They flash through traffic in Lycra or waft along like riders from a bygone age: Cycling Tribes, illustrated for The Times Great Outdoors supplement. Text by Hugo Rifkind.
From a distance, people often think that there is something seriously wrong with Benjamin’s face. It’s only when they get up close, and look past the baggy jeans, hooded top, and low-slung BMX, that they realise he is 43. Benjamin works for a design agency in East London and carries a record bag. He rides on the pavement, and if people get in his way he will shout “gnarly!” or “yo!”. At the weekends, Benjamin and his friend Jeremy used to like going to London’s South Bank, to hang out with the skateboarders. They haven’t been for a while, though, ever since Jeremy caught a gnarly air and wiped out, big-time. The doctors say he might need a new hip.
Emily didn’t buy her bike to get around quickly. She liked the leather saddle, and the pretty basket. Emily’s boyfriend nags her about cycling in ballet pumps. He tells her to wear neon Lycra, because the dynamo conks out when she stops at lights. Emily smiles, sweetly, but she’s quite happy in her flowing asymmetrical skirts with the hems that catch in the chain. She used to cycle while staring at the clouds until her dentist stopped her.
In his shirt-sleeves, sensible helmet, shiny black shoes, suit trousers and restraining cycle clips, there’s something about Nigel’s overall cycling look that faintly screams “pervert”. Not that he cares. For him, cycling isn’t about fun. It is simply an efficient way to get from his suburban semi to the station and then on to the office. All the same, he is inordinately proud of his Brompton folding bicycle. When his wife borrowed the clip-on mini-pump without telling him, he sulked for the whole weekend.

Flora was a hippy in her teens and she’s damned if she’s going to start driving a car now. Why bother? She sets off at 7.50 every morning, pulling out into the middle of the red route with a smile of fixed serenity and forcing all those smelly old buses to move at a more reasonable speed. Poppy, on the plastic seat, is proud as punch, although Merlin, in the trailer, is becoming less keen as he gets older. “Please Mum,” he usually begs, “drop me around the corner so that nobody sees, eh?” The other day, Flora asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. “A climate criminal,” he said.

Clive has a pink Lycra leotard and doesn’t think that’s anything to be ashamed about. His bicycle cost thousands of pounds and is of the same sort of stuff as badminton racquets. At weekends he’s not cycling at high speed to his job as a banker, no, he’s cycling at high speed to a bicycle shop. Here he will spend many more thousands of pounds having bits removed from his bicycle, and replaced by other bits that are almost, but not entirely, exactly the same. Clive’s bicycle lives in the living room, in front of the television. He has no wife.
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