Saturday 21 September 2019

The many perils of the urban cyclist

Winter cycling throws up issues
Winter cycling throws up issues
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

This is my first winter cycling and I don't mind saying it is throwing up a few issues. It's been all very well up to now. I would even say I was getting a bit cocky. There was the odd soaking, but mostly the weather was grand for my short outings. And there were certain other things you could take for granted, like light. Who knew that cycling in daylight was only the first rung of the ladder, a fool's paradise?

Because I am, though you wouldn't think it to look at me, quite vain, the clothing has been a big issue for me. Since the cycling started I've been steadily compromising on clothing. It's a head-to-toe affair. It starts with a helmet. There was no way I was going around in one of those coloured helmets. So I bought a giant matt black one. I told myself that I looked like a cool Italian on a moped. I knew deep down that I just looked like a man with a large head who made it even larger with the addition of a giant helmet. But I got over that. Then I realised something else crucial. I can't gel my hair and then put on a helmet. This might seem trivial for you. But for a man whose natural hair is a kind of fluffy bush, a man who hasn't liked leaving the house with gel since the early 1980s, this was a problem. The obvious solution would be to cram the giant helmet over the huge bale of straw in the morning, cycle to work, and gel up at work. But I have to admit I've been tending to gel the hair at home and not wear the helmet on the way in to work. To make up for not wearing the helmet, I cycle very carefully. But, of course, there is always a voice in my head saying that accidents are not something you can avoid by just being careful. Accidents are generally unpredictable. That's why they are called accidents.

Until the winter came that was my only real style compromise. I also got a Puffa and then a mac as we came into autumn. But while they were cycle-friendly they were also garments you could wear elsewhere and they didn't have any crazy colours or branding on them.

And then it got dark. And I came to a shocking realisation.

The guys with all the cycling gear look down on amateurs like me on our high nellies in our regular clothing. What they don't realise is that we look down on them too with their sweaty Lycra and their uncomfortable looking yellow jackets and rain pants. It's one thing wearing that in your own time. But into work? Eeuugh. I arrive to work and I'm clean and work-ready from head to toe. These people arrive looking like paramedics or guys who are resurfacing the road.

But, of course, I'm having the smug look wiped off my face now. And slowly it started dawning on me that everything I wear tends to be navy - ie the same colour as darkness. It's like I'm wearing camouflage! It's like a 'come and knock me down' plea. But as much as I have compromised my vanity in recent years, a yellow jacket with shiny strips is a step too far for me. Once you buy a yellow fluorescent jacket, you have basically given up on life.

I've compromised by starting to use an RSA backpack, essentially a yellow bag with reflective strips and strings that go over the shoulder. It's better than a yellow jacket and it's better than wearing one of those high-vis vests. But I'll tell you straight I'm not happy about it. I have a lovely old man bag on which the leather is just getting nice and buttery and worn. And I feel it says something about me when I arrive to work or to a meeting with it. It says I am a man of substance, and a certain class. If you didn't know me, you might even speculate that I was of old-money stock. The yellow yoke just says I am a sweaty, practical, sexless man with no mystery or allure. But I suppose it's keeping me alive.

I've even gone a step further and borrowed some of those flashing clip-on lights the kids use on their scooters. All in all I feel like a Christmas tree gone wrong going around the place. It's a far cry from the urbane hipster look I thought cycling might confer on me.

If this was the only compromise I might live with it, but as the cold weather has come in I'm not only using a towel dress after I get out of the seas, but I have invested in a full-length duvet style Puffa jacket from Zara. Dad-chic is invading from every angle.

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