In continental Europe, cycling is a form of exercise so chill as to be labelled, “incidental.”
It doesn’t matter if they stop for an espresso and cigarette on their way to the supermarket; that they are not driving a 4×4 Porsche and slurping a syrupy latte has impressed scientists worldwide.
So when bike shops started cropping up everywhere from Sydney’s Northern Beaches to Perth’s CBD, one could be forgiven for thinking it was a good thing.
How wrong we were.
As it turns out: there was no cultural renaissance. We did not start cycling to picnics, baguettes in baskets and olives in eskies.
The streets saw no uptick in Parisien dresses and Milanese jackets.
Instead, every Saturday and Sunday morning from 5am to 9am our roads are plagued by middle aged men in lycra.
If that weren’t bad enough, from 9 til 12 they take over our cafes—sweaty, fluorescent groups, talking about “headwind,” “carbon fibre” and “time trials.”
At this point, you are probably starting to think we are getting a bit dramatic. After all: it’s just a bunch of dudes riding bikes and eating poached eggs.
But even The Economist’s 1843 magazine, a publication known for covering the world’s most pressing socio-cultural issues, has warned that droves of middle aged men are putting on superhero costumes (lycra) and having affairs with their bicycles.
Although we are in no position to say this could be the downfall of Western civilisation as we know it (we’ll leave that to The Guardian), we feel confident in saying this is the worst fashion crisis since grown men riding electric scooters to work.
And, culturally speaking (read: in terms of “coolness” per capita), it goes against the raison d’être of cycling. What happened to dawdling down the corner shop, getting some fresh air or going out for a coffee?
We’re not even going to point out how annoying it is to overtake an amateur peloton, or have an overzealous triathlete ride in your slipstream (which also happens to be a blind spot), because—we are well aware—there are just as many idiot motorists as there are cyclists (human nature, bad apples, ignorance, etc).
What we have a problem with is looking like a dickhead. You see, for cycling to become cool in Australia, we need to import all of its elements. And currently, looking at the bikes that dominate our nation’s streets, you get the sense that there are two core components of analog locomotion: Deliveroo and Tour de France.
So how do we change this? Well, tempting as is is to call for an international embargo on epilepsy-coloured activewear and padded undies, what we really need to do is embrace the more aesthetically pleasing parts of bike culture.
What we really need is better infrastructure for the casual cyclist (i.e. family friendly bike paths), and resurgence of big wheeled, comfy seaters with wide handle bars, and casual riders who aren’t dressed like aspiring Olympians.
If you’re feeling brave, you could even appropriate the Dutch tradition of carrying round your shopping in a wicker basket, by installing a board rack for your surfboard (and quit paying for parking at the beach).
We understand that road biking provides middle aged men with a lost sense of community and the excuse to do something tangible with their hands, “At a time when changing a filter in one’s car requires a computer code,” (1843).
“When a car became just another payment to make, the bike brought renewed freedom.”
But the problem is, as insiders like Tom Vanderbilt readily admit, “Anywhere serious cyclists congregate – Tucson’s Le Buzz Café, the Runcible Spoon in Nyack, NY, the Eroica ride in Italy – … can look like a Viagra advertisement.”
So the solution is not to slap an injunction on clip-in pedals, but to encourage a wider range of two-wheeled enthusiasts to grace the streets.
And if your middle aged dad takes offence at your “superficial” judgements on his style, show him the studies that demonstrate consistent incidental exercise is better for you than a sedentary lifestyle punctuated by intense bouts of exercise.
Yes: we are aware that it seems intellectually lazy—arrogant, even—to claim intense exercise is a joke. But it’s not just turtle neck wearing French university students who take that view.
Scientists have found that intense exercise (like a road cyclist’s lactic threshold test) may actually make it more likely for plaque to build up in the arteries—especially for men.
This goes to show our Macho culture of killing ourselves on a bike for two hours in the morning, and spending the rest of the day scarcely able to walk is questionable at best, ridiculous at worst.