Richard on: cyclists

Posted by Richard Hammond at 07:02 am on Tuesday October 01, 2013

It was all very idyllic and wonderful - one of those moments when even the hardest of pinches won't help convince me that things can't have come together so well without the aid of witchcraft. The key ingredients were simple, if somewhat special: a Lamborghini Aventador Roadster, a TopGear crew, a hot day in Italy and a selection of graceful Italian hills draped with swooping, curving tarmac - like a silk scarf lying on an expensive sofa.

Smashing. Can't complain about that. We are often asked if we realise how lucky we are to do the job we do and if we really appreciate it... and I can say honestly that, yes, we do, sometimes with an intensity that makes our heads spin. I have left out one key ingredient from the list, though, and it's an ingredient that muscles in on any such scenario, wherever it might be happening.

I have, over the years, spent an unusually large amount of time spanking supercars around exotic, hilly locations. And if there's one thing on which I can offer a stone-cold, rock-hard guarantee, it's that the combination of supercar, sunny day, camera crew and hilly roads anywhere in the world and at any time of day will attract a fifth, key ingredient as surely as a brick in the face will leave a mark.

Film a supercar swooping and shouting about the hills for more than two minutes, and you will be joined by a bicycle race. Fact. Sometimes, it's an organised one with roadblocks and spectators. And sometimes, it's a more casual affair where a bicycle club has elected to use the particular stretch of hillside on which you've chosen to film a supercar.

Now, I like bicycles and cycling and make no secret of it. And so, by default, I must like cyclists. Yes? Well, no, not all of them. Despite Clarkson's recent confession to having bought a bicycle, a concept I still can't help but feel belongs in a cartoon rather than the gritty streets of London, he still harbours a grudging dislike for the two-wheeled traveller. And the thing is, it's kind of hard to disagree, given the naked aggression and simmering loathing plastered across the sweaty, self-righteous faces of the average London cyclist as they glare and shout their way through a red light or stare at you in your car with such ferocious resentment that it leaves you sunburnt.

If you think it's bad trying to thread your car through commuter traffic infested with bicycles and scooters, you should see what they do when you try punting a supercar through the pack. As a general rule, a slightly sideways supercar is as welcome in a bicycle race as, well... I can't think of anything else in the universe less welcome, so what's the point in trying to make a comparison? The bitterness, hatred and resentment crackle and hiss in the air around them, and, I suspect, if focused through a concave lens, could kill.

As the first Lycra-clad hero appeared around a bend, his pumping calves almost at head height to me in the low-lying, suddenly 70ft-wide Lambo, I prepared to receive the usual blast of hatred. It never came. The rider looked up as he headed towards the sharp, angular beak of the Lambo and smiled. A second came along and smiled too, and then a pack of them, maybe six.

All smiled, some grinned, others raised thumbs and made the hand-flapping sign that means: "Give it the berries - I want to hear it." So I mashed the accelerator and powered around the next bend. I couldn't hear the riders whoop over the V12's bark, but I saw them do it.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in a similarly weird, dreamlike state. The appearance of rider after rider, sometimes in groups, sometimes alone, heralded each time another wave of joy, admiration and frantic approval. When I stopped to turn the car and make another run for the cameras along a particularly juicy stretch of road, I would be joined immediately by more cyclists, some of them slowing to admire the Lambo's glinting flanks. Some of them even stopped to chat among themselves and make approving noises at the Lambo.

Now, admittedly, I might briefly have slipped into another dimension, but let's assume I hadn't. In which case, it can only be that these guys considered themselves not only cyclists, but also human beings who could still be awestruck by the theatre and drama of a true supercar and enjoy the spectacle, noise and spine-tingling potential of it, even if they were on a bicycle at the time. London cyclists please take note: you are not cyclists and cyclists only. When you get to work and shower and change into your suit, you are a human being. Just as you are on the way to work.

A human being on a bicycle is still a human being, with all the complexities that make you who you are, whether you're at a party, at home with your children or riding a bicycle. Or admiring a shouting, bellowing Italian supercar with your friends - from the saddle of your bicycle.

TAGS// richard hammond

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