They all say it about the Leigh Riders. They all say how great it is that it's not like a proper cycling club with the blokes in blazers and annual subs and marshaling of the annual tt. We like it because it's a loose affiliation of blokes who just want to turn up and ride.
All true but also not exactly accurate. On the face of it the gang are just that, a group of like minded individuals existing in a state of perfect harmony - a dream republic where everyone is both King and subject. Where everyone's voice counts and peace flows like a river and everyone is free to wear Lycra.
I am often asked by outsiders (non bike riders) how we decide where we ride and it is here that it becomes clear that any impression of free wheeling anarcho-syndicalism gives way to nature red in tooth and claw. For it is here that the soul of the group is fought for. At best it is a good natured discussion, a debate amongst a select band who tussle over the various needs of individuals - who needs to get back to placate wives, kids, bosses; who feels knackered after a night on the lash; a knee strain; a rotten week at work and who just wants to have a chat and suck on a wheel for an hour or two. Consensus reached, we pedal away.
There are times though when the silverback gorillas emerge and we see the alpha males make their pitches. On long rides this can take the form of preferred roads, favourite hills or untried tracks. To be in possession of a map beforehand (or to have quite clearly done your homework) can signal an intention to run the ride, a benign dictator who dispenses the pleasure of a new found route like baubles to his court. It can also be seen as a gauntlet thrown with fingers jabbing at other squiggly lines to suggest, oh the temerity, an alternative destination. Here the feeling is more of incipient civil war rather than the universal brotherhood of cyclists. And this is without even considering the machinations which occur if someone dares to suggest a different cafe. Like a Jedi mind trick these are not the tea shops you were looking for.
Invariably the road taken is never regretted, but the road not taken is stored, logged and will be rolled out next time to be presented to the oligarchy again who may eventually allow the ride to be made. Whatever the actual form of government, the surface appearance of a democracy is important. Waiting for one another at key junctions, slowing for piss stops, barracking the unfortunates who puncture and giving a wheel to the desperate. Unless, of course, the gloves are off and the hammer's down and then it is the survival of the fittest. A Darwinian struggle where only the strong and the wily survive. Adapt or die goes the cry as the alpha-est male stomps on his pedals, up the hill and out of sight. And only then do the cycling socialists come to the fore giving protection to the weak and broken, huddling the masses, the we are truly all in this together mentality that gets everyone home and out of the wind and into a warm shower.
And like a beaten hound we come crawling back to our masters once more to do it all again. Back on the chain gang, hoping this time we will be top dog.
PS I have just come back from a solo Canewdon considering the message of this post - it started out as a possible paean for a soviet collective and ended up describing a 'no such thing as society/ we'll ride as a group if you can keep up with me' free market capitalist model with a little welfare state safety net for the weakest members of society slung on for good measure. Hmmm...I might need to rethink this cycling as politics thing.