The days are getting colder, and the nights are drawing in. Cycling is changing too, with cold-rasped lungs, stinging cheeks and clouds of rider
condensation rising from the winter racers when they make one of their occasional cafe stops.
But when I think of winter cycling, I think of none of these things. I think of getting dressed. Somewhere in the next week or two, the ratio of time spent riding to the time spent getting dressed to do it will reach a miserable 1:1.
Most of that consists of grumpily touring radiators to find the same old stuff, dry and stiff, and putting it all on again. The act of a few moments, you’d think. I haven’t yet accounted for the amount of time that vanishes into the apparently simple act of deciding what to put on my head. I have more hats in my closet than the Lord Chancellor. And I loathe them all.
I own a black skullcap, designed to fit under a helmet. Simple, and fairly warm. However, it’s essential to put a helmet on over this as fast as possible, lest I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror. It’s tight-fitting and dark, and when I wear it an optical illusion makes the upper half of my head look incredibly small. My eyes stick out at the top of my face like a crab.
My chin looks like something that would cause Eric Pickles to point and laugh. In other words, I look exactly like the horribly distorted Photoshopped caricatures of me that so frequently accompany these weekly columns.
I have an almost unused balaclava: there is never a day cold enough to justify it. When I wear it, I can’t stop thinking that underneath it my face must be all squashed up, like a bank robber with a stocking mask. Combined with my helmet and glasses it looks utterly ridiculous, like the invisible man on his way to meet the club run.
It’s been years since I’ve worn my helmet cover. These used to be popular, but in recent times they’ve fallen from favour. It’s a large, insulated shower cap that fits over a helmet. Mine is in a violent shade of yellow and very effectively gives the impression of a man wearing upon his head a mighty cheese. That’s not the biggest problem.
To call the effect helmet covers have on the limited airspace round your head ‘humidity’ would be a considerable understatement. What you actually get is a full hydrologic system, with clouds, rain, fog, rivers, and oceans.
I own a tube of fabric with a drawstring at one end. It’s equally useless as a scarf, a headband, or a hat. On the other hand, it’s quite effective at forming a bag to keep your head in, as if you were happily on your way to your own execution. It’s also decorated in a disturbing psychedelic pattern that suggests it was given to me by someone who thought I might want to wear it while I go skateboarding in about 1969.
Finally, from the days before helmets, I have a ‘thermal hat’, which is warm, and comfortable. It’s also surprisingly conical, to the extent that the apex is about six inches above my head. This would be easier to live with if it was not also orange and white.
The hat that would solve all my problems doesn’t yet exist. It’s a fur-lined helmet, with just enough ventilation to prevent the build-up of an ecosystem. I want the fur to stick out a bit round the bottom. I want it all in a nice bright colour. And I want it to have earflaps.
Only when this is invented will I finally be able to stop looking like an idiot for five months of the year, and to get out of the house in less than an hour.
Dear Dr Hutch,
I read your tweet last week criticising Kate Hoey MP for suggesting that cyclists should pay road tax. But I think if we did, then we’d get more respect on the road, since ‘road tax’ is one of the reasons people don’t like cyclists. The same for licensing and registration numbers.
Darren Ferguson, email
Darren, I’m sure you’re right. If we did all that then there is almost no chance that anyone would think up any other reasons to complain about cyclists. After all, the haters of bicycles are a scrupulously fair bunch, who would, to a man, write to the Daily Mail comments section to say: “Fair play to them, now we’ll have to stop running them over.” (And there’s no such thing as road tax anyway.)
Cycling Greats Federico Bahamontes (b.1928)
Federico Bahamontes was the winner of the Tour de France in 1959, six times winner of the mountains classification, and the rider voted the Tour’s best ever climber as part of the race’s 100th ride celebrations.
He was also sufficiently temperamental that in 1956 he stopped on a descent and hurled his bike into a ravine. His team officials split up into two parties – one to climb down the ravine to find the bike, the other to persuade Bahamontes to get back onto it.
To identify him in period photos, one looks for the rider with the legs of his shorts pulled up so far that they form a concertina of wool round his hips. This habit was probably related to his being the worst fidget ever to win the Tour – his style was a riot of shifting positions, sticky-out knees and hands that constantly moved about on the bars like a piano player doing arpeggios.
He was possibly the worst descender to win the Tour. First to the summit of the Galibier in 1953, he was so frightened that he’d crash on the way down, fly off the lonely road unnoticed and never be seen again, that he stopped to wait for the bunch so that at least there would be someone to tell the search party where to look. While he was waiting, he ate the most famous ice-cream in the history of cycling.
His 1959 win was largely the result of a French team that was divided between two leaders, and which decided the politics would be altogether simpler if they let someone completely different win. It’s now generally considered impolite to mention this.
This article was first published in the November 21 issue of Cycling Weekly. Read Cycling Weekly magazine on the day of release where ever you are in the world International digital edition, UK digital edition. And if you like us, rate us!