The six great unsolved mysteries of cycling

Our sport is a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in Lycra

Great scientists including Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking and Marie Curie dedicated their lives to understanding what another genius dubbed ‘life, the universe and everything’. Now, and I hate to sound arrogant, but, I too have gazed into the abyss of life’s deepest questions.


But, I’m yet to come up with any answers.

Oh sure, for cycling’s easy questions I’ve answers galore — ask me why people like skinwall tyres (despite them both sounding and looking gross), or how come almost nobody knows their correct seat height, and I’ll tell you. Go on, ask me.

But that stuff’s easy. Cycling’s true conundrums are simply not meant to be understood. That’s why I don’t understand them. Here’s a choice selection for you to also ponder over…

1. Why is black so fashionable for roadies?

If under no circumstances do you want to stand out on a public road then just wear black — your faith in the drivers around you will live on even as they take you down. God knows there’s enough great kit from super-fashionable Italian brands to seriously indulge the look.

But really – why black, when being run over by phone-obsessed drivers is a risk already?

It’s famously a slimming colour, but it’s not as if keen roadies need to look any slimmer. And if it’s a subliminal desire to look mysterious and tough, like ninjas or special forces operatives, the big thighs but scrawny everything else mean you’re not pulling it off. Add black shoe covers, a black under-helmet hat and big black winter gloves and you don’t look so much like a Navy Seal but an actual seal.

The colour of choice for everyone who doesn’t want to be seen… and vulnerable road cyclists. What could go wrong?
Reuben Bakker-Dyos / Immediate Media

2. Why don’t we seem to like new bikes or the people who make them?

The anger and cynicism directed at bike companies is occasionally stunning — an outsider might quickly decide that bicycles are nothing but an expensive, rage-inducing marketing con involving products that get worse every year.

That outsider might then wonder if there’s a gap in the market for what riders really want. Namely, mountain bikes with fewer gears, smaller wheels, narrower bars, less suspension, and unfancy frames made of round tubes. And road bikes with narrower tyres, fewer sprockets on the back, rubbish rim brakes, thinner axles and rusty steel frames. All today’s ‘progress’ is obviously no such thing, the outsider would think.

The outsider would note these bikes should all be handmade with the finest parts and sold at 1970s prices — profits are a sign of inauthenticity, they should be doing it out of passion — and there should be no stupid marketing to let people know they exist. They should also be unbranded so nobody knows what they are, because branding sucks.

The outsider would then wonder what kind of silly business model that was, sigh a little, and get on with their life.

3. Why do mountain bike helmets have peaks?

The peaks on motocross helmets are for shielding the rider’s eyes/goggles from flying mud and stones. With a long peak they can dip their head to ward off the roost from hard-accelerating bikes in front.

Full-face mountain bike helmets also have long peaks… but downhill races are ridden solo. There’s no pack of wheelspinning bikes two feet away. There’s no roost. So that’s weird. Worse, trail bike helmets also have peaks, and though you’re now likely to be riding near others, they’re really short. So these little peaks are there for… what?

“Maybe the peak is for… downforce? It’s like a car spoiler! Wait, am I wearing this backwards?”
Joe Norledge / Immediate Media

4. Why are we still all filming our rides?

Action cameras from GoPro and… er… whoever else is trying to compete… are great.

Whatever your chosen brand, these little cameras are amazing gadgets. Small, cool and full of exciting promise. Finally, everyone will see how extreme you are, how fit and how fast! And then you watch it back and, oh…

You were expecting it to look like the onboard stuff from the Tour de France, or like one of Aaron Gwin’s World Cup downhill runs, but no. Turns out your footage got mixed up somehow with film of a granny wobbling along a totally smooth flat surface with a wheezy soundtrack to boot. What now?

You put it on YouTube, of course, for all the world to see.

5. Why do cyclists litter?

Seriously, what is wrong with you?

Is it really possible to ride without any appreciation for the landscape your bike lets you explore, breathe in and enjoy? I suppose it must be, otherwise it doesn’t make sense that you’d fill it with bottles, cans, gel wrappers, split tubes and crisp packets.

Why, if you’re making the effort to pedal into the hills, and presumably enjoy getting away from it all in a calmer, bigger and generally pristine landscape, would you be okay with spoiling it? Even if you don’t care about anyone else, you’re still ruining it for yourself. Unless you actually enjoy riding in what looks like the aftermath of a cornershop falling from orbit.

It doesn’t matter how neatly you arrange them — wrappers do not belong in woods, hedges or gutters
Immediate Media

6. Is it all just a cover for cake addiction?

Cyclists really like cake. It goes brilliantly with coffee. Cyclists really like coffee, it goes brilliantly with cake. One demands the other, demands the other.

But is our sport really a love triangle between cycling, coffee and cake? Or a more traditional two-way affair, where bikes are the secret means to an end, a mere alibi for crazed snacking?


A lot of people are saying it’s just an excuse to have your cake and eat it — and then have a second espresso — believe me. Without cycling I’d be the size and shape of a 1930s Zeppelin, but without cake and coffee I’d be as miserable as sin.