I was swooping down one of Cambridgeshire’s most notorious hairpin descents last week when I came upon a large pile of steaming manure. While it’s only a matter of time before the Daily Mail starts blaming cyclists for this sort of thing, for the moment I think everyone is happy to accept that horses are the culprit.
The mound was perfectly located on the apex of the bend by a horse that clearly disliked bike riders and knew exactly what it was doing. Only my skilful handling meant I avoided clipping the edge of it, and instead ploughed through the middle.
Half-a-mile further on, I came across two smug-looking horses ambling side-by-side up the road. The rider of the outside one was wearing a day-glo tabard with ‘Pass Wide and Slow’ written on it. Someone in a Ford Fiesta zipped past at high speed a mere nine inches from my elbow, braked sharply, and swerved to the opposite side of the road to pass the horses slowly and respectfully. From which I conclude that horses are winning.
The traditional reason offered for the respect with which horses are treated is the implicit threat of violence. If we humble bike-riders attempted to garner a bit more sympathy by riding very slowly two-abreast with a ‘Pass Wide and Slow’ notice, we’d get shot. But when a horse says ‘Pass Wide and Slow’, everyone hears it in a sort of Mafia don’s rumble, laden with malice and the intimidating clop of an iron-clad hoof.
There’s more to it than that. Horses have an outstanding public relations division. Despite the air of threat, there is a perception that horses are ‘cuddly’, that they’re historically a distinguished part of the landscape and culture. We can learn from them. And if we can’t learn, we can drag them down to our level. Frankly, people need to know the truth about horses. It’s time for some historical revisionism.
Surprisingly few people realise that horses are not indigenous to Britain. They haven’t even been here very long. They only arrived from Eastern Europe in large numbers during the depression of the Thirties because they’d heard about the very generous donkey sanctuaries common at the time. They disguised themselves with big floppy ears and straw hats, and dishonestly claimed the benefits that rightly belonged to hard-up British donkeys.
After the war, they went on to take the donkeys’ jobs, and then airbrushed them out of history altogether. (Hence the fetlock-length chainmail tablecloth arrangement that knights’ horses are always wearing in paintings – ask any art historian and they’ll tell you they’re a suspicious recent addition.)
These days, horses try to smuggle themselves into your home disguised as lasagna. Once there are enough horse parts in your freezer, they reassemble themselves and burst out in the middle of the night and eat all your sugar lumps.
There is, however, a small risk that no one will believe this version of history. Other measures may be necessary. We need to take to newspaper comment sections to accuse horses of having smug and holier-than-thou attitudes.
We need to point out, often and loudly, that horses don’t pay road tax. In fact, and I can’t emphasise the importance of this enough, they don’t pay any tax at all.
I’d also suggest we get a large cardboard cut-out of a horse’s arse. We can then try to generate lots of traffic camera footage of a horse running red lights, pushing to the front of queuing traffic and galloping along the pavement.
If you’re not sure where to lay your hands on a suitable photo with which to make a cardboard cutout of a horse’s arse, I would respectfully suggest the BBC Top Gear website.
How to… Bonk
Bonk is both a noun (“I got the bonk”) and a verb (“I bonked, you bonked, he/she/it bonked”). Anyone who plans to last in cycling is going to have to get used to both the nomenclature, which you may not snigger at, and the phenomenon, which is fricking hilarious as long as it happens to someone else.
As you probably know, bonking is when your body runs out of its vital carbohydrate reserves, and switches to a standby power-conservation mode. This state of being is very hard to combine with any activity more glorious than crawling tearfully into a village shop, hugging the proprietor warmly by the ankles, sobbing into their socks, and begging for sweets.
An outstanding method to get the bonk is to go out for a short ride without any food or energy drink, run into a faster, fitter friend, and allow yourself to be talked into a five-hour jaunt clinging helplessly to his back wheel. I frequently cruise by my friends’ houses in the hope of thus entrapping them.
Bonking often happens so fast that it’s like being hit by a falling anvil. If you’re lucky, your brain goes numb first and anaesthetises you from what comes next. If not, you’ll be fully conscious of the horror as your vision clouds over, your chainset turns from round to square, and you hear what sounds a lot like uncontrolled mirth from your riding companions – but can’t possibly be because no one would be that cruel.
If you’re alone, and have to ride into a headwind to get home, you may as well lie down and die. Console yourself with knowing that no one was allowed to snigger at the local paper headline: ‘”He just bonked himself to death” says widow.’
Acts of cycling stupidity
A few weeks ago, Mrs Doc casually mentioned that she hated beards. “A-ha!” I thought, and stopped shaving. The cunning plan was that, having grown a luxuriant Captain Birdseye number, I could then use the offer to remove it as a bargaining chip. As in, “If I shave off my beard, can I spend the weekend riding my bike instead of painting the dining room?”
The problem was Mrs Doc announced she quite liked it. “Bah!” I thought, and shaved the horrible, scratchy thing off. When I emerged from the bathroom, Mrs Doc said: “Actually, I hated it. It was just that I figured out what you were up to.”
This article was first published in the March 7 issue of Cycling Weekly. You can also read our magazines on Zinio, download from the Apple store and also through Kindle Fire.