to do it, they have a staggering amount of knowledge about a very, very specific area of sports science and nutrition. This leaves them with a brain which has had a large chunk of its capacity taken up by information which, beyond cycling, is useless. Because of this, you’ll often find them completely incapable of some of the simplest social interactions, occasionally unable to hold a straightforward conversation on any topic which veers anywhere near the mainstream. This is because their brain is chock full of detail about V02 max, lactate thresholds, heart rate zones, power to weight ratios, electrolytes, glycogen and B-complex vitamins.
- When pressed, the cycling obsessive can demonstrate an encyclopedic knowledge of any number of obscure Belgian towns, without ever having been anywhere near them. They can give you a potted history of Kuurne, Wevelgem, de Panne or Bastogne, for the simple reason that they feature in prominent and prestigious early season pro bike races. If Eddy Merckx or Roger de Vlaeminck has ever ridden through a town – or even mentioned it in passing – your friend can probably describe the road surface, the prevailing weather conditions, and its proximity to the nearest stretch of cobbles. On the other hand, ask your friend to name just about any place anywhere that has neither featured in a bike race nor has good riding nearby and they’ll look at you blankly, wondering why anyone would need to know such information.
- The cycling obsessive will baulk at the thought of spending £150 on a new suit for work, but will think nothing of spending the same amount on a single windproof cycling jacket, cut to race fit, and manufactured by a prestigious but slightly obscure Italian company. They have also manufactured a water-tight logic to justify this position in their own minds. To a cycling obsessive, going to work is simply a way of passing the time between rides, and earning enough money to be able to splash out on bikes, kit and other cycling related paraphernalia. To go to work, earn the money, and then spend it on something which is primarily used at work just wouldn’t make any sense.
- The cycling obsessive may, despite first impressions, have other interests beyond riding their bike. These may include some of the following: espresso coffee, Nutella pancakes, the weather, GPS, smooth tarmac, France, Belgium, Italy, internet shopping, facial hair, smooth legs, the carbon fibre manufacturing process, statistics and black and white photos.
- As demonstrated on numerous occasions in this list, the cycling obsessive does, from time to time, exhibit behaviour which 99% of civilised society might find odd, obscure, or downright cringe-worthy. But there is nothing quite as cringe-worthy as an English-speaking cyclist using those French, Italian and Belgian phrases which make up the cultural language of the sport. These phrases have developed in the traditional powerhouse countries of European cycling and so have a weight of history and meaning which your average English speaker could only ever grasp dimly at best. And so, if you ever hear an English-speaking cyclist referring to the ‘souplesse’ of their pedalling style, or describing their friend, the one who’s good at riding uphill, as a ‘grimpeur’, it is your duty to pull them up on this.
- The cycling obsessive, due to their naturally pedantic nature, will often be able to give you, in forensic detail, a blow by blow account of a little known stage of the Giro d’Italia from ten years ago, or the last 5 winners of an obscure northern European semi-classic one-day race. In fact, if you talk to them long enough you will soon be of the impression that not only were they present at every stage of the Tour de France last year, but that they also witnessed, in person, Lance Armstrong and Marco Pantani duelling on Mont Ventoux in 2000, Bernard Hinault winning Liege-Bastogne-Liege in the snow in 1980, and even Jacques Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor going shoulder to shoulder on the Puy de Dome in 1964. Considering that your friend doesn’t look a day over 40, this seems unlikely.
- The cycling obsessive, being an active competitive type, may well be interested in other sports beyond cycling. However, when pushed on the subject they will always retreat to the default position that anybody taking part in any other sport at whatever level is inferior in guts, determination and, most of all, fitness levels, to the noble cyclist. If the cycling obsessive watches a game of football they see it as manufactured entertainment; a perfectly reasonable way to pass a couple of hours with friends, but basically frivolous. Cycling, on the other hand, is a serious business, built around teamwork, sacrifice and heroic levels of suffering. Some might say your friend the cycling obsessive needs to lighten up a bit.
- In their mind’s eye the cycling obsessive begins to imagine that when they ride, they look just like the professionals do on TV, so naturally, they begin to pick up the same mannerisms. When riding on the flat, they do that thing the pro’s do where they lean forward into an aerodynamic position and rest on the handlebars with their forearms, hands and wrists dangling casually over the front of the bike. When trying to pick up extra speed downhill, the cycling obsessive will duck down low and contort themselves across the frame of the bike; aerodynamic, yes, but only ever an unseen pothole away from disaster. Thus far, the ability to remove a gilet from their jersey pocket, and put it on and zip up, whilst riding no-handed and maintaining a roughly consistent pace, eludes them. In their mind this minor failing in technique is their Achilles heel, and the single thing which separates them, style-wise, from the professionals.