Much of what informs my personal sense of cycling aesthetics comes from what I see the PROs do. I’m not perfect in my adherence—I won’t ride a 53cm frame with a 14cm stem no matter how much weight it will allow me to put on the front wheel—but watching what the big boys do has changed me as a cyclist, there’s no doubt.
However, there remains an element of my idealized image of a cyclist that comes not from the PROs, but of the amateurs who guided me when I wasn’t even good enough to be a Cat. IV. The touches were small but uniform in consistency. All the guys who schooled me four days a week had a tubular strapped under their saddle with a Christophe toe strap. They all had the original Avocet cycle computer with the wire wrapped perfectly around the front brake cable before zip tying the wire down the back of the fork blade with three (not four, not two) zip ties.
Those touches were all S.O.P. But the one that really got me, the one you couldn’t just decide to emulate one Saturday afternoon (because it required planning ahead by months and months), was the frame pump. Now anyone can go out and purchase a frame pump (and certainly the Zéfal HP was the most mechanically sound frame pump ever made), but to do the frame pump correctly, you had to do two things. First, you had to order a frame that actually had a pump peg brazed to the back of the head tube. Second, you had to order a Silca frame pump and it had to be painted with your frame when you purchased it. There were some builders, such as Medici, that would do matching frame pumps for their frames and even offered frame pumps painted to match fades. My friend Jimmy, who worked at a vegetarian market/restaurant called the Squash Blossom had a green and yellow fade Medici that was to me the absolute epitome of journeyman self-sufficiency.
With its matching yellow to green fade Silca frame pump and Campy head (the Silca heads were shit; I know), Jimmy’s bike was so straightforward in execution it couldn’t be defeated by circumstances. Unless he got run over by some redneck’s pickup (and that was always a chance on the country roads outside of Memphis), he could flat and he needed only two items to get home. With his 36-hole Ambrosio rims laced to Campy Nuovo Record hubs via 14-gauge DT spokes, he was never going to suffer a broken spoke or a rim knocked so far out of true from hitting a dead ex-mammal that a wheel wouldn’t be rideable.
The irony of this journeyman cool, the style of the lifer amateur, was that in training races—which constituted anything you either rode to or didn’t include a trophy presentation on an actual podium—the guys I looked up to wouldn’t bother to pull off the frame pump or tubular. They’d add another toe strap to make sure the frame pump wouldn’t come off, but as some of these races didn’t include much in the way of neutral support, they would roll out as if it was just another group ride.
That nonchalance came from a place I learned to revere. They were casual not because they were cool, but because humility permitted nothing like pride. The student of cycling knows that speed isn’t made in a single day, but after months of repetition.