5 Local Cycling Superstitions That Fly in the Face of Reality


Last week you learnt about the Chinese obsession with the afterworld, which is why I exhorted you to seek out group rides. This week, you’re about to find out about a few facts that fly against the face of superstitions we cyclists have.

Cycling is a sport, which means it carries a certain amount of risk. That also means it is rife with superstitions, especially at the professional level. Lance Armstrong for example, had certain rituals surrounding clothing – such as one which saw him refuse to wear the yellow helmet, as traditionally worn with the yellow jersey, except for on the final stage.

He also had to always start and finish a stage on the same bike, meaning that his team mechanics would have to rush to complete repairs on a damaged bike before the end of the stage, and has even attributed losses to failure to follow these rules.

Today, we know of course, that he was a cheat and a liar. Chances are, if he lost a race, he probably didn’t cheat hard enough. And then he had to lie extra hard about it afterwards.

Regardless of his lying and cheating ways, undesired outcomes, failures, and misfortunes are what motivate us to create superstitions in the first place: when something bad happens, we all seek something to blame for it, to identify something that we can do to prevent it from happening again. After all, no one likes to believe that fate is out of our hands. Superstitions are thus our last way to control a world that’s mostly uncontrollable and illogical.

Check out a few of the ways local riders try to control the insane, the irrational, the illogical misfortunes that may befall us:

1. We place lucky charms in the handlebar/seat tube/behind saddle

The religious amongst us might put something of a religious nature in a surreptitious part of the bike. My friend has a talisman stuffed inside the hollow portion of his handlebar, and he tells me it’s like the talismans he hangs from the rear view mirror of his car.

Other favourite places to stow lucky charms include inside the seat post, and on the outside, hanging from the saddle rails.

2. We put lights that let us be seen and be safe

When was the last time you were in a car and went, “Hey, I didn’t see that cyclist there!” Right, so, close to never. That’s because few if any cyclists ride at night without lights. As well they should.

But the truth is, lights really might be a kind of superstition, because most cycling accidents are not due to any fault of the cyclist, according to a study published in 2009. The data, which was analysed by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) in Britain, showed that more than a quarter of all cycling deaths in 2005-07 happened when a vehicle ran into the rear of a bike. This rose to more than one-third in rural areas and to 40% in collisions that took place away from junctions.

3. We wear helmets to prevent us from fatal injury

If you think about it, bicycle helmets are nothing more than foam and plastic. An injury to the head that can kill you would probably split that helmet into 22 parts anyway. Or so say detractors of compulsory helmet laws.

Some experts counter-argue that all helmets do is provide an illusion of safety, and may only serve to reduce injury from a less than fatal impact. And, that helmets can affect risk-taking behaviour on the roads one of two ways. Either you are more careful when you ride, or you are more brash and take bigger risks, a hypothesis which we are happy to disagree with, because clearly, these people have never been to a nudist beach.

4. We make a point to never say “Hey, watch this!”

Because this is usually uttered in front of a video camera. And we have seen from countless Youtube videos that the person who said this is usually next captured for posterity, doing an immense endo or over the bar stunt that crushes his nuts over the top tube.

The truth is, it doesn’t matter what we say – accidents are called accidents for a reason.

5. And we never say “I’ve been flat-free for X-days”

Yet, we also kind of believe that you should never call out the fact that you’ve been accident-free. Why do it? Is it because you are feeling boastful? Or just appreciating your good fortune?

Even if you run tubeless, avoid making such comments – it’s like praising a slow day at the A&E – just don’t say it, or you’ll get to eat your words with a side-dish of regret. This is one of those superstitions that, whichever way you spin it, it just makes sense to follow.

But, as you can see from the photos, despite having a lucky charm on my saddle rails (Beijing Olympics 2008 mascot keychain) and never boasting about my flat-free lifestyle, I still managed to get a punctured rear tyre at o-dark thirty. So much for cycling superstitions!