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With Premier League footballers and TV personalities now riding, has cycling become cool?

16 Feb 2021

Superstar comic and Hollywood actor Kevin Hart is the latest high-profile celebrity to take up cycling which reminded us of this piece from last Spring.

Words: Joe Robinson

It wasn’t the reported 300% surge in cycling traffic through certain UK towns. Nor was it the £2 billion emergency cash injection from Transport Secretary Grant Schapps. Or the fact that Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan have been quick to fashion new cycling lanes out of traffic cones and plant pots.

And it wasn’t even when a colleague of mine told me that Canyon and Brompton had broken all of their bike sales records for the month of April.

No, I realised that cycling was well and truly booming into a new age when I saw the two latest additions to the celebrity cycling stable. Joining the likes of Masterchef judge John Torode and Spandau Ballet guitarist Gary Kemp in that primetime chain gang are reality television heart-throb, Essexman Mark Wright and the ‘Egyptian Messi’, Liverpool footballer Mohamed Salah.

Salah posted a picture of himself on Twitter riding his brand new Vitus Razor VR disc road bike with a caption of two bike emojis.

We can excuse the angle of the handlebars, for now, it’s one of the most influential sporting stars in the UK with a beaming grin showing his 12 million followers that he cycles and 142.8k, and counting, people have liked the image. This was the man whose presence at Liverpool Football Club was such that there was a direct drop in Islamaphobia in the city.

Then popping up on my phone immediately after, my other half sent me a screengrab of Wright’s latest Instagram post with the message ‘OMG, Mark Wright cycles! Is that a good bike?’

His arm expertly placed on top of the bars to push out his triceps, he was posing with his brand-new Giant Propel in full lycra and even clipless cycling shoes. The caption reads: ‘Loving my new wheels @giantstoreloughton @giantbicyeles #Giant the Bugatti of bikes!! #ad another 30 miles in the tank.’

What followed was a series of emoji comments from the likes of former boxing World Champion-turned SAS Who Dares Wins contestant Tony Bellew and Strictly Come Dancing champion Kelvin Fletcher. I counted fist bumps, fire and clapping hands. Over 27,500 people have since liked that photo.

Two individuals whose vast followings are likely not cyclists. In fact, with a combined following of 13.8 million, I can guarantee that 95% of those wouldn’t be able to tell their Pierre Rolands from their Arthur Vichots.

But these are possibly two of the most influential people in the UK right now - whether you like them or not - advocating cycling, not least riding full-on road bikes. And to me, this signals something quite extraordinary for us cyclists.

You see, even my own inbox has seen a wave of people I haven’t spoken to in years sliding themselves in.

‘How’s lockdown, all good? You know you’re bang into your cycling, what bike would you recommend I get?’ These are people I went to school with, played football with, all who once mocked my desire to ride a bicycle in very tight clothing and not too long ago were fishing for a reaction by asking me to pay 'road tax'.

Now they are wondering what’s the difference between Tiagra and 105. I even had one chancer ask me about a free bike. The cheek! Even I don’t get any of those.

The truth is that every day I have cycled around the Kentish lanes during this lockdown, I’ve seen brand new disciples to our once-niche cult rolling around on all types of bicycle, great and small.

Plenty of rusty mountain bikes that were found at the back of sheds, families of four forming makeshift pacelines and the odd wobbly helmet balanced on a head that’s far too big.

I’ve spun past blokes head to toe in Ralph Lauren tracksuits on new Boardman SLR road bikes and my particular favourite was the guy riding in an England Italia 90’ football shirt.

With the gyms shut, football cancelled and pilates done via the demoralising medium of Zoom, there’s a whole wave of men, women and children that seem to have had a real lightbulb moment in realising that cycling is a great way of getting outside, enjoying the sunshine and keeping fit and healthy, both mentally and physically, through what is arguably the most challenging period of most of our lives.

We had our first wave in 2012 when we all wore our Wiggo sideburns and we even launched a road cycling magazine, but this new influx of people taking up cycling seems like it could be sizeably bigger, especially with the privilege of riding a bike seemingly being one of the only certainties in our unknown futures.

I do not think that Wright and Salah are the wind of seismic change for cycling in the UK, I just feel like it’s a novel cherry on top moment.

It seems that cycling is starting to become acceptable in the mainstream and within communities who were once among our biggest critics, and I’ll even whisper this one quietly, but if the likes of Wright and Salah keep doing what they’re doing, I dare say it may even become cool to be a cyclist.

Let's just hope that this change is here to stay.