Betwixt the juxtoposition of two snobs:
"Endurance athletes are running away from something inside of themselves." -- Lance Armstrong.
The more I ride a bike, the more I feel out of place. This isn't the first time I've felt this way.
I went to a private all-boys (well, we were the last graduating class before they merged fully with our sister school) high school, where I was the only boy who was a "boarder." The school itself wasn't a boarding school -- that was the other private school across the street. However, I was the only one that picked up and moved to come to school there.
I lived with my aunt and uncle about 5 miles from the school. My uncle Chip was an alumni, as were his two brothers. Three of my uncles also went to school there, so I was a bit of a legacy, but this didn't help me at all fit in.
I was athletic, but athletics didn't interest me. Oh I wanted to play football, but the football coach didn't want someone really on the team whose football hero was Mark Mosely. I fit the profile of a Fullback / Strong Safety, and I spent my mandatory 2 years doing that, while being allowed to kick-off.
I was smart, but unmotivated. I didn't fit in with the brainy crowd -- they were all Latin scholars anyway. I joined the Chess Team for a few weeks, but competition was not something I relished. What I really liked were computers, and pretty much I was the go-to guy for that, but this was a time before anyone had much care for computer geeks.
So while I went to high school, I was part of all the groups (jocks/geeks/etc), but not really part of them. The only group I did belong to, again, was the computer geeks, but even then I was an outsider because I was athletic, knew of and was known by (but not hung with) the cool kids, or the metal heads, the rich kids, the poor kids, the pot smokers, the theatre guys, etc.
How does this come back to cycling? When I was in high school, before I got my drivers license, I used to ride around the city I lived in on a bike, to get to my friend's houses to trade software, listen to music (the DC Punk Rock scene was taking off), and to just get around.
So I didn't know I was any good at cycling; it was just a means to get around where the Metro didn't get to.
When it comes to cycling, I find myself again not part of any group -- tribe-less per se.
I've been in with the hard core roadies. I raced road enough to cat up to Cat4, but I don't feel at home at the front of a 4 corner crit peloton.
I've never been an mountain biker, but I know enough to know the dedication and craziness that's required to be one.
I know quite a few bike packers / randonneurs, but I don't actually *like* camping, and while I envy the mileage the randonneurs put in, I don't envy the time and lack of sleep required.
I first got in with the old and slow folks -- the people that might ride 20 miles on a weekend day, and perhaps a 40 mile ride once a year. These are fine people, where cycling is more a social club than an athletic club.
I'm part of the unwritten brotherhood of the #BodyByBike crowd, in that I lost weight and re-kindled my love of the bike. I find that there are many people like me, that have started riding a bike, gotten hooked, lost an amazing amount of weight, and still maintain a love of the bike. But usually these folks are a subset of another tribe.
I'm friends with the cycling advocates, and will come out to support them, but I'm no fan of politics, nor the amount of time consumed by having to deal within that.
I know some couriers, and like the randonneurs, I have full respect for them and what they do, but that is a tightly-knit brotherhood that I will never be a part of.
I'd classify myself though as a commuter, though I'm not a super-commuter. I will commute to work by bike as it is indeed the best part of my workday, but I'm not truly a member of that tribe either. This tribe is most like the computer geek tribe -- I'm less a part of it because I'm also parts of all the other tribes.
Which brings me to the last two tribes I'm a member of.
First is the "I want to be European" tribe, and the Cyclocross tribe.
The European tribe is someone that believes that all the good places to cycle on this planet are either in France, Spain, or Italy. I'm not knocking that; I've ridden in some mind-bogglingly amazing places in France, but when you live in the United States, there are just as many amazing places to ride. The drawback comes in that the US is Sofaking big, it's difficult to go ride in many of them if you're not willing to drive cross country to get there. That's the real appeal of Europe. Consider a drive from one end of the the Pyrenees to the end of the Alpes / Dolomites is just around 1200 miles, which is about the length it is to get from Chicago to Denver. And by the time you get to Denver, you haven't actually ridden any mountains yet -- it's as flat as a pancake.
I think what the European tribe envies is the ability for someone to climb an historic mountain climb without having to actually travel hither-and-yon to get there. Someone in Paris has a 3 hour TGV ride to get to Avignon, which would then allow them to ride Mont Ventoux. Someone in Barcelona is just a couple hours drive to Andorra and the Pyrenees.
I'm a member because I do love riding Alpine style climbs. The sheer length and height and views and effort speaks to my soul. It's why I truly love riding a bike. The satisfaction of the rewards at the top of the climb makes the effort worthwhile.
The second tribe is the Tribe of CX. Cyclocross is the bastard child of the Mountain Bikers and the Roadies. I think the only reason Cyclocross came about is that the MTBers and the Roadies wanted to have something to do during the "Off Season". There's enough crazy shit to keep the MTBers happy that their bike-handling skills won't get rusty (think steep quick decents, or off-camber climbs, or even the stupidity of barriers in the way), and enough hard-effort pieces that a roadie is able to put their sheer power to advantage (think the sprint at the start, tight cornering, "Power Section" of the course).
The biggest thing that CX has going for it, and the key thing that I never found in High School, is that the race is the excuse to get together and hang out. Everyone is welcome. Everyone is included. No one is shunned for hanging out with the roadies, or loving European climbs, or being a courier. If there's a tribe that epitomizes the true love of cycling, it's the CX tribe.
You'd never see a roadie racing their one-of-a-kind Dario Pegoretti frame, but you'll find a CXer on their custom-built Richard Sachs frame, with wheels hand-built by Bill Mould, with the rest of the build customized 17 ways to Sunday, because "why not?"
The only downside of the CX tribe really is that it is not the predominant tribe 12 months a year. As we round towards spring, the Road Tribe comes into the fore, and all the other tribes depart from the CX tribe to go do their own things. Even CXers go do things with the other tribes -- that's just how inclusive it is. They'll go do bikepacking things, endurance randonneuring, MTB racing, Gran Fondos, Coffee rides, summer trips to the Rockes/Alpes/etc... but come August/September, they all come back to the always welcoming arms of the CX tribe.
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