On Rule 2: Cycling Sensei

My buddy Chris wants to buy a road bike.  His primary reason for this is to improve his fitness after splitting his patella in half on a rock while skiing a couple weeks ago.   He believes that riding a bicycle, after his arduous healing process is complete, will be easy on his knees and provide him with a fun way to stay fit.  To that I say, of course it will.

It started benignly enough the other day when I stopped by Chris’ house for a visit.  Upon arrival he showed me an ad he had been contemplating on Craigslist.  The ad was for a Specialized Transition Pro Tri-bike.  Now, keep in mind that Chris has never owned a road bike so when he saw the Specialized being offered for a good price, in our area, he thought it was worth a closer look and some research.  I have to admit  the bike looked dandy and would certainly catch one’s eye.  Especially someone who knew he wanted a nice bike but wasn’t sure yet what he wanted, let alone needed.  Knowing of my passion for cycling (as the guy who gave me my V-cog tattoo) he asked what I thought about the bike in the ad.  Immediately, the first thoughts that came to my mind were:

  • Right-on man, you’re thinking about getting a bike.
  • Don’t buy a Tri-bike for your first bike.  Or even your second or third bike for that matter.
  • I could potentially get another riding buddy out of this.
  • How should I go about fanning the sparks of Chris’ interest in road cycling without blowing said sparks out  by overwhelming him with my enthusiasm and opinions on the matter?

It was this final thought that gave me a serious feeling of responsibility.  At a minimum, the responsibility of advising my friend on his first road bike so he ends up with something that works for him and is fun.  But moreover, the responsibility of conveying La Vie Velominatus to someone who doesn’t yet know it exists.  Whether or not Chris ever really embraces La Vie is not the issue.  I hope he does.  But my role in this is to introduce him to it so that he has the potential to at least glimpse what La Vie has to offer.  Of course all he thought he was doing was getting my opinion on a bicycle.

One does not just go out, buy a bike, and declare oneself a Velominatus, or even a cyclist.  It’s a process.  None of us here just got on a bike one day and instantly had it all figured out.  We can all take ownership for various Rule violations made over the years, money mis-spent on shitty pieces of equipment, flubs in etiquette in races and group rides, and missed opportunities to lay down some V.   Some of what we know to be La Vie Velominatus has come from trial and error and reflection.  And much of it has come to us through mentors or a cycling sensei, if you will.

Who among us did not have at least one mentor in her or his journey toward becoming a Velominatus?  For Merckx-sake, we wouldn’t even have the Rules if Johnny Klink had not had Col for inspiration and thus commanded Brett to “blog that shit”.   One of my own mentors is Frank who looked to his father and a wheel builder in The Netherlands for guidance.  These are people who’s sphere of influence we are granted access to when we ask.  Not necessarily the pros we look to for inspiration but the everyday Velominati who give us tips, insights, and advice on how and what cycling is, not how it ought to be.

So partially because Chris asked me and partially because I feel an obligation to my mentors, to our traditions, and to the Velominati (which means you) I find myself in the duty-bound position of being a cycling sensei.  The simple act of being asked by a friend what I think of a bike places me in this position.  I’m excited my friend has taken an interest in cycling and am chomping at the bit with the opportunity to help show him the way.  I’m eager to shepherd Chris into the rich traditions and joy that cycling can provide but I’m hesitant to come on too strong.  Hopefully Chris will discover what cycling is and ride the roads of the Velominatus.  But like it did for you and I, this can only happen when he is ready.

Who were your cycling sensei and how have you approached the responsibility of ushering someone into La Vie Velominatus?

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64 Replies to “On Rule 2: Cycling Sensei”

  1. Anyone know anything about TiCycles out of Portland, OR? Chris found an older Ti Hyak in his size for $500 (steel fork, Chris King Headset). I’m not familiar but their website makes it look like they’ve got decent bikes.

  2. @Marko
    See them around in Seattle all the time; usually they are not new, which says to me they are pretty durable. No direct experience, though. Maybe @Michael or @mcsqueak know?

  3. @frank


    Sorry guys, no experience with them, or ever heard of them to be honest. You can’t swing a cracked carbon fork here without hitting five indie builder, so it’s hard to keep track.

