Thanks for coming, everybody. Just to make sure you're in the right classroom, all of you are cyclists, correct? Good. OK now, raise your hand if you cycle primarily out of concern for the environment. Ah, I see a lot of hands in the air. Splendid. You fit the profile. The rest can leave.

Keep your hands up if you're a vegetarian. You have a question in the back? No, a vegetarian doesn't eat chicken. Nor fish. You can go now, too. There's a fascinating talk on neo-Darwinism going on down the hall, if you're interested. Sorry to have wasted your time.

I see the classroom is getting less crowded, but there are still hands in the air.

Yes, the gentleman in the sandals? No, the hemp sandals. Can you explain to the rest of the class what a vegan is? That's right. No cheese or milk or eggs or butter, etc. What's that? Well, honey's debatable. Please don't look at me that way, sir. Nobody wants to exploit bees, we just want them to share. I'm aware that the credentialed vegan won't touch the stuff. Certainly leather and fur are out. Wool and silk, naturally. I see you've got a list you want me to read to the class...

Anybody here wearing pearls? Fake pearls don't count, Miss. I suppose I can see where oysters have rights. Look, I know that white sugar isn't exactly good for you, but...? Oh, I see. Sometimes bone char is used in processing. Fine. Class, you'd better hold onto your seats. I think the ride's going to be getting bumpy.

Harvested food kills insects. Very Buddhist. It says here that even cotton can be verboten. Better toss your cameras out, unless they're digital, because film uses gelatin. And... oh my God. No. Is this true? Animal fat is used in the vulcanisation of tyre rubber? This is terrible. What are we supposed to use for bike tyres, hemp? What's that? You want to give me a catalogue of... what? Page 96. Yes, I see. 'Hemp tyres'. Very ingenious.

Look, I'm really very sorry about this, but these guidelines seem quite clear. Everybody who uses any of these things had better leave.

Pity. I wasn't finished with my lecture. Just you and me now, eh? What's that? Do I mind if you take off your sandals? Feel free. However, I'd really prefer if you left your shirt on. It's an insurance thing. Right. Well, if you insist, but the school can take no responsibility for... Sir, please don't remove your trousers. I really must be firm on this point. I don't care if it's necessary to "Harmonise your learning potential". Look, I think that's the end of our time. Thank you and good day.

Good Lord, don't those itch?

I don't know when I first encountered the cheerfully snide catch-all 'nude vegan cyclist', but it was probably in The Guardian. As a convenient label to slap on myself it's two-thirds true (three-thirds only when I'm in the shower with my bike) and it always pops into my head whenever my thoughts drift around to why I've set up camp in such rarefied territory.

What I'd give at times to be able to walk into a restaurant and order practically anything on the menu. And who amongst us wouldn't love to cycle on streets where 'critical mass' is nothing more than an overloaded basket?

I didn't ask to be a minority. It just happened, little by little. One good idea after another impacted my brain ("Yeah, and left craters!" - quiet in the back), and now I'm condemned to live the rest of my life justifying myself, which can get complicated.

Take the vegan thing. Some folks find my diet an implied criticism* and are quick to look for signs of hypocricy - leather shoes are a favourite target - and purer vegans would spare me hell but not purgatory for myriad sins.

The movement, which my dictionary calls a sect (and it's no wonder; the opening scenario is less of a joke than you might think) invariably has its evangelical component. That V-shaped halo is hard to miss. But I'll confine myself to passing along the
address of a site which makes the case quite nicely and move along to cyclists.

Why are we members of this particular club? Maybe cycling is too much of an implied criticism of internal combustion.

In any case, we have our own bouncers.

Awhile back I had a petrol engine put onto my wife's bicycle.** It pollutes. It's a little loud. It's an imperfect compromise. After installing it I went to a bike store for advice about dampening the vibration it caused. When I explained the contraption the clerk wasn't amused. "Take it off," he suggested, visibly horrified that the noble expression of goodness that is a bicycle was being sullied by such a monstrous cancer.

I'm not a big fan of the thing either; nor is my wife. But it allows her to accompany me on some long, hilly trips which she would normally opt out of, or we'd end up driving. 'S better, no?

Besides, I like to think that all the cycling I do makes up for that little bit of fossil fuel that our Frankenstein bike lets loose into the atmosphere. That's my conceit. I'm perfectly willing to take some brickbats, but I'll not be tossed out of the cycling fraternity because of it.

'Nude vegan cyclist' is splendidly annoying shorthand for everyone on the green end of the spectrum. Trust me: it's a rough bunch.

Cycling Today, August 1999

* We're all complicit in the carnage to some degree (the horror, the horror), but the curious thing about "Are you wearing leather shoes?" is that it rather taunts folks like me for being extremist while at the same time criticising us if we're not extremist enough.

** She later went electric