Rosie and Jim: The seven rules of cycling that no cyclist will ever tell you

Rosie Paterson and James Fisher share the truth about cycling, and wonder how it is that March was simultaneously 28 years and yet only two months ago.

Our writers Rosie Paterson and James Fisher — who have both, one way or another, ended up alone for the duration — are sharing slices of their lives.

So far they’ve ranked musical instruments (and not in a good way), mused over mysteries, shared tales of curious robins, video chat and little old ladies winching shopping through windows. You can catch up on all their columns here.

I appear to have missed the Government briefing mandating daily raves. Fortunately, a rave on Clapham Common isn’t high up on my list. In fact, I’d say it’s at the bottom. My idea of mixing it up in lockdown is going out on a bike ride instead of a walk.

Wild, I know, but I don’t think I’m the only one because bicycle sales are up 40%. Lycra-clad cyclists will be quick to list all the reasons why two wheels is the way to go, and a little less willing to share the not so good side(s).

So, in the interest of being fair, I present to you the seven rules of cycling that no seasoned cyclist will ever tell you:

  1. Thieves are drawn to bikes, like moths to flames. Make sure you invest in a sturdy lock that wouldn’t look out of place on the front of a bank vault. This train of thought also applies to accessories. I once left my bike outside for a mere twenty minutes, in broad daylight, and my (brand new) lights were stolen.

  2. Gym kit is really the only thing to wear. You don’t have to go Full Lycra® (please, please don’t go Full Lycra®) but normal clothes don’t work.  I’ve worn through two pairs of jeans and got skirts, coats and everything else in between stuck in the chain. I once arrived at an event at the Lanesborough Hotel to find my flatmate (who had also been invited, a decision they quickly regretted) simultaneously chaining his bike to the railings and stripping out of his lycra and into something smarter. Yes, right there, out on the front steps.

  3. You’ll end up filthy. Even if you don’t get your clothes caught in the chain, you will still manage to coat them in oil. As well as your hands, hair and face. You will sit through multiple meetings totally oblivious to your own grease-streaked face.

  4. You’ll kiss goodbye to good hair days. A point that only applies to those with long hair: it won’t fit under a helmet if you tie it up. A nightmare if you’ve been too lazy to wash it for a while.

  5. Cycling is a fair weather sport. In the winter, the two coats, jumper, thermals and gloves you set off in will be quickly discarded at the second set of traffic lights. Either that or it will rain.

  6. You’ll get punctures. Constantly. You can ride recreationally for years and never get a flat tyre, but all that changes the moment you use a bike as transport. Before you get on the thing for the first time, learn how to fix a puncture. Carry a repair kit at all times. Pushing your bike from Covent Garden back to Battersea at 11pm is even less fun than an illegal rave on Clapham Common.

  7. Car drivers are genetically programmed to detest all cyclists. Even the ones wearing yellow jerseys.  To avoid triggering World War III, follow the three guidelines: no jumping lights; no racing one another (despite the excessive amount of lycra you’ve decided to purchase, you’re commuting, not taking part in the Tour de France); and, most important of all, avoid eye contact with motorists at times. Especially if a loose strand of your clothing has inadvertently come into contact with their wing mirror.

So much has happened, in such little time, that you can be forgiven for forgetting what, exactly, is ‘normal’.

What was normal in January? It’s hard to remember, but I think it was being cold, being hungover after a lengthy Christmas break and staring in abject horror at images of a scorched Australian outbreak. We huddled tight, in pubs, close to one another (as if to prove a point, it feels unhygienic to even type such a phrase), lamenting the state of the climate, Brexit and house prices.

That was to be the highlight of 2020, remarkably, and having lived through the September 11 attacks, various wars, a pandemic and two eye-watering recessions before my 30th birthday, I will gladly break social distancing rules to slap anyone who dares to suggest that my generation ‘doesn’t know how good I’ve got it’.

Then came Coronavirus. Slowly at first, of course, far away, like SARS, a thing that was someone else’s problem that we should keep an eye on.

Except we didn’t, not really, and in the space of two weeks we went from hating the rest of the world (as is the English tradition) to hating our own neighbours after they dared go for a 2nd walk. We hooted and hollered as police vans chased people around parks like some dystopian Benny Hill sketch. That was normal for March, which was a month, you may remember, that happened 28 years ago and also somehow this year.

But even that feels not normal now. Parks and beaches are full up, with people and their dogs in excruciating numbers, and that’s normal. The take-away pubs are gouging their customers for pints that cost £5, even though the punters can get the same beer for 1/5th of the price at the corner shop next door and buy a mask that they then wouldn’t wear with the change.

We spent months talking to people that we haven’t seen in years and, now we can see them again, we won’t, because that’s not what British people do. We can take comfort that the newspapers scream ‘Slobs!’ over pictures of litter not taken home, seemingly forgetting that we have always left our rubbish everywhere, every year the second the sun comes up, as a slight sign that ‘Normal’ is returning.

So when people tell you about normal, or reminisce about normal, or say ‘we can’t change this because it’s the way it’s always been’, remember how many times normal changed in the past six months. I miss normal, but I can’t wait to see what’s normal next.