Thursday, May 20, 2010

13 Real And Unreal Cyclists

Among our available dose of cliches, one you'll hear many say is that real cyclists are the ones who race. Or that real cyclists are the one's who ride fast, break bones, lose skin and come back to bite the tough again. Or that real cyclists have so many well-defined muscle groups. And so on...

I must say that is a load of crock. Sorry, but there should really be no such thing as "real cyclist" anyway. So what are the others then, who ride bikes in something other than tight fitting lycra - artificial pieces being run by a spring wound mechanism?

By the same logic, I suppose I should call my grandfather a walker. Oh, and he's a "real" walker because he's always in a hurry on his feet, hence making him real. He also wears tight fitting clothes. His neighbor who limps to the store, but has immense pleasure in his activity, is somehow not real. Brilliant.

I think such rankings and hierarchies we impose in our world and onto certain groups of people reflect our own inadequacies of expression as well as false impressions we like to store up about other people.

Regardless of whether you race, or you commute 5 miles a day or go on a climbing binge in Southern France, cycling is cycling. There is no real or unreal. There's nothing else to it. Now if you call a racer an athlete, sure I'll accept that. Or if you call someone a cyclist who's "matured as a racer", that's acceptable too. But all the other stuff, real, unreal and yada yada is just plain nonsense.

But athleticism may have its own pitfalls too. If you lose character, you're no athlete. Let me explain. The other day, I happened to have a conversation with a gentleman on our local bike path. I was cruising along at 24mph and this man was keeping up pretty comfortably. I stop and ask him his name and other formalities and so on, and then asked him if he rides with others. He tells me, "Nope, mostly solo."

Since I like to press people for further information, I asked him if there was a reason behind that. He took a drink from his bottle and muttered "Life's too short to put up with jerks".

I knew what he was talking about right away. He was referring to all those "real" cyclists who don't care a thing in the world rather than speed. All they do is want to race. If you don't happen to race, they look down upon you like as if you're a cockroach. If you happen to ride with them and can't put up with their speed, they won't care a thing in the world as they'll be happy to ride off from you as fast as possible, leaving you in the middle of nowhere to fend for yourself. Will they say a hi when you wave a hand at them? Probably not. Will they stop to help you if you're in mechanical distress. Surely not.

There's many folks I have talked to who hold similar views. Not only can they not put up facing these jerks, they don't want to race with them at all. They'd rather ride alone with some peace of mind and quiet and in the safety of their own world. If they want to push themselves, they'll do it against themselves. There's absolutely no reason and no pressure to waste 60 dollars on an annual racing license, and further gas money to travel 60 miles to nowhere, to spend the weekend with jerks, all but to fight for certain "rankings" with said jerks, end up in 150th spot and drive back 60 miles all alone. Yup, life's too short for that.

What's your take on this "real" and "unreal" cyclist business, and the general attitude of some racers in your area? More importantly, do you race? Why or why not? Feel free to express your views or contradict mine.

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  1. Got here thanks to @CycleBlogs on Twitter.

    My background: Commuter for past 6 years or so, recreational rider of longer distances on weekends, started training for racing this winter for the first time because my husband races (subsequently had a case of bronchitis last for over 6 weeks that knocked out all my training so I won't race til later this year, if at all).

    This means that part of the time I'm kitted out and clipped in, and part of the time I'm riding in a skirt and high-heeled pumps through downtown. On the same bike, mind you.

    I can tell that people find me far more accessible when I ride in street clothes, which reinforces the idea that we are perceived as these various types. I make a point of being friendly when I'm riding in kit specifically for this very reason.

    My bike commuter side shudders when I see some helmetless kid (or adult) on the sidewalk or riding against traffic.

    My long-riding side shudders when I see arrogance, disrespect for the rules of the road just because you're riding in a group (or possibly ignorance--my experience of club and recreational rides is that if you're not a commuter you don't pay as much attention), and endangerment of pedestrians.

    No matter which type you are, you're making it harder for all of us when you behave as if the rules don't apply to you.

    I'm what people refer to as a "bike advocate" which is one of the many types. I work actively on policy in my city and region to try to make it better for all of us who share the roads.

