Bicycles… and the tribes that identify with them

One thing that has surprised me over the past year has been how differently one is received on their bike by a fellow cyclist and how tribal the reception can be.

I typically ride in what bikesnobnyc might call “retro-fred” style.  Some form of T-shirt, mountain bike shorts, and sneakers.  If you have seen Time Traveling T Shirt Wearing Retro Fred From The Planet Tridork… you are most of the way there.  No cycling jersey, no aero helmet, no specialty eyewear, no specialty shoes.  Last year I was using clipless pedals and shoes, but I was getting pressure points and numbness in one foot.  Switching back to good platforms and light hikers solved the problem.  As well, I don’t notice a performance difference.  So much the better.  My bike is a bit of a mutant, cyclocross-style setup, fenders, blinky light…Kinda like a commuter setup with no storage.

What I noticed first was that “serious” cyclists with “serious” clothing and “serious” eyewear would not even give a courtesy wave on the road.  Apparently they were too busy being “serious”.  Then I noticed that if there was any kind of exchange it reeked of a kind of condescension… Like a “I’ll wave back when you get a retro Colagno team shirt and some real shoes” kind of vibe.  Real or not, I still notice it.  I guess the deal is that if you aren’t a Lance-bot, you are not in the Lance-bot tribe, and don’t get the Lance-bot secret handshake.   I am not in the Lance-bot tribe, so fair enough.

What I am is a guy who rides for fun and exercise, and rides with visibility and safety as a priority.  The roads I ride on are twisty and relatively narrow and you want any kind of edge to allow drivers to see and avoid you.  Helmet, bright colors, blinky light…  I also have a tendency to wave or say hi to anyone else I see on a bike.  Which led me to observation #2: The bike-ninja wearing black sweats and a black concert shirt with no helmet is also telling me that I am not in his tribe… I see more of these folks on bike paths, but they are all over.  Dark clothing, no helmet, no lights, no reflectors… and taking a nice evening ride on a busy roadway.  Regardless… I wave, they have the same response as the Lance-bot tribe… which is *none*.

The weird part is that the bike-ninja, or “even more casual than me” cyclist, sees me as the spandex guy because I took the time to think out my wardrobe at all.  All I’m trying to do is avoid becoming bumper bait, but really I am just another notch up the “spandex mafia” food chain.  Which is probably right.  I own bike shorts!  I am just one major cycling apparel choice away from capo de regime level fred-ness!

I may have been naive enough to see “people who like to ride a bike” as one fairly well integrated tribe.  No.  No such luck.  And it would seem that with every bike subculture (aka marketing segment) the result is more fragmentation.  (Don’t even get me started about the urban-fixie scene.  I love the idea, and most are good riders, but every YouTube vid of a messenger wannabee blowing through red lights and crosswalks while riding the wrong way on a city street just makes them part of the problem.) That fragmentation may help marketers of bike lifestyle products, but I think it really puts a dent in the ability of cyclists to work toward safer streets, better bike paths, bike-lock facilities, and the other things that ALL bike people would use.

So when you see another bike person, don’t feel like you can’t wave, say hi, or throw a half full kinger of Bud at them!  It’s all good!

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