I love every kind of bike, from the tricked-out fixies all over Seattle (hello – hilly-ass town! Unless your fixie is a 39-27, you are not making a sensible choice!), to the awesome Dutch Bikes, to the phenomenal racers around town, I love them all.
I am, however, a bitch when it comes to bike noise. Some noises can be forgiven, while others can not. My good friends at Speedy Reedy in Seattle know this all too well, I think, based on a recent comment the head mechanic made, “I don’t doubt it makes noise, I just don’t know if it’s the spoke tension…” The point is, if it’s making a sound, that’s kinetic energy not focused in making me go forward even though it’s caused by energy I’m putting into the bicycle. And that’s bad. There’s also a certain mechanical challenge in making a bike run silently, one that I enjoy when it’s not pissing me off: working through the possible sources of the noise in a process of elimination and the thrill of having silenced it.
There is only one noise that I accept on a bike, and that is drive train noise. That is, if you’re running Shimano or SRAM. Campy, I have found, runs almost silently. My bike – aside from the dull pop I’m currently hearing in my saddle when my fat-ass runs over a big enough bump – is virtually silent these days. All I hear is the hum of my wheels, and that is a sound worth buying wheels for. That said, Shimano and SRAM are simply noisy. The chain or the pulleys in the derailleur or something but they simply make noise. And, while it’s still a loss in kinetic energy, that’s OK.
But a squeaky chain? Unforgivable. I don’t care who you are, but if you own a bicycle, you can buy a can of WD-40 and make it stop-the-fuck squeaking. Or Tri-Flow. Or, better yet, something your local bike shop mechanic recommends. Topic closed.
My point is, I am not a bike snob. I am, however, a nod snob. Some cyclist will nod at anyone riding another bike. Others will nod at anyone who nods at them. Paradoxically, many of them will not nod at a female cyclist, unless they didn’t realize she was a female.
I, on the other hand, am very judicious when it comes to nodding at a cyclist. The cyclist’s nod is an acknowledgment of a kindred spirit, of souls suffering towards a similar goal. It implies a similar level of devotion to the sport, a willingness to betray accepted social norms for the life of a cyclist. This is a vaguely-defined set of criteria more accurately measured by stating those qualities which will result in me not nodding at a fellow cyclist.
Those qualities are as follows, in no particular order:
- Your chain is squeaking.
- Your helmet is missing or is on backwards. Obvious exceptions to this rule are if you’re wearing a hair-net or a cycling cap (backwards) and are riding an Italian or Belgian steel road bike, preferably with your brake cables springing up from your brake hoods directly to your frame, or if your name is Charley Mottet.
- You are wearing tights on a day that knickers will do, or shorts on a day when you should wear knickers or tights.
- You are riding a recumbent.
- You come blowing by me on a climb and your legs are not shaved. There are exceptions to this rule, but I have to know you personally in order to issue exceptions.
- You are hammering needlessly.
- You don’t look cool. This makes me sound like a jerk, but lets face it, this is an important part of cycling: once you reach a certain level of familiarity with your bicycle, you almost automatically will look cool.
- You annoy me in some other way that is not outlined here. This could be anything from falling into my gaze when I’m tired or otherwise cranky, to motoring by me on the Lighthouse on your fixie.
I think that covers it.