Friday, June 22, 2012

Saving My Cycling Mojo & The Golden Rule

The title of this blog was originally “Cycling Dicks,” but I thought I’d keep the lewd words out of the title to paint my latest literary wreck in a slightly more positive tone. In keeping with the blog theme (“An old cyclist’s rants and raves...”), I got some motivation to blog again during a club ride several weeks ago. I’m one of the weaker riders in our club’s “A” ride and I was having a less-than-fantastic morning trying to hang with the guys hammering down Highway 1. A regular fellow rider (we’ll just refer to him as “Ron”) didn’t like something about my riding. I’m not sure what his gripe was. I’m pretty careful about trying to avoid quick lateral moves that might sweep somebody’s front wheel. (I wish everyone in the group was.) I don’t like seeing anybody hit the deck. 

At any rate, when the pace slowed down a bit, I joked to Ron about how pathetic I felt trying to hang on. Ron, in keeping with my previous encounters with him where he takes on the air of a self-appointed supreme ride leader, found no humor in my comments and said that if I did that (whatever “that” was) again in the future he would run me off the road. FYI, this is not a good thing to say to me, whether it’s about running me off the road or running another cyclist off the road. Given how often a cyclist’s safety is intentionally and unintentionally threatened out on the road, I would never expect a fellow cyclist to make such a threat. When I’m not following my Two Commandments (see below), I think the appropriate response to such a threat is a swift 2x4 to the face. However, in the interest of packing light for the club ride, I didn’t have a single piece of lumber with me. So instead of the Pine Therapy approach, I loudly shared my observation by saying, “What a dick!” It’s not creative, but I thought it accurately branded his behavior. 

This encounter is one of many that has opened my eyes to a sad reality. Some cyclists are real dicks. As much as I love cycling, and as much as I generally love all cyclists, some cyclists—just like regular people—can be real dicks. 

I tried to brush off this unpleasant encounter before enjoying the traditional coffee stop on that ride. (Forgive and forget, right?) Unfortunately, the conversation at the table I sat down at only rubbed salt in the wound. Another cyclist (we’ll just call him “Fred”) was complaining about how some slow riders come to the front of the pack at stop lights. Fred said he told one such rider that he should go on the “B” ride instead of aspiring to hang with the “A” ride. This commentary was especially disappointing to me because I really like Fred and would like to think he’s friendlier than this. I didn’t say anything, but my thought was, “Why not use their recurring presence at the front as practice?” Racing in a crit involves a lot of getting around and ahead of other racers, so let them come to the front and let’s practice safely getting around them again. While I was thinking these thoughts, another rider at the table joked about how the riders that bunch at the front at stop lights probably learned about it as a ride strategy in Bicycling Magazine. 

Boom. It was at this moment that I experienced a subtle but significant epiphany:
     I’m surrounded by what can fairly be referred to as "cycling dicks."
These are the guys you might read about in blogs or publications targeted to not-so-overly-serious cyclists who are out there to have fun and stay healthy. The cycling dicks tell you to go on another ride rather than welcome you on their ride. They are less likely to give you a nod or wave in response to a friendly greeting. And God forbid if you’re wearing a t-shirt or a souvenir Tour de France yellow jersey or a kit that doesn’t match, because that makes you unworthy of riding anywhere near them. 

I was pretty bummed after that ride. This revelation even put a damper on my overall enthusiasm for cycling for a short while. (The weeks of coastal clouds hasn’t helped...I clearly prefer sunny rides.) Fortunately, I know now that this damper was temporary. Despite my age-induced back aches, slower riding and general deterioration, I know I still love cycling. All I need to do is stay clear of those who can’t ride for the sheer joy of riding, whether it’s competitive or easygoing. 

I haven’t been back to the club ride since then, partly because of conflicting weekend activities and partly because I’m less excited about that particular group ride. I was going to give it a try tomorrow, but I just got a call from a friend who invited me to join him and a couple other guys to do a solid, hill-climbing ride the same day out in East County. Of course I’ll do the “friends” ride because I know they’re doing it for fun and fitness. I’m sure it will have some competitive moments, but all in good fun. I think I can also count on sunny skies that far from the coast. And, in a sick way, I sort of miss Kitchen Creek Road. 

Nobody actually reads this blog, but if you’ve just found you’re an exception to this rule I’ll leave you with my new, simplified set of  TWO COMMANDMENTS to live by. (You’ll be disappointed with these if you were hoping I wasn’t going to use the slang term “dick” again, but hang in there...we’re almost done.) 

  1. Remember—and live by—the “Golden Rule.” Treat others the way you’d like to be treated.
  2. Try not to be a dick. This one helps me be a better person because I know I’ve exhibited dickish behavior when I’ve lost my temper (usually when someone else forgets the Golden Rule or just does something incredibly stupid). In a way, this is a reminder to follow the first commandment above, but there’s something gentle and encouraging about this phraseology that I like. “Try.” The assumption is that if you’re being a dick, you’re probably not of a mindset that is very good at taking commands from anyone. So it’s set in a softer, more pleading tone. Just try.
So, please...give it a try. Smile. Say hello. Be friendly. Be welcoming. Stop for stop signs and red lights. (This one might confuse drivers who are accustomed to cycling dicks flying through stop signs, but let’s give it a try.) Clear the right turn lane at a stop light if you can stay out of the way (you’ll be thanked by some of the drivers). And never, ever threaten to run me or any other cyclist off the road. I don’t want to break commandments or noses, and I definitely don’t want to bring any lumber on my next club ride.

PS: No offense is intended to anyone named “Dick.” Two of my three friends named Dick have resorted to using “Richard,” and I applaud the brave one who still uses his old nickname despite the popularity of this slang term. (Lots of people named “John” never stopped using their names just because of the “bathroom” or “toilet” connotation.) I’ve tried to think of another word that carries the subtle connotation that “dick” does and haven’t found it yet. Our language is rich in hues but unfortunately no other derogatory term I’ve thought of seems to have the right balance between usability on a public blog and a term just slightly more crass than “prick.”