Thursday 11 February 2016

The Foraging Bike. How depressing.

I'm a cyclist.

And a forager.

There, I'm outed.

Forager, you ask? Why are you saying that here? Whats that got to do with the price of rhubarb? Nothing. Except that cycling and ferreting around in the woods for food are an almost perfect synergy - they're both great practical, thrifty, healthy, simple and easy ways of making your life better. So one would think I'd look rather kindly on this. But I can't, I just can't. I'm drawn to it as something that I feel should delight me, but which completely misses the point.

If you can't be bothered to look at the link, its a foragers bike. Its a solid, old fashioned design, no doubt well made and well appointed. Its branded River Cottage, thats the telly chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall chap who years ago made 'A Cook on the Wildside' and whose chunky River Cottage cook-books sit un-opened on the shelf opposite the Aga in your middle classed friends kitchen (and which are among my own most used cookery books - River Cottage Cookbook is genuinely an inspiration and if the self-sufficiency lifestyle is one you dabble in are truly invaluable). 

I really have got a lot of time for HFW. I never really warmed to his telly programs, but I'm not a big fan of cooking on the googlebox - its his books that are so good. His approach to good ingredients, animal welfare, seasonality and sustainable cooking is spot on. Genuinely brilliant. And I do love a good solid bike. But such a bike is the precise antithesis of what you want for foraging.

I usually take my chunky old hybrid bike foraging. Its not a glamorous bike, but its got wide tyres and a tough frame - its more mountain bike than fast commuter. And I take a pocket knife (usually a mushroom knife), and a rucksack containing paper and plastic bags. And I'll bungee a basket to the pannier rack. What I don't take is multiple baskets (although they're great if on foot), pans, a portable stove, chopping boards, bottles, and a positive armoury of cutlery and knives. Bluntly I'd rather have the carrying capacity to bring back a good haul of mushrooms, greens or fruit. The other advantage of such a bike is it'll cope with any kind of slope, I can lift it over a fence or a style, I've carried it over rivers, its good on mud, and best of all it cost me under three hundred quid, about eight years ago. It didn't cost me the best part of four grand like this one would. 

I dunno, maybe I'm just being a grumpy fart, but this thing gives me the shivers. Yeah, foraging is sort of aspirational, about finding high value ingredients and impressing your assistant bank manager friends. But its also about adding tasty, nutritious, exciting and free things to your diet. Likewise, 'cycling is the new golf' and has been for so long its better to say that cycling used to be golf. But its also the cheapest, simplest, lowest impact means of getting from place to place. To combine foraging and cycling in a package that comes to pennies shy of £4000 and which comes with more accessories than a spoiled girls Barbie is to so completely miss the point of both as to be laughable.

Riding a bike to pick wild food has been the means by which I've eaten well through the parts of my life when I've been skint. There were times I was struggling to pay rent but I could still have a good dinner almost for free - and now the conflation of cycling and foraging is branded, packaged and sold for a kings ransom? Fuck no.

This, I suspect, isn't the bike of a committed forager or a practical cyclist - its a sign that both activities have now transcended the mere practical, and are aspirational. Want to keep up with the Jones's? This is the bike for you. Put it in the garage behind the Prius, and drive the Landy to work.

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