Oct 04 2011
Cyclists are difficult to pin down. Unless your bike is a tandem, riding is a solo act. Which doesn’t mean it can’t be done in company, of course. In fact, a good part of the fascination that attends stage races like the Tour and the Giro lies in this very dualism. The race winner stands alone on the podium—flanked by the runner-up and the runner-up’s runner-up—but much of the credit for his victory belongs to his team. Without their sweat and sacrifice, he’d never have made it to the podium. He might not even have finished the race.
It’s equally hard to assign a single rationale to cycling. What do you do on your bike? Do you race? Commute? Tour? Pick up the groceries? Deliver time-sensitive documents? Sweat away extra pounds? Or do you simply ride for the pleasure of riding? Well, unless your bike has been gathering dust in the garage since the day you got your driver’s license, chances are pretty good that you do most of these things, at least now and then. I know I do. On some days, I ride to keep appointments. On others, I ride to bring home the pasta. And on others, I ride just to to ride. It’s all good—even when (because of weather or traffic or broken beer bottles on the shoulder) it isn’t.
Which leaves me scratching my head at the tendency of many cycling writers—and most cycling bloggers, it seems—to define themselves by a single activity. There are happy exceptions, of course. One favorite blog is written by a senior London barrister, who exchanges his horsehair wig and silk gown for a cycling helmet and Lycra shorts when he commutes to and from his chambers. He also races on weekends. And he’s been known to pootle about on back roads on a borrowed bike while on holiday, too.
All of which serves to illustrate the commonplace observation that every system of classification is a more or less artificial construct. You may think of yourself as a racer, pure and simple. But I’ll bet you’ve sometimes gone for a ride just for the fun of it. Or maybe you consider yourself a “utility” cyclist, while regarding Lycra-clad athletes with the genial contempt most of us reserve for those who find pleasure in frivolous activities. But haven’t you occasionally chased after one of these self-same athletes when she passed you, just to see if you could catch her up before you reached the next light? I’ll bet you have.
My point? Pigeonholes don’t even do a good job of confining pigeons. And cyclists aren’t easily confined to a single activity. Few, I think, would want to be. The important thing—perhaps the only important thing, at least in this context—is to ride. All else follows from that simple act.