Yup. Or something.

Cyclists are – or at least they should be – kindred spirits. At our core, we’ve made a conscious decision to ride on two wheels under our own power. No doubt, our reasons for doing so are legion: healthy lifestyle choice, going fast, racing, environmentally sound decision making, etc.

Pretty much any time two people (guys in particular) line up next to each other, they see an opportunity to compete. “My lawnmower has more horsepower than yours.” “I can shave faster and smoother than you.” “Hey, want to see who can fart the loudest?” And so it goes with bicycles as well.

It shouldn’t puzzle me how often even the smallest effort gets viewed through that competitive lens, but maybe I’m not especially bright. Because it does. One almost laughably – certainly, lamentably – odd behavior that I bet you’ve noticed before is when two cyclists approach each other from opposite directions. You know they see each other because almost immediately they rearrange themselves from the most comfortable riding position they’ve been in to the much more competitive-looking spot, riding in the drops. It’s silly, but I’m confident in my opinion that we do this to look more bad ass. Right? The clear message is: “You aren’t nearly as bad ass a rider as I am.”

I’m riding through the middle of nowhere this morning, exploring some of the gravel around here that until now I’ve neglected. It’s a beautiful day, the third in a row on a holiday weekend, no less. The roads are narrow and flat, with a few requisite bumps and holes, but nothing really challenging. It’s been miles and miles since I passed the last farmhouse, and not one single vehicle of any kind in probably an hour. I haven’t even seen a train, so it’s remote. Reclusive. Secluded. Isolated. In the freakin’ sticks.

In the distance I see a small figure moving towards me. The dot on the horizon gets larger and eventually resolves into the image of another cyclist. I laugh to myself because he does “the thing” as he draws closer, hunching down over his bars in the drops, and suddenly becomes seriously intent on the road. I notice that his cadence changes, having dropped into a higher gear despite the fact that he’s on a skinny tire road bike and we’re both on a gravel road. But this approaching cyclist seems to have a need to impress anyone in sight that he’s A Serious Cyclist. Out here in the middle of nowhere. “Hey. I’m a pretty Bad Ass Serious Racer Cyclist. Or something.”

Yup. Or something.

As we pass, I raise my finger in a small wave and simultaneously nod in his direction.

From my fellow cyclist: Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Not a glance. No acknowledgement at all.

And this really chafes me.

I really believe cyclist are kindred spirits, despite our different reasons for riding. A simple acknowledgment is de rigueur, or at least it is here in the Midwest when two solitary riders, drivers, hikers, or UFOs pass. Out in the middle of nowhere. In the sticks.

I know two farmers – old farts, really – who haven’t said a good word about the other in fifty years. But they always wave as they pass one another on a remote country road. This concept of being so intent on your riding that you can’t even nod at your fellow rider is really puzzling to me. It doesn’t happen often because the vast majority of cyclists are courteous, but when it does the little thesaurus in my head fires up, looking for words of description as I try to make sense of this tiny little event: detached, aloof, cool and reserved, uninvolved, withdrawn, frosty, unapproachable.

Oh. And puzzling.

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13 thoughts on “Yup. Or something.

  1. How old, or young, was the cyclist you met on the road today? I have found the traditional nod and wave hasn’t been adopted by the younger set so much. Maybe in the same way that men don’t put their hand out any more when they first meet, although this is still the way across Europe no matter how well you know the person. Perhaps the veterans among us need to help the generation behind on us on the road to lift a hand and share a ‘hello’ or ‘good day’. As for the shifting posture, well I must admit to doing a bit of the same thing when I was a young teenager coming up on a group of experienced riders. Youth does have its awkward moments.

    • Doing “the thing” makes me laugh because I, too, did exactly the same thing in my youth! It’s a pretense that I think many of us fall prey to.

      As for the age of the less than courteous riders, I would place them firmly in their mid-30s. Too old to be seen as “serious” by the younger, faster riders, perhaps they are just unwilling to let go. I don’t know, that’s pure speculation on my part. The closer I get to 60 the less important it is to me to be seen as “serious.” 😇 on the other hand, there is absolutely hope for our youth. They are some of the friendliest riders on the road.

      Well… You know… Right behind old farts like me.

  2. Mark Typinski says:

    Great story, and it really does sum up the experience. I get that on the local MUP trails a lot; super-serious race training folks out on a path with dogs and moms and dads and little kids, angrily snarling “ON YER LEFT” and zipping through gaps creating havoc for everyone. Really gives us a bad name. I try to take every opportunity to hit the brakes and slow to a crawl, then get a mini-interval by slamming it back up to speed as quick as I can. Better training for me, way more polite for the other users.

    • I merged into a group of three such riders a couple of days ago, Mark. They were going straight at the four way stop and I was turning right. They – of course! – couldn’t be bothered to stop at the sign and just blew right through. I turned and perplexingly enough found myself almost immediately on their rear wheel. It’s about a 9% grade at this point, for a little less than half a mile. A lot of runners also use this road, along with a fair bit of traffic. Importantly, it’s a generally safe route because the road is very, very wide and allows plenty of room for everyone – a concept that proved elusive to the lead rider in the trio of Serious Bad Ass Racer Cyclists. “ON YER LEFT!” he grunted as he stood up on his pedals, terrifying an elderly speed walker. (By the way, she walks about six hours a day, all over town, and could probably bury that dude. She looks to be about seventy-five, but her legs look like they can press five hundred pounds.) There are also a ton of noisy little urchins on the climb up the hill. He didn’t yell at them, but glared menacingly – or at least so I imagined. Didn’t really matter, he’d already dropped a bunch of common courtesy points on my scale.
      I don’t think they realized I had picked them up and I’m sure no one realized I was on their rear wheel. I DO know they were surprised as hell when I got tired of waiting for them to spin up that damn hill because they looked startled as all get out when I grunted out “ON YER LEFT!”, passed the group, and left them behind as I topped the hill. About five blocks further on I turned left on my street. In my mirror the group was pretty far behind me. I’m no racer, but I can climb decently well and I thought to myself that there might not be a lot of justice in this world, but there sure as heck is a lot of satisfaction when a little Karma shows up.

