When modern cycling – safety bikes with air tyres and chain-drives – began, Britain was the workshop of the World, unique in having a large urban working class. In agricultural societies bicycles made the workforce more mobile, more productive, a bicycle was something for a landless labourer to aim at. Bicycles promoted social cohesion. In a nation of industrial cities bikes were more likely to be considered a threat to social order, because they allowed working people easy access to the countryside.
In 1894 bicycle-road racing was banned in Britain following an incident on the Great North Road in which a carriage-horse bolted. Semi-clandestine time-trials were tolerated, but mass-start road-racing wasn’t re-established for half a century. One interpretation of Wiggins’ triumph, is that the outspoken Londoner with Irish-Australian roots is finally healing a wound that has delayed the development of bicycling in this country.
Wiggins is a ‘Mod’. The Mod(ernist) cult began in the post-war boom. The Beatles went to Hamburg in 1960, as Rockers….
…- Rockers like leather jackets, long hair, big motor-cycles and American music – and came back as Mods.
Modism persisted through related flavours – skinheads, soul-boys, casuals – and enjoyed a revival around 1978. Wiggins is too young to have participated in either of these booms. He’s not a Mod by accident. It’s a choice.
Mods like tailoring, haircuts, American music, motor-scooters, coffee bars, anything Italian. Modism’s affinity for Italian style overlaps nicely with just-like-Eddy…
…retro coureur-chic; woollen jerseys, leather-mitts, cotton caps. It makes sense that – Fred Perry, a sportswear brand that became a classic ‘soul-boy’ label – would want to team up with Wiggins. They must have noticed the rapid growth of Rapha-ism. Here’s Bradley looking moody in the doorway of a new shop, selling old bikes to young people in Mountgrove Road N5.
The great fixed-gear boom of the early Twenty-first Century is probably over, but if – and it seems only lightning-strike can stop it – the Maida-Vale track-star, hipster wins the Tour de France the idea that studying to ride a bike is an aspirational activity for dandies will get another mighty hand-sling down the grand boulevard of human progress.
During the Beijing Olympics I had to ride out into the Outer Eastern Suburbs to make an important delivery. Floating through the afternoon snarl of Leyton and Wanstead I felt love coming from the disappointed wage slaves in the white vans:- ‘There’s one of those people we’re proud of.’
Hurrying to appointments during the last fortnight, taking pace off the motor-traffic on the Kingsland Road like I was pushing back through the convoy with a jersey full of bidons, I’ve felt the same delusion.