Bicycles have gone through a metamorphosis since they first appeared circa 1800. They started out as little more than a push-cart and gradually became something very much like today’s bicycles in the 1880’s complete with chain and fixed gear – they could have been San Francisco messengers. But their paint wasn’t as bright and they didn’t threaten as many people.
By about 1890 bicycles had become an actual craze; and a sort of craze quite different from others. You can run or walk and you can find someone to run or walk with. But unless it’s a race you’re pretty much not in a group. A few equestrians can ride together but let’s face it – horses are EXPENSIVE; more expensive than my Colnagos. And they eat more money than I do.
On rather a large scale, these groups became competitive. And while this challenging did eventually lead to racing, for the most part the clothing worn in those days did not allow a group of people to try to outride each other and so they would simply go places and do things via a group of cyclists. The Tuesday night coffee-run, as it were. Though the liquid refreshment was more likely to be beer.
Now what do we see? Road cyclists keeping track of every mile and off-road cyclists whom perhaps ride harder keeping track of hours ridden. You can now not only race in reality but also you can race indirectly via several different smart phone Apps that automatically keep track of your course and speed. For those of us who gave up racing eons ago that’s sort of creepy but people that don’t have time for group rides can still have all the disadvantages of them.
But this early in the year it is pretty cold outside and only the extremists are riding. I sort of love this time of year. The people riding are typically young and really competitive. As I pass a group riding in the opposite direction I’ll wave and watch them all trying to avoid looking at me. To these people being competitive outranks being friendly. Once in awhile one will slip and wave back and then realize what he did in front of his friends and will be humiliated.
This is so much fun I started waving at everyone. Women will not wave back lest I be some sort of bike riding pervert that will then stalk them. I even found women who have had a flat and are unaware of how to repair them and are sitting idly by the side of the road for boyfriend, brother or whomever to show up with a car to haul them the 5 miles back home. In the time it would have taken for them to drive that distance I could have repaired the tire and put them back on the road. Of course it would have used up my CO2 cartridge which not one person I’ve helped has ever offered to pay for.
But cyclists are a group and one in trouble is all in trouble so you help whenever you can. Even the guy pushing his bike back home because his chain jumped the sprocket and he thinks that the chain is broken. Or the guy that has a flat on a new bike and doesn’t understand how quick releases work and can’t get his wheel off over the lawyer’s loops. Men who could ride Miguel Indurain under the table often cannot fix a flat. Nor even carry a flat repair kit. Even funnier: in an effort to have the lightest bike in the group they will carry the flat repair kit in their jersey pockets. They will also spend $10 on a titanium seat clamp bolt that is one hundredth of a gram lighter than the less brittle 10 cent stainless version.
But that’s all part of the learning game because for some reason or another people don’t throw their arms up in despair and quit riding bicycles. They may lose the time to devote to it but most want to return to the sport whether or not they ever do. Looking up in the garage rafters of the home of some senior citizen and you’ll see a Basso with Campy Record gear on it and when he sees you looking up there a faraway glint comes into his eye. Funny how it bounces off of the gleam in my own.
written for Cycling Today by Tom Kunich
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