In my experience the metronomic rhythm of a long ride with friends does a great job of promoting conversation, chatter, gossip and the gentle mocking of those you choose to spend time with. I’m no expert in the international variances of a good old-fashioned sense of humour, but it’s my belief that we British are the kings of cutting each other down to size with a witty (and often personal) comment.
But in amongst all the nonsense, from time to time I find myself struck by a phrase or an observation of such throwaway genius that it’s worthy of mild celebration. Whether it was due to the invigorating powers of the gale force wind we were riding into along the North Lancashire coast, I’m not sure, but whilst out for a Sunday ride recently I was on the receiving end of just such a slice of deep wisdom from a cycling friend of mine.
As it just happened to be the British National Hill Climb Championship over the border in Yorkshire on that day, we got to chatting about the science and technique of riding uphill quickly. It’s worth mentioning at this point that my friend is no slouch when it comes to hills (in the slouching department, compared to him, I’m very much your man) and so, assuming that my friend’s ability on the uphill is based on more than a commitment to the avoidance of doughnuts, I was interested to hear his analysis on such matters.
I was expecting a lengthy discourse on power to weight ratio, nutrition, and the psychology of a hard and sustained effort, but instead I got this little gem:
“There are two distinct phases to my climbing technique”, he said, looking wise. “First, I attack the climb as hard as possible until I start to feel sick. Second, I try really hard not to be sick.”
Now come on – you try and tell me this little pearl of wisdom doesn’t just about hit the nail on the head. It turns out, after all, that my friend the skinny climber rides up hills just as unscientifically as me. OK, he’s significantly quicker due to…well, let’s not dwell on the reasons why (that could get painful…it’s probably doughnut related), but his approach is just as pig-headed as mine.
But as I said, an observation worthy of mild celebration. So how did we celebrate?
I let him buy me coffee and a sausage sandwich in the next café we came across. Which sounds like just the job on a biblically windy Sunday morning in late October except…brace yourself…the only coffee they served was…
I know. What a let-down. The sausage sandwich was top-notch but why would any café which considers itself worthy of the name lower itself to serving a freeze-dried granulated version of the world’s favourite pick-me-up? It just doesn’t make sense. Making great coffee is easy – it should be the minimum requirement of any café in a civilised society.
This isn’t the 1970’s, after all.
As we sat in silence, dumbfounded, I forced the drink down for its warming properties. My friend pushed his away in disgust and refused to let a drop pass his lips – it turns out he’s a man of principle. We left the café to battle the wind for a further 30 miles with all conversation reduced glumly to navigational necessity as we both tried, in our own quiet way, to come to terms with our loss.
We Brits are known as a nation of tea drinkers but the fact is that, when presented with a cup of tea, many of us will swill down any old slapdash brew. Here, now, in 2014, when it comes to coffee we expect a decent cup when we part with our hard earned cash.
No amount of insightful aphorisms from my friend the skinny climber can paper over that simple fact.