The Country Club

If you are reading these words, you are, in all likelihood, extremely knowledgeable about cycling. Ours is not a hobbyist’s site. It is written by and for people who live their lives on two wheels. It caters to the kind of person who immerses him or herself in the magazine review of a new component group and spends days, weeks or months contemplating parts choices. RKP readers dream about visiting the sport’s iconic places and riding its legendary routes. We are more than passionate. We are inflamed.

And, in this case, cortisone won’t help. We have to find something to do with all that passion. As I see it, we can use it as a cudgel or a welcome mat, a velvet rope or a revolving door. We can turn cycling into a country club, or we can turn it into a national park.

I vote national park.

Mainly when laypeople come to me for advice about a bicycle, they do so apologetically. They want to be able to go for a ride with their kids, but they need help fixing a flat or lubing a chain. They don’t know how to do these things, and they know I know how, and they feel inferior, which is awful. In the worst cases, they say to me, “I know my bike is probably junk, but it’s all I’ve got.”

I say, better to crank a rusty chain through a busted derailleur than to sit on the couch and dream about a bike you can’t afford, or worse, to dream about no bike at all.

Generally speaking, I try to maintain the attitude that all bicycles, of whatever quality, are good things to have, and I try to be as humbly helpful as I can as I fix a flat or put a chain back on its ring for a neighbor. In my mind, it doesn’t matter what you’re riding as long as you’re riding.

My intentions are noble. How I behave varies.

To my cyclist friends I can spew a torrent of highly opinionated blather based mainly on received wisdom and unconscious prejudice. Why would anyone ride this? Why would anyone like that? If you buy X, Y or Z, you obviously have no idea what you’re doing. Why is everybody doing it wrong?

This is the other side of my brain talking, the insecure side, the side that secretly fears I’ve bought the wrong thing, that I’m not good enough at X,Y or Z and that it is plainly obvious to everyone else that I have no idea what I’m doing. None of those sentiments helps me go faster or have more fun, and their outward expression, as barbed opinion, does nothing but create a withering sense of inferiority in those who would simply aspire to ride.

As I go along I become more and more immersed in cycling and the cycling industry. My first post here was a little over two years ago. At the time I was little more than an avid commuter and a weekend warrior. Padraig gave me an opportunity to write for RKP, and I seized it with both keyboard-rattling hands. Doors opened. I walked through. Today I make my living entirely within the industry (more on that in a later post), and I am grateful to be able to earn my keep by pursuing my passions for both riding and writing about it.

But you have to be careful what you wish for.

Someone once told me that being successful as a writer requires a devotion to the craft, which is to say, a willingness to practice a lot, and also clinging tightly to the compass of your own experience. As soon as you start to spew too much received wisdom, as soon as you concede effort to the expedience of cultural shorthand, you are lost. Practice hard. Tell the truth as you’ve lived it.

I think/hope it’s that simple.

The big challenge I have encountered in the bike industry is one of exclusion. Those with high standards are keen to impose them on other people. We lose touch with reality. It’s a simple thing. We aspire to build and ride the best stuff. Quite what to do with those who don’t share those same aspirations is beyond us. We can do one of two things. We can look down on them. We can turn our club house into a country club.

Or we can fix their flats, reseat their chains and hope they have a good ride.

My experience suggests that riding a bike is awesome. When I was seven years-old and riding some ridiculous, purple junker of a bike, with a dented chain guard that rubbed the chain and made this signature whizz-bang sound whenever I pedaled, I had as much fun, maybe more, than I do now on all manner of high-end bikes. Perhaps I am jaded now. Perhaps the high-end bike does yield a high-end ride. I am in a different place than I was then, but it is not a better place.

A few months ago, I was on a company trip to the Bay Area, and some customers took me on a ride up into Marin. Part of our route took in a bike path through a bucolic suburb, and it was packed with both roadies on their way to serpentine climbs and families on their way to elaborate playgrounds and picnic lunches. I was on a custom, carbon road machine, probably $8,000 worth of technology, and I had to dodge to one side to avoid a little boy, on his first bike, a beatific smile plastered across his face, along with some drool and bits of breakfast.

