Friday Group Ride #445

Friday Group Ride #445

Let’s consider, for a moment, Peter Sagan. He’s fast. We know that. He’s brash and smart, at least in the way he races bikes. He can sprint, and he loves a punchy climb. He is, by most measures, a really good bike rider.

And Danny MacAskill. For sheer, jaw dropping bike skills, there is no one close. MacAskill does things that make a mockery of the laws of physics. He has a cheeky sense of humor, and he’s humble. He is also a very good bike rider, but there’s more to it than that, and that little bit more makes him a better rider at the same time.

Now think of Fausto Coppi spinning up into the Alps, the souplesse, the style, his heron-like position on the bike, up out of the pedals, dancing, tapping out the rhythm on the steep pitch, his dark glasses and smart suits, his tilting at the windmill of Italian societal norms, and his duels with Gino Bartali.

What about John Tomac, the American mountain biking prodigy? Tomac was a BMX legend, before he dominated the mountain bike race scene. For a long time, he seemed unbeatable.

I guess I know a fair number of great cyclists, too. Normal enough people who are strong and humble and just go about their business.

I looked up the qualities of greatness and found some long and arbitrary lists of characteristics, lots of corporate leadership speak. I distilled them and came up with this list: 1. Authentic 2. Brave 3. Character-driven 4. Decisive  7. Goal-oriented 8. Humble 9. Inspiring. Do all the riders I mentioned above tick those boxes? Maybe not.

This week’s Group Ride asks, what do you think makes a great cyclist? Is it all about speed? How does style factor in? What about class? Can a rider be a morally reprehensible person and still a great rider?


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  1. Aar

    Moral reprehensible and great anything are mutually exclusive. I think a great rider is fast, as strong climbing as on windy flats, skilled, law abiding, always exhibits good pack etiquette, and pays it forward. The riders who stretch the pack without breaking it and those who close rides by helping stragglers remain attached are great in my book.

  2. Shawn

    Greatness happens in the gaps. Sure, Great requires the skill to make the nearly impossible appear effortless. That’s a disqualified for all but the gifted. But it also depends on character — specifically, enough charm, humility, brashness, good looks, or je ne sais quoi to create charisma, plus (and this is important) huge gaps to be filled in by what the beholder wants to be there. Either by accident or design, the Great do not disapoint the boxes and expectations.

    1. Shawn

      Gifted=most gifted

      I really should read these things before hitting ‘enter’. 😀

  3. scott g

    Can they fixed a cottered crank, using field stone ?
    Can they track stand in the middle of an intersection,
    and halt traffic in a loud Brooklyn voice ?
    Can they whistle La Marseillaise, while riding
    in the cold rain ?
    Do they know every goat path in the tri-state area ?
    Do their rides hit the parking lot, just as the sun goes down ?

  4. Davo Queen

    Looking at dark deeds of the past under the bright light of evolving moral perspective yields a false sense of self righteousness that leads us to believe that we are better than we really are.

  5. Fausto

    Froome is the example of a great rider who comes across without personality and likability. People complain about his team tactics, his lack of style, etc. He is now tainted as someone who has pushed the ethical boundry of performance. But he has won a lot of three week races. Now look at Wiggins, average fan has no idea what he did on the track, won Le Tour and he is the peoples champ. Lance was a bully, if he was humble the lie could have continued.

  6. CWTX

    In my mind, all our cycling heroes / heroines are or were genetic freaks. But my faves are really the stories of legend like getting your ass DQ’ed from Le Tour because a local held the bellows while you welded your broken fork? Or Hampster on the Gavia, full stop. Or Merckx of course. Who else gets away with putting his mug on the headtube of his namesake bike? Humble? Uh, no. But panache? In spades. How about Hinault, who hopped off his bike to whup some ass on the roadside in Le Tour?
    Greatness withstands the test of time, same as if we were arguing about the greatest rock ‘n roll songs of all time.

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