For whatever reason, I’ve had three people bring up the concept of what it means to be a “real” cyclist or a “serious” cyclist in the past few weeks. In each case, these individuals were worrying that they might not be viewed as “real” cyclists in the eyes of other riders. This is a pretty weird thing to bring up, especially to me. I’m the last person that should determine anything about, well, anything; particularly anything about cycling. I have a history degree and I’m a decidedly mediocre sales guy; the idea that you should leave it up to me to decide one’s admittance into a fictional club of spandex enthusiasts is foolish at best and logically flawed at worst. (Not that that’s what these people were implying. I’m just saying, in general, I don’t know shit from mud.)
But the fact that the question is being raised by these people, each of whom is new to the sport, tells me we’re doing something wrong. As a community, we need to do a better job of making sure new cyclists feel welcomed and encouraged to be involved in our sport. If three people had the cajones to ask me if they’re “legit”, who knows how many more folks are looking at themselves in the mirror before joing a group ride wondering if they’re worthy.
Well, let me just say it. If you like bikes, you’re a cyclist. No one who is worth their weight in Clif Bars judges other cyclists by how fast they are, if they have any Strava KOMs, or if they shave their legs or not. Having an $8,000 bike doesn’t make you any more of a cyclist than someone riding a decade-old hand-me-down; it just means the spending limit on your AMEX is probably a little too high for your own good.
Lastly, it’s not up to anyone else to determine your identity. In fact, it’s probably a pretty terrible way to go through life, worrying about how other people perceive you. I’m 31 now, so I’m going to go all crusty old man rant and say I blame it on Instagram, where even non-influencers curate a very specific view of one’s life and lifestyle. I find myself posting shit on there to “prove” I’m a cyclist, when in reality, the only thing that “proves” I ride bikes is the fact that I actually ride bikes. Not the $120 Rapha jersey. Not the wildy impressive stats on Strava. I’m a cyclist because I go ride with my friends whenever I can – some are faster than me, and some are slower. But we’re all cyclists. Hairy legs, shaved legs and all.
If you’re a Strava-God or someone who is just getting into the sport, let’s be mindful of being accepting and welcoming to everyone who decides to take up our sport. Cyclists, in general, tend to be somewhat introverted people. I’d imagine that if riding for hours on end, alone, is appealing to you, then this sport is clearly an introvert’s past time through and through. But that doesn’t mean we should only look at our own shoelaces. I’m going to try something. At each group ride, I’m going to introduce myself to one new person. It’s a small gesture, but if we all extend one welcoming hand to someone new to the sport or new to the group, I think we could make pretty much everyone feel like this whole bike riding thing is the thing for them. Now that would make you a real cyclist.
Life is a Hell of a Ride,