Friday, May 1, 2015

Ride What You Want to Ride

For some time, Sam has told me stories about a man who comes to ride with an organized group that meets locally. While a person coming to ride his bike with a group of people who do this activity together seems rather unimportant, the stories I've heard are what make this a bit unique.

A couple of summers ago, I was told a tale about a man who showed up for a long group ride dressed in skate-type shoes, everyday shorts and a cotton t-shirt. This gentleman proceeded to eat a large breakfast burrito two minutes before ride departure and somehow managed to not only remain upright to pedal, but actually finished the ride.

Stories very similar to the above were shared over the course of a couple of years, and included tales of his "old bike with fenders."

"Is he able to keep up with the group?" I couldn't help but inquire. The answer was always that he didn't seem to care one way or another, but he always managed to complete the distance.

Every time one of these stories was shared, I couldn't help but smile. I had created an image of this person and always wondered what he was like and if he was miserable on these long rides on what I imagined to be a rickety, two-wheeled contraption. I had an imagined picture of him pedaling along next to fully-kitted riders and couldn't help but wonder if he felt out of place?

So, when a photo of this man arrived in my inbox one morning, you can imagine my excitement. The verbal picture that had been painted was very close to the image right in front of me - even pedaling next to a team-kit-wearing rider.

What surprised me most about the photo was the giant, Cheshire-like grin across his face. He actually appeared to be enjoying himself!
I'm not entirely sure who gets photo credit for this, but I know it's someone who rides with the St Vrain Chain Gang group.
I have to admit, there's nothing overly profound or earth-shattering here. This is just a photo of someone enjoying himself with a group of other riders. However, it is rare in my experience to see a group of road club riders with a person joining them on a bicycle with upright bars and bottle-to-tire-driven headlight.

There's a part of me that wonders why there is this distinction among riders, and another part of me that realizes that most cyclists I've encountered believe that the lighter and more modern a bike, the faster they are able to travel. While I'm not at this moment trying to debate the merits of old versus new or carbon versus steel, nor a particular bikes' ability to perform a given job, I find this to be an interesting pairing that is not often spotted out in the wild.

When I look at this idea on a more personal level, I find myself believing that I don't belong in certain situations. Sometimes it's difficult for me to come to grips with the idea that I don't necessarily ride the way group riders do, or ride the type of bicycles they ride. It isn't that I can't, but that I choose not to do so most days.

I stay away from these gatherings as a general rule because I don't want to feel the need to explain why I'm riding a particular bike, or have people waiting for me when I want to stop and look at something along the way, or if I'm having an off day and don't want to travel the speeds the group is going. Cycling as a sport, even with non-professionals, seems to have unspoken rules which include pushing to be faster and riding the lightest bicycle that can be found or that is affordable to the rider.

Perhaps these are the reasons that other types of riding appeal to me. I don't mind a long distance, and in fact often enjoy it, but I don't want to feel as though I have to race through the entire route in order to feel a part of something.

Of course, I wouldn't expect someone who wants to go faster and push him/herself to want to ride the way I often choose either. It just wouldn't make sense and both parties would be miserable.

In many respects, this juxtaposition represents the part of me drawn to this image. The idea of someone making the choice to ride with a group, even if it steps outside the boundaries of what is typical, is entrancing to me. I appreciate the decision to wear what is comfortable for the rider and to not concern oneself with what everyone else is thinking or doing. Being at ease doing and being who we are without concern is difficult to find today.

This photo reminds me that we are all allowed to choose our own path. We don't have to take the pre-designated or accepted route to the end. We can choose to wear a cotton t-shirt and shorts to ride long distances. We can choose to ride our old bicycle because we are comfortable on it or because it's what we have and we want to ride. We can choose to set our own pace and not worry about who or what is waiting for us. Ultimately, we are all just looking to enjoy the ride, in whatever form that takes, I think.

I hope you enjoy your bike this weekend - however and wherever you choose to ride.


  1. Really great pic! I think it does a great job capturing the essence of Longmont. :)

    1. I love this picture too. I'm going to have to find out who get's credit for the shot because I think it's one of my all-time favorites.

  2. I have ridden with him over the last couple of years with the group, I've seen him ride one other bike of the same era, with drop bars. The way he is dressed in this photo, is how he showed up to one of our sub 30 degree dirt rides last winter. He's a Trabant collector (english car), and often show's up last min with his hooptie bike strapped to his car. If this link works, here's his meetup profile where you can find some more photos, I think I'm in a couple of them also, or at least my rear.

  3. My brother (who cycled in many road races (professional) in Florida in High School and College, would tell tales of a biker who would show up for training rides on a mountain bike and actually blow away the roadies -- he was in that good of shape. I am still waiting to one day meet this mythical person. I've seen folks like this before. On my own note, I showed up for a training ride in Hawaii on travel and had no problem keeping up with a peleton (it was a six speed lowered gearing with hills) -- I think that help. On the flats, they would have blown me away.

    1. I have heard these stories too. I've seen quite a few very fast mountain bikers as well, so it would not surprise me to see one take off past a roadie. :O)

  4. I love that this guy is perfectly happy riding his own way on bikes he loves. My spouse is a photographer is often asked by others what is the "best" camera. He always offers a photographer's truism "the one in your hand." Some people want to go in for the fanciest equipment, but then don't bother to figure out how it works or find that a big old DSLR is too much to lug around on a hike. He always encourages people to get the kind of camera they will use for the kind of photography they want to do rather than the "best" camera.

    That seems about right for bikes too. The best one is the one you will really ride.

    1. I love it too, Kendra. It makes me smile every time I look at this photo. I almost want to make it the wallpaper on the computer. :O)

      I think the advice about the camera in our hand (or the bike we have and ride) is perfect. Always better to have the item I will use, I think.

  5. Bikes are fun is my attitude when riding. I prefer comfortable clothing to lycra. I only wear lycra pants when going further than 10 miles. I don't clip in. In the summer, seersucker [puckered cotton] shirts don't stick to you and air can get underneath keeping you cooler [Grant Peterson approved]. It's wool and layering in the winter. Since I'm not a not 6'4" guy, that limits me to social or charity group rides. Most of the time I'm rollin' along by myself enjoying the view.

    1. That's the perfect attitude when riding: have fun. :O)


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