The kid was having fun. I had one of my better days this year, twisting and turning and rolling through some of the country’s absolute best roads, but I don’t think what I felt touched what that kid had going on, on his way to the jungle gym and a valedictory juice box.

It is instructive to keep stuff like that in mind as you’re crapping on your buddy’s entry-level component group or trying to tell a customer half of what they stock is a waste of metal and shelf space. That’s all non-productive. All of us who share this passion for cycling, all of us who are known informally within our neighborhoods or amongst our friends as “experts,” we’re all selling cycling. We’re representing the lifestyle. We owe it to ourselves, and to those who would join us, to swing the door wide open, to make sure our buddy enjoys the shit out of that entry-level gruppo, and that even snot-nosed kids can slalom carelessly down the path to the cycling life.

 

Follow me on Twitter @thebicyclerobot!

 

25 comments

  1. Wayne

    Amen.

    My wife and I ride a tandem. It has a front bag and fat (but actually fast) tires. A couple local teams ride in our area and when we see a new guy in his kit he pretty much ignores us. Over time after seeing us again and again gasping for air in the cold or in the dark we seem to earn a certain respect and we get smiles and nods. Occasionally we hang on to them on a downhill or the flats and suddenly we are comrades. That feels nice but too bad we got ignored on the first meeting.

    Wayne

  2. Big Mikey

    Robot, you nailed it, Chapeau.

    Roadies tend to be a pretentious sort, as if having the resources to buy $5,000 toys ridden on the weekend grants license to look down on the others of the world.

    More people riding means more people know someone who rides, which helps create a culture where riders are not second-class citizens who are threatened with cars or political discrimination.

  3. armybikerider

    “…..it doesn’t matter what you’re riding as long as you’re riding.”

    Amen.

    IMHO, this is the best post, by far, that I have read on RKP, ever. While not entirely free from sin, I’ve always fought against what I perceive as rampant elitism in road bike riding. It’s one of the main reasons that I hung my road bike up and stuck to fat tires for a number of years.

    It’s very gratifying to me to see that this blog adheres to, or at least gives voice to the above quoted attitude.

  4. Peter

    Finally a well written post about the pure joy of cycling, not a testosterone dripping piece about suffering, training, carbon and self absorbed “my body is a temple” stuff.

  5. Touriste-Routier

    In the early 90s a friend was interviewing for a job with a very large component manufacturer that made extremely high end components, very low end components, and everything in between. During the interview they asked him what he would do if someone called looking to buy 10,000 of their P.O.S. grade derailleurs. He said he would ask a few questions, and take the order. He got the job. They were trying to see whether he was a typical bike snob or not, and whether he understood what really drove their business.

    The morals of this story: 1) Not all of the industry is about exclusion or exclusiveness; in fact it is quite the opposite. Millions of low end bikes drives the ability to produce thousands of high end bikes. 2) Cycling in its purest form is about enjoying the experience; equipment plays only a supporting role in this endeavor, or as Robot and others have pointed out, it doesn’t matter as long as one is riding…

    Well stated Robot!

  6. ben

    hell yeah. Thanks Robot! I’ve stated it a couple of times before here, but I think it’s important that cyclists focus on how (or why=enjoyment) people are riding. Within the roadie community, especially in the US I’m told, it’s more about the equipment and less about the heart, lungs, and legs.
    Listen, if you’ve got the dough to throw down on top-end bikes and Assos threads…by all means do it. I would if I could. But I like the sentiment here…don’t look down on someone riding low-end gear. Nurture them in the group ride and take pride in their development as a cyclist and a racer (when that’s the case).
    Fixing friends’ neighborhood cruisers? I love doing that!

  7. Layne

    I love this website but have never responded to a article. I just had to respond to this.

    Right on brother! I will always remember that we need to promote cycling as a national park, not a country club.

  8. Chris

    I paid about $700 for my first road bike just over 3 years ago after having been turned away by one local shop for being so naive as to ask it they had any bikes under $1000. I rode the crap out of that $700 bike for over two years, did solo and group rides, climbed mountains and raced crits, before I finally found a deal I could afford on a take-off mid-grade group. I’ve now racked up a thousand or so kilometers on the new parts and they’re lighter, stiffer, and shift better than the old stuff. But the grin I wear while riding is no wider than it was before.

