29 November 2007

Memo to middle-aged cyclists: Please, no sausage and eggs with my latte!

(As published in Crikey! Thursday 29 November 2007)

"Cycling is the new golf."

It’s an observation that’s been around long enough now to be deemed a cliché. I’ve even contributed to its perpetuation myself, trotting it out on more than one occasion when it seemed relevant.

Like other clichés, it contains some useful truths. Indeed, as has been the case with golf for decades, some business people (almost exclusively male) are using cycling for networking, perhaps not while they’re puffing uphill, but certainly at suburban or bayside coffee shops mid- or post-ride.

Furthermore, by taking up cycling, men get a whole pannier-load of further opportunities to compete on the basis of the size, power and expensiveness of their equipment. As a local golf blogger has noted, cycling – like golf – allows the cashed-up participant to indulge himself with ridiculously overpriced technology, specified far in excess of what’s required, that won’t actually improve performance but looks good and makes others go "oooooooh".

But lately I’ve realised that there is a great deal about cycling that isn't like golf at all. The main difference – and the most obvious when you think about it – is that golf takes place in private among consenting adult foursomes, while cycling is a very – alarmingly – public pastime.

We may find the golfer’s taste in plaid pants and Argyle sweaters somewhat dubious, but we generally don’t have to look at them. They’re out there somewhere, several fairways away from civilisation or cloistered in the clubhouse.

By contrast, in many parts of Melbourne and, I’m guessing, other cities, you can’t get to the counter to order your weekend caffe latte without pushing past a large group of sweaty middle-aged guys in tight, gaudy clobber. For the non-cyclist, cycling is a pursuit that’s a lot more "in your face" – literally – than golf.

Golf may be elitist but at least plus-fours are loose in the crotch. When I put down my coffee and look up from the job ads in the early news pages of Saturday’s paper, I frequently find myself eyeballing a different kind of executive package. Bike shorts clearly aren’t for everyone: as noted famously in the movie Hackers, "Spandex (Lycra) is a privilege, not a right".

Then there are the jerseys. Apparently it’s a requirement that every piece of cycling apparel sold in Australia must carry at least half a dozen logos for brands we’ve never heard of. There are obscure European banks (sorry, "banques") and mobile phone companies, with names like "Clafoutis" and "Telesavalas", together with cars from former Soviet republics. This really amounts to visual pollution and an uncalled-for intrusion in our suburbs and bakery cafés.

I believe it’s time for the non-cycling community to rise up and demand that middle-aged cyclists take their hobby off the roads and onto the velodrome. Perhaps we could ask activist Naomi Klein to take up the cause: for the executive cyclist, the message should be "No Logo", "No Lycra" and "No Latte".

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