  3. I was part of it ‘back in the day’ (early sixties). I too admired racing cyclists, although I had never seen one outside the rare European cycling magazine found in a big city bike shop. After special ordering an inexpensive drop handlebar, derailleur bicycle, I did my darnedest to emulate what I thought a racing cyclist should look like. I had no idea, but neither did anyone else who saw me.

    It took three or four decades to figure out that all we North Americans were Walter Mitty cyclists; self-styled pseudo racers. Along came the mountain bike with its upright posture and wide range gears and sales success. No, their riders didn’t compete off road, and rarely even rode off road, once again, Walter Mitty off-road racers. But the bikes were at least found by many casual riders to be more comfortable and practical – even if they still didn’t come with fenders, lights or means of carrying anything.

    What we hardly ever get in North America is the kind of reality cycling done by the vast majority of cyclists world wide. Practical upright riding positions, some means of carrying stuff (say, groceries?!?), plus lights and fenders to make riding all hours, all weather. I finally got there, and modified my old bike collection accordingly – ever seen a Colnago with fenders and racks? – but not until I was nearing the start of my eighth decade. Wisdom comes slowly.

    As I said to an old cycling friend who hadn’t ridden in a year or two, put fenders, lights and a rack on a bike and you won’t necessarily ride any further. But I guarantee you will ride a lot more often.

  4. Phillip Cowan says:

    I took a forty miler out in the country Sunday. I must have encountered a half dozen of the species cyclus badassus americanus. Not one of them could manage even the finger lift of acknowledgement much less a wave. I didn’t care. I waved like the village idiot anyway. I learned to embrace my inner Fred long ago.

  5. Since you’re a cyclist I have a question for you. Why do cyclists feel the need to ride their bikes on heavy populated 2 lane roads holding up traffic when they know it’s rush hour traffic and know the cars have no place to go?

    • I certainly can’t claim to speak for all cyclists, only for myself. Frankly, the sort of road you characterize scares the hell out of me and I will avoid them. That said, let me ask you a question in response: what exactly is the issue? Commuters – whether in cars, on motorcycles, or on bicycles, are doing the same thing at rush hour: commuting. Yes, motorists need to drive cautiously when bicycles are legally using the road. They also need to act with caution when other four wheeled vehicles are moving slowly. And arguably, more traffic patterns are interrupted by cars than bikes – at least in my personal driving experience. In any event, the argument and frustration seems to be that “I am being inconvenienced.” To me, caution trumps inconvenience every time. People and lives are more important. Bicyclists have a legal right to road use, even when those roads are heavily trafficked, and even when those drivers have a destination in mind. And even when the cyclists are riding for sport or recreation, rather than commuting. Now I’m not defending stupid actions by riders. Believe me when I say that it makes me crazy to see cyclists behaving irresponsibly or dangerously. I also think that riders should be courteous in their selection of routes. I mean, c’mon – just because you CAN legally ride down the road, do you have to select THAT road at THAT particular time if you’re on the road “training?” I feel that frustration. Riders and drivers alike could behave much more courteously, safely, and generally with greater intelligence than they often do toward each other (or even toward themselves.) But please don’t ask me to demonize cyclists who legally use roads because a driver feels inconvenienced – there are FAR more road distractions and slow downs than bicycles out there.

      • Thanks for your response. I understand some may be on the road during rush hour because that’s their only form of transportation and I’m cool with that, but not the ones riding for sport. Like you said, do you have TO TRAVEL THAT ROAD AT THAT TIME.

      • Yup. I understand there’s an apparent shortage of common sense available out there. There’s also a whole bunch of attitude surrounding the “yeah, but it’s my RIGHT to >fill in your perceived slight here<." But it would be, Y'know…NICE if common sense could prevail every now and then, regardless of "but, I'm ALLOWED to do this" attitudes. Just sayin'.

  6. Phillip Cowan says:

    I see cyclists using busy two lanes all the time when they could go over a block and find a parallel road with hardly any traffic. I usually chalk it up to inexperience or perhaps they’re one of the militants who insist on being there because it is their “right”. Also many new cyclist are still using the “car map” in their brains because they haven’t sufficiently developed their “bike maps” yet. However, having said all that I would like to point out that “complete streets” laws are on the books in many states yet it seems 99% of roads have no provision for anything other than automobile traffic. Maybe Stacey could agitate with her local government for better roads. Sure, we all dream about Copenhagen style infrastructure but that’s probably never gonna happen here in the States. But an extra 12 inches of pavement to the right of the white line would be a big improvement in a lot of cases and I can’t imagine it would be that expensive. It’s just that most road planners never thought of it. Let’s help them think of it.

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