Cotswold voice: Wheels of ire

The actuality is of delusional men with padded bottoms and exaggerated codpieces living out a mid-li

The actuality is of delusional men with padded bottoms and exaggerated codpieces living out a mid-life crisis - Credit: Archant

Bicyclists have baskets and bells, bicycle pumps and cycle clips and tend to have a reason for pedalling from A to B. Bicyclists are a charming part of the Cotswolds - cyclists on the other hand are not!

I am a fan of the droll reply to the obvious such as ‘Is the Pope a Catholic?’ or ‘Do bears defecate in the woods?’ The Americans are particularly adept at finding amusing alternatives to those two clichés, for example ‘Does Rose Kennedy wear a black dress?’ or ‘Do rednecks marry their sisters?’ The ripostes are not quite so successful when localised to the Cotswolds although ‘Do The Slaughters sell fudge?’ and ‘Is a Chelsea Tractor black?’ have a certain esprit. But I like to think that I have now stumbled upon an example that is both a universal and now a local retort – ‘Is the Tour de France French?’

It is the reply I wish to make to Cirencester councillor Paul Hodgkinson, a cycling enthusiast and would-be MP for the Cotswolds, who believes that our hills would be the ideal place to kick off Le Tour. “The area’s unique scenery would provide a perfect backdrop to the race,” he says suggesting a potential route passing down the Fosse Way, through Cirencester and finishing in Cheltenham. The odds on Cllr Hodgkinson proposing this were, I suspect, much the same as on a cheese pizza containing cheese.

He is, of course, wrong. It is difficult to imagine a worse use of our area’s unique scenery than as a gigantic velodrome. Actually that’s not quite true. A worse use of our area’s unique scenery would be as a racetrack for Hummers or as a global rallying point for the Hell’s Angels, but the Tour De France comes a pretty close second as a feeble idea for promoting the Cotswolds.

It’s not that I object to the prospect of farmers turning their hay bales into Sturdy Archer installations or shopkeepers hanging old velocipedes from awnings or even the fact that the Tour de France is uniquely French and the Cotswolds uniquely English. Nope; my real objection is to the cyclists and the ill-dressed flag-waving clowns that support them. And, most worryingly, the legacy the continental jamboree will leave behind.

There are two classes of people who ride bicycles – bicyclists and cyclists – and there is a gulf as wide as Persia between them. Bicyclists have baskets and bells and bicycle pumps. They dress in normal clothes, wear cycle clips and tend to have a reason for pedalling from A to B. Bicyclists are a charming part of the Cotswolds, cyclists on the other hand are not.

There have been scores of articles in recent years as to why cyclists are hated in towns. They jump lights, block traffic, abuse pavements, blow loud whistles, kill pensioners and so on and so forth. However the urban critics do not distinguish between bicyclists and cyclists because both groups are riding with the same purpose – to beat the traffic.

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But in the countryside it is a very different matter. In the backwoods, professional cyclists dress in childishly coloured rubber and shout to each other in baby talk (‘horse’, ‘tree’, ‘cow’, ‘pothole’) while busy going nowhere too fast. The sweaty Spandex stick insects round corners in the middle of lanes and ride double and triple-breasted on dangerous A and B roads. They pay no road tax and their only contribution to the environment that they visually and verbally despoil is, as far as I can see, to order a few black coffees and non-alcoholic drinks from the non-sweaty owners of coffee bars and pubs.

Their worst crime however is encouraging others who are never going to be knights of the peloton. The Cotswolds is already full of ageing exercise freaks aping their two-wheel heroes in the mistaken belief that they are modern sex symbols – although whether a rubber sheath astride two orbs can be described as such is debatable. The actuality is of delusional men with padded bottoms and exaggerated codpieces living out a mid-life crisis (do none of them have wives or girlfriends who could point out how buffoonish they look?). If the Tour de France came to the Cotswolds its legacy would be tens of thousands more of these menopausal jockeys speeding dangerously through our lanes.

It is true that Yorkshire claimed to have enjoyed hosting the start of this year’s Tour, but let’s face it ‘It’s grim up North’ and the addition of hundreds of grim professional cyclists, even grimmer supporters and the prospect of gaily-coloured lycra lightening up the grim moors may have sat well with the Ee By Gums. But down here, in the overcrowded soft South, it would be a disaster. I have often thought that if Health and Safety had been in existence in the 19th century and known about the coming of the millions of automobiles on our roads it would have stated the obvious and said to any interested parties suggesting the advent of spandex cyclists ‘Does Lycra go splat?’

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This article by Adam Edwards is from the September 2014 issue of Cotswold Life.