I’m still stewing about last week’s topic, the horrible treatment of Ernest Gagnon by Boombotix. They basically crafted an advertisement and had to backpedal from the fallout. The company blamed a young designer that went ahead and posted the ad without any internal review. The internet, including Reddit, reacted strongly. The company posted a public apology on their website explaining how it happened and what they would do to not let it happen again. That has me stewing because it reeks of the type of apology my four year old would make. Oops, you caught me so I am very sorry. Here’s some money and we promise to do better. Oh, and wouldn’t it be great to do something positive together? No definite plans, but we will try.
Fair enough. If, and only if, Boombotix follows through on their promises, then fair enough. Their story might be completely true and I am more than willing to allow Boombotix time to prove that they are sorry and that they are going to work with Ernest to do something positive. Maybe it was all just a corporate misstep and they will make amends. I would love to hear an update, and I will be reaching out to them to see if they can give me one. I want to know that they did the right thing and I would love to share that with you guys. I’ll let you know what happens.
There is a larger problem at work here, a larger problem that has fostered the culture that would lead some young designer to think that creating an ad making fun of someone was a great idea. We cyclists have an extremely fractured culture. I have heard it referred to as Bike Tribes; there is even a pretty great book by that very title written by Mike Magnuson. These tribes are often at war with each other. The roadies and the mountain bikers argue constantly. The cyclocrossers end up in the middle somewhere. No one gets along with triathletes because they don’t even want to be cyclists. We fight with each other over disciplines and then we also fight with each other over who belongs or who can even call themselves a cyclist.
Regular readers know I am a big guy, so my sympathies lie with the Clydesdales. That is the term for larger cyclists. One day I might be small enough to call myself that, but for now I am a fat guy in spandex. I get that, no one knows it better than me. I may be fat, but I’m not blind or deaf. I see and hear how other cyclists treat me, even when they don’t realize that I do. The laughing, pointing, staring. The wondering if I should be out there and the misplaced concern that I might hurt myself. The message from some cyclists is loud and clear. I don’t belong. They are sleek and fast, athletes of endurance. They train and dedicate their lives to cycling and shouldn’t have to put up with me in their midst. This is why I ride alone. I don’t race, I don’t group ride, I keep to myself in charity rides. I am not asking to be welcomed into group rides with open arms, just ignore me if you don’t have anything nice to say. I would be much happier with your indifference than you scorn.
This attitude bleeds over into the general culture of cycling. The main cycling corporations have the same attitude. Go to any manufacturer’s website and see for yourself. Bikes are built to a certain standard. Every one of them has a weight limit, even if you have to dig to find it buried in the specifications page. I once wanted to buy a carbon bike from Scott but the weight limit was around 225 pounds. Trek and Specialized have two of the better weight limits. They come in around 275 pounds for their road bikes. My hybrid Trek has a weight limit of 300 pounds but I was more than that when I started riding it. I popped spokes and stressed the rest of the bike until I got under that weight.
Not all cyclists are like this. Most are incredibly welcoming and inclusive. I am actually taking a huge step for me by riding with Team Some Nerve this weekend in the 5 Boro Tour. It is easier because I know I have friends from blogging to ride with me. Some others look to me for help and support as one of the more experienced cyclists in the group. I know that good people are on bikes everywhere and I rarely have serious blatant issues, but it is still a concern for me. I will ride this weekend and hope for the best, knowing that at least 40 other riders will be wearing the same bright yellow shirt that I will have on.
The problem will still exist. The riders that see themselves as better than me or anyone else that isn’t their body type will never go away. That’s almost okay in that it’s inevitable that there will be jerks in the world. It matters more how we deal with them than that they exist in the first place. The real issue is that cycling as a culture tends to tolerate them. We cyclists need to be more welcoming to new riders and understand that not everyone is going to look good in spandex. Apparel companies could help this by making clothes for larger riders. I have mentions Fat Lad at the Back here before; they are reaping the reward of serving these riders. They offer cycling kit made for bigger riders and customers are beating down their door to buy. Imagine if bike makers took the same approach. I know that I would be first in line for a carbon bike that was made for me and not a 125 pound rider.
Companies should be open to serving all types of customers. They should be willing to fill the niches of the market for two reasons. The first is profit. Cycling is not a cheap sport. We are already spending money; I would rather spend it on clothing and gear that fits. The second reason is much more important. The sport of Cycling is a small community. Compared with other sports we barely have any public recognition. Once a year people take notice of the sport as the Tour de France runs and then cycling fades away. The more people we have on bikes, the better. The more welcome they feel and the more involved they become, the better it is for the whole community. We all complain that there is never enough support for better infrastructure or awareness, but we don’t always see that the easiest way to fix this is by putting more people on more bikes more often. Cycling manufacturers, apparel manufacturers, and the cycling community all hold the key to helping each rider feel like they belong. It is up to all of us not to blow it. It is up to the ones that do make mistakes to quickly fix them.
I have reached out to Boombotix, I will let you know what they say. What do you think about body image in cycling? Is it a problem? Is there a solution?