Secondarily the bicycle is a means of transport; a utilitarian tool for travelling from A to B. Clean, efficient, versatile. However, every cyclist knows that the primary function of the bicycle is, of course, to race.
No matter how unaerodynamic the frame, how squishy the tyres, how stuffed the panniers, or heavy the rucksack, the cyclist is poised for competition. No licence required. No expensive kit, or lycra shorts. Out there, on the rush hour roads of London, everyday is race day.
There is something about the act of swinging your leg over a saddle that ignites the competitive urge in the human psyche. My ride to work is epitomised by shoals of cyclists leapfrogging each other in vain efforts to get ahead, to make it through the next set of lights before their cycling brethren. Young ladies on sit-up-and-begs going shoulder to shoulder against middle aged city gents on Bromptons. Weekend warriors with hairs poking out of their lycra doing battle with mountain bikers in baggies. Cycling tribes combine together into a chaotic ill-tempered bun fight for road supremacy. I’d like to say I rise above it all, coasting nonchalantly along, but I don’t.
Ask the commuting cyclist what his or her pet hates are and, amongst the usual moans about taxi drivers and wayward pedestrians, comes the true target of bile: cyclists. Every other guy on a bike is our rival, competing for road space, holding us up, slowing us down, jumping lights to stay one step ahead of the pack. Even those that do stop for lights make sure they are at the front of the queue – even if that means cutting in ahead of anyone else already waiting patiently.
For many of us commuting is treated as easy rides, to stretch the legs after a weekends racing or the previous nights interval session. The plan is to spin light gears, stay nice and supple, keep the heart rate low… well, that was the plan you think to yourself, pulling up at work panting and damp with sweat.
As such, any recovery ride must be undertaken by stealth, under cover of darkness. On a shopping bike. Fitted with a basket. However that still probably won’t dampen your competitive instincts sufficiently. “Go on,” the little voice says, “you know you can overtake that G-Wiz before the next junction…”