There was time, not that many years ago, when cycling in the UK was seen as a pursuit for oddballs and loners; the kit was woollen, the bikes were heavy, and the facial hair was largely encouraged to grow wild.
Cycling as a hobby required skills like map reading and an ability to carry out major mechanical repairs many miles from home, and was the preserve of (often) men who valued qualities likes stoicism and self-sufficiency. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but times have changed.
The roads here in the UK are now awash with cyclists of all types. The facial hair is still largely growing wild but in a more refined, groomed kind of way. GPS has replaced map reading, drama has replaced stoicism, and the rise of the mobile phone has reduced the survival situation of a mechanical failure out in the wild to something closer to a mild inconvenience.
Cycling has pretty much gone mainstream.
This kind of trajectory from margins to mainstream is true of many other previously niche areas of life. With the rise of the internet and it’s ability to connect everyone with everything we now live in a world where, whatever we choose to do in our spare time, we can link up and communicate with other like-minded people. Even those with the most marginal interests have their own little corners of the internet in which to gather and share their passion.
Just be careful what you Google. That’s all I’m saying. Cycling suddenly doesn’t seem quite so odd, does it?
Take on-line dating (that’s quite a leap, I know, but bear with me).
Not too long ago the idea of looking for love on-line was seen as a sad state of affairs but now, I would suggest, it’s just about stigma free. It might still raise an eyebrow here or there, but nothing more. Just like cycling it’s gone from being the preserve of oddballs and loners to a fairly mainstream way to behave.
And then, as if to complete the circle, whilst browsing one of my regular on-line haunts at www.cyclingweekly.co.uk I spotted a drop down menu I’d not clicked on before. I opened it, and was offered three options:
Whoah…hang on!? Dating? This is Cycling Weekly for goodness sake!
But lo and behold I click on it and find myself browsing the website of velodating.com. There are no beards, or maps, or thermos flasks, and lots of pictures of cyclists gazing lovingly at one another.
I have been known to go weak at the knees at the sight of a nice bike from time to time, but I’m a happily married man – it seems there’s a whole world out there that I’m blissfully unaware of. My wife and I are traditionalists, you see, in that we met face to face and took a massive gamble by not having anyone compare our characteristics using a huge database and a sophisticated logarithm.
Having said that, I suppose a love of cycling is as good a reason as any other to define your compatibility with another human being. I haven’t delved too deeply into the workings of this website – I can see how the wife might get the wrong idea – but I would hope that, being cycling specific, it goes well beyond the criteria used on standard dating websites.
For example, a question about preferred groupset supplier would be a minimum requirement. Can you imagine the difficulties that might arise from trying to match a Shimano user with a dyed in the wool Campagnolo fan? That’s the kind of issue that can divide communities, never mind two people nervously looking for love on a dating website.
And what about a person’s feelings on the subject of how much is an acceptable amount to spend on a new cycling jersey? Or indeed how many cycling jerseys one person needs to own? I just hope the people at velodating.com have though this through – playing matchmaker is a delicate business at the best of times, but once you feed cycling into the equation you are playing with fire.
Come to think of it, you could even make a case that the perfect partner for a cyclist is a non-cyclist. Is there really room in a relationship for the amount of obsessive behaviour, endorphin dependence, and simple financial burden generated by TWO cyclists?
I’m not so sure.