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Becoming a bug

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What an absolute pain in the neck!

The early morning light casts shadows of the riders as they head for Oak Valley during stage five of the 2011 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race from Worcester Gymnasium to Oak Valley, Friday, 1 April 2011. Picture:Gary Perkin/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

SO I WENT out and bought it! Remember last week when I mentioned in this very newspaper that I was being nagged by an algorithm to buy a bicycle? Well, the nagging worked and last week I visited a small cycle shop in the shadow of an imposing microwave tower here in the city.

I must admit that not being a cyclist at all, I was pretty intimidated by the shiny frames and the fresh rubber tyres, the helmets, kit and accessories. I felt really out of my depth. But the owner of the store was patient and accommodating and gave me a few pointers that he specially toned down to my level of understanding.

I have this terrible habit of responding to good service, so I bought the bicycle.

And now I am in pain.

You see, for roughly 20 years I have been neglecting exercise … the kind of exercise that has you puffing and worn out at the end of a workout – THAT kind of exercise.

Sure, I stretch, bend, flex and do my deep breathing every day, several times a day. Sometimes I swing my arms and do a few squats – but not enough to tire myself, I do just enough to remind my body that it still has the ability to move.

Now, after less than a week of cycling after a 20-year layoff, guess where I am experiencing the most discomfort?

I know what your first guess would be and nope, you are wrong. Remember, I have been SITTING in front of my computer all day for two decades, so THAT part of the anatomy is just fine. There is pain there, but it’s bearable.

Legs? I must say that the few squats I have been doing have paid dividends. My legs are in pretty good shape; as are my forearms, hands and shoulders.

Where am I in excruciating agony? My neck!

For the past 20 years or so I have had my head down hacking away at a keyboard. Then in my free time, I would relax with a bit of social media indulgence or online games … always looking down at my device. And all these activities, I have learned, have one thing in common – the neck position.

My grandmother used to have her own unique way of letting us know we were slouching. She’d say “Kyk op, dis net ’n vark wat nie opkyk nie!” (Look up, only a pig can’t look up) … so to say that I have been working like a pig for two decades is no exaggeration it seems.

But I am certain that my neck will unknot itself in a few weeks’ time, and if it doesn’t I can visit a physiotherapist to sort me out. So the painful neck is not my biggest fear … what scares me is cycling on our city’s roads.

On Wednesday morning a friend of mine was almost knocked down when a driver missed him by mere centimetres. He is an experienced cyclist and he says that he saw his life flash before him. When he confronted the young lady at the traffic light, she said that he didn’t see him.

Didn’t see him? He’s not a small, scrawny guy. I don’t understand how she could not see him. I have to ask, what was distracting her?

I told him that the thing that puzzles me is that when he drives his car, drivers in other cars respect him; they give him the space he needs, but as soon as he slips into his (and I tease him with this) lycra leotards, helmet and riding specs he becomes persona non grata.

I was surprised to learn from him that cyclists are referred to as cockroaches these days. They are – I have heard – regarded as pests on the road, taking up too much room and moving too slowly.

A few months back, my cousin told me that he was slapped on the back as a taxi drove by. He said, “Do you know how sore it was? I almost came off my bike! And the jump boy was hanging out of the window laughing and making faces at me!”

It bothers me that since I purchased a bicycle and a helmet I have joined the insect kingdom. I don’t feel like an insect, but in some weird sense I seem to have joined and I am terrified … terrified of inattentive drivers thumbing their devices whilst driving – because let’s face it, how else do you “not see” a cyclist in front of you?

And then I am terrified of openly hostile and aggressive drivers who for some weird reason hate cockroaches like me.

What an absolute pain in the neck!