Monday, 6 April 2009


So there's this cyclist waiting at the lights ahead of me on the other side of a morning-rush dual carriageway in Cheltenham. Poised in the saddle, stationary, hand against the post, feet on the pedals, waiting for the green light to go.

I looked at him in the distance. I look at all cyclists. At them, their bikes, how they ride them, what they are wearing, at their shape, their speed, their whole attitude. I make guesses about their lives, what they do, how often they use the bike.

Anyway he was there, and there was something about him. His legs were very slim in the black cycling leggings. He sat with a relaxed stillness, yet his hands, legs, feet were arranged in optimal positions for an efficient take-off. I thought "Hmmm."

When the lights changed he moved off with such an ease that it seemed he was gliding on air. He wove silkily through the central lights/barriers. When he reached the path on the other side he instinctively rose out of the saddle, stood on the pedals to get some speed up again and pushed off in the direction of GCHQ.

And I thought 'Yeah. That boy can ride.' And I had a sudden frisson of pleasure appreciating the grace of his movement.

People ride bikes in all sorts of ways. Young kids pedal exceptionally fast; chins forward, elbows out and little knees like pistons. Some adolescents are languid, pedalling softly and slowly while they talk and trackstand. At least one of them might be doing an 'endo' or messing about bunny-hopping.

Women ride bikes in exactly the way they walk. There are those who hunch over the handlebars as though they are hurrying somewhere urgently, others are poised, prettily straight-backed and serious while there is a type of middle-aged woman who toils away with her shopping in a plastic carrier bag swinging on the handlebars.

Seeing a man in a suit on a Pashley-Moulton is always a treat. The economy of scale of the bike coupled with the smart dark clothes, shiny shoes and upright stance would be comic if it wasn't admirable and somehow terribly English. They never ride hard – wouldn't do to get a sweat on, after all. Not in that nice shirt.

A lot of men ride their bikes in a workmanlike way. The burly labourer often has a bike too small for him and a saddle too low so his legs are bent and his knees stick out on either side. He's in his work clothes and steel-toe-capped boots so the bike is merely a short-haul A – B device. It doesn't have to fit.

Some older men plod, making heavy weather of it on a bicycle with a dynamo that they've kept in the shed for 30 years to travel to and fro the factory where they've probably worked for 30 years. They look like they're pedalling through black treacle. Others let their bodies show the effort by dipping their heads and shoulders with every pedal-stroke. But their faces don't betray any sign of distress so the dipping is habitual; the cycling equivalent of overweight labradors puffing amiably on a walk.

Anyway, back to this guy at the lights. He was no labrador; he was a racing whippet among cyclists.

Very long toned legs and a slim-framed elegant racing bike adjusted precisely and correctly.

He was at one with his bicycle; an alchemy of grace, fluidity and power.

I didn't need to be closer, to see his face or how old he was or what, in detail, he was wearing. His form and the way he moved told me all I needed to know. He had style.

I suppose that frisson was not dissimilar to the kick I get from experiencing a great sculpture. You just wonder in amazement at the creation itself and the complete mastery of the artist. You can't stop greedily regarding it because you can't get enough of the loveliness of it.

It's not dissimilar from the unexpected wonder of some poetry; that moment when the rhythm and beauty of the words meld and conspire with your emotions to move your soul in ways the writer could never have anticipated.

So does it follow that cycling has parallels with great art?

It does for me.

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