I will freely admit to being a freakin’ moron. I have a responsible job and career, a high pressure gig, even. And when I check out of work, I leave my regular brain there, and slip in the lizard brain. If I don’t need to do some woodworking, or plumbing, or perform the Miracle of the Loaves & Fishes (aka paying the bills) I just don’t need the big brain.
As a result, I’m often an idiot away from work. I’m a (racing age) 40 year-old man who rides around in tight clothes, flaunting his fat and slowness on the bike. And while I have thrown myself back into bike culture in the last couple of years, I rode like an idiot for 5 or 8 years back when I were a mere lad, in my early 20’s. I still do ride like an idiot sometimes.
Thing is, I’ve learned a bit about bike culture, especially since my re-entry. My friends from the neighborhood and LBS shop ride have patiently brought me along a bit and only occasionally ream me out for major gaffes, as have my teammates on the Squadra. But I have taken some pains to acculturate myself to riding, I try to pay attention to what the smooth guys do, and to immerse myself in the culture. To paraphrase Lance, it’s not just about the bike. There are observances that go with being a bicyclists, and I try to live up to cultural expectations.
So I’m not a complete idiot.
That’s why the complete idiots on wheels drive me absolutely insane.
For instance, now that the Tour de France is on, the 5/365th Lancers have attacked the roads and trails. No, the 5/365th isn’t a British armored cavalry unit; it’s the morons who see a stage of the Tour, or catch the half-baked coverage on ESPN.com, dream they are Lance, and venture out on the trails and roads looking to race.
The only problem is, the only tool they share with actual racers, is a bicycle. Since they only ride about 5 times yearly, they haven't developed the tools, or learned anything about bike culture. So they stand out, not in a good way. Let’s look at the typical member of Her Majesty’s (shoulda stayed) Home Regiment, ground up.
Start with the tires. There are three choices here. The tires may be dry rotted, yellow-sidewalled, gum rubbery old hoops, which lose chunks of rubber when the rider takes the bike down chipseal. The only thing more satisfying than watching them pedal up and “smoke” me, is the prospect of watching them have a blowout and make a skin sacrifice to MacAdam, the God of the Roads. The bike may be an old mid-80’s vintage Peugot, or it may be a more recent nondescript Trek. The one thing they have in common, is they are rolling on Department Store quality tires. Or good tires that rotted after being left out in the rain and sun for 13 years. Then there are the guys with tires that were pretty good – in 1996, the last time they rode their bike to class. Stupid Gen Ed requirements… man, I coulda slept in but they wanted me to read these stupid stories about people… The tires on these bikes are generally threadbare – well, actually they usually have threads sticking out, visible flat spots, and gouges in the sidewalls. Worn out. But then they fit pretty well on a shagged out old department-store Ross (a model Ross was ashamed of, and never really wanted to acknowledge) with stem shifters and dual brake handles. The other tire possibility is the brand new Michelin Pro Race II Service Corso, so new that they still have shiny (i.e. slippery) mold releaser on the carcass. These tires are perfectly suited to their machines too – always brand new Colnago C-50s, Trek Madone 6.5s, or the priciest Canondale Pennsylvania can produce. The bike invariably has about as much riding time on it (damn near none) as the rider.
Then we move to the clothes, shoes first. There are really only three choices here, as well. The guy on the old Peugot or clapped-out, nondescript Trek, pretty much always rides in sneakers, usually raggedy-ass old Chuck Taylors with toe clips, with for-real leather straps. No, they aren’t new stock made for track bikes, they are the straps that came with the bike, circa 1980-1992. The guys on the college beater bikes, if they’ve upgraded, pretty much always have mountain bike shoes with nondescript SPD clip-ons. The guys on the Colnagos go top shelf for shoes, with nice Diadoras, high end Shimanos, or some pricey Italian brand you’ve never heard of, which has carbon fiber soles, sells for $500, and which was actually made by Shimano. They roll with Dura Ace, titanium or carbon Looks, or just possibly Speedplays. These riders' feet hurt rather badly, and they don't know why... perhaps they just need some time off the bike.
