04
Feb
17

Your Bike Friends Are Nuts

“Your bike friends are nuts!”

How many times have you heard this from a spouse or a loved one?

Chances are that, if you have made the leap and started to ride a bicycle seriously enough so that you can spout off the salient differences between Campagnolo Record and Shimano Dura Ace or you occasionally find yourself waxing lyrical about the virtues of carbon fiber rims to complete strangers, you have probably have had someone tell you this.

And if the question on the table is the comparative sanity of someone who is deadly serious about cycling versus a person who one would consider to be normal then, yes, by almost any reasonable objective standard your bike friends are all probably a little nuts.

Of course, by implication, your spouse/loved one is probably suggesting that maybe, just maybe, you are a little nuts as well. Let’s call it guilt by association.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some perfectly normal people who ride bicycles. You can see pictures of them in the Land’s End Catalog; happy couples gently wheeling along in some New England idyll, a mating pair of sweater-clad preppies finding the sort of complete khaki-clad fulfillment that can be realized only in the pages of an upscale clothes catalog.

They aren’t Real Cyclists.

So, you may ask, just what is a Real Cyclist?

Perhaps the best way to describe a Real Cyclist is by analogy.  Meeting a Real Cyclist for the first time is a bit like meeting the current President of the David Cassidy Fan Club.

Stay with me here.

For those of you out there under the age of 50, Mr. Cassidy was a briefly omnipresent television star and teen heart throb from the 1970s.  In terms of his ability to leverage good looks and a modicum of musical talent into a squeals of delight from young teen girls, Mr. Cassidy had few equals.  At this point in the second decade of the 21st Century, approaching 40 years after the cancellation of the Partridge Family television show and his disappearance from the cover of Teen Beat magazine, anybody out there still carrying the flame for David Cassidy to the point of being the President of his fan club is going to be truly committed to the cause.

And probably a just little bit unstable.

davidcassidySo I am not that far off base when I say that Real Cyclists are probably a whole lot like the President of the David Cassidy fan club: by any objective measure Real Cyclists are utterly committed to their sport.  And probably a little bit unstable.  That’s because – and anyone who has ever met a Real Cyclist knows this to be true – to a Real Cyclist the bike is everything.  It is a lifestyle in the fullest sense of that overused term.  An all-encompassing obsession with two skinny 700c wheels rolling over warm tarmac.  Nothing else really matters.  It’s Bikes! Bikes! Bikes! 24/7.  Any conversation will eventually be steered to topics involving detailed descriptions of the  bikes that they personally own, the number of miles that they have ridden this week, or trivia about the Tour de France.  It can be so bad that the experience of meeting a Real Cyclist often leaves one with the disconcerting impression that you are in the company of someone who is inhabiting an alternate universe – a bike-centric planet peopled by Lycra-clad iconoclasts and odd ducks.

It’s all just a little bit disconcerting and off kilter.  Just like, I expect, the impression that you would be left with after a five minute conversation with the President of the David Cassidy Fan Club.

What I am trying to get across here is that being totally obsessed with what is, for most normal people, a fringe activity can lead to some really weird behavior.  It almost goes without saying that Real Cyclists are generally a clannish lot and can be rather dismissive of outsiders.  It is like being  a member of a special club, just like being diagnosed as obsessive compulsive is your ticket to membership in another  equally “special” club.  Only a fellow Real Cyclist can ever fully understand another Real Cyclist.

This can lead to problems.

For a Real Cyclist, proving your bona fides as a full-fledged member of the club to another Real Cyclist is all about the choices that you make about the details: the equipment, the clothes, and the traditions that define the sport.  Details matter, and getting it right is very, very important to a Real Cyclist.  Complicating this dynamic (a polite euphemism for “dousing it in gasoline and throwing a lit match”) is the fact that each Real Cyclist has an individualized set of immutable Strongly Held Opinions about seemingly trivial things like chain lube, bar tape, and leg shaving.  The more arcane the item or practice the more strongly held the opinion.  And there is nothing – and I truly mean nothing – about cycling that escapes the gaze (or judgment) of the Real Cyclist.  So, for example, a Real Cyclist can be expected to have not just a favorite brand of bicycle, but also a favorite brand of inner tube, spoke wrench, saddle bag, bike shorts, and personal lubricant to swathe upon one’s nether regions to avoid chafing.

As happens with most matters of honor between highly-opinionated iconoclasts and odd ducks, a Real Cyclist is willing to defend each of these Strongly Held Opinions to the death. This means that Real Cyclists often don’t play well with others, especially other Real Cyclists. A Real Cyclist would prefer to ride hundreds if not thousands of miles by themselves rather than suffer the company of a cyclist who they view as a dolt or a fool, i.e. someone who dares to challenge their Strongly Held Opinion about the benefits of riding a particular brand of tire, for example. Or, worse, suffer the company of someone who they view as a sketchy rider, the greatest insult that a Real Cyclist can bestow upon another human being.

The one category of person who is seemingly exempt from all of this drama is the bike mechanic. Real Cyclists love their bike mechanic. Often to irrational levels. A good bike mechanic is part technician, part psychoanalyst, part confessor. He or she is the person who feeds a Real Cyclist’s jones for riding; their connection, their dealer, their enabler, their source for what gets them high.

In short, a bike mechanic can take an unnaturally important place in the life of a Real Cyclist. And that’s where things can get really weird.

* * *

A short word about me.

The above observations regarding odd or off-putting behavior certainly do not apply to me.  Despite the fact that by any measure I should be counted among the ranks of Real Cyclists, I am not weird.  Having me as one of your bike friends is nothing less than total unalloyed wonderfulness. I am neither an iconoclast nor an odd duck.

