When I quit racing in 2001 I had a drawer full of usable cycling clothes, a few nice bikes and no desire whatsoever to ride them. After a few years of happy hours, hockey, and a small but visible spare tire (on each of us), Jonathan and I decided we should ride our bikes again. We mapped out some rides on the roads near Columbia, MD and rolled out for some very difficult first rides.
Along the way we encountered plenty of folks on bikes, some who even waved. But even the friendly ones made it difficult to ride with them. Half-wheeling, always going kind of hard, never rolling over the tops of hills, and worst of all, “showing us how it’s done”. We went on a group ride one day and one guy commented on our supple little-ring spin, but most of them just took us for “racers” and tried to “show us how it’s done”.
It was about then we made two decisions: one good, one crazy. Our nice crisp cycling kit had become tattered and dry-rotted. The grip cuffs on the shorts lost their grip and the backsides became, well, kind of like a warranty pair of yoga pants. The local clubs had already shown they were of the new school; wattage over form and flow. We simply didn’t want to join a club to buy new clothes. Bike shop clothes are plain and cost a lot at full retail.
We decided to design and order our own clothing from Champion System. After filling our minimum jersey order we got to have everything we ever wanted but were never issued by a team; thermal jackets, tights, vests etc. And life was good.
The crazy decision was committing ourselves to the Wilderness 101 mountain bike race outside State College PA. We planned it a year in advance, so we had a little carrot out there to force us on the bikes in otherwise bad riding conditions. After you shell out an entry fee for one of those you train just to survive it.
Fast forward a few years and we found ourselves in Salt Lake City. With the number of bikes around we thought we’d died and gone to Boulder 10 years ago. Sadly we soon found out that with its bike-friendly attitude, SLC was enabling a horrible bunch of the worst recreational road cycling has to offer. And I am not exaggerating. Floored by the politeness of the automobiles as we were, we were equally horrified by the other cyclists. It wasn’t just that they were too rude to wave; the majority of these ass hats run every stop sign and barely slow down for red lights. They ride three and four abreast up popular canyon routes. They are always in the big ring pedaling huge squares going fast-ish. They are quickly adding to the ever-present public relations struggle of road cycling.
The most telling event was a single group ride that we were invited to attend with a friend. This ride was a memorial for a fallen rider; one who became a victim of an automobile on the roads of Salt Lake. We didn’t know the rider, but it was nice to see how many people showed up to honor him. And that’s where the nice stopped short. Upon leaving the parking lot this bunch of folks who knew the victim proceeded to run the first red light they hit. Yup, did I mention this was a memorial ride for someone who succumbed to a vehicle vs. bike accident?
Worse yet, I was almost rear-ended as I stopped for the light by another cyclist in the group who was annoyed. Really? Really. Annoyed that I stopped for a red light.
And the motorists in SLC are conditioned to give away their right of way to cyclists; a situation that is at best unpredictable and at worst, well, causes eventual backlash.
So that’s it. We made up our own team again. This time based on our ski team. Because it is bad enough that we get lumped in with other cyclists by people in cars. I never want to be lumped in with the local teams and clubs here in Salt Lake. I realize not every member of every club is out making a bad name for cyclists. I have, however, seen at least one cyclist in every jersey in town blatantly breaking traffic laws and otherwise acting like a dick in ways that do not reflect how a respectable cyclist should act. I would venture a guess that most of the offenders are at best Cat 3’s in the local race series. They probably started riding a little in college or maybe after college. Many of them probably got into bikes during the great growth of mountain bikes in the 90’s
and then realized they needed something to do on weekdays and all the snow seasons (it sometimes isn’t possible to ride the high trails until July). Some of them are triathletes. No comment.
The problem is, when you wear a jersey with the name of a team or business on it, you are representing that team or business. Period. Even if they don’t give you a damned thing except a discount on a jersey. The court of public opinion is watching you run lights and act like you own the place.
So FYI local cyclists; that huge gap you just got on me on your training ride was probably because I stopped for the stop sign. And don’t worry – the jersey that you don’t recognize won’t be giving you a problem at the local races. We’re done racing bikes. We’re just out for a respectable bike ride of some kind, be it intervals or a Zone 1 day. But I guess I can’t expect you to know what Zone 1 feels like because I’m pretty sure you hit that while you were filling up your bottles, resetting your power meter, booting Strava on your iPhone, filling your pockets with gels to throw on the ground at the base of Emigration Canyon, getting ready to ride pseudo-tempo downhill on Wasatch in your big ring in February.