Like a one-man Top Gear, or should that be a two-wheeled Top Gear? Ned Boulting's Bikeology Tour reached the giddy heights of Eastbourne on Sunday. Boulting is that affable biking bloke we love to listen to while watching skinny men in lycra suffer and sweat their way round the Grand Tours. He's written some great books as well, so there's no arguing about his wit and intelligence. But a stage show? Boulting's moving up a gear...
Ride Velo has seen Boulting in the flesh a few times now, most notably speaking at Look Mum No Hands' pre Tour de France takeover from Phil Liggett. But that was nothing like Bikeology. Bikeology promises to "celebrate the huge rise in the British public's participation at all levels of cycling." And even in Eastbourne, we bore witness to the fact that there is a shockingly large number of, well men really, who get really excited about hubs and gear ratios.
Technically speaking, as the average age of the audience in Eastbourne was closer to mid-50s, I couldn't really call them MAMILs. But as the assembled throng found its seat in the faded grandeur of the Royal Hippodrome, the conversation swiftly turned to 'the best way to pre-mix protein powder before taking a spin on the turbo trainer.' I kid you not. Despite the multitude of cycling clothing on display, when Boulting asked, "so honestly, how many of you cycled to the show tonight?" only two people raised their hands!
Bikeology is a show of two halves - the first is for the amateur cyclist "anyone who re-connects with that feeling of freedom they had when they first felt the pedals turn beneath their feet." It's really a celebration of the passion so many of us feel about the bicycle and why we often feel so misunderstood and marginalised by non-cyclist members of society. We're a bit weird basically.
From Masonic-style hand signals, through chamois cream, to Strava, our crazy behaviour around the bike is laid bare. With the help of a rather haphazardly assembled projector and screen, Boulting displayed the most ridiculous Strava art - including a wedding proposal made up of wiggly red route lines in a big heart! And who knew that ISIS manufacture specialist bike hubs? One competitive MAMIL even leapt manfully onto the stage to challenge Chris Hoy and Chris Boardman to an inner tube replacement contest. With a very DIY looking leaderboard of power lap times in the shape of an oversized bike pump the effect was very Top Gear sans the petrolheads.
Part two, Boulting confessed in his self-deprecating way, was better than part one and we had to agree. Apparently he suffers from terrible nerves and it took him a while to warm up. But in Stage Two he was back on familiar territory - talking about the Tour, life on the road with David Millar, and with plenty of pro cyclist anecdotes and opinions thrown in for good measure.
Remember in Spinal Tap when the wrongly scaled Stonehenge drops from the gods? Boulting recreates the Champs Elysées with a mini Arc du Triomphe, pavé and even a turd at the side of the road to represent the time when he stepped in one and had to chuck his shoes away. Boulting does respectable impressions of our favourite pros but the best is Peter Sagan. He shows irreverent video clips of David Millar being "a bit of a tit" and the Voldemort of the cycling world, Lance Armstrong. At his best, the excitement of the commentary box shines through as Boulting describes and impersonates the stars of the peloton and celebrates the greatest sporting event on earth.
Afterwards he was on hand to sign copies of his new book, "Velosaurus", a lexicon of nonsense terminology surrounding cycling culture and the Tour de France. First impressions are that, while being a bit of a niche within a niche, it's full of wit and pithy humour. Ned Boulting continues his Bikeology Tour until 24th November in London at the Clapham Grand. Don't miss it!