Pah! I can outpace Wiggins in a polka-dot dress and stilettos
Daisy Goodwin swaps places with Jeremy Clarkson in the Sunday Times and sings the praises of her SPARTA RX PLUS.
Aston Martin and Harley-Davidson salesmen feel a rush of adrenaline when a middle-aged man in a leather jacket approaches. They know that a man having his first intimations of mortality is seriously in need of horsepower.
But if you are a woman in the prime of life and already in possession of a lifetime’s worth of handbags, what is the thing that is going to stop time’s winged chariot rumbling away in your ear? In my case it was the sturdy Dutch frame of a Sparta e-bike that made the pulse race and the credit card tingle. An e-bike is not a virtual bike where you cycle like Bradley Wiggins in cyberspace, but a regular bike with a battery pack, which means that you go twice as fast. Compared with a regular bike, it’s like riding a magic carpet, with an invisible hand to push you up those pesky hills. There is still perspiration involved, but instead of arriving at my destination sweaty and bedraggled, I swoop in with a healthy glow. It is cheating, of course. I am never going to have zero body fat like Wiggins but as a fairweather cyclist the prospect of having a little help against the headwind makes all the difference.
However, the real morale-boosting benefit of the e-bike is not the 20 minutes it takes off my commute or the knowledge that nothing, not even Bob Crow at his most intransigent, can affect my journey time, it is the way that it has suddenly made me a contender in the competitive urban cycling stakes.
My e-bike looks just like a regular one: the electric wizardry is hidden in the frame. Although I have used a bike for years, I have always regarded cycling much as I did as a student, as the quickest and most reliable way of getting from A to B. I cycle in a skirt and stilettos without a scrap of Lycra. I have always found that wearing a shocking pink coat and a glittery scarf is just as effective at advertising your presence to other road users as wearing head-to-toe hi-vis neon. For me cycling has always been a transport, not a lifestyle, choice. Nor do I think that it is an inherently virtuous activity – I certainly break the law far more as a cyclist than I would in a car. But then, behind a steering wheel, I am unlikely to have to make the choice between driving on the pavement illegally or being squashed by a bus. Cycling may be environmentally friendly but it is fundamentally a solipsistic activity.
As a middle-aged lady cyclist I have always been happy to potter along inthe wake of the Wiggins wannabees with their anatomically correct saddles and their be-spandexed buttocks. At traffic lights I would lurk at the back while the fixed-wheel squad were indulging in the wobbly cycling equivalent of revving, which involves balancing on your whisper of aluminium so that you are in the best aerodynamic position to charge away when the lights turn green. Trundling along in the BORIS BIKE slow lane I hadn’t realised that for a certain type of man (and a few women) cycling is a Darwinian race where every second counts. So intense is the desire to be first that these velociraptor cyclists will jettison anything that might slow them down such as saddlebags, gears or even brakes. So imagine, then, the scene: several of these zero-body-fat cyclists are gathered together at the lights waiting to see who will pull away first. I don’t even figure in their Darwinian calculations – ladies of a certain age in a dress and kitten heels riding a bicycle with bulging panniers in a vibrant floral print are the two-wheeled equivalent of pond life. This only increases the collective gnashing of teeth when I zoom past them at a nippy 22mph, the telltale battery pack invisible beneath the flowery saddlebags. To the fixie fraternity my ability to pull away from the crowd is like seeing a Reliant Robin out-rev a Lamborghini.
The real cyclists really don’t like it, it upsets all their ideas of hierarchy and natural order. Their first thought is to restore the status quo by overtaking as quickly as possible. I have got used to men pumping past me while looking back over their shoulder with a “that’ll show you who’s the king of the road” look. If I am feeling merciful I let them go on, secure in their Lycra-decked delusions of cycling supremacy, but on my feistier days I will wait until they have gone past before kicking into power mode, and then in the lowest gear possible I sail past them, hair streaming, back straight, arms outstretched on my sit-up-and-beg handlebars, looking every inch the bicycling lady don.
It goes down very badly indeed. Nobody looks good in a cycling helmet but wounded male pride looks even more absurd when it is framed by one of those aerodynamic praying-mantis-type headpieces with a lamp on top. I like to add insult to injury by giving them a cheery wave as I CRUISE past.
Even if you don’t enjoy bloodsports, there is something irresistible about administering the coup de grace to cycopaths. My finest moment was overtaking a pair of Swiss mountain bikers in full cycling uniform on a mountain road in the Swiss Alps wearing a polkadot dress and flip-flops. I don’t know exactly what they shouted as I cruised past, but it sounded guttural. In an ideal world we would all be like the Dutch or the Danes, who cycle everywhere in normal clothes not wearing helmets because they a have a properly integrated cycle path system. But in the meantime any woman who worries that she is becoming invisible as she enters her golden years, all I can say is forget the plastic surgery, and get yourself an e-bike.