‘Give them bread and games’ said the Romans. Today, it’s food and television. I’m fortunate enough to have stayed away from the latter, and never to have seen the former (too little or too much of it) as an issue. Neither is food and cycling. I enjoy, savour and treasure both. Like the Famous Five, who take great delight in cycling all over the countryside and gobbling up food as they go along. Oh, the description of ice-creams, sandwiches and home-made cakes! These were the post-war years and cycling and eating were not issues, just signs of ruddy good health. Being brought up on The Continent, I’ve never felt guilty about eating good food, so I don’t need cycling as an excuse. After all, eating is the basis – or the purpose, according to some – of life, and enjoying one’s food is a crucial as ingesting all the nutrients necessary to one’s survival and well-being.
Food as fuel – energy drinks, power bars, carbohydrates, calories intake and the like – doesn’t quite do it for me though. It doesn’t really enter the world of my leisurely daily rides. Many cyclists confess to having a bit of an appetite and comment on how hungry they get. The now defunct blog That Messenger Chick (‘Bike, liberty and the pursuit of free food’) used to post countless photos of cakes, gateaux, biscuits, sticky buns, sweets and other puddings. I perhaps eat marginally more as a result of all that pedalling, but that’s about it. Certainly, cycling, being cheaper, allows me to eat better-tasting, more nutritious food, but I would agree with the widespread calculation that I burn three to five times less energy cycling one mile than walking it, since I don’t have to support my own weight. My kind of cycling seems to be more forgiving of running on empty than walking: I can do an hour’s ride with little in the tank, while I would need to eat before I walked for that length of time. Consequently, I’ve never experienced the bonk, aka ‘hitting the wall’.
My new housemate bakes fabulous cakes and I definitely have to cycle to burn all that lovely food. So, I wonder what comes first these days: cakes, hence cycling, or cycling, hence cakes? Do I eat cake, therefore I have to cycle, or do I cycle so that I am allowed to eat cake? Actually, this is a non-issue since the two sides of the proposition are equally enticing (that’s what is called ‘to have your cake and eat it’!). More cake, more cycling, more cycling, more cake: what’s the problem? There simply isn’t a downside. ‘How long do you commute every day?’ I once got asked by a fellow rider on a creaky mountain bike. What he really meant, and subsequently asked, was: ‘ How much cycling will it take to lose one stone?’ I was lost for words. It had never occurred to me to think of cycling in those terms. Compared to pro-cyclists’ obsessive approach to weight, in my life, eating and cycling have very little impact on each other, hence a happy, harmonious relationship.
I’m far from alone here. Think of all the bike blogs, such as The Hungry Cyclist, that combine both. Eating and cycling go so well together that it is natural the two should meet often. Isn’t cycling the perfect way to discover a country, and by extension its food and wine? Mixing food and cycling gives birth to such civilised cafés as Look Mum No Hands! or Cycle PS in Kennington. Secure parking, bike-themed decor, the latest bike magazines, the smell of coffee and bike oil in the air: perfect. One of the highlights of all the rides I’ve been on has always been … the pub lunch! Bikes and food have their social side in common, whether I’m cycling to a picnic or cycling home after eating out in town. Bicycles can be an integral part of the food chain too, in the form of food bikes, those cargo bikes pedalling to deliver food to your home. And, following in the footsteps of the edible bus stop, how about the bicycle as food? The Sandwichbike! Which in fact turns out to be nothing more than a quirky name for a flat pack wooden bicycle. Never mind. Incredible as it may seems, I’ve never intentionally (so that excludes flies) eaten anything on a bike. Like reading, eating and cycling are activities I love to engage in but all three necessitate a pair of hands, so they are not to be attempted simultaneously. Still, with food, bikes and books*, any desert island is my kingdom. Now, did I spot some blackberry and apple cake in the kitchen this morning?
*Oh, OK, and films too