Improper

When I first started blogging about cycling (way back in another lifetime) I wondered about starting a blog called the Improper Cyclist as I discovered the Internet was full of people who were eager to tell me that – although I had been riding a bike regularly since I was a child – I was Doing It Wrong and therefore Not A Proper Cyclist. Not only was my saddle undoubtedly at the wrong height, I was riding the wrong bike, on the wrong tyres which were at the wrong pressure, in the wrong clothes, for the wrong reason, at the wrong speed, and in the wrong place. And worse of all I couldn’t even maintain my bike for – as the Internet knows – a Proper Cyclist can’t just mend a puncture (preferably one handed and possibly without even dismounting from the bike first) but can do things I can’t even visualise to parts of the bike I couldn’t even identify without a labelled diagram. In fact, by even admitting to such failures I wasn’t just not a Proper Cyclist, I wasn’t even a Proper Feminist as surely I should be able to march into a workshop full of patronising men and dispatch some complicated task involving cottering pins without even breaking sweat while explaining to them why their bottom brackets were creaking.*

Now normally I’m immune to people telling me I’m doing stuff wrong as I have been hearing that all my life so I ignored most of that (although in fairness my saddle probably is too low) but I did start to think that when it came to maintaining my bike the Internet probably had a point. After all, if I depended on it as a means of transport, I should probably be able to sort it out when it went wrong. And so I had a go at replacing my bottle dynamo All By Myself and was quite pleased to discover that I had apparently done it more or less right (it wasn’t as crooked as the Internet thought it was) to the point where it even worked. Or at least, worked up until yesterday, when it fell off as I was going down a satisfyingly long and steep hill …

This brought me to my senses. Feminist or not, I see no reason why I should feel obliged to do something I’m patently very bad at just to prove a point to a bunch of men. And empowering as it might be to some women (and indeed men) to learn how to fix their bike, it’s not very empowering if you merely learn that you can’t be trusted to tighten a bolt and are best kept well away from anything involving an allen key. And given that we not only have a lovely local bike shop that I would like to keep in business, but I also have a lovely husband who is not just entirely capable of fixing most things, but takes on these small maintenance jobs with the contented whistle of a man who is about to spend some quality time in a shed, I’d be daft to persist in trying to mend the thing myself. And if I need empowering I shall remember that I can do other, equally complicated but less mechanically inclined, things like program computers and knit socks and grow parsnips and write books. Well, book.

And while I’m on the subject I would like to say this for the record: the way to become a Proper Cyclist is to get hold of a bike (or indeed a trike) and ride it. Because in my opinion, if you ride a bike then you’re a cyclist and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Or, you know, do let them, if that’s what you prefer.

* I had to google all that, btw

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10 Responses to Improper

  1. Cycling does tend to appeal to those of us who like a few archaic rules and a bit of mind-bendingly nuanced etiquette…thankfully those who actually take all that seriously are pretty few and far between

  2. Andy in Germany says:

    Could we take the position that a ‘real cyclist’ doesn’t need to lecture people about how they aren’t ‘real cyclists’ for not being ‘like me’?

  3. stymaster says:

    Mechanical fettling isn’t for all, simple as. Some of us have an aptitude, others do other stuff better.

  4. CJ says:

    I always used to cycle to work when I lived in Bristol, but I always felt like a fake because I didn’t have any lycra. And I managed to get from Bristol to Casablanca with no technical bike-repairing knowledge at all. I too have a really nice local bike shop just around the corner, close enough to drag a broken bicycle. I bought my littlest boy a second-hand bike there for £15, and he LOVES it.

  5. Matthew.W says:

    I used to provide unrequested ‘helpful’ information to fellow cyclists. My excuse is we were such a small bunch (even in London at the time) that I assumed we all wanted the same thing, to travel relatively far, relatively quickly, comfortably & efficiently and I was helping them avoid the mistakes I’d made.

    I’ve learnt my lesson and I’m much more likely to go “Yay! You’re a member of the super cool cycling club, keep it up” than “put your saddle up” (although I still do wish they’d oil their chains).

  6. fonant says:

    Why would you want to be a “cyclist” anyway? They have a terribly bad name because they all jump red lights, terrorise motorists, etc.

    I prefer to be a person on a bike, these days. Or perhaps a Fietser. I’ve stopped worrying about the 90% of people who ride on far-too-flat tyres, in top gear all the time. Any way of riding a bike is OK, however inefficient it might be.

    [I think you were talking about "cotter pins" not "cottering pins". Sorry, I'm a mechanical engineer as well as a one-time tourer on a Raleigh town bike with cottered cranks!]

  7. welshcyclist says:

    No danger of patronisation from this quarter, I can change a tyre, mend a puncture, and a few other adjustments, but I do so want to learn how to maintain my bike. Not to be a “proper cyclist”, perish the thought! I’ve been commuting now for 6-7 years, and foolishly thought there would exist a camaraderie of some sort amongst those pedalling on the road. I soon learnt that the lycra brigade are for the most part a selfish bunch, more interested in speed, how they look, how their bike looks(?), jump lights, weave amongst traffic, and couldn’t care less about any one else. The good news is I’ve bought a “proper” bicycle toolset, now the learning begins, wish me luck! Cheers.

  8. disgruntled says:

    I should add that the cycle chic brigade can be just as bad in this respect as the lycra clad ones. I’ll continue to cheerily greet any cyclist I see and consider them part of my gang, even if they don’t consider me part of theirs.

  9. […] retired hurt from any attempt to do any bike maintenance, I found myself in a bit of a quandary this afternoon […]

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