Forgive me readers, for I have sinned. You may have too. I’ve succumbed, crossed a moral line, committed an act so heinous it’s changed me… I’ve ordered a set of long mudguards for my road bike, because it seemed like the sensible thing to do.
What’s worse, I’ve actually been quite excited for their arrival. When I was young and sharp I never thought I’d end up this way. You know — sensible. Willing to look uncool for the sake of mere comfort. Lame! Is this why I spent my teenage winters in T-shirts because hypothermia was less important than everyone knowing I was a fan of The Damned? No!
Am I slipping uncontrollably into middle age and becoming just the kind of cosy dweeb I always hated? Yes! I’ve wrapped up my bike in The Comfy Cardigan of Cycling — the long mudguard. For shame. I’ve let myself down, I’ve let you down, and I’ve let your tyres down.
Having eagerly unwrapped my new SKS Race Blade Pro Stealths as if it were Xmas morning rather than my last day of innocence and youth, I was disappointingly keen to read the instructions before fitting them. And it was then, once my sensible new mudguards were on and carefully aligned and torqued to the correct values (marked on the stays, which is also very sensible) that I realised just how many accessories my bike is growing.
Is this what middle-aged cycling involves? Accessorising? I’m not sure I like it.
In my defence, all the bits I’ve stuck to my bike — a machine I love for its simple, irreducible genius, and yet here I am cluttering it up — are very… sensible. Oh lord forgive me.
Have I gone too far? Not yet. I haven’t fitted a kickstand, a banana holder or some weirdly long and priapically upright ‘ergonomic’ stem that makes me look less like a cyclist and more like a 45-year-old sitting apologetically in a cool bar hoping his £9 imported beer will at last appear in the ironically sailor-tattooed hands of the sneering, bearded-child barman, the one that’s been ostentatiously browsing Spotify playlists on the bar’s thin white HD tablet and avoiding eye contact for ten minutes; the one who believes the lost old customer who’s only gone and sat on the artisanal blondewood stool shaped like Rihanna’s actual real-life spine, which is NOT OKAY, should run and hurl himself into traffic; which belief is so strong it’s pulsing out of the righteous barman’s vintage Ralph Lauren specs like a fifth fundamental force (the Derision of Hipsters) and detectable in waves.
I haven’t fitted panniers or one of those orange reflector sticks that pokes out sideways either. If you’ve bolted any of these things to your bike (or even considered a wing mirror) then sprint to the medical centre and get yourself checked for elbow patches. They could be welling up as we speak. Don’t kid yourself. These are the symptoms of incurable middle age.
I do have a pump on a bracket, though. And a saddlepack with a spare tube, tyre levers, patches and a multi-tool in it. And a front light. And a rear light. And a second front light. And now mudguards — long, sensible mudguards that add 375g, extra mass I now have to pedal everywhere just to keep my clothes that little bit cleaner. It’s all so sensible!
They have little mudflaps on the end, the Race Blades. They come with a spare set of tiny screws for them in case I lose the originals. That’s how important these mudflaps are to everyone involved. I have put these tiny screws somewhere safe. I have put them in the crater that was once my hopes and dreams.
Once upon a time I would have considered such unbearably sensible things to be the tears on the cheeks of every rockstar who ever died young. Nowadays I look at the little mudflaps and think, oh, that’s nice.
At least today’s accessories are small, light and easy to attach. Stretchy rubber straps (as found on my mudguards and lights) and Velcro (seat pack) mean I can plunge back to the carefree/wilfully ignorant look of youthful purism in seconds. Not that I do, because that wouldn’t be sensible.
But if we were all still using those 1980's lights the size and weight of bibles (and which provided as much illumination) on fist-sized clamps forested with wingnuts, I’d be tempted. If we still had to carry a full-length pump and a set of drop-forged spanners for the wheelnuts, I’d be tempted. But we’re not. LEDs, quick-releases and miniaturisation make accessorising so much easier today. Dammit.
Wait! Is this where I shake my fist and shout that kids today don’t know how easy they’ve got it? Oh god, it is! I’m… I’m breaking out in elbow patches. The horror! What grimly fiendish developments will middle-age cycling bring next? Probably some of those little waterproof booties to go over my clacky road shoes. They look nice.
Let’s all stay sensible out there, people.