I sat on a wooden railing smacking at a ham sandwich, my mountain bike leaning against the other side. A friend of mine and I had just finished an arduous climb up the steep side of Leith Hill and were enjoying the view across the South Downs with about a dozen other mountain bikers.
And that’s when they sauntered through. Two horse riders, strolling up one side of the hill, through the throng of bikers and casually down the other side, casting a pseudo-regal persona over messy and muddy bikes and riders. While in our midst they tossed condescending glances down from their high horses as if to say, “What boorish, common little people.”
Since becoming a mountain biker I’ve come to realize there is a culture clash here in the UK between five distinct groups of people: Horseback riders, mountain bikers, street bikers, walkers and runners.
Horses and horseback riding here in Surrey goes beyond the casual pasture horse whose back is slightly swayed with age. No, horses here are posh, and posh people ride posh horses, and posh horses graze in posh pastures. (Maybe posh horses don’t actually graze. That sounds too…..common. Maybe posh horses “snip succulent pasturage”). No western saddles here. Riders use proper saddles and wear polyester stretchy pants covered with knee-high boots. Atop, I’ve seen supple brown leather gloves, tweed jackets and of course all don black helmets. There is many an equestrian training facility in the area and when the horses roam beyond paddocks they take to bridleways. These happen to be the same byways on which mountain bikers are allowed to ride. When the two cultures meet along secluded pathways there is a real sense that the desire expressed by equine people is that the bike people yield, submit, be cast aside….just simply go somewhere else, preferably France. If horseback riders were music they’d most certainly be one of Mozart’s finer concertos.
I mentioned France. France has its own variation of posh horse riders called “road bikers.” These are they who spend thousands of dollars on bicycles that are the equivalent of a Ferrari. They spend nearly as much on the tight little singlets and tight little shorts like the Tour de France guys wear. In fact, I’m convinced these Lance Armstrong wannabes truly believe they are in perpetual preparation for the next year’s event. Here in the UK, the pompous glances these velocipede drivers cast toward auto drivers – for whom the roads were actually made – seem to communicate, “Did you have permission to bring your auto onto this very wide, paved bicycle carriageway?” If road bikers were music they’d be Top 40 pop for sure: a lot of fluff, glitz, glam but very little substance. Can somebody say Lady Gaga?
Scampering along the sides of narrow roads and sidewalks are runners. Now I want to be careful here. Until just a few years ago and a hip surgery I was churning out about 35-40 miles a week so my heart beats this people group. Let’s face it; runners are cool. They glide through pedestrians and dart across roads. Admittedly this gliding and darting annoys pedestrians and motorists, but who cares. By the time the profanity forms in the mind and transfers to the lips, the runner is out of range. (Another reason runners are cool is the shoes. I love the shoes). Runners are classic rock, no doubt about it, and that’s cool too.
I mentioned pedestrians, which is a fancy way of saying, “walkers.” I admit, even though I’m excited to see people out exercising I was pretty condescending to walkers. “Runner wannabees” I’d call ’em. There is a sense of superiority when as a runner you blow past a walker and think in the most patronizing tone possible, “walker.” I wanted little to do with walkers….until that hip surgery I mentioned…and now I is one. I don’t know, maybe God’s way of humbling me – by making me a walker. Anyway, I don’t really walk when I walk, I trek, and trekking for some reason makes me think of John Denver, and since I like John Denver….trekking is cool.
The bane of all these people groups seems to be mountain bikers. Mountain bikers are mongrels; creatures not legitimately created to share bridleways but certainly not pedigree enough to classify themselves as true bikers. They terrorize walkers and the dogs who walk with walkers. The irony is mountain bikers really could not care less. In fact, many would probably embrace the rebel without a cause (clue?) mantra. Mountain bikers really aren’t supposed to be on footpaths so I asked a guy who owns a mountain bike shop whose cheapest bike is about $700, “So where do you ride.” His response: “Wherever the hell we want.”
Alrighty then. The guy was definitely thrash metal. Addicted to Pain comes to mind.
I will have to say, I’m a kinder, gentler mountain biker. I yield to posh horses and their posh riders, I don’t terrorize the walkers (too much), and I try not to call road bikers in their little stretchy outfits sissies (mostly because I don’t want to get beat up by a dude in tight shorts). In fact, I spend most of my time just trying to keep from hitting a tree root and launching myself over the handle bars and into the woods where injury awaits.
Or worse: landing in posh horse poop.