Have a look around to see who you find occupying your immediate vicinity. Presently, I am surrounded by a pleasant-seeming bunch. Some are even going so far as to appear happy or at least not displeased; all of them are pale and none of them fit. My attention is drawn, however, to a a portly mustached gentleman who strode into the hotel lobby with an enormous degree of self confidence and who as such feels justified in wearing an ill-fitting t-shirt bearing a phrase which asserts that real men wear orange. While I have no reason to disagree with the assertion, I assume he is optimistic that through wearing said t-shirt, he will be mistaken for a “real man” and is not in fact attempting to disprove the point through contrast.
I’m not picking on this gent not because I’m harboring any sense of ill-will towards him, nor for the fact that he strode into the hotel lobby carrying a twelve pack of Yuengling Black and Tan. I’m picking on him mostly because I have come to understand that “real men” are capable of crushing things like soda cans and their opponents’ Will to Live, while from the looks of it, the only thing he’s crushed lately was a ham sandwich whose remnants I’m fairly certain I spotted on the front of his bright orange t-shirt.
Surprisingly, our Orange Hero isn’t even the most disappointing case in the room I’m occupying. The guy in the camouflage, knee-long shorts and flip-flops is an example at least two degrees worse; if he harbors hopes of blending in to anything – most of all foliage – I suggest he spend some time outside to brew himself up a tan that goes beyond TV Translucent (I’m not sure what the pantone value is for that). He should also try lifting his computer some time, to build muscle mass, rather than wheeling it about in a trolly. But worst of all by a considerable gap is the skinny-fat chap with carefully disheveled hair who is presently chastising the bartender – who is serving free drinks to hotel patrons – for not having his preferred brand of vodka on hand. If this guy took half the time he spent worrying about his hair and invested it in not worrying about his free drink, he’d be three-quarters less of a douche. (My dad would call this guy a zacht gekookt ei, or soft-boiled egg.)
All this to say that as a society we have, by and large, become soft. While I want to be careful not to paint too broadly with that brush as no one is to say what hardships people have been through, on balance we seem to expect to take more and to be asked to give less in return. Our ancestors worked harder than we did, in worse conditions, for less reward but found satisfaction in a job well done and an honest day’s work. Yet today, we are overly dependent on t-shirts to send a message about who we are rather than our actions. We fill our conversations with sentiments of entitlement and rights, when in fact we are entitled to nothing and we have the right only to the things we find within ourselves.
As Cyclists, however easy our lives may be, the bicycle brings us some degree of hardship and struggle. For many of us, our easy lives are what draw us to the bicycle in pursuit of a harder life. This is, of course, in stark contrast that to the riders who came before us, the legion of Fausto Coppi, Rik van Looy, and even the comparatively well-off Eddy Merckx who chose the bicycle as a means of escape from a harder life into an easier one. But nevertheless, it sets us appart. The lessons the bicycle teaches us can be applied to the rest of our lives, and may be used to guide the uninitiated.
Our pets go untrained because we are too busy, distracted, or stressed out to show them the discipline they crave. Our children scream as our dependence on secondary care blurs the boundary between parent and friend. Society’s BMI is pushed ever upward as our appetite for a meal grows inversely with our willingness to exercise. By and large, our dependence on the material is fueled by the immaterial.
No child is too young, no adult too old. This is the time to Obey the Rules, Lead by Example, and Guide the Uninitiated. But most of all, this is the time for us to set an example and have The Talk. The Rule #5 Talk. And remember what Will Fotheringham refers to as Rule #5.b: Eddy Never Complained.