My local bike cafe is situated at that difficult distance from me; on a long ride if I pass it on the way out I’m just warming up and it’s too early to stop and if I’m heading home then by the time I’ve reached that point I just want to get my head down and get back before it starts raining, starts snowing, gets dark, my legs seize up, or before Strictly Come Dancing comes on the telly. I’d like to support it more often but sadly the only time I do visit is when the weather is crap, I’m working, or there is a big ride coming up and I just need an excuse to get outside for a couple of hours without doing anything too energetic or adventurous. That’s when I ride up to the cafe for cappuccino and lemon drizzle cake, which is pretty much all I ride a bike for any other time so this is really just cutting out the sweating and puffing bit (well, you knew there had to be a reference to that movie somewhere in here didn’t you).
The cafe is very much aimed at mountain bikers so I park my road bike out of sight around the corner, change into baggy shorts, wash off the fake tan and draw hairs on my legs and jump up and down in a muddy puddle before I go in. Everything about the place says mountain bike. Even though the cafe is right next to next summer’s Tour de France route, the epitome of road biking, the walls are painted yellow, green and white with red dots in homage to the colours MTBers turn after drinking 14 pints of gatorade to try and cure the leptospirosis they caught after falling in the beck again. While I am there the proprietor breaks off from spraying mud over his latest batch of new Treks to cover up that they have the same suspension as the undercarriage on a Dreamliner to appear from the workshop to ask ‘There aren’t any roadies here are there?!’. ‘No no no!’ comes one poor fellow’s denial. He forgets to add ‘dude’. I still don’t know what happened to him after that as nobody has seen him again. I just stir my coffee.
Fish out of water though I may feel it is always interesting to learn about other cultures I suppose. Mountain biking is basically the Middle East but with more Red Bull, hospitable folks when you meet them but their arguments about whether big heavy slow bikes with big heavy slow wheels and big heavy slow tyres are best when the big heavy slow wheels are 26 inches or 29 inches round make the whole Sunni-Shia thing going down in Syria look like an argument over change at the lesbian fair trade noodle tent at Glastonbury. Fortunately the cafe is saved from regular ride by shootings by rival 26er and 29er factions by the fact that MTBers can’t ride without both hands on the handlebars and they put their saddles so low down they probably couldn’t shoot over the wall anyway.
The real awkwardess of pretending to be a mountain biker really kicks in right at the end of the visit. I’m getting up to go. How far have I ridden to the cafe?, someone asks. ‘Nine and a half miles’ I reply sheepishly. And how far have I still got to go? ‘nine and a half miles’ I mutter apologetically. It is a tense moment. I feel nervous because even Micky Rourke struggled to make anything with nine and a half in it very convincing. The ride I am half way round is not one that would exactly fit into the category marked epic. the MTBers however seem more suspicous of someone claiming they can ride nineteen miles with only one cake stop but I think they are satisfied with my explanation. ‘Good luck dude!‘ they wish me as I head off to remove the camo netting from my bike. I am nearly home and dry. I’ve got away with it. I am undetected. ‘Thanks awfully old chap’ is my reply. Busted!