Let me introduce you to Godzilla99. He’s a keyboard warrior: not the kind directing smart bombs from an underground command centre in the American midwest, but rather, sitting comfortably on his couch at home cradling a smartphone, perhaps just back from a ride.
He was nurtured not by radiation, but by an intense desire to win any argument. He specialises in the Great Helmet War, a long running conflict with no end in sight.
His chosen battlefield is the cycling forum. There are many to choose from, independent fiefdoms filled for the most part with anonymous users; Godzilla99 prefers them to the superpower Facebook, with what he sees as its dark overlord Zuck and misguided insistence on removing the cloak of anonymity.
If you’re never been to one, strap on your hat, we’re going in.
First there is the registration agreement, usually a lot of legal boilerplate to protect the owner, along with a plea to play nice. It is unlikely anybody, including the owner, has actually read this through to the end.
Then you’re free to start a discussion. Almost surely you will step on some toes, no matter what you say: just like RL (Real Life). Mind the cliques, and good luck avoiding triggering any land mines. Mind the moderators, while you’re at it. Prepare to become either addicted or appalled.
At their best they channel the almost innate camaraderie of cyclists into support for hurting or fallen comrades: ‘man down’ is always to be dreaded in the list of new posts. I’ve seen a funeral procession put together, the cortege consisting of previously virtual and very corporeal friends.
They can instrumental in planning a tour, as I discovered before the days of Airbnb when successfully advertising for hosts on an end-to-end.
Novice bike mechanics will be in heaven. Many Google hits end up at forums.
The Covid-19 crisis has spawned numberless discussions filled with users interpreting the restrictions (how long a ride is in keeping with the spirit of the government’s edict?) and agonising over the possibility of further lockdown.
At their worst, forums make the Guardian comments section look like soft play at the creche.
Despite the anonymity, it can get very personal, very fast: a group therapy session from hell, like that scene from an early Simpsons episode where the family were given the ability to zap each other with random jolts of electricity.
You can probably guess where most discussions on helmets end up.
They’re often hunting grounds for reporters looking for a story. The Daily Mail, for example, has been known to scour Mumsnet (home to many a ‘cycling widow’ mourning her MAMIL) to such an extent that users specifically warn them off in their opening post.
Almost all cycling forums seem to be male dominated. The fix is obvious — occupy! I’m sure Godzilla99 would have a few choice words to say on the matter.