Richard Hammond

Richard the Raleigh star

I should have known it would end in disaster. Though even had I accepted this, it seems unlikely I would've conceived of the exact nature of the disaster until the very instant of its unfolding.

I'm afraid to confess that I willingly and knowingly broke one of the cardinal rules. I allowed vanity to interfere with my motoring life. Well, when I say ‘motoring', I should stress right here and now that the vehicle at the centre of my doom-laden bout of vanity is not one possessed of an engine. Rather, the motive force for this particular mode of transport comes courtesy of me. It's a bicycle, and is, as a general rule, my preferred vehicle for dragging my arse around London. Yes, at every set of lights I weather a storm of ridicule from van-drivers and cabbies all pointing out that Jezza probably has a Ferrari and asking if that's the best I can do. And having followed yet another entirely empty bus at 10mph across five miles of city centre, I pitch up at the TG office a sweaty, foul-smelling misery and remove my glasses to reveal white Panda eyes and a fume-blackened face. But the exercise is good, I can relax in the knowledge that I am contributing nothing to the city congestion and I can laugh at smug Prius drivers. 

And so all was well with my method of floating across town to the office. But then, from nowhere, descended this urge to try to look good while I was doing it. I have recognised this urge in other people and seen it immediately for the calamity it is. Turn up at our studio wearing a Subaru T-shirt and you can be pretty sure of receiving some strongly worded advice that you might want to re-think your wardrobe. We must all remember that while it's crucially important for a car to look good and it might even be nice if we manage to scrub up as best we can, there is no excuse for trying to wear anything designed especially for wearing while using it.

"All was well with my method of floating across town to the office. But then, from nowhere, descended this urge to look good while I was doing it"

In my case, I decided to try to make myself look a bit better when I cycle the weekly commute to the BBC on my pushbike. I bought special cycling sunglasses and special cycling cut-off gloves. And I spent a few extra quid on special cycling shorts of a brand new ‘technical' material that would, I was assured by the man in the shop, allow me to sweat. I didn't like to tell him that my arse had always managed to sweat quite freely whilst cycling to work in an ordinary pair of jeans. I also bought a pair of highly ‘technical' cycling shoes with reflective bits on the back and carbon-fibre inserts on the side.

And I set off to work, not heeding the cries enquiring as to the location of my Lambo, the chance of Jeremy ripping the piss out of me should he see me on a bike and the possibilityI might have nicked Captain Slow's boneshaker. I didn't care what people said because I knew I looked good.

At a set of lights, I even managed that hovering thing kids do when they pull up and remain stationary without unclipping a foot from the toeclip to dab it to the ground. As the lights changed to green, I stood on the pedals and set off at a scorching pace, imagining the admiring glances from drivers around me. And then, quite suddenly, the disaster I had courted with my vehicular vanity caught up with me and administered the most almighty kick to the plums.

For reasons not immediately apparent, my bicycle slowed very suddenly, my feet could turn no further and I freewheeled to a halt. Stationary, I began a slow lean to the left. I tried to put my foot out to stop what was fast turning into a fall. It would not come away from the pedal and I fell onto my side without any effort to break my fall. As a result, my landing was, at best, firm and I felt my pelvis shatter into a thousand shards and my left shoulder explode with the impact. I still couldn't take my foot off the pedal and became aware the traffic was backing up behind me and making a lot of noise in protestation at being forced to wait behind a man dying in the road.

I wriggled my shattered carcass to the kerb still with the bicycle clamped between my probably-broken legs. Reaching down, I felt around and discovered what had happened. My new cycling shoe had very long, strong, ‘technical' laces, one of which had come undone and got caught in the pedal while I performed my hovering manoeuvre. When I set off, it took about four turns for it to wind itself around the spindle and clamp my foot to the pedal, causing my accident, the ruination of most of my limbs and utter destruction of my dignity. And I relearned a lesson which we all must take to heart. You try to look good whilst driving, riding or pedaling, and you are going to end up looking the most almighty knob. It's just a fact. Accept it.


Richard Hammond, Column

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