Well, it finally happened. I had a moment that made me laugh (after the fact) and think I think I am finally a cyclist. I was on a ride following a local bike path. It is a paved path that is part of the East Coast Greenway. The path is one of the first projects so the pavement has seen better days. You know when there is a bump coming by the vegetation growing through the cracks. You can almost start to guess how large of a bump it is by the amount or height of the weeds. Almost. I saw one coming up on a fast downhill section and the crack went clear across the entire path. I braced for impact and the jolt was far harsher than I thought it would be. My iPhone went flying out of it’s holder on my handlebars. I grabbed my breaks and started back up the hill looking for it. My first thought was “This is going to kill my Strava time”. I found the phone and thankfully it was intact and functioning perfectly. That’s when I started laughing. I had just watched my expensive smartphone fly off the front of my bike and I was more worried about my segment time than whether or not the screen was shattered. Well, at least at first.
Mounting up I started wondering as I often do, when can you call yourself a cyclist? Do you need to be able to complete a certain distance in a certain time? Is it when you ride your first half or full century ride? Maybe when you ride your tenth one? Do you need to be able to change a flat tire in less than five minutes? Maybe it’s when you don’t need your local bike shop for every little repair? I’m asking because I really don’t know.
I don’t know for many reasons, most of which stem from how I ride. I am, what the Bike Snob calls, a lone wolf. That means I ride alone. Not for any noble reason, I ride alone because I always have and I don’t know if I would join a group if I could. I started off riding solo on the gravel trails near my house. From time to time I would ride with my father in law, but for the vast majority of my rides I rode alone. I would like to say it was for some other reason, but mostly it was because I am fat and I look funny riding in spandex. I have written about it before, but it took a lot of courage to ride in public. I didn’t have the courage to ride with a group that way. It was easier and I was more comfortable riding that way alone. I have grown out of that fear a little, but it is still there. Along with being fat came riding slow. I am still slow. I have gotten a little faster, but it is hard for me to want to ride in a group when I feel like the rest of the riders will disappear over the next hill as soon as we set off.
The final reason that I ride alone is I don’t want to be a Fred. Fred is what experienced riders call That Guy. That Guy is the one in every group that doesn’t know what he is doing. He doesn’t have his bike set up correctly, he doesn’t bring the right gear, and he doesn’t know how to ride in a group. There is probably no real way to avoid being Fred when you start riding, and I am sure that every once in a while everyone is Fred from time to time. The problem is I never learned anything that would help me redeem myself. I don’t know if I could keep up with a pace line, let alone what the rules are for riding in one. I don’t know proper cycling etiquette for, well for anything really.
There are lots of good reasons to suck it up and try to ride in a group. The most important is that riding in a group is a great way to learn not to be Fred. Not only learning road etiquette, but even for simple questions like how to properly adjust your seat or the best way to fix a flat. Thankfully I have a great Local Bike Shop or LBS to help me out. Bob at Manchester Cycle keeps me pointed in the right direction. He answers most of my questions without laughing too hard and has steered me towards the right equipment each time I have shopped there. A good group would have helped me steer clear of the other cycle shops in the area that aren’t quite as good.
Also, to be fair to all the cyclists I have met, each has gone out of their way to be friendly and offer a helping hand without being asked. Cyclists really are some of the nicest people around. Once they see that you are making an effort they will help you in any way that they can. Part of my problem is that in knowing that I want to bother them even less. I feel like you have to learn some things on your own. That’s probably not the case, but it is how I feel.
I have thought about trying to start a new group. A group that would give a home to all of the Freds out there that are too scared to ride with the experienced cyclists. A group where the average speed would be about what a normal group ride would spin while climbing a hill. The only problem is that we would never really learn from each other because no of us would really know what we are doing. The blind would truly be leading the blind in that scenario.
So I am asking you guys, when did you first feel like a cyclist? Are you still waiting to feel like you belong? What do you think could help you feel like you are part of the community? Let me know, I would love to post a follow up to this with some of the best responces!