We are cyclists, the rest of the world merely rides a bike. What defines us as cyclists? Can a recumbent rider be a cyclist, a unicyclist, a fat recumbent rider with hairy legs and a YJA on? I think yes but am I snob for even asking?
Years ago, I was helping a woman at another research institution set up some scientific equipment. Evidently we kept our small talk very small because it never came up that she was the wife of a cyclist friend, Paul. I had ridden with this guy many times, he used to race a lot, and he always put in his miles. Eventually, he and I put it together that I had been working with his wife.
“She didn’t think you were cyclist, as you didn’t have shaved legs.”
Boom, lightening struck, really, that’s the requisite? I had dabbled in racing fleetingly and shave up for it but unless one was somewhere in the spectrum between racer and ex-racer, I thought it was almost false advertising to shave the legs. I rode nearly as much as Paul, I was probably more obsessed with professional european cycling than he was. Actually, I had to have been a lot more obsessed than him, he had a PhD and could not spend his lunch break cloistered in his office reading Cycling News online, every day, could he? Was I not a cyclist too?
In the 1970s at a big college where I knew no one, I became best friends with a fellow misfit, Mark. He had raced on the boards through his high school years, racing at the outdoor velodrome in Northbrook, Illinois. The Chicago area must have been a hot bed of American cycling back then. High school youth with too much energy could channel it into track racing on bikes when it was warm and track racing on speed-skates when it was cold. We bonded over Jimi, not Eddy but he had a huge poster of Eddy Merckx in his dorm room. I had never seen that before. I dare say he worshiped Eddy. He agonized over still referring to himself as a track racer, though he had not raced in two years. I didn’t understand at the time how important a question this was to him. It was his identity. Let’s see, you haven’t raced in a long time, and you have a bong in your hand, you might not be a bike racer anymore, I thought, but I didn’t get it. He was still a cyclist.
It was his unbridled enthusiasm for bikes and cycling that opened my eyes. He understood a whole universe I was unaware of and even though we were the same age, he became my sensi.
We both dropped out of school that year and the sensi began his work. His Campagnolo-ed up Frejus road bike was always spotless. He taught me by example only, everything about looking fantastic on the bike. He was the one who insisted we take apart my brand new, as yet unridden Peugeot PX-10 down to the ball bearings and rebuild it properly. He was a Velominati long before there were Velominati. As a sad endnote to this, Mark died in his sleep in his early twenties; some cruel syndrome that kills young healthy men for no known reason. One of his track jerseys has always hung deep in my closet. It remains, as the idea of discarding it is still impossible.
So what makes us cyclists instead of just bike riders? Is it love? Does loving to ride any wheeled (I’m not unicyclist phobic) machine do it? Is it the need to ride where we cross the line? If riding defines us and we are good with that, then we are cyclists.