Monday, October 16, 2006
Am I in the midst of a mid-life crisis?
Am I in the midst of a mid-life crisis? Perhaps to everyone else it’s been obvious for years: I’ve changed my career, moved house and area, lost vast amounts of weight and become far more aware of my own mortality – all this while still in my 30s. But while I have played up the notion of mid-life crisis man for attempted comic writing effect, part of me has wondered whether it was really true or not.
However, undeniable proof is now staring me in the face. No longer can I pretend that the hair growing out of my ears and nose is a temporary anomaly; or that trimming my beard shorter was for practical reasons rather than any desire to knock a few years off my appearance; nor that my yearning for a bright red two-seater sports car just came from watching too much Top Gear on TV. Irrefutable evidence of the male menopause in action has finally presented itself.
My wife and I have just bought my 40th birthday present for next week. Despite not having been near one for more than two decades I am now the proud owner of a brand new bicycle.
For some time I’ve been toying with the prospect of getting a bike to improve my general health and fitness. The pleasant summer we’ve had this year has probably helped conjure up a sense of freedom, cycling in beautiful countryside, filling my lungs with fresh Scottish air while toning an athletic body. Nostalgia for the long cycle rides of childhood, down country lanes with my pals, puncture repair kit at the ready, has made the whole idea quite exciting.
But times have changed since the days of 2nd hand bikes that cost £2 and had a rusty shopping basket on the front: cycling now appears to be a serious pastime that costs serious money.
I’m never intending to be a professional, entering triathlons or the Tour de France; all I need is something basic that will support an overweight man, with a saddle that won’t have me singing soprano for the rest of the week. I figured £100 was a reasonable budget.
So I’m immediately taken with the special offer bikes Halfords has at the entrance to their store, which should have been £199 but are half price. All I need to do is find someone to help me decide what size I require: being short in the leg, most adult bikes are far too big for me, even with the saddle in the lowest position.
A passing lad wearing a Halfords shirt, who is 6 ½ feet tall but looked like he hasn’t started shaving yet, duly pulls the bike off the rack, adjusts the saddle height and, after I rather self-consciously straddle the bike in the middle of the shop, I agree to take it. But what’s this – I also get a £20 accessory voucher thrown into the bargain too? It’s my lucky day.
Well, what kind of accessories do I need? Of course these days everyone wears a helmet don’t they? No one wore them when I was a kid - we had to put up with cracked skulls and be thankful about it – but in these more safety conscious days I guess they’re a necessity. Unfortunately the helmets for £7.99 are basically a lump of polystyrene with a dayglo yellow sticker that looks cheap and nasty. £30 seems to be the least I can pay for something that doesn’t announce to the world that I’m a cheap bastard.
Then there are lights. I’m not planning on doing any nighttime riding, but it’s all about being seen in low visibility, so a set of flashing LED front and rear lights are obviously a minimum requirement. At least they’re reduced by £5 in the sale.
What’s that? A lock? Oh, I suppose so. I wasn’t planning on riding it to work and tying it to the railings, but I guess some kind of safety lock is always needed. Do I want one that will stop the casual thief or the determined one? How on Earth am I supposed to know the demographics of the criminal population of South West Scotland? This is turning out to be more expensive than I thought. I’ll go for a mid-range one – a bit thicker than string, but not one that includes its own concrete block to tie your bike to.
Hang on a sec, where are the mudguards? What do you mean they’re extra? I would have thought they were as fundamental as the bell. You don’t get a bell either? Or a tyre pump? Well clearly there’s no point in getting a pump if I’m not going to buy a puncture repair kit to go along with it. Do you sell spoons to lever the tyre off too? Oh, you have a fancy tool for that, do you? And an all-in-one spanner kit for removing the wheels. And a spare inner tube too?
Enough. Hold it right there. At this rate I’ll need a large rucksack to carry everything I need just in case of an emergency! Yes, I can see that you sell them as well. No. Stop. Forget the pump and stuff. I’ll only cycle within walking distance from home to begin with.
Along with the 3-year maintenance plan I’ve now spent more on the accessories than the actual bike.
So, let me see. We’ve spent over twice the amount we budgeted for on a piece of outdoor sporting equipment for one of the least sporting people in the universe, at the onset of winter, in Scotland. I haven’t even considered proper clothing other than the fact that there is no way you will ever, ever, ever get me donning a pair of lycra cycle shorts.
All this to try and recapture some sense of lost youth and demonstrate a need to be seen as a virile and potent member of the tribe.
Is it working? Can I remember how to stay upright on a bicycle? Have I come to realise that I’ve been missing out on a joyous activity all these years? I don’t know yet. With shopping and kids already in the car I couldn’t fit the bike in the back, so I’ll not be picking it up until later in the week.