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GUY HENDERSON: So, am I brave enough for Lycra?

By Herald Express  |  Posted: September 06, 2012

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LYCRA? What do we think? Regular readers will know that I have gone back to my first love of cycling in recent weeks. It's not that I don't still love running and all that goes with it. It's just that cycling is somehow less painful for the ageing bones of a 52-year-old man.

One of the things that goes with running that I don't love all that much is that nagging pain in my lower back that erupts every now and then.

It doesn't hurt while I am running. Far from it. I can gambol through the sun-dappled lanes like a spring lamb without a care in the world or even the slightest twinge.

But the next morning my progress down the stairs and out to the kettle is punctuated by small yelps and groans, loud enough to wake a sleeping Jack Russell.

When I was preparing for marathons I could run five times a week, over varying terrains and quite long distances.

Nowadays two runs a week is good going, and three would be pushing the envelope to its absolute limits.

Any more than that and the volume and frequency of the yelping and groaning increases exponentially.

For that reason I am now spending a certain amount of my exercise time on my bike.

It's the one I bought a few weeks back, you may recall, and I am now spending a little less time flat on my back in the gutter with my feet locked in its pedal cleats, and a little more upright and enjoying the scenery.

Cycling is good, and on really good days I'm a teenager again, rolling down the wide, straight lanes of northern France, panniers laden down with packets of Vesta curry and heading for the delights of that evening's youth hostel. It's all very lashings-of-ginger-beer inside my head at times like those.

But the toughest question of all for the returning cyclist is: What is decent to wear in the saddle?

There is a new programme on the ITV4 television channel called The Cycle Show, which is a kind of Top Gear for cyclists.

They interview famous riders, try out new bikes and have a go at things like bicycle polo and riding down mountains. It's rather good.

But I am uncertain about their exhortation on a recent episode to go to work in Lycra.

Don't be embarrassed, they said. Be bold. Be brave. Go for it. Ditch your baggy shorts and wear your Lycra to work.


Now this may be all very well on the fashionable streets of Hoxton or Hammersmith, where you can barely move for hybrids, racers and 'fixies' ridden by trendy cyclists on their way to and from work.

If the TV pictures are to be believed, they zip along dedicated traffic-free cycle lanes and still find time to discuss gear ratios and footwear over a skinny latte at any one of the 3,500 dedicated cycling cafes set up in Kensington in the last fortnight alone.

They sit there in padded armchairs underneath framed pictures of Jacques Anquetil and Laurent Fignon, eating muesli wraps and slowly growing Bradley Wiggins tribute sideburns.

And all in time to get to work.

But it's a bit different on the South Devon commuter trail, where the cycle lane is a thin stripe of paint down the side of a busy road full of lorries, and a mouthful of rainwater and grit seems a long way from a skinny latte and a muesli wrap.

Into that mixture throw a large-ish middle-aged gentleman in Lycra shorts.

I do have Lycra shorts. They are very nice, and have bits of padding in all the right places to alleviate the pain of my function-before-comfort racing saddle. But I'm not sure you, dear readers, should be subjected to the sight of me wearing them.

There is just so much kit you can buy to go riding a bicycle — jersey, shoes, socks, shorts, helmet, gloves and sunglasses.

They are all hinging on the racks in your local bike shop just waiting tempt you.

I have my jersey in the blue, white and yellow colours of the Dutch team Vacansoleil, chosen because you know how we all feel about a heroic underdog, and because they were the team that led the 2010 Tour of Britain into Teignmouth.

In the press conference immediately after that stage, with Goldfrapp's Rocket still booming out of the PA speakers outside, a clearly shattered winner Wout Poels was asked on live radio how he had felt climbing the tough Devon hills that day.

Being from Holland, Wout probably didn't realise quite how unbroadcastable his response was. The radio reporter recoiled in horror and prepared to apologise to his listeners for any strong language they may have heard.

The rest of the assembled press corps instantly became fans of the straight-talking Mr Poels and the Vacansoleil squad.

Next week you'll see them sweeping across Dartmoor and the South Hams as the 2012 Tour of Britain comes our way. You won't see Wout, because he crashed badly on the Tour de France and won't race again this season.

But give the rest of the squad a hearty cheer and don't hold back with the adjectives.

IF you go to the Torquay United v Plymouth Argyle match on Saturday you may come across a local doctor handing out leaflets encouraging people to sign up for organ donation.

If so, please take one, read it and act on it if you see fit.

Organ donation has just become a very important issue to a long-standing friend of this column, whose 22-year-old daughter recently suffered kidney failure and now finds herself waiting for a transplant.

Please take a leaflet on Saturday and consider doing something very simple but rather amazing for her and many others like her.

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