It’s strange the way things change. As cycling has exploded in popularity and become, dare we say it, ‘normal’, the experience of actually being a cyclist has also been transformed. Every weekend there are more people out on the roads and if you commute to work you’ll almost certainly share the bike lanes and paths you use to get to work with a number of other riders. For that matter, there actually are bike lanes, which didn’t used to be the case.
And then there are the events and races. Massive sportives like RideLondon, the Tour of Cambridgeshire and Velothon Wales bring together enormous numbers of amateur bike riders, all sharing the same routes on closed roads. And of course, we recently saw the Tour de Yorkshire’s fourth edition, with the Tour of Britain waiting at the end of the summer – two world-class bike races are not only happening in the UK, they’re getting bigger and better year-on-year.
It’s easy to forget that it wasn’t always like this.
The decline of the camaraderie between cyclists
PedalCover founder, Darren Thomas, who has been cycling longer than he cares to admit, has definitely observed this trend.
“When I started out cycling many moons ago, there weren’t many of us out on the roads. We were in the minority and whenever you saw a fellow cyclist on the road, you’d give them a nod or a ‘hello’. Now there’s so many of us out, I feel that we’re losing this camaraderie.”
Cyclists were once a rarity. A strange subculture of oddballs who, if they weren’t racing each other up and down stretches of obscure countryside B-road in club tens, would bore the arse off all their non-cycling friends and family with talk of Lycra, lubricant and some bloke called Lance. Now everybody rides a bike and they all have an opinion on the inner workings of Team Sky, down to what each rider has for breakfast before a big stage of the Giro.
The thing is though, when you’re part of a subculture, it brings those of you who are a part of it together. It makes you feel like ‘one of the group’ and that can be an incredibly powerful way of bonding, of instilling a sense of camaraderie. For our money, the community in cycling is one of our favourite things about the sport.
One of the surest but smallest signs of that camaraderie in days gone by was the friendly nod exchanged between two cyclists going in opposite directions. It wasn’t much of a gesture, just the slightest of inclinations of the head, as if to say “Good work buddy, keep fighting the good fight.” Sometimes you’d lift your right hand from the bars in a micro-wave, while the rampant extroverts among us might even venture to call out ‘hello’, or ‘good morning’.
It wasn’t so much a conscious decision, just something you did. Sadly, it seems like ‘the Nod’ is dying out now though. Fewer people are returning our nods, and fewer still are initiating the action. The best you can hope for sometimes is a sort of surprised half-turn, as the person you’ve waved at turns around in the saddle to see if you are somebody they were supposed to have recognised.
We think there are a couple of reasons for this sad decline in fellowship on the road.
- Are there simply ‘too many’ cyclists? Is it possibly the case that now cyclists are the norm, rather than the exception, we’ve actually stopped relating to each other so strongly? Did the feeling of being part of a tiny group of under-fire outsiders forge stronger bonds than we thought? Has cycling become so common that we no longer feel like we have anything in common with other cyclists? Is the cycling fraternity the victim of its own popularity?
- Does it reflect a wider change in society, rather than a change in cycling? We live different lives to how we used to, there’s no avoiding it. The standard unfriendliness associated with London life is seeping into other parts of the UK too. We live compartmentalised existences, barely looking up from our phones most of the time, and rarely saying hello to our neighbours, or people outside our immediate circle of friends. Could it be that we’re simply becoming less sociable animals?
- Perhaps they just don’t know about ‘the Nod’? If you’re new to cycling, there’s really no reason you’d know about ‘the Nod’. Nobody teaches you to do it – it’s just a thing that cyclists seem, or seemed, to pick up. Looking at it a different way, if we told you that every time you bought a pineapple in Tescos you were supposed to high five the person behind the till, you’d probably be a little surprised, right? To find out that you’d been inadvertently ignoring a social convention all this time? And is waving or nodding to a complete stranger on the other side of the road, just because they’re also wearing Lycra, really any different?
Keeping the Nod Alive
At PedalCover, we hope it’s the latter reason, because if it really is a case of ignorance rather than indifference then there’s something we can do about the problem.
If we want to keep ‘the Nod’ alive, it’s the duty of those in the know to pass on this noblest of micro-traditions to the uninitiated. That’s why, henceforth, you’ll find us waving, nodding and yelling hello to every cyclist we see – regardless of the blank looks we might receive in return. And if it makes people think we’re a bunch of weirdos? Well that’s just fine with us. Like we said at the top – cyclists have always been an unusual bunch.
Are you a nodder? If you are, have you noticed less people returning the gesture? Are you a non-nodder who doesn’t get what all the fuss is about? Let us know on our social media channels #longlivethenod.