Pedalling myths

Do we have to call them Boris Bikes? As I don’t want to be part of  the Mayor’s prime ministerial election campaign, I really wish there was a better name. Anyway, I finally had my first outings on London’s rent-a-ride scheme last week, more than a year after I signed up. Great fun, and even more relaxing than I’d expected. And I like the fact that the bikes are heavy and clunky — a reminder that cycling isn’t just for would-be Olympians. There’s much the same message in the new book by cycling guru, designer and ex-racer Grant Petersen. Dave Eggers approves:

Petersen opens with this salvo: “My main goal with this book is to point out what I see as bike racing’s bad influence on bicycles, equipment and attitudes, and then undo it.” And he goes on to prove, conclusively, that most of what ails the world of cycling comes from nonprofessional riders pretending, or being bullied into pretending, that they’re professionals. The solution, he says, is to emulate kids and other “Unracers” — people who bike for fun and not profit.

The accepted orthodoxies are upended, one after another. Petersen is skeptical of special biking shoes. He is pro-kickstand, pro-mud-flap. He thinks a wide, comfortable saddle is O.K. He doesn’t see why anyone needs more than eight gears. He thinks fragile carbon-fiber bikes and ­super-narrow tires are impractical for just about everyone… He has nuanced thoughts on helmets (he wears his at night but not during the day) and reminds us that biking is “lousy all-around exercise” and shouldn’t be considered a stand-alone regimen. But most satisfying is his takedown of the tight-shirt, ­spandex-shorts phenomenon. “In its need for special clothing,” he writes, “bicycle riding is less like scuba diving and more like a pickup basketball game.” A regular cotton T-shirt and a pair of shorts will ventilate better, he says, and if you’re not trying to shave seconds off a world record, the microscopic aerodynamic advantages of tight synthetic clothing just don’t apply to you.

More praise from Bicycle Times:

Some dismiss him as a retro-grouch and a Luddite, but my observation has been that Petersen is more of a romantic, harkening back to the days when fendered British three-speeds with waxed-cotton saddle bags ruled the land. He’s an encourager, and he astutely debunks many misconceptions fostered by an industry quick to hitch its marketing wagon to racing, only to repeatedly see its heroes crash and burn amid this month’s doping scandals.

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