High wire act

In his latest Cycling Plus column, Ned Boulting understandably fails to see the humour in endangering life

Screenshot 2020-07-06 at 09.53.02

This article appears in issue 369 of Cycling Plus, on sale Wednesday 8 July. To subscribe to the magazine and receive a free Lusso Merino Jersey worth £65, head over here 

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Words: Ned Boulting

Regrettably, it is time to talk of cyclists having no sense of humour. This, of course, is well known. Devoid of any sense of fun, irony, or playful banter, we plough through our sanctimonious lives on a diet of piety and vegan energy bars.

This is the viewpoint that many outside our cosy little bubble share. I know this because I have spent a considerable amount of my recent emotional lockdown capital on trying to rebalance the debate about cyclists, after it was rather obviously skewed once again by a high-profile newspaper columnist in a leading national broadsheet, whose name I should withhold. Actually, no, I shouldn’t. 

Rod Liddle, who I am honestly only dimly aware of, wrote in his Sunday Times column: “My wife has persuaded me that, strictly speaking, it is against the law to tie piano wire at neck height across the road. Oh, but it’s tempting.”

Now, because I am a granola-munching, leg-shaving, red-light jumping Bradley Wiggins wannabee and I’m incapable of taking a good joke at face value, I failed to actually cry with laughter at Liddle’s wit. I mean, obviously I roared with unconstrained mirth at the simply wonderful comic scenario the great writer summoned up with his trademark, joyous prose style. I slapped my thigh, and doubled over with uncontrollable spasms of chortling when I thought of the silly cyclist unwittingly riding into the garrotting device and slicing open his trachea; that much goes without saying. But, as I say, because I am a humourless MAMIL, I didn’t actually cry with laughter.

Instead, I wrote an open letter to the editor of the Sunday Times, in which I pointed out the actual dangers to which Liddle’s wonderfully crafted column had alluded. At the point of writing, according to Twitter analytics, the letter has been read roughly 500,000 times, which is pleasing, because the circulation of the Sunday Times is only fractionally more.  I attached recent news stories in which real cyclists had been seriously injured in deliberate assaults by the drivers of motor cars, and in a couple of instances of actual cyclists riding into actual wires strung across mountain bike paths. Hilariously, the wires were suspended, just as Mr. Liddle had suggested, “at neck height”. Stop, already! You couldn’t make it up Rodders, you old rascal!

I got a copied and pasted reply from the letters editor of the Sunday Times, which seemed to suggest they wouldn’t publish my letter. And it pointed out that the words had “not intended to be taken seriously”. ‘Thank God’, I thought. ‘I can return to simply loving the joke without any pangs of conscience.’ And then I thought, ‘I’ve got a column.’ Perhaps I could get some sort of witty riposte in. A ribald diatribe against entitled middle-aged journalists. I could, perhaps, write about how amusing it might be to sneak into contrarian broadsheet columnists’ houses at night and suspend piano wire at neck height across the top of the stairs so that when they file their words at midnight after downing a couple of good-quality reds, they will stumble into the trap! I won’t. Oh, but it’s tempting.

But this is a false equivalence. Liddle and his ilk do not open themselves up to mortal threat at the hands of the general public when they log on to pen their words. They simply, narcissistically, write their columns in the craven hope that they will boost their fragile egos and prop up their failing sense of self-worth. I should know, I’m doing exactly that right now! And if the price to pay for such self-love is a cheap shot at someone vulnerable and misunderstood, then who gives a damn?

Anyway, it’s not true to say we cyclists haven’t got a sense of humour. I’ve just made up a cycling joke.

‘How many cyclists does it take to change a lightbulb? Just one. And he’ll share it on Strava.’

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On second thoughts, maybe Liddle has a point.