    1. Padraig

      “the grin I wear while riding is no wider than it was before.”

      Chris: You’re definitely one of ours. We’re all just trying to keep that grin as wide as possible.

      Thanks everyone.

  9. Andy G.

    Great article that you wrote here, and it makes me think about my two 7-year-olds that are riding bikes with me. There is nothing more satisfying or spiritually uplifting than seeing a young kid completely excited about riding his bike. Bicycle snobs are like car snobs, all of them think “ mine is better than yours” but miss the point that it’s really the experience of being on the bike that counts. I think once you reach a certain age (my age = old), you really want to have that feeling of being that young kid riding your bike without a care in the world, and just enjoying the sensation. I have my “state-of-the-art” carpet fiber whizbang bike, but my fave is my 1975 Coppi steel framed bike, which is similar to my 1st 10 speed that I started with over 40 years ago. I know I get more satisfaction ridding that than anything else.

    keep up the good work!

  10. Peter Lütken

    Robot, you’ve managed to put into text, 0’s & 1’s what I struggled so hard in the Friday Group Ride #91 to translate from thoughts into Norwegian, then to English and finally type into this little square on the bottom of the screen. (http://redkiteprayer.com/?p=6516&cpage=1#comment-76024)

    I want to make sure cycling becomes more like your national park, rather than the closed gate country club it often seems like.

    Yesterday I talked to a co-worker at my new job. He obsessed with Fulcrum Racing Zero-wheels, Cervélo S5, Sram RED, etc. He’d actually ordered one of those S5’s, and wanted my opinion on what wheels to get for it. As we talked I eventually found out that he’d been riding on the road for less than a year. The first part of the season he’d been riding his mountain bike with slick tires, but later in the year he’d been lent a 61cm road bike (he’s about 180cm tall..) Ride what you’ve got if it makes you happy, upgrade if your wallet allows and if that makes you happy. But don’t forget to ride!

    In Copenhagen 30-40% of all travel inside the city happens by bike, In Norwegian cities this figure is more like 5-10%, and when you look at pictures of Danish cyclists they look like a regular pedestrian, just on a bike. A Norwegian going cross town on his bike usually looks like he’s on his way to a mashup of a deer hunting trip and the Tour de France (Neon yellow windbreaker, size XL and bib tights) – Is this scaring people away from cycling? The presumption that you need not only a bike, but lots of awkward (looking) clothing, to go riding?

    Enough ranting, good ol’ Gary Fisher pretty much nailed it – “Every one who rides a bike is a friend of mine”

  11. SWells

    Here! Here! Very well articulated, Robot, thanks.
    Re: being the “neighborhood “expert – One of my pet peeves is seeing people riding on deflated tires…drives me nuts. If I spot them quickly enough from my garage, I’ve actually bolted out to the street with my floor pump, and put a few pounds of air in. “If you see me working in the yard or something, and you need some air in your tires, feel free to stop by”, I offer.

  12. slappy

    Fine work, a pleasure to read. I’m remembering that i intend to carry lube and a floor pump on my xtracycle at all times so as to assist with those peeving sounds and sights on the side of the street whenever, occasionally without the owner knowing their tire pressure went up and their chain got a squirt. Eventually i’ll get that fold out bike stand that flips off the back of said xtra so i can put ‘em up anywhere. Long live the Nat’l Park!

  13. Bryan Lewis

    That’s a good point. It reminded me that I carry a bike rack in my 20-year-old Toyota at all times, so on the days when I’m driving to work, I can pick up broken-down cyclists. Or even just discouraged cyclists, ’cause the only days I’m driving to work are the really crummy ones.

  14. WV Cycling

    Every August-November, I pay to place ads in local newspapers (This is West Virginia, internet users are sparse in relative terms) to ask people for any bicycles that they are willing to discard/donate. I fix them up and give them to struggling families to make it from home to work, or for kiddos to have a useable bike around the trailer court.

    My roadie friends think I’m crazy that I ‘waste’ so much cash just to help out ten or twenty people. I rarely check back on the people I donate the bikes to, but I did see one of the kids last week. He’s outgrown the bike, but still had a shit eating grin on his face while storming the sidewalks.

    Mission Success.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>