INDEX 2

CYCLISTS ANONYMOUS
It never really hit me that I had a problem until the day I rode my bike into Tesco and was halfway down the produce aisle, scanning heads of lettuce and idly wondering if the worms in organic apples are organic worms, when a clerk politely enquired as to whether the bike racks outside were all full. I braked, dismounted, purchased my groceries in as dignified a manner as possible, went home, called Cyclists Anonymous. "Help," was all I said.

Hi. My name is Sam,* and I'm a cyclist. It started so long ago I hardly remember anymore....

My father taught me. My mum knew about it; she said nothing. My brothers and sisters encouraged my habit, at first. All the kids on the block were doing it in those days. It wasn't a question of peer pressure. It was simply a way of life.

I still remember my maiden voyage. It seemed so terribly dangerous at the time. Then I got used to it. I was hooked. The speed. The wind in my hair. The freedom. As I got older, my mates kicked the habit. A bike wasn't fast enough for them. They bought cars. Not me. I couldn't stop myself. Everyone gave me a hard time, said "Why are you still doing it?" but it was in my blood and I refused all offers of a transfusion. There was constant pressure to quit, to move on to four wheels. You can't go a day without being assaulted by the advertising, the wheedling. My resolve never wavered. I learned to live on the fringes of society. Literally.

I met a woman. She was like me. It was us against the world. Sometimes we'd go tandem. The gear changes were incredible. I thought it would last forever. But she grew jealous of the time I spent away from her and on my bike. I was cycling alone more and more often. Sometimes before breakfast. Really blatant warning signals. And I'd come home late, claim to have been working overtime at the office. Really I was going far, far out of my way on my commute. I'd double the necessary mileage; triple it. Anything for more saddle time. I saw others like me. Cyclists who had no earthly reason to be where they were at that hour. One guy took to circling roundabouts, just for that extra little kick. I saw his eyes. I could almost understand.

I'd come home exhilarated and out of breath, rush to the shower to wash away the incriminating sweat. She always knew. It couldn't last.

It broke my heart when she left me for another man. He only rode on weekends. Someone told me he had a titanium bike. She said that sort of thing didn't matter to her, and to be fair, it probably didn't. It's just my over-active imagination.

It all got a little foggy after that. There were entire days I didn't go home. My bike was my home. My work suffered, naturally. Everyone was very supportive. It's a progressive company. They even have showers and other facilities for people like me. Eventually something had to give. They let me go. Gave me disability, which is a bit of a laugh. It was very kind of them.

Through it all it never dawned on me to ask myself if I could control my cycling. Why would I want to control it? I wasn't a problem cyclist. I knew my limits. But I guess you never really know them until you go over them.

I see the way you're all looking at me. You're feeding off my innapropriate endorphin rush. You're like vampires. It's sick. Relive your own memories! Don't siphon me dry of mine! No. I'm sorry. I'm... could somebody please give me a water bottle? (Sucks greedily.) Thank you. It's just... these mood swings. They told me I'd learn control. My body would adjust. I'd channel my energy into something else. I want very much to believe them.

After I was let go I laid low for awhile. Regrouped. Cut my cycling to almost nothing, only five days a week. I kept 'commuting' anyway, two round-trips a day.

The only kind of companionship I could get was the sort you find advertised in phone boxes. 'Full service'. 'I'll true your wheels'. 'French mechanic'. I know what you're thinking. But it wasn't like that. I just paid them to talk. Routine maintenance, race results, tour reports. It ran the gamut. One girl specialised in urban transport issues. God, she was good. I'm not ashamed. It filled a void.

One night I was coming home. I saw a guy with a flat tyre. Stopped to lend a hand. He said he had it covered. I insisted. It got ugly. We scuffled. I was still drained from my 'date'. He pinned me easily. Asked me what my problem was. I started blubbering. Couldn't help myself. And I don't even like to mend punctures. He said I needed help. I told him I knew. Then he told me about Cyclists Anonymous. He fixed the tyre while he talked. He admitted his own addiction. I said it wasn't like that with me. He stared me square in the eye, on the verge of shoving my face into my own lie of a life. Suddenly this incredibly compassionate look came over him. He said "We all have to find our own grid reference." Then he was gone. It was the next day that I cycled into Tesco.

I know I'm among friends. They've even given me the number of a cycling buddy. Somebody I can call when I find myself topping up my Continentals at two in the morning. I just have to take it one day at a time.

So. Who's up for a ride afterwards? Just kidding!

No, really.


* coincidental pseudonym

Cycling Plus, June 2002