For about six weeks, I had been cycling at a very stately Miss Marple pace because my brakes weren’t working. I assumed the brake pads were worn and meant to replace them, but in the interim found my left foot worked just as well, as long as I wasn’t on a hill. Until, one day, inevitably, I was. Hair-raised, I took the bike into a shop, where they said nothing was working at all. The cables had perished. Then they fixed them, which is hands-down the most my life has ever been saved by a shop. I should swear an oath of fealty to them, like a knight.
Anyway, it’s good, because now I can pick up speed, which is exactly what you want when you are glad to be alive. That is how I got my “Cat 5 tattoo” – a greasy chainring imprint on the inside of your right calf. My brother-in-law introduced me to it gleefully because it’s meant as an insult. If you were a proper racer, in categories three or four, your chainring would be clean. If you were a better racer still (in categories one or two), your calf wouldn’t be anywhere near your chainring. But, because you are a novice and an idiot, you have grease all over yourself in an attractively symmetrical pattern. It’s also called a “noob tag” because why have one piece of jargon when you could have two?
It’s apparently de rigueur to get this pattern as an actual tattoo, which, as identity-building body-art, is baffling. What is the message? “Cycling is so much part of me that I want to memorialise being slightly inept at it?” You can’t be too literal with other people’s tattoos. I met a girl with a true-to-scale cafetière on her thigh once and blew our chances of deeper acquaintanceship by asking why, if she liked coffee so much, she didn’t just drink coffee?
Inevitably, once it had a name, and then two names, and a whole sub-culture, I grew to love the Cat 5 tat. And maybe that’s who I am now: a person who arrived really late to the conclusion that they want a tattoo. It may not be necessary, because I’ve washed a load of times and the grease version isn’t going anywhere.