Back in July, the weekend of the Wimbledon final in fact, I took a line to the Forest. It was white hot and glorious. Down there, you take roads that nobody ever seems to use, houses are abandoned and the roots of trees cord across the broken asphalt. It’s mighty nice.
A lot of bicycle companies eschew the 1990s marketing idea of racing and lightness in favour of a sense of wildness. Of course, the racing and the lightness is still there, but I seem to find that the appeal is toward my grizzly nature, as opposed to my achievement of ten-stone and 0% BMI. It’s swapping out one idealism for another. Wildness, in the UK, and certainly only twenty or thirty miles from Croydon, is a relative concept. It’s not the Appalachians. It’s not Siberia. It consists of fairly-populated farmland, commuter villages and train tracks, well-kept main roads and people, like me, attempting to commune with the bits of it that aren’t listed above - the wild bits.
In the UK, there are, of course, great wildnernesses. One has only to look to the mountains of Wales, the Highlands, the grassy moors of Lancashire, Yorkshire and the Peak District, the Forests New and Dean to find something vast and sparse, something feral. Something feral near a road. That’s what I’m in the market for. And by God, don’t the bike companies know it.
I like to think of myself as being someone who can’t be marketed to. Well, shit, doesn’t everyone? I was on eBay for about an hour last night, thinking that I’m bucking the big market in favour of small market economics. I check my emails, Rapha having dropped one of those fantastic-looking pages into my face - black, white and pink text, a video still of some grizzle-faced trapper dressed in a grand’s worth of technical fabric (most technical fabrics claiming something like 2 years’ rigorous development, as opposed to wool’s several thousand years’ rigorous development) and sat upon several grands’ worth of bike, souping it down some forgotten Kazakh trail in shit weather, gritting the veneers with the modelesque strategic chip in a single mantooth.
I’m buying. OK, I’m not buying exactly (their ninja hood is £200 of caboodle which promises to do more than the thermal I saved up £32 for in 1997 which still keeps me warmer than the deadly embrace of a polar bear) but I’m in with the myth. It’s easy to sling mud at Rapha clothing (and I suspect be paid for it during one of their photoshoots) but, I’m guessing, it’s worth it. But it all depends on your sense of value. Cycling is meant to be democratic, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be lulled into spending two or three hundred quid on a jacket. Buy cheap, buy twice? One crash in the ‘wild’ and you’ve seen two hundred quid go down the pan. What I’m buying is the loneliness myth, the outback, the Silesian Mountain dude, the hair, the beard, the coffee-back-in-civilisation (should a future archaeologist ever discover my frozen corpse in the wilds of South London, then they’ll be able to date my precise doom by the Costa Coffee card I sometimes pack in my rolled-up-sock and ziplock bag).
It is November. I went out yesterday at midday, and it was dark and fogdrizzle and utterly wild-seeming. Except I’m editing out all the things that are normal-Sunday for everyone else, like kids doing homework in the cafe (seriously?) and people coming home from Ikea. I am a mountain-faced granite dude, I am Davy Crockett by-way-of-a-Nike-ad, I am humanity’s last hope of wildness personified. I am connected to the roots and shrubs, and I am hairy. Except I did shave off three months of beard this week, so my face was cold as hell. I’ll get one of them Rapha balaclavas perhaps.