Friday, December 14, 2007

Tales from the Bike Path

In the eighties, when I worked for Winning Magazine, Bicycle Racing Illustrated, I wrote stories about an ex-racer bike shop owner and the racers and wannabes who hung out at his shop. Vitesse Press in Vermont collected the stories in a book called Tales from the Bike Shop.

Tales is a nostalgic read for old-time riders, a book about a cycling life that's vanished but glows in the memories of many of us. Truly those days are gone. The bike business and cycle sport have evolved away from that little shop and those lovely people. I am further away still.

If a new Vitesse Press appeared and offered to publish a collection of my more recent work, the stories would not focus on bike shops or road racing. They'd be about urban riding, "car wars" and my feelings about today's club riders, GMC-driving enthusiasts of "the new golf."

The stories would be about riding instead of driving, about leaving your car in the garage. It'd be the view from the bike lane, not the back of the paceline on the weekend training ride.

Perhaps the new book would be called Tales from the Bike Path.

Hey, I ride in mountain bike shoes, on those Shimano pedals that are SPD on one side and cage on the other. I've gone to the dork side. No mirror though. Unlike SUV drivers in parking lots, I can still turn my head to look behind me.

In the '70s, '80s and into the '90s in Marin County and Berkeley, California, I rode with racing clubs. I wasn't necessarily racing, but I kept the mindset. We rode in disciplined packs. Many riders, especially in the '90s, were on training programs. They orchestrated their efforts via heartrate monitors and reported to online coaches.

Fifteen years later, I don't know anyone with a heartrate monitor. I may not know many people with working cyclometers. I never hear anyone talking about training. I do hear them talk about riding to work on icy roads at 17-degrees on singlespeed 29ers. Or skinny-tire fixies.

In 1997, I moved from the Bay Area north and east to Chico, California. I could not find a group of riding friends in Chico for one reason or another. Groups were either too fast or too slow. You had to engineer each ride with a series of phone calls, unlike the regular rides in the Bay Area, where you only had to show up.

My Chico riding became solitary. My focus changed. I began to see shifts in the social structure of cycling, changes in the culture as cycle sport drifted into the mainstream. Frames got lighter, but levels of riding skills and camaraderie sank heavily.

I came to see the cycle commuter, the regular rider, as a sort of hero. Despite the obstacles, the weather, the traffic, the seductive automobile, he or she rode the bike. Maybe the bike was not a replica of Lance's Tour winning mount, maybe the clothing was not what Mario Cipollini would have worn, but his/her determination was as steely as either man's.

As I rode my bike around our neighbors in their outsized automobiles and listened to them tell me where I belong in this great, glistening world o' traffic; as I strung together a necklace-of-skulls of frightening experiences awheel; as roadies said hi to me less and less often, as I saw that group rides started in areas with lots of parking because all the cyclists drove to the rides...

As I saw that bike club rides are scary as hell and the bike clubbers are smug and pleased with their abysmal riding skills; as I came to realize that many of the folks who'd been so happy to ride with me in Chico and Tucson and now in Denver loved having me around because they could not fix a flat or replace a dropped chain...

As I continued to have these 32-hole epiphanies, I felt less and less like the old roadie I'd been for 30 years. Without my willing it so, my columns shifted in focus to issues that I'd ignored for most of those years.

I wonder, I thought, what must my old readers think? Have I abandoned Lycra and my Speedplay lollypops and hanging on the wheel like grim death? Will I still follow the Tour on TV? Will I buy a Brooks?

At least one of my readers has gone the same way I have. Thanks for the reassurance, Jason. I hope my work still feels relevant to many riders, including a few of the old roadie guard. Maybe I'll try to get out on the bike... Where's that Timbuk2 bag...?


Nick Nunns said...

Great post Maynard! Here's to the 365ers!

Mark Manson said...

Old reader chimes in - I could have written this post as it reflects my sentiments exactly. Being in the bike retail business, I do get excited to see the latest racing bike from the Big "S" or "T", but then suddenly realize that I'll be selling a car rack to go with it. Bummer. I get more excited when someone comes in and asks to test ride a Breezer.

Brendan Leonard said...

Dude, I'm going to try to get Carhartt to sponsor us on RAGBRAI.