Cyclists, drivers must oil wheels of mateship

When I was young and cool, “on yer bike, mate” used to be a polite way of saying “sod off”. Now — with 60 on the horizon — when I shout “on yer bike!” I’m about to take a spin on my skinny-wheeled, fighter-jet fast, carbon-fibre machine that cost me more than my last car.

Picture this: it’s well before sunrise and I’m ablaze in neon lycra. My feet are locked to my pedals with silver cleats. I’m tattooed with sponsors’ logos. Helmet is secured. Oakleys in place. I ride in a pack. I feel as close to the bike as a jockey to a thoroughbred — only my steed’s more comfortable.

Believe me when I tell you a surprising joy of riding in a peloton is the beautiful whirring sound — the bike symphony. Life in the pack is exhilarating — flashing around the suburbs, legs at full throttle, speedo nudging 50km/h.

As we notch up the kilometres, drivers turn their heads and gawk. It’s an adrenaline rush to watch the rest of the world standing by as we whiz past in an aerodynamic blur. But we’re always the butt of jokes. A ute driver leans out his window and spits, “Go ride your own postcode”. A truckie shouts, “Lay off the pies, fatso”.

Banter aside, even with the focus on Ride to Work day today, it is clear that we cyclists remain in the crosshairs of motorists. The ones that try to elbow us off the road, upend us or hurl abuse. We share the road but we’re the enemy. Cyclists make drivers angry. Occasionally, their resentment is justified. I know plenty of riders who antagonise drivers by riding five abreast, or taking over a lane or blocking roads.

I’m happy to admit that the peloton is an unusual species. Pack members usually work in offices. Hemmed in by walls. They’re fed up with being pale, stale and male. In the tradition of Aussie mateship, we want to show we can still compete. Who can go fastest … for longest? Who’ll be first to reach the top of a climb? Who is going to crumble under the pressure? And, most importantly, who’ll be paying for coffee?

The pack is bonded by a unique camaraderie. There is heightened achievement in every ride, giving confidence to do more, try harder next time. There is the pleasure associated with speed and excitement. Riding is invigorating.

Long rides mean hours in the saddle. The hypnotic repetition and rhythm of turning the pedals is therapeutic. There is no better de-stressor for the middle-aged male.

The University of WA measured the fitness level of our peloton members using the same endurance test Cadel Evans aced. Evans has won the Tour de France and is a superior endurance athlete. His body has an amazing ability to use oxygen, with a recorded maximum VO2 score of 87 ml/kg.

To our amazement, our peloton was also in the “superior fitness group”. (The humbling qualifying remark was “for our age”.)

I know I work better after a ride, but there is science to my euphoria. Regular exercise primes the brain for best performance — in business, life, study or work. Since I started riding 10 years ago, I remain medication-free, my body weight remains in the healthy range and my blood pressure is that of a 20-year-old. I just function more efficiently. That’s why I ride bikes. Not to relive my youth. Not as a substitute for a sports car. Not as compensation for the small pecker syndrome.

However, cyclists need to be more aware that not everyone wants to be woken by the shouts of a peloton at 5.30am. The post-ride espressos need to be consumed without the footpath being littered with a tangle of bike bling. We need to refrain from giving other patrons an eyeful of our frank and beans before we’ve ordered any.

What we need now is to broker a peace deal between cyclists and motorists. Because let’s face it — we’re both entitled to enjoy the road.

Cyclists need to be more aware that not everyone wants to be woken by the shouts of a peloton at 5.30am.

Originally published in The West Australian – 18th October 2017