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​All Helmets and Lycra Letters from the Atlantic by Barrie Mahoney

'Writing Inspired by an Island in the Atlantic'

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​All Helmets and Lycra

All Helmets and Lycra

Over the years, cyclists from all over Europe have headed to the Canary Islands to take advantage of some decent weather with which to indulge in their favourite pastime. All of the inhabited islands have become increasingly popular, but with the favourite destinations being Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura that are selected as ideal destinations for all-year-round cycling. The tourist boards and hotels are grateful, since income from cyclists and their entourages makes a healthy contribution to tourist income.

As well as heat, the islands offer mountains, breath-taking scenery and a refreshing sea breeze. Rainfall is rare during most of the year, which makes the islands ideal for winter training. The main disadvantage are the dust storms, which although occasional, are like riding through a blanket of hot, dry fog. These ‘calimas’ are caused by very fine sand being blown from the Sahara. Locals are wise enough to know that they should remain indoors in such conditions, but it is not unusual to see dozens of cyclists attempting to complete their training schedule in conditions that must be injurious to their general health, and with some being admitted to hospital for treatment. Those suffering from asthma, as well as other breathing conditions, would do well to avoid cycling on the islands during the presence of a calima.

Whilst following behind two ‘team cyclists’ the other day, who incidentally were holding hands, it occurred to me that I rarely see a happy cyclist nowadays. They all seem to be so deadly serious, gritting their teeth and with huge quantities of sweat leaking from their designer Lycra. It looks to be anything but pleasurable and seems to be more of a test of endurance; maybe that is the point. I rarely see cyclists actually enjoying their cycling in the beautiful scenery that these islands have to offer. Their eyes seem to be glued to the road just ahead of them, or glued to the sensuous bottom of the team cyclist in front.

It all seems such hard work nowadays; whatever happened to cycling for fun? Am I the only one who remembers actually enjoying cycling to work or going for a leisurely cycle in the countryside with friends, and stopping for a pub lunch before cycling home? Cyclists visiting these islands have spent a considerable amount of money on flights and accommodation, as well as transporting their cycles from their home countries, so why waste it peddling aimlessly up and down the same stretch of road near my home?

As I cautiously follow the two cyclists holding hands, musing on my cycling memories from the past, other motorists were getting impatient behind me. Road conditions meant that I could not overtake, so I was content to wait. However, others were not, which encouraged one very angry motorist to hoot the cyclists loudly, as he overtook me whilst approaching a bend. The cycling ‘lovebirds’ merely dropped their physical connection briefly and offered the angry motorist a one-finger salute, which is not the best way to gain friends or to promote one’s sport.

Anger is never appropriate in these circumstances, but it did remind me of a number of emails that I have received in recent months, complaining that “cyclists are a nuisance” (with much stronger language being used). It is also clear that negative comments on the islands’ social media are rapidly increasing, with angry comments declaring that team cyclists are becoming a curse on the islands’ roads. Rarely does a week pass without at least one cyclist being seriously injured during a road traffic accident, or even worse, alongside their crushed cycle. There are regular reports of children, the elderly, the infirm and those simply not paying attention, being hit by a speeding cyclist. It seems that the days of welcoming team cyclists to these islands is fast disappearing.

The old adage of ‘each to their own’ comes to mind, but maybe enjoyment from cycling can be achieved without inconveniencing, annoying or maiming pedestrians and other road users. An appropriate message to team cyclists might be to enjoy these beautiful islands, appreciate the ever-changing scenery, adjust appropriately to road conditions, and to be thoughtful towards others. Maybe looking less desperate and smiling a little, might help too? Speed and sweat is not what life is about.

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