  4. Small pic but here’s what Chris has decided on. A 55cm Look Kg381 with Chorus gruppo. Not a done deal yet but seems inevitable. Nice bike, especially for a first bike. I came across it scouring the web and he was able to set up a deal with the seller. Good price too. I hope it works out for him. Anyone ever own/ride one of these frames? I have not.

  5. @Marko
    Is that set up for Chris already, or is that the owner’s pic? If not, the frame seems very large based on seatpost extension. Otherwise, it looks great. Chorus will be fantastic; 3-cross wheels, what’s not to love?

    I would bet the 381 just have heavier lugs and carbon, but the same basic ride.

  6. @frank
    I’m guessing the guy he bought it from is pinner and maybe had too big a frame because I thought the same thing. Yes, he did buy it, it’s in the mail. As I mentioned, the frame is a 55 c-c with 56.9 top tube. I don’t think it’ll fit Chris under the “buy as small a frame as you can get away with” principle but it will fit him well in the traditional sense. What’s weirder about that pic is the spacer height in relation to the lack of seat post. Very weird and will be remedied by Chris’s Cycling Sensei.

    On a very hilarious related note, Chris was over today. He said he was looking at the pics of his new bike and wondering about the bar tape/seat/frame color combo. He asked all the right questions: “My bars and saddle are white but the frame is red at the seat tube and black at the head tube, does that look okay?” Hmm: “The bars and saddle match the decals though, is that right.” He continued. “I want things to look cool so I went to “your” site (Velominati) and started reading the Rules.” Mind you, I hadn’t mentioned the site, let alone The Rules. I think he noticed my name badge. “Then I saw Rule #8.” He said. “Turns out I was totally on the right track and the bike will look cool the way it is.” I was laughing my ass off. A budding velominatus who came to it without my senseiship. Chris also has an MFA and has an eye for aesthetic balance and color. Being that he approved of Rule #8, we should be grateful from that standpoint.

  7. One of my sensei passed away in back in January. He was sensei to more than just pack fodder such as myself, but mentored a cyclist and former team-mate who is world champ right now (two-time at that) and Canada’s best hope for gold in ’12 on the ‘drome. Roger, keep riding

    Equally important are my wrenching sensei, as they have guided my hammed-fists in to less hammed-fists…

  8. great post. i need a sensei myself.

    been riding MTBs for over 20 years but just bought my first ‘proper’ road bike, in part because of you guys…

  9. I was drawn to this article today through a link while rereading the Lexicon.  As @xced stated one year ago – I should be thanking the Velominati community and a woman named Patti in NH. 

