Speed has long been a fascination for the human race. Foot races of the Olympian Greeks gave way to mechanical aid and from there speed has become an aim in itself. We've come a long way from an early railway belief that the human body could not stand speeds in excess of 20mph. It tallies with our modern world of instant access and demand for immediate gratification. And the bicycle has not escaped this encroaching desire: from club time trials to the Tour de France; from track sprinting to beating the lights. Stamp on those pedals and get fast.

A more common refrain towards the commuting cyclist, however, which ties in with 'you don't need specialist equipment to ride a bike' is 'you don't need to ride quickly'. The benefits stack up. You get less sweaty, if at all (meaning you can wear 'normal' clothes); you can take in your surroundings; you can ride a more comfortable bike. It all fits with the idealised view of a cycling culture which embraces and encourages cycling, and which sees the citizen cyclist thrust to the fore.

But here's my single, personal, overriding issue with the theory... I enjoy cycling quickly to and from work. There are a number of reasons for this. It gets the endorphins not so much flowing as raging through my body, meaning I arrive at work alert, or back home de-stressed. I manage to forego a gym membership knowing the various routes to work can give me warm up, sprint, climb, cool down. I travel 5 miles of mainly uphill in the morning, slowing down to avoid perspiration takes 15 minutes longer than the normal ride (which is about 20 minutes), negating the time gain in not having to change once at the office (though I'm not sure I'd ride the distance in a suit every day, and especially all weathers).

In short, I don't ride quickly to work because I feel I have to; or because I'm seeking to perpetuate a fallacy that cycling is difficult, or sport, or testosterone-fuelled. I ride quickly (being a relative term of course) because it's so much damned good fun.

And this is the core problem I have with the 'you can ride slowly' argument, or more accurately with those proponents of such arguments who go beyond 'you can choose' and stray into 'if you don't choose then you're creating the wrong impression about cycling and damaging the efforts of those trying to make things better' evangelism.

Choice is meaningless if you tell people which choice they should make to fit in with your own preconceived notions. I say everyone does indeed have a choice, but it's not a choice between speeds (or bikes or clothes), it's a choice to have fun. And for everyone that choice will lead to different styles or riding. Each is valid; and each is good because a smile is a smile, and when it's on a bike that makes cycling look like it might be enjoyable.

.anthony robson

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