I struggle in crowds. Masses of people make me uncomfortable. It’s an odd admission for someone who used to play in rock bands before rooms full of people. Even odder that I would go to standing-room-only shows where I was shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers. I can’t do it anymore. Yet I never really struggled with riding in a peloton beyond the fear of crashing if someone ahead of me went down.
This is a way of backing into a larger admission, that I don’t really like people. I’m an introvert, more comfortable with those that I know than those I don’t know. And it’s not that I’m unwilling to make friends; the greater truth is that I tend toward the intense and I’m wired to want to get to know one person better than meet three new people.
With that on the table, I may seem like an unlikely candidate to advocate for inclusivity, but it’s true. I believe in the bigger tent. On one level, there’s a self-serving end to this. If you’re a cyclist, I’m going to be less weird to you. I’ve written elsewhere that I’m always at the shallow end of a bell curve. I’m not your typical guy. My freak flag is too big to hide, so finding other people who fly the same flag isn’t just a matter of connection, it started as a larger function of self-preservation.
So, yeah, I like cyclists. I know what you’ve gone through to learn the sport. I know every sacrifice you’ve ever made in terms of diet, lost sleep and money. I know the efforts you’ve made that seemed more than you were capable of. I had the same terror the first time I got bumped, and the same exhilaration when I realized I was going to ride it out.
What we share goes deeper than a love of the Green Bay Packers.
It’s that larger effort, all the learning, all the training, that I call the secret handshake. I’ve got acquaintances who have guarded their knowledge jealously and make fun of the rider who shows up with tube socks on. Because I believe in the a bigger tent, I do what I can to share what I’ve learned (it’s why I wrote the book “The No-Drop Zone“).
Here I must assert how needlessly pervasive the HTFU attitude has become, how it’s now a stick we use to beat others. As if any of us could measure up to European domestique standards. It’s the sort of thing that contributes to us being called elitist. Codifying the things I learned to do in order to be simultaneously considerate and stylish into published rules was a fantastic way to drive people away from the sport.
There are reasons why I’ve learned to only brake as hard as is necessary, why I pedal just a bit harder as I stand up, why my clothes are form-fitting, why even though my road bike is spectacularly maneuverable I’ve taken the time to learn how to ride it in an effortlessly elegant straight line. None of those lessons has anything to do with my own comfort or sense of style, though each of them has certainly increased at least one or the other. I do them all because of my regard for those I ride with.
Those lessons are, at root, a sign of my respect for the social contract.
This sport has fundamental truths. Shaving my legs keeps me cooler on a hot day because the sweat evaporates more quickly. I don’t wear a helmet with a visor on the road because at speed the wind catches the visor and pushes the helmet back on my head, both slowing me down and tightening the chin strap against my throat. I wear bibs that are snug to allow me greater freedom of movement on the bike and to prevent chafing that would make my nether regions a post-ride no-fly zone.
It’s up to me whether I share that, or keep it secret. And so while I’m no politician, I know that the bigger the sport is, the healthier our community is.
The secret handshake is not a way to bar the gate, it’s meant to be a way to welcome the new members.