THIS week, I’ve got a new book out. As a ghostwriter, that’s something that happens on a regular basis, but this is the first time I’ve had my own published since 2012, so I hope you’ll forgive me this small mention. It’s been a strange mix of familiar feelings resurfacing over the last few days: that excitement of seeing a finished copy, combined with the fear of opening it in case of spotting an error.

It probably won’t surprise regular readers to know that Bespoke is a book about cycling. Or more specifically, about the language of cycling: the stories behind the myriad of terminology and vocabulary that make up the lexicon of the sport. For the petrolheads shouting from the back, no, lyrca louts and red-light dodgers are not included.

Like many cycling fans, I first became interested in the sport back in the mid-1980s, when the Tour de France was first televised in Britain on Channel 4. The coverage got off to a cracking start with two of the race’s most famous rivalries: between Bernard Hinault and Greg Lemond in 1986, and Stephen Roche and Pedro Delgado in 1987. Lemond and Roche were to become the first English-speaking winners of the Tour: in those days, British cycling was somewhat off the pace, having to wait until Bradley Wiggins in 2012 for its first victory.

In terms of the cycling culture, that lack of English influence is significant. Unlike many sports with their origins in Victorian England, cycling was for its formative years focused firmly on France and Italy. In the UK, by contrast, the sport’s then governing body, the National Cyclists’ Union, orchestrated a ban on road racing in 1890. This lasted until the 1950s, with all racing taking place on velodromes and closed circuits. On the continent, by contrast, road cycling flourished: it would take the best part of fifty years for the British to catch up.

According to an article on the British Cycling website, the bicycle at the end of the nineteenth century was seen as ‘a machine of working classes … the upper classes railed against the mobility it gave the “common” man and the resultant incursions into their beloved countryside.’

Some things don’t change: in November 2020, Nigel Farage wrote an article for the Daily Mail, berating those cycling near his home in the North Downs. ‘Most seem to be middle-aged men with paunches and beards,’ he wrote (bit personal that, Nige). He concluded that, ‘I simply don’t like them and wish they weren’t here.’

Not for the first time, I disagree with Mr Farage. I like cyclists and am glad they are here. If you’re similarly minded, you might enjoy my book.