And I can overlook a poor choice of handlebar tape on a friend’s bike. Honest.

I will also note here that I am a fair bike mechanic and, lately, a frame builder.  I build lugged steel road bikes in my garage for my own amusement.  While I don’t wrench (or build bikes) professionally, over the years I have been known to do work for my more impecunious or time-crunched friends.

So, no, it isn’t a mixed blessing at all to have me as one of your bike friends.  I am not nuts.

And then, of course, there is Karl.

Karl is a Real Cyclist. And, unlike me, he is nuts.

* * *

On that particular sunny Saturday morning I had eaten breakfast and then headed down to the local hardware store to pick up a few things. Being the social sort, I stopped to talk to the other kindred souls who also like to hang around the hardware store on a Saturday morning.   Your typical Saturday morning hardware store conversation ranges from grass seed to sports, with a little weather thrown in to spice things up.  Not being in a terrible hurry to get back, I next strolled over to the coffee shop, ordered a cup, and then sat down to look at the paper. All in all, as perfect a Saturday morning as one could hope for.

Returning home, I pulled the car into the driveway and shut it off. Arrayed before me were all of the classic warning signs that we had just had an unannounced visit from Karl. Exhibit 1 was leaning against the garage door; a comprehensively broken bicycle. This is not the first time that a broken bike belonging to Karl has showed up at my house unexpectedly; I’m sort of his “mechanic of last resort” when something breaks and the local bike shop is too busy to fit him in. Exhibit 2 was my lovely wife, still in her bathrobe, highly agitated.

“Your bike friends are nuts.”

“Let me guess; Karl stopped by while I was out?”

“Yes, Karl stopped by while you were out.”

“….”

“I wasn’t dressed.”

“Ah.”

“So anyway, he had some sort of accident and hit his head. From what I could piece together, Karl was on a group ride and he wrecked.”

“And so he came here? Who was he with? Why didn’t they stop and call his wife or an ambulance or something?”

“Oh, that’s the best part. Karl apparently didn’t want to see a doctor. He wanted to see you. He was pretty insistent about that. So he waved everybody off and showed up here. I don’t know how he got here or who he was with, but he kept ringing the doorbell.”

“So what did you do?”

“What do you think that I did?  I hid, that’s what I did.  Hoping that he would go away. When he didn’t, I stuck my head out the door and basically tried to shoo him away. I offered to call his wife to come and take him to the doctor but he was absolutely set on seeing you first.”

“That’s nuts. So where is he?”

“I called his wife anyway. He was scaring the neighbors and bleeding all over our front steps.”

“This does not compute. Karl wanted to see me first? Before going to the hospital?”

“He said that he needed to talk to you first so that he could tell the doctors what happened.”

“Are you sure that’s what he said? Because, even for Karl, that seems a little strange.”

“Hey, what can I say? He hits his head and becomes fixated on the guy who works on his bike. Weirder things have happened. I mean, listening to you guys talk, all that you ever really worry about are your bicycles. Heaven help us all if something was to happen to your bike. With a set of priorities like that, putting in a visit to your bike mechanic ahead of, say, going to the emergency room to make sure that the blood streaming from your head isn’t some sort of imminently fatal injury really isn’t such a stretch.”

“How long did he wait?”

“He showed up right after you left. His wife picked him up about five minutes ago. Your timing is impeccable.”

***

In the end everything turned out fine; Karl was concussed, which partially explains why he was wandering around my front yard like a baby duckling on acid.  And we actually did figure out why he crashed – Karl broke a pedal off the crank and that caused him to go down.

But as for why Karl felt compelled to seek out his mechanic before heading off to the emergency room to get his cerebellum looked at, I can chalk that up to only one thing: it is exactly what a Real Cyclist would do.  And Karl certainly earned his Real Cyclist badge that day.

Too bad my wife still won’t let him in the yard.  He’s nuts.

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6 Responses to “Your Bike Friends Are Nuts”


  1. 1 Touch0Gray
    February 4, 2017 at 11:39 pm

    Omg, thanks for writing this, makes perfect sense to me!

    • February 5, 2017 at 2:31 pm

      Hola amigo!

      It strangely made sense to me too. Which is frightening. You guys will have to meet Karl some day. He’s a great guy who also happens to have an amazing talent for getting into funny situations involving property damage.

  2. 3 Roger Snow Goose Curtis
    February 5, 2017 at 3:31 am

    I demand a book!

    • February 5, 2017 at 2:28 pm

      Goose!

      Forget the book, I demand a drink. Or three.

      By the way, this is (not surprisingly) a true story. It happened a couple of years ago and I just got around to putting it down.

      How are things up in Our Sane Neighbor To The North?

      Greg

  3. 5 Karl H.
    February 5, 2017 at 10:32 pm

    Ah yes. I’m truly sorry for startling the Sainted Spouse, but I was concussed: I was clearly not in my right mind. In fact, I remember being in a rage that a crank pedal could fail so spectacularly. Not at you, and not at Trurmp (yet), but just at the realization that I had done nothing stupid, and yet had had one of my most serious injuries moving at exactly zero mph.

    If you don’t mind, I’ll share this on FB and reap the profits when it goes viral …

    Karl “who’s timeouts are hard-earned” H.

  4. 6 Karl Hovey
    February 6, 2017 at 2:08 am

    Thanks Greg! Wonderfully written, and painfully funny.

    I commented on your blog, and copied this to my FB page.

    Karl


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