Ian McMillan: Feel free to grin if you’re in the chain gang

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Imagine you’re a cyclist in the Tour de France, zooming down a Yorkshire hill. Your legs are pumping and your wheels are spinning faster than me and my mate Robert Doughty used to whirl in the back garden when we tried to make ourselves dizzy. Sweat is pouring down your face like water down Aysgarth Falls and your heart is beating a samba beat. I guess that for you, to paraphrase As Time Goes By, a hill is just a hill, a slope is just a slope, the fundamental things apply as Tour goes by, but for us White Rose Citizens it’s something different, something special.

I know it’s hard to think of anything else but, as you’re speeding along, take a moment to look around. Just a glance. A mini glance. A glancette. This is Yorkshire, my friend. This is not just The Grand Départ: this is The Champion Depart, The Gradely Depart. This is something Yorkshire has waited a long time for. Give us a wave; give us a thumbs-up. Careful now; don’t wobble.

Let me tell you about my brother John. When he was a lad he really wanted a horse for Christmas, because he was a cowboy fan and he wanted to ride the Darfield Range all the way to the Lazy X ranch at Little Houghton, stopping at the Middlecliffe Saloon along the way for a glass of moonshine. My mam and dad hinted to him that he might get a horse as well as a Kit Carson annual but on Christmas morning there was no sign of his four-legged friend. Except, in the back room, there was a two-wheeled friend. A bike. A gleaming bike just waiting for him to ride it. And he did, there and then, ringing the bell all the way down Barnsley Road.

Let me tell you about those older people I see on the tops at Cleethorpes, cycling from the Yacht Club to the Leisure Centre, their hair tied up in scarves or hidden under caps or waving like seaweed as they trundle or zoom along and the breeze threatens to blow them off course. They ring their bells, too, to warn the people who’ve strayed into the bike lane that the grey bikers are coming, moving smoothly through the gears, carrying their shopping in a basket on the front. “This is the life!” one of them will shout as they pass.

Let me tell you about me; about my odd attempts to ride a bike as a portly child, holding onto the handlebars for grim death, not realising that if you didn’t pedal you fell off, and not pedalling and falling off. Let me tell you about how, years later and back in Cleethorpes as a mature gentleman, I succeeded in pedalling and turning the handlebars at the same time, making my steady way along the tops. I would have shouted “this is the life” but I was concentrating too hard on keeping the bike moving. But I’ll tell you what: I enjoyed it, especially ringing the bell. I didn’t fall off, although it was quite hard to stop. I just ground to a halt.

Imagine you’re a cyclist in the Tour de France: take a look around at the cheering and waving Yorkshire crowds. Each one of them will have a cycle story, could make a song cycle of their bike tales and we’re all pleased to see you here. So give us a wave. Give us a grin.