I have an Australian friend who currently lives in London and is a keen cyclist. As I may have mentioned, London during the rush hour is horrific for commuters and, rather than facing day after day of crowds and frustration, he prefers to cycle to work, which not only allows him to clear his head but also keep himself fit; a good thing for somebody who is marginally younger than me.
I will call him Rocky to protect the guilty.
I don’t want to generalise about Australians, but Rocky is a typical Aussie bloke and that’s one of the reasons I like him so much. Conversations with him are amazing and funny.
We visited Rocky and his wife a couple of weeks ago and I was chatting to him about my terrible procrastination when it comes to cycling. And, of course, he was blunt.
“Bloody hell, mate. It’s only FOUR MILES! Get on your bike!”
Of course, he’s right and I really should take his advice. When he said this, I chuckled and said, “You’re right. I have cycled to work before and it’s just a small pootle for somebody like me.”
For those of you who have never heard of the word pootle, it’s a British word that means to travel in a leisurely fashion taking your journey easy and relatively slowly. That’s the way I would pedal to work because I am not competitive and, at my age, racing everyone and everything would be very tiring and also mean that I arrive at work sopping wet, flooding the office with dripping sweat. I would be an even more repulsive creature than I am at the moment.
Rocky takes a different view.
“I’m a MONSTER on my bike,” he claimed when I explained what “pootle” means. “There’s NO WAY you would find me doing that. I go FAST, man. I try to overtake everybody else I see on a bike. It’s like a race and I want to win.”
I can picture him racing along the streets of London, overtaking slower cyclists with a defiant and competitive grin on his face.
However, he told me a story where he came unstuck.
During his normal journey, he spotted another cyclist in the distance travelling at roughly the same speed. Rocky allowed his competitive demon to take control and increased his pace to catch up and overtake the man in front.
At first, he started to gain ground but after a few minutes, the man’s speed also increased and Rocky didn’t like this. The distance between them grew wider and, rather than being sensible and giving up, Rocky became the monster that he had mentioned earlier.
“I pedalled like a bloody DEMON,” he said. “All the time I was watching him and it looked like he wasn’t even trying.”
Rocky pedalled even faster to catch what was now becoming his nemesis and every time he thought he was closing the gap, the man in front surged ahead again.
By this stage, Rocky was distraught. His entire focus was on one thing: defeating this man.
Thoughts started going through his head. Was this man Sir Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome or Peter Sagan? Was he trying to beat an Olympic athlete or a Tour de France winner?
Eventually, Rocky had to reduce his speed. Desperate in defeat he watched the man pull away again, with seemingly no effort.
Rocky was now quite angry with himself. If you are competitive you probably know why. Winning is everything and if you fail to win then you are less than a human being and a total failure. I think all men are competitive to a certain extent but I have come to terms with my flaws over the years (having failed spectacularly on occasion). When I lose I accept defeat and move on.
Rocky struggled – he really struggled.
And then fate stepped in.
Rocky, now cycling much slower, turned the corner and saw in the distance a red traffic light. Waiting there was his nemesis.
“Right,” thought Rocky to himself. “Now I’ve got you.”
Rocky found some inner strength and pushed himself to get to the light before it changed to green. He wanted to see who had beaten him. He wanted to talk to his new nemesis and find out why he had lost.
After a minute or two he pulled up alongside the cyclist and, to his horror, saw that the man was a little chubby and clearly, in Rocky’s view, not as fit as Rocky himself. The nemesis had hardly got any sweat on his face. Rocky on the other hand was gasping for breathe red faced and wild with frustration.
“Bloody hell, mate!” Rocky said to the man. “What are you? Some kind of machine? I’ve been trying to catch you up for the past couple of miles and you look like you’ve hardly broken sweat!”
The man looked at Rocky as if he were an idiot.
“I’m riding an ELECTRIC BIKE mate,” he laughed.
“FOR PHAARRKKS SAKE!” screamed Rocky.
He felt like a complete idiot.
So did I.
Why? Because when he mentioned the electric bike, I sprayed the table with beer because I had been in mid sip. A mouthful of beer and a guffaw do not mix.
“Yeah,” said Rocky laughing as beer dripped down my chin. “That’s exactly how I felt.”