    Although I am a novice (and not yet worthy of Status Velominatus Veritatus), finding this community as I was buidling my strength and endurance have resulted in the epiphany that I am officially obsessed with the Bike, the Ride and the Rules. I am now 60 years old and only took to cycling about a dozen years ago. When my right knee finally decided that I was to run no more either in pursuit of a finish line or tennis balls, it was time to find some other outdoor activity to maintain my health. I purchased my first steed – a LeMan Tourmalet – a fine Bike that served me well in the hills of New Hampshire and Vermont. Patti was the one who convicned me to take a ride with her into the NH hills.  I was hooked.  I later acquired a Gary Fisher road bike and have since moved to the San Francsico Bay Area, residing on the Coast.
    Now, I would have qualified myself as a bike rider, not a cyclist. At six feet tall, I was still lugging around 95 kgs and the climbing was decidedly slow. The Rides in my new found home on the Left Coast are beautiful and plentiful – a lot of variety. However, not until another knee surgery in November 2012, did I decide to use that as a catalyst to HTFU. At the time, I had no idea that there was a hallowed Rule V developed for just this situation. In the middle of my training, I literally stumbled across the Velominati, Frank and this very genuine community. It propelled me to another level –  that and I purchased new Focus Pro 3.0 (n+1, where n = 2).
    I consider myself extremely fortunate to have found you all, especially at a very important point in my training. The V has inspired me to kick it up a notch. And while I do use Strava (privately, thank you), the V-meter has proven to be extremely effective as well. In the last month, I have enjoyed the Rides in a way that I never could have before. The smell of the fresh air, the sound of the road, the early morning light and the occasional glimpse of deer, bobcats, nene or other wild beasts makes it all worth the effort. I find that even when traveling, I must rent a Bike and find a route – either one I have traveled before or new routes in new territory.
    My nearly year-long improvement is peaking (yes, I think I am at climbing weight now- 81kg!). Last week I rode in a 160K/3,000m charity ride, after recent successive weekend training rides up the Kohala Mountain Loop on the Big Island – 100K and 1,500 meters; to Gilroy, CA and back over two days – 273K, 3,600 meters, and circumnavigating Lake Tahoe – 115K, 1,300 meters – in some very Rule #9 weather. I truly believe that it is the spirit of the V and this community that has motivated me to continue to pursue this path far beyond the goal that I had originally anticipated for myself.
    As a result, I have a whole new list of informal and random Sensei.  I have met ever more accomplished riders as my own efforts expand and improve. Master Pros have given me tips on descending at speed with confidence, a female pro cycling team inspired me to ride in a pace line with confidence (let the mind wander -VMH, indeed), and some casually deliberate dudes have taught me to relax while crushing it.
    The point is that there is always someone better, who knows more and is willing to share.  This is what I love about the sport for which we share so much passion.  At one point, I contemplated the inevitable slowing of my progress and perhaps an actual diminshing of my capabilities as I turn the corner on 60 years and the muscles begin to tire. Remarkably, I no longer think about this – I only think of improving and enjoying the Ride, the Bike, and the Rules – you all have administered Rules #2 and #3 to me with lasting impact. You may yet turn me into a cyclist. Thank you, Sensei
  10. Excellent read, thank you for posting. You eloquently state many of my own thoughts, yet I could not have written them so well.

  11. @HMBSteve
    After reading that, I’m pretty sure you are already well-qualified to call yourself a cyclist!

  12. Great article!


    I spent most of my teenage years punishing a mountain bike so hard that after each ride my handlebar would display a slight downwards curvature. I had no sensei, rules, technique, kit, sense of style, or shame. There was not a single meter on my bike other than my inner V-meter. The only timing was imposed by lunch or dinner time. I learn’t negative splits from sprinting home to make curfew hours and be allowed to go out the next day. I rode for pure enjoyment. Rule #6 was the only thing I knew. Even when I crashed. And I did that a lot. Life was simple. Life was good.

    But then my friends all got expensive race bikes, kits, and followed boring training schedules. I could afford none of that and beer was much cheaper. So I lost interest in my beloved mountain bike and started running instead.

    A decade went by and I was forced to stop running due to an injury in my Achilles heel. A friend gave me his old training bike, a heavy generic Aluminium frame with a surprisingly good Campy Gruppo and wheels, weighing in dangerously close to double digits (my mechanic calls it his favourite “schitzo” bicycle, as it has equal parts of greatness and shittyness). With the bicycle came one line of advice: “Get out there and HTFU, motherfucker. When you are prepared we will ride together.”

    A year and a few thousand kilometers have gone by and I am yet to ride with my friend. The responsibility is too great and I am not worthy. Not yet. My guns are still too weak, my spirit too feeble to be worthy of such an honor. I strive to follow the vie Velominatus, my bike is clean and matching, my kit is pristine, and my socks are white and obey the Goldilocks principle. I ride to be worthy of that ride with my friend, my Sensei, whenever it may come. Yet when I ride, my teenage self comes back, I ride for pure enjoyment again.

    This is what my Sensei did for me: a cheap bike and a one liner. Mr. Miyagi would be proud. As would Yoda.

    But I would also like to mention the Silent Sensei. The one in the black Dogma, pristine kits, and perfect stroke that has been consistently humiliating me in the nearby climb for the past year. The Silent Sensei rides past me without even a hiss other than the sound of his tubulars against the hardened pavement. His face is unfussed, his breathing is more controlled than a ninja’s. There is only the slightest nod as he drops me, awe inspiring guns glistening in the sun, while I am left wondering how I managed to live this long with no lungs and toothpicks for legs. The class is over, the lesson is simple but brutal: “Rule #5, motherfucker”.


    Vive la Vie Velominatius.


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