real life cycling

Cloth ears and cafe stops

Up until about the age of 25 I was fairly convinced that I was destined to become if not a bona fide stadium filling rock star, then at the very least a curious left-field musician with a cult following and a small income.

I was far from the only twenty-something living in Manchester and trying to make the (almost) unachievable, achievable, but given that I possessed neither the charisma, the talent, nor the ability to pass myself off as a credibly working class Mancunian, I can now see I was barking up the wrong tree.

My destiny!? (Image:
My destiny!?

Wandering down this well-trodden path towards my musical destiny involved, as you might expect, some long evenings locked away in a grim rehearsal room deep in the bowels of an old Victorian warehouse; in Manchester these buildings are ten-a-penny, and stuffed full of pretty ropey but extremely enthusiastic young bands.

From there, we would bash out tunes at ear splitting and frankly unnecessary volume.

Even as the over-aggressive power chords bounced off the sound proofed walls, I could feel the damage being done to my ears – damage which was all too obvious at work the next day, as I struggled to make out what on earth my workmates were waffling on about through the muffled buzz rattling around my head.

Rock n’ Roll!!

Fun though it all was, I now find myself here in my late-thirties with a mild obsession about cycling, and having swapped ripped denim and plaid shirts for lycra bib-shorts and merino wool. What’s more, I’m troubled by a persistent ringing in my ears and a struggle to pick out the simplest of conversations over any background noise, be it chatter in a bar, background music in an echo-y room, or most commonly the wind rushing past my ears on a bike ride.

Unless my riding companions ride closely two-abreast with me and speak in the cleanest cut—glass Queen’s English (which, trust me, is not the done thing here in north Lancashire), I often haven’t got the foggiest idea what they’re on about.

There are some within our regular group of cyclists who seem, to someone as cloth-eared as me, to posses the hearing skills of a bat. They can hold a perfectly serviceable conversation whether riding side by side, strung out in single file, or clinging for grip on a gravel patch on the outside of a blind downhill bend; not the most sensible spot from which to chat about the days events, admittedly, but impressive in it’s own way.

Judging by their route finding abilities, it’s also possible that they’re attempting to utilise their bat senses to navigate using a form of echolocation – I certainly don’t get the impression some of them have been anywhere near a map recently!

Cyclist's Cafe (Image: Andreas Kambanis via Flickr cc)
Cyclist’s Cafe
(Image: Andreas Kambanis via Flickr cc)


When I invariably reach that point, mid-ride on a windswept day, when I’ve had my fill of attempting to lip read my fellow cyclists, a café stop is the only solution. Not only do I get coffee and cake, I can hear every word of what my mates say rather than picking up about 60% of it and filling in the rest with my imagination.

I’d recommend it – it’s amazing what you learn.

For example, I might find out that my riding companion’s brother-in-law is Bradley Wiggins, the character he’s been telling me anecdotes about who I thought was his pet dog is actually his daughter (Fifi!?), and that he’s twice offered me the use of his idyllic log cabin in the French Alps and been mildly offended by my muted reaction (which involved a knowing nod and a polite chuckle…the time-honoured response to an unheard conversation).

Alternatively, I might spend half an hour trapped in some café with this fella, only to decide that the 40% I was missing out on the bike was best left unheard!

15 comments on “Cloth ears and cafe stops

  1. Jack Towl

    Nice to read your post about “cloth ears”. It’s a saying that doesn’t get much use here in Shropshire so brought some memories of the north west back to me. I can sympathise although my cloth ears are age related. Nothing so exciting as a result of being a penurious but aspiring pop star. Running water and boiling kettles are my bugbears but I guess the wind in your ears and road noise can have a similar effect. If I don’t hear something, I generally take Joanna Lumleys’ advice. “If in doubt, stare back and smile”. Doesn’t help you hear but it’s amiable and non threatening. Keep up the posts, always worth a read.


    • Its a good one – cloth ears – isn’t it. Thanks for your kind comments, glad you’re enjoying the blog, that’s good to know. Once the age related deafness starts to kick in for me too I’ve had it!!

      As for the advice, if it’s good enough for Joanna Lumley…


  2. Any reason to stop and have coffee and cake is a good one!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Brilliant. I chuckled more than once as on rides in Switzerland I mostly assume people to be speaking in German, which I don’t understand – but sometimes they’re speaking English… Who knows what we’ve missed out on!


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