Lycra louts and trouser suits
One phrase that has puzzled me in recent years is ‘lycra louts’. It is used regularly and with a fair amount of emotion but I really don't know why. I can understand ‘lager louts’ since drinking lots of lager can make the best of us into anti-social idiots. But why do people demonise cyclists wearing clothing that reduces chafing? If anything, you’d think it would be the opposite way around. The cyclists without the lycra would be the menace. If I cycled for four hours in damp underwear that had been rubbing itself against my sensitive areas with all the delicate softness of a cheese grater, I would scream and shout if someone got in my way. But it’s the opposite.
Can lycra make you a nasty person? There’s no evidence of this. You can look like a part time trapeze artist and it won’t make you evil. Perhaps anger at ‘lycra louts’ is down to cyclists actually behaving like lager louts? That would be reasonable, but if that was true, then surely we’d see a report like the following in our local paper:
“a mass fight broke out in the town centre last night when a group of road cyclists fought mountain bikers over who had the most gears. When police arrived at the scene, the miscreants bombarded them with pumps, lights, saddles and the odd wheel. Fortunately, all the items were made from ultra light carbon fibre so no police were injured. Seventeen cyclists were taken into custody and will appear before magistrates tomorrow in highly reflective clothing.”
So where does this anger at cyclists come from? It may be that many motorists want cyclists to stay in their place. They want them to pootle along at four miles an hour deep the gutter on the edge of the road, straining to push their pedals around as they navigate through broken bottles, smashed plastic hub caps and the odd dead fox. They want cyclists to be tarmac troglodytes, never venturing into the harsh glare of a headlight, content to keep so far to the left, they’re in danger of scraping the edges off the kerb-stones. The idea that a cyclist would actually move out into the road and take a position in front of their car for any length of time makes them froth at the mouth.
I'm not exaggerating. I have personally had someone scream abuse at me because I wanted to change lanes in front of him in order to turn right. I waited for a gap, signalled clearly and then began to manoeuvre slowly across the road, knowing that the traffic was moving at about four miles. This did not alter his behaviour. He screamed obscenities, his face contorted with rage, as he sped past me. I’m glad his side window was half up, protecting me from the spittle coming out of his mouth. No way would I want to inhale bodily fluids from a man with that expression.
In some ways, a cyclist wearing lycra is like a woman wearing a trouser suit. Yes, a trouser suit, the sartorial creation so beloved of Hilary Clinton and women on their way to employment tribunals. I’m guessing that even a few readers of this article will think ‘oh no, not those outfits, the ones that destroy a woman’s entire feminine identity and leave her in a limbo world of sexual uncertainty and cold aggression. Begone! Foul concoction of Coco Chanel and Beelzebub!’ But there’s nothing wrong with a trouser suit. Why the reaction?
In Britain in the 1890’s, women were ridiculed in the press when they began wearing to work the first woman’s suit - a tailored jacket and skirt. A trouser suit seems to be the natural next step, taking a woman away from being identified as 'a woman who works' rather than a fellow professional. If it is, then it’s getting stick just like the first woman's suit. Most corporations, according to several commentators, ‘frown on’ trouser suits - in other words, don't wear one if you want promotion, or job security. It could be worse. A woman was recently flogged in a muslim country for wearing one, but it’s still far from ideal.
All in all, I think drivers complain about ‘lycra louts’ because more and more cyclists are asserting their rightful place as equal users of the road. In the end, it seems that all change brings friction.
But then again, that’s why people wear lycra.