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!