    Even the Spandex guys have to share the road at some point. If they want wide shoulders that make it a little easier to pound out their Saturday 60-miler without getting nailed by a passing rearview mirror on a big truck, that's transportation policy and county road design.

    It's not glamorous, it's not the Tour, it doesn't require special clothing or electrolytes, but it makes cycling better for every type of cyclist if we have road and street designs that take into account all modes of travel.

    We need to transcend these types and work together on these issues.

    I'm proud to say that in Spokane, where I bike, we see all types of riders coming together for events like Bike to Work Week, the Ride of Silence we held tonight, a monthly "Full Moon Fiasco", SpokeFest (great ride! come visit in September, and more.

    Maybe it's because we're not a big enough town to have broken apart into insular and snobbish cliques, but we have people crossing these boundaries all the time. It can be done.

    Co-Chair, Bike to Work Spokane

  2. Real cyclists ride like I do with bikes similar to mine wearing clothes similar to mine.

    Details are irrelevant.

  3. I love when a 'real' cyclist races 'another' cyclist who just happens to be out on a Sunday cruise. The 'real' cyclist always seem so proud when he flies pass... but it doesn't mean he is a 'real' 'good' cyclist. It just makes him somehow feel better about himself. So don't be so harsh. LOL

  4. Non riders ask me all the time what is a good bike. My answer is a good bike is any bike that gets ridden.

    To me a real cyclist is anyone who rides responsibly and enjoys it. No matter how fast you are if you don't like riding a bike for its own sake you are no cyclist.

    But I'm kind of a strange fellow.

  5. Brilliant commentary. This reminds of the Mikael from Copenhagenize fame who says there's no such thing as "cyclists" in Copenhagen..half a million people ride bikes for all sorts of purposes as if a mundane task and as an emerging bike culture, they have been able to completely demystify the essence of cycling. Here in the U.S, that's not the case. Biking is some sort of luxurious mystery. Cars? They're pretty well demystified.

  6. Anonymous11:05 AM

    Racing is competitive and you'll find more than your average share of jerks, whiners, and immature idiots in the lot. The choice to either engage in this community or not be a part of it is upto you. As to the question of real cyclists, as dum as it sounds, its probably a euphemism for "dedicated, hard worker"? There are posers, and there are real cyclists. But I wouldn't take it any farther than that. Everyone on a bike must have some sort of convictions to pedal. I can't understand who wouldn't.

  7. Anonymous3:42 PM

    What I have always found perplexing was that a Cat 4 that just turned Cat 3 is much more cocky than a real Pro or Cat 1. Why is that?

  8. My kid and I were on a charity ride in north central FL a few years back. We stopped to see if a guy on the side of the road needed help with a flat. His go-fast buddies had left him behind.

    He said, "I'm a little weak on directions, OK if I tag along with you?"

    "If you don't mind riding at an average speed of 12.8 mph, sure."

    We passed beautiful scenery, old-time Florida cracker houses and even got paced a couple hundred yards by a wild piglet.

    When we finally split up, the guy said, "You know, it's amazing what you can see when you're not spending all of your time sniffing some guy's lycra."

  9. You realize, don't you, that these prejudices run both ways? Drop in on any cycling discussion forum that doesn't cater exclusively to roadies and you'll regularly see these hateful animosities directed to the Lycra clad.

    I'd go so far as the say the guy who can't put up with "jerks" is expressing his own inadequacy if he feels like the guys who pass him are showing off. Maybe they pass because they just like to ride faster? Is there anything wrong with that? I don't judge the people who pass me, and I can't imagine why people I pass would judge me.

  10. I agree with everything here, and generally avoid these discussions like the swine flu, but..."a load of crock"?

    Obviously a turn on, "crock of shit," but here the crock is the"a load of a load?"

  11. Crock actually means nonsense, not shit but you may call it BS. Thanks Brian.

  12. The one thing that's beyond me is why would anyone spend hours and hours on end on a bike seeing nothing more than the rear end of the guy in front of him...

    As for who'd I call a cyclist: anyone who enjoys riding a bicycle, no matter the speed.

  13. Anonymous5:08 PM

    Any time I hear someone make a declaration about being real (or try to define what it means), this person immediately gets shuttled to the True Scotsman Fallacy corner of my mind and thus subsequently ignored.


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