As everybody knows, cats have nine lives.
If they fall from a shed roof they will land elegantly, before wandering off with a nonchalant flick of the paw and a look which says, ‘I meant to do that’. If they fall down the back of a piano and find themselves trapped, spread-eagled against the wall (true story…), they will mew resignedly until a human turns up to release them. With no thanks, of course.
They are, in short, indestructible. Nine times.
What you may not know is that not only are cyclists unlikely to thank a human when offered help, but they have a similar feline instinct for self-preservation. I know this because I’ve witnessed, over the years, many a scrape and mishap that would have surely done for any normal non-cyclist.
(It is also scientifically proven.*)
In the interests of marital and family harmony I would like to add a disclaimer.
To anyone reading this who is a spouse or family member of someone I might occasionally ride a bike with, I’m not talking about your loved one. Of course I’m not. Your loved one is super-safe and a paragon of cycling proficiency. They would never over-cook it on a hairpin, or weave in amongst queueing traffic, or attempt a costume change non-handed riding down Morecambe promenade.
I’m talking about all those other people, none of whom I know or have ever met, who do all kinds of crazy things. Some of which might invalidate their life insurance.
Someone I know went for a ride recently with someone else I definitely don’t know and, it’s fair to say, witnessed first-hand the loss of two of that cyclists nine allotted lives. Because he’s still got seven left each mishap was obviously hilariously funny. It only really gets serious when you’re down to the last two or three.
Where I ride here in Lancashire there are no shortage of steep and narrow descents which require at least a reasonable level of concentration. In the right hands they’re generally drama free. One or two, though, feature a sharp turn of ninety degrees or more at the bottom just to keep you on your toes. Some of these also have gravel on the apex.
Whilst flying down one of these recently our friend was all but whooping and hollering as his speedo ticked towards 40mph, only to be ambushed by one of these tight and gravelled curves. Brakes were slammed on and the whoops changed pitch to sound not unlike the resigned mewing of a trapped cat, if a shade more panicked. Our cyclist missed the corner by a country mile, careered across the gravel, and across the apex, to be saved by a conveniently placed slip-road.
Needless to say there were no cars coming in the opposite direction, and hilarity ensued. One life gone.
A little further along the ride, heart rate now returned to normal, this cyclist gave clear indication that his little near miss had spooked him; to be honest he’d lost his nerve. Along the flatter lanes in these parts, when the water table is high, the fields flood. Because of this many lanes are raised slightly and feature a drainage ditch either side. It’s a drop off the tarmac of a couple of feet, at most.
Well, our friend’s nerves were by now so shredded that that he weaved a little too close to the ditch only to panic, transfixed, and apparently lost the ability to use his arms. Instead of steering away he found himself curving further towards this ditch before teetering, wall of death style, mere millimetres from a muddy bath.
Eventually, through gravity and good fortune, he weaved away right rather than left and managed to centre himself on the tarmac. Another life gone.
‘Wait a minute’, I hear you say, ‘surely a near two foot drop into a ditch is nothing more than a mishap?’
Well, that’s true, but had he taken an early dip he would never, for as long as he rides a bike, live that one down. He would have died a little inside. He spiritually lost one of his lives, if nothing else. For the rest of us it’s a real shame he didn’t end up in the drink – that’s the kind of once in a lifetime anecdote that money can’t buy.
As anecdotes go, finding a cyclist trapped behind a piano, spread-eagled against the wall and mewing for help, is about the only thing that could beat that.
(*Not by real science, obviously. Just on the internet.)