If, like me, you occasionally hang around internet bike forums watching unfold the Socratic discourse on which brand of bar tape is best for vegetarians who live in Herefordshire and never go out after 11am you’ll have noticed that it seems to be a rule that someone will quote from a website called The Rules as a way of conclusively bringing the argument to a close. It’s the bike forum equivalent of shouting Mornington Cresent. For an activity which seems to me the epitome of freedom and individuality the world of bike riding is filled with more people telling you that what you’re doing is wrong than any other field, amateur or professional, into which I have dipped my weary toes. I have received unsolicited advice from complete strangers about my choice of headgear, footwear, gear ratios and water bottle contents, comments of a critical nature which I would barely expect if I bounced naked on a space hopper around the town centre on market day. Perhaps it is cycling’s continental affectations which cause people to abandon the traditional british disdainful tut tut for a full blown outpouring of disapproval as soon as they swing their leg over a bike but the creators of The Rules, whom I noticed recently while furtively browsing the C shelf of Waterstones sports section trying to pretend I was looking for the cricket have brought out an old fashioned paper version now as well, must share some of the blame, In order to restore balance therefore, I thought we should consider some things you really don’t need to comply with whilst riding a bike. This is only a start but here are The Unrules:
1. You don’t have to wear a helmet on your bike. If you prefer to wear a hat then other stylish looks are available which fulfil the same key roles of looking a bit ridiculous being worn by someone on a pushbike and being completely ineffectual when somebody drives their 4×4 drives over your legs. You can of course wear a helmet if you like but neither the fashion police nor the real police can make you wear one. It’s a question of the individual’s attitude to risk and if you are happy to take the risk that you might come to believe that a helmet will enable you to survive a collision far beyond the manufacturer’s design tolerance then that is between you and your propensity to risk compensation.
2. You don’t have to carry any electronic equipment on your bike. You can get a speedometer but seeing as you are unlikely to exceed the statutory speed limit on a bike and are not bound by it if you do, when you most want to see how fast you are going you really should be watching the road and not the read out on your handlebars, and as you do not have a windscreen and can therefore tell by the air passing over your own face whether you are going fast or slow it seems rather superflous. You can get a heart rate moniter but with the heart being quite large and situated right in the middle of your chest if you are not already reasonably aware of whether it is beating in an energetic or relaxed manner it is probably a cardiologist and not another gadget on the bike which you need. You can get a GPS but as cycling was invented before the Pentagon’s high tech military satellite network came on line it must be possible to do the former without the later. You can get a digital watch but unless you are going to work you don’t really need to know what time it is. You can have all of this stuff and more of course. You can mount your ipad over the front wheel and look up your favourite niche porn sites and skateboarding dog videos on youtube as you ride but you probably wouldn’t enjoy your ride any less if you didn’t.
3. Unrule number three brings us to the idea often expressed about the mandatory matching of saddles and bar tape. I can’t tell you for certain that the punishment in the afterlife for not matching will not be to spend all eternity in some kind of Sartrean hell of unrelenting criticism of your uncoordinated bike accessories but I can tell you that in this life nobody gives a damn, really, they don’t, and if they do then they are not the kind of person whose opinion should be important to you. You can send your bike to an interior designer to dip the whole shooting match in the same pastel Farrow and Ball tone that your house is painted in but it won’t make you go any faster and it might mean that when you lean your bike against the wall in the hallaway you won’t be able to see where you left it.
4. The response to anyone expressing a reluctance to ride their bike because of heavy rain, icy roads, a fractured femur or the zombie apocalypse is often to invite them to MTFU. I am here to tell you that you don’t have to man the f**k up. You can if you prefer, but you can also tell the person telling you to man the f**k up to f**k the f**k off and get a f***g life and then go and do something indoors until conditions improve such as read a book, spend time with your family, or catch up with nothernbike.com on your computer. Unrule 4 therefore is don’t MTFU, GAFL although as this is an unrule you can go out and do something you feel uncomfortable doing because someone else told you to if you wish.
5. Triples are allowed. You are free to continue to try and convince yourself that the rider passing you up the steep hill is inferior because he or she has appropriate gearing for the terrain and is therefore going faster than you but you are also allowed a little extra chainring if you want. Going out with equipment unsuited to your environment doesn’t make you look hard, it makes you look an idiot. See also wearing short sleeves in the snow, driving a 4×4 to your city office job and bringing a knife to a gunfight. Go on, get a triple, you know you want to. Doubles, compacts, singles and fixies are also allowed. Why not go all the way and get a set of gears from a mountain bike, well, OK, hang on, even the unrules has to have parameters…
6. Yes, it is fine to wear team kit. You don’t have to if you don’t want to but you can if you want. This issue does seem to get some cyclists in a lather but when someone is next making snide comments about your Team Sky jersey ask them if they would go into a pub in Middlesbrough on a match day Saturday afternoon, stand on the bar and announce loudly that nobody should be wearing the team kit unless they are actually in the team, that you take a very dim view of such behaviour and that you are the smoggy Gok Wan so they’d all better do as you say. People follow their team because it’s a passion, an inspiration, a shared experience. You can wear what you damn well please, although you are free to wear what other people want if you so choose.
Yada yada yada lots of other things you are entirely free to do or refrain from doing, as you choose
172. You don’t have to follow any advice you read on the internet, including the advice you are reading on the internet right now. When I was a bairn the defence against any reprimand from a teacher was to whine but Miss, [insert name of naughty classmate] was doing it too to which the reply was invariably well, if [aforementioned naughty classmate] jumped off the [insert name of very high bridge and local landmark] would you do it too? You can live your life by what you read on internet forums if you like, you can live it by The Rules, but you don’t have to.
So there you have it, respect the unrules, you’re all individuals, although you don’t have to be an individual if you prefer.