One of the great things about this sport is the people who you meet on the road; bikes are a fantastic equaliser. There aren’t many sports where you could take part in the sport with a top professional and a rank novice at the same time. I mean, it’s not often that Jona Lomu nips down to the park for a spot of touch or Messi comes down to have a kick about behind the bike sheds. But in cycling, you could ride with Alberto Contador on a shopping bike if you struck it lucky. We all meet people on the road, and generally these people fall into a few categories. This week I think I’ve met just about all of them. And now I’m going to launch into a brief sociology of cyclists in San Diego.
I’ve been fortunate enough to travel all around the world racing, and have met lots of fantastic people, but in the last two days I have had a couple of interactions which made me think about how we encounter people on the road. Just today I was riding back from an easy spin (NB – Apparently iPhone Strava doesn’t like it when you circle around because you’re lost, it just assumes the GPS is off) and a guy passes me on a street bike. I’m minding my own business at 200w trying not to do anything silly but it strikes me as odd that I just got passed by a man with his saddle a foot too low. Anyway 50m after he passes he slows DRAMATICALLY and I catch him, then pass him, then he flys past again. We can all see where this is going. Eventually I catch him and he asks me to stop accelerating every time he overtakes me. I explain that I’m not and that maybe if he pedaled rather than using what appear to be a two stroke engine mounted to his rear wheel, he might get a more fulfilling (if slower) workout. He looked down his nose (and past his sizeable stomach) at me and with a “yeah dude, whatever” he shot off, through the red light and down a one-way street, the wrong way. So there’s group one – entitled and odd.
This act of cardinal douchebaggery came on top of spotting a “serious” cyclist on my commute yesterday – full AG2r kit (presumably because he is “so Euro” that he wouldn’t dream of a Discovery team kit), Cannondale bike, cheeks sucked in, hands on hoods, and a clear attempt being made to maintain a facial expression which said “I’m not trying, this speed just comes naturally to me” whilst his breathing and perspiration were shouting the opposite. I waved as he passed. He looked at me, and didnt respond. Classic group two – the wannabe pro, these guys can normally be distinguished by their advanced attempts to be matchy-matchy, the presence of a USAC category 4 racing license, embrocation on training rides, and the obligatory shoe covers.
I met a third rider on the same ride where I encountered my wannabe Frenchman, this guy didn’t wave either. As I approached him I took my right hand off the bars and waved it briefly to acknowledge his presence. Seeing a guy on a town bike with 700c wheels and flat bars I expected a response, I was surprised to see no movement. But as I got closer I saw something which made me way happier than any wave could, the guy’s face was covered in the broadest smile I have seen a grown adult wearing in a very long time. He was simply loving the speed and release of being on a bike. I also noticed why he didn’t wave. The left arm of his t-shirt was empty, his limb amputated at the shoulder and he only had one arm which was otherwise engaged with both brakes and shifter he wasn’t really at liberty to wave. Just seeing that guy and seeing the smile on his face made me remember how much fun it is riding bikes. Of all the types, I hope I’m always group 3 – the guy who is having fun riding his bike, who wants to share it with you and who doesn’t care what he looks like or who he impresses. I’d rather be having fun on a cruiser than pretending to be something I’m not on a Cervelo.
So next time you bump into someone on the road, think which group you fall into, and try to smile, even if you can’t wave.