On to the gruppo. The guy on the bike that probably should have been recycled to Bikes for the World – the old Peugot or Trek – is usually on a Shimano Exage gruppo, but the Peugot may have the Suntour Cyclone or an old low-end Campy gruppo, hardened in the old fashioned, traditional Italian manner - i.e. left out in the sun while Giuseppe the packing clerk went to lunch with his mistress. The guy on the college beater Ross that probably should have been recycled to the local scrapyard won’t know what he has – hey, if you don’t know what you’re doing, and don’t care what you’re doing, why bother knowing what you’re doing it on? His unknown gruppo squeaks badly, as the only oil that it ever sees is the occasional slick at stop signs, left by derelict cars this guy ought to be driving, instead of torturing some poor bike. The guy on the Colnago, which probably should be recycled to an owner who will ride the thing hard and fast, like it deserves to be ridden, will have the highest end Campy special edition gear that he could afford, based on the sale of his eldest child’s kidney, or a little bit of creative billing to one of his more unwary clients. But he’s thinking about trying to finagle a new SRAM Red gruppo. Y’know, as soon as it comes out. He’s got a line on a set from a guy he knows in L.A…
Let’s talk about the clothes. The guy on the old Peugot or Trek has proper bike shorts, and a slightly dirty looking Pearl Izumi jersey. Most Pearl Izumi jerseys look dirty, even when new. Their color pallete is a little goofy – there’s a muddy darker blue, a leaking loctite light blue color, a never-quite-as-white-as-the-day-you-bought-it white, and the all time favorite of the Bike Trail Guys, the Maillot Jaune. Hey, if you dress like Lance, you must be like Lance. Colnago guy, of course, has full Fassa Bortolo, Discovery, or Gerolsteiner team kit. Unless one day he woke up repulsed at his conspicuous consumption of tacky shit he didn't earn, and had a brief attack of tastefulness. In which case he is wearing Assos gear, from $54 Assos sweat cap-covered head, down to $29.95 Assos sock-shod feet (and $479 bib shorts and $299.95 jersey in between, along with Assos Chamois Cream, $17.95 from Competitive Cyclist). Obviously, he quickly overcame the attack of tastefulness and restraint. The guy on the old Ross… well, he has a set of Canari bike shorts a friend gave him, which he wears over his tighty-whiteys. Everybody can see he is wearing underwear because the Canaris are damn near sheer, but nobody wants to tell him. No, Ross guy, we aren’t laughing with you… Naturally, he’s wearing a white T-shirt. Oh, the helmets? Ancient, Giro Atmos, and a cycling cap, respectively.
The there’s the riding style. The Peugot/Trek guy is invariably thin as a stick, and depressed about his relative lack of speed. He hammers really hard – I mean, he goes. He goes 20 uphill, he goes 20 downhill, he goes 20 on the flats, and if you look at him, you can tell he is going hard. Unfortunately, he never takes a rest day, never goes slow, never actually goes really hard for short bursts. This electric light switch style of riding has doomed him to being a human electric motor for a bicycle. This guy actually often rides halfway decently. Too bad he only rides the bike intermittently for a few weeks when the tour is on, and when some of his more regular riding friends con him into doing a charity MS ride. In contrast, the Ross guy, with his 27 year-old Capitol Hill Softball League-honed legs actually has a bit of speed, which he uses to hammer most of the way past you on the trail, cut in too close, maybe brush you, then sprint away. Sadly, he blows up like a box of TNT about 200 yards up the first hill he comes to. But man, until he blows up, it was glorious. The Colnago guy… well, he will always pass you on a downhill no matter how fast you are going, and will usually pass you on the flats, providing you are riding recovery or in the bottom end of an easy zone 2 spin. He will generally pass you briefly on uphills, straining to hold in both his gut and his labored breathing, until he is out of eyesight and earshot. He expects you to not notice how hard he is breathing when he passes, and he especially expects you to not say anything when you tool on by 800 yards up the road, passing him while he languishes on the side of the road, looking like a blown up Nazi tank on the Russian steppe, albeit one painted in a particularly bright camouflage scheme.
Yep, they’re the 5th/365th Lancer Brigade, and a pack of them damn near crashed me out on the CCT today, as I was attempting to tool up at a recovery pace. I suggest we stand up and salute these brave soldiers, because someday, they will all be gone. Probably someday soon – I’m guessing by about July 25th, give or take a couple days. We hope.