Saturday, 15 January 2011

Of Bicycles and Personalities

The other day I was waiting at a set of traffic lights, (yes..... I realise that this is an increasingly unusual activity for cyclists in English towns and cities, but I really was) when I began to pay particular attention to the reaction of passers by, motorists and fellow cyclists to both my bicycle and I.

I was wearing what I believed to be a natty corduroy jacket, moleskin trousers with matching moleskin cap, a scarf together with brown brogues and a pair of finest Italian leather brown lambskin gloves. Simple enough attire you might think but the reaction I got standing there with my vintage style cycling machine was entirely different to the reaction I would have achieved without its presence.

Let me elaborate. Man in corduroy jacket, moleskins and cap on foot would merge in with the average crowd quite without reaction from his fellow pedestrians. I mean to say, look at some of the outfits you quite often see people wearing in an English town on a Saturday afternoon - the urgency of their scream for recognition of their individuality - is often much more overpowering than can be achieved by corduroy and moleskin, yet put that same classically clad chappie on a vintage style bicycle and hey presto you have more attention than is often comfortable. Why is this?

Do people think they can tell more about you from what you ride than from what you wear? Do they imagine that the choice of bicycle tells them something about the rider? Do they think that with your choice of bicycle they have a unique insight into your soul? Does a well clad cyclist on a venerable machine give the hint to proof positive of a decent character?

Women seem to universally approve. The sight of a man so clad and mounted seems to break down the usual "bitch shield" adopted by many pretty women in an effort to stave off the most obvious attentions of passing male admirers. A number of attractive women have struck up brief conversations with me at traffic lights and road crossings, touching their hair and adjusting clothing. Matrons smile and sigh. Women ferrying children in rather horrible box like "people carriers" or "mini-vans" smile, nod and let me have right of way, often pointing me out to their juvenile charges too busy with their gaming consoles to pay much attention to anything less than imminent nuclear devestation.  Veteran females look up and smile perhaps remembering past fondlings and fornications al fresco with uniformed beaux amidst bicycles as horizontal and abandoned as they were once themselves.

Men take a more cautious and less open and obvious line. Many in mid-life cast a furtive yet slightly admiring glance, taking in the detail of garments and mechanicals to make an objective assessment of the suitability of the approach to cycling for themselves. The elderly ignore, thinking "What other attire would someone wear on a bicycle?" and reserve their distain for the lycra clad traffic light ignoring cohorts soon to pass them. The youthful and boreish look vaguely daggers or feign distain, one or too have scorned, but suprisingly few do it that openly. Homosexuals ravish. "White van man" is strangely cowed.

So does the bicycle you ride tell others something about you? I decided to play the game myself and spying a rather classically beautiful bicycle propped up in the antechamber to a tea room I tend to frequent on the way back from a certain lunch spot (yes dear reader, tea after a two hour lunch is rather piggy...but I still think form should be maintained) I began to muse upon its owner.

Classic bicycle, two whicker baskets, small ladies frame, some replacement non-standard parts, half chain guard. What did this tell me? Well the owner was female of course, of adventurous and open personality, partaking of tea alone. She would be of slight build, with short bobbed hair wearing a chic coat and had good dress sense. I further felt she wore leather gloves of a coat matching hue and had a pair of rather fine legs which she was not adverse to displaying.

What struck me was the accuracy of my predictions.  There on a corner table, wonderfully long crossed stockinged legs beneath an above knee length skirt sat a woman with a classically cut military style coat slung over an adjoining chair and with matching green leather gloves on the table in front of her. Her hair was shortish and her look in my direction open and unphased. I looked about the room and saw one or two free tables but decided to try my luck.

"I like your bicycle" I said "Do you mind if I join you for tea? .....I have this theory that a tea tastes better shared and I feel a bit self concious sometimes on my own."

"By all means" she said "But how did you know I had a bicycle?"

"Ah......I am begining to develop a theory on that too........."

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