Grand Depart

‘I saw a cyclist today who was completely invisible!’ is a comment I have heard more than once, ok, twice, but I need an opening line so I’m using it. I don’t know if somebody who sees things which are invisible is best placed in the care of an optician, a psychiatrist or Professor Xavier but it does cause you reflect that being invisible isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in the seventies was considered quite cool and being so recalls a simpler gentler time when bikes had baskets on the front, it was OK to walk up hills and Britain still had post war rationing of only one famous cyclist at any one time and that could include a boy in a bread commercial. I liked being invisible riding my bike. I liked not being noticed by birds, deer, horses. I liked drivers passing me just as they would a sheep who’d wandered onto the road, a fallen tree branch or a party of lost outward bound types, all red socks and rucksacks, as just another barely noticed part of the road scenery of the Dales in fact. On a January Sunday morning I could pretty much ride naked up to Tan Hill and the only flicker of recognition from other road users would come from the Hi-viz wearing Judean People’s Front of cycling because I wasn’t wearing a helmet. In the dark afternoons and nights, even better, hidden by the glare of enough LEDs to restage the final scene of Close Encounters I would become as invisible as the invisible man writing a cycling blog in the Bermuda Triangle; completely and utterly unremarked by anyone.

Then came the cycling boom, and people started noticing that on a winter weekend there were more people on the roads in tights and Ray Charles wraparounds then there were normal people with 4x4s and heart bypasses. Then came the Tour de France. I mean, you’d think we were a safe enough distance from France for this sort of thing not to reach us. I watched the Tour in Portsmouth in 1994 but that was in black and white and on the south coast and you can practically smell the gaulois from Southsea Common but nobody thought we’d ever hear allez allez! or Allo! Allo! or whatever it is they shout at bikes in Europe shouted up here in the Northern Dales. Don’t get me wrong, there are some positive aspects to the world’s greatest bike race coming to the place where I live for a whole weekend next summer ; the lanes get fixed up, the local economy gets a boost, the closure of the roads for the benefit of a bunch of people who are not only european but europeans riding bikes will almost certainly make our dear dear MEP Godfrey’s head explode, and I might even get to watch some bike racing, but it’s not all génial and Oh là là you know.

The announcement of the coming of the Tour has made people realise that cyclists have been around for ages, like when Tom Cruise finds the aliens have been living in his street in Philidelphia all along but nobody really noticed or minded because they weren’t any bother until they started blasting stuff with laser beams and eating people. Cycling has become visible. Around here bike riders are getting blamed for everything from roadworks to hotel prices. Last week the local rag published a letter moaning about cylists not paying car tax or paying to use car parks. Alright, the guy who wrote that is an idiot and half the letters page this week is devoted to people pointing out that he is an idiot, but it is part of a drip drip of realisation that cyclists are out there, we don’t really know what they want, and some of them might be french. Nostalgia, as they say, is not what it used to be and maybe things are better now, and the Tour de France on my doorstep is not so bad really (so if you’reading this Mr Prudhomme please don’t cancel on account of this post), but sometimes I think it was much easier being invisible. Now, where can I get hold of Sam Casey’s digital watch…

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