This Valentines Day, look for a fellow cyclist – they make better partners, believes Rob Ainsley
While touring the Philippines, I arrived at a hostel in Manila at the same time as three young professional women from London. They settled down to research the Philippines in the modern way: via the dating app Tinder, right- and left- swiping through potential local romantic matches. Not actually to meet, they cheerily admitted. This was window shopping. Well, I suppose I do the same on eBay, checking out bikes with no intention of actually buying them.
Almost half of millennials first meet online, it’s guessed, with countless niche dating apps – Tindog for dog owners; Spex for glasses wearers; Bristlr for beard fans and Ride2Love for cyclists. So instead of overlooking a potential life partner because they’re into Taylor Swift and you’re more Kanye West, you can overlook them because you are conventional tyres and they’re strictly tubeless. Some say Strava should add a dating feature, with compatibility based on mileages, speeds and climbs. Which does suggest why those people are single in the first place.
Bike imagery is a Valentine’s card staple, usually a step-through-frame job with a twee floral front basket. Or a tandem, an appropriate metaphor for long-term relationships: you can go further and faster together, but while it’s clear who’s doing the steering, it’s not clear who’s doing the work.
With bikes, as with cyclists, what you see is generally what you get. So, it’s no wonder that analogue face-to-face, even wheel-to-wheel, is still how most cyclists meet. I bumped into my partner on a towpath 25 years ago. Almost literally. We’d eyed each other up at work but realised with glee – as we nearly collided, each trying to avoid some dog muck – that we were both cyclists.
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Less probable nowadays, perhaps. Not because we’d be on Ride2Love, but because the owner would have scooped the poop. Indeed, London’s canal towpaths have improved hugely since then, making such encounters less likely for busy commuters. Fortunately, trendy bike-cafe Look Mum No Hands runs regular speed dating evenings for cyclists.
Cycling can be as solitary – we all need time to ourselves occasionally – or as social as you like: however hardcore a club, there are usually plenty of social rides. One of my cycling chums is getting a calf tattoo. On it, not of it. Best leave the tattooist in no doubt. No hipster sleeve for him: he wants to attract a cyclist alongside him on the club run, so they’ll see his tat on the lower leg as they check out his chainset and cranks.
It raises the question of whether cyclists are more likely to stay together than those who meet through other shared interests. All the best to Laura and Jason Kenny, cycling’s star couple now finding solutions to life’s everyday problems, such as where to put those 10 Olympic gold medals now the mantlepiece is required for baby photos.
In my experience, cyclist couples do last. Keep your bike running through basic maintenance and you can probably do the same with a relationship. Being in good physical shape helps too. Me and my partner are still together; in the meantime I’ve been through 10 bikes to that one special person – curiously, reversing the ratio of the preceding decade.
True, you read stories about the rise in splits caused by middle-aged riders discovering cycling: the MAMIL Divorce. (MAWILs are also available.) But a sudden passion for Lycra here strikes me as a symptom rather than a cause – cycling as media scapegoat again.
Bikes are more than a mere hobby, means of transport or life-crisis fad. They’re a way of life, an outlook, and a good indicator you’ll probably have plenty in common as you grow old together. More than if you simply both, say, go caving, or like Kanye West, or have beards. When I think of my friend-couples still with each other, they’re usually cycling-compatible.
If you’re on the lookout this new year, think carefully before right-swiping into a relationship with a resolute non-cyclist. One couple we know in this position justified it by running a kind of greenhouse-gas- offsetting between them, his cycling making up for her car journeys. Sadly, the relationship, like most carbon-trading schemes, didn’t work...