The reaction from my Dutch Jamis/Sutter Home teammate to the unfortunate news that the proprietor of our Super 8 would not be making us pasta for breakfast was telling of the massive gulf in public perception of cycling here in the states versus the sport’s homeland of Europe. I’ve been to many of those small European hotels with cycling teams, and each time the chef (usually also the owner) made sure we had pasta and healthy meals for the duration of our stay, at no extra cost. Back here in the states at that Albuquerque New Mexico Super 8, my teammate suggested that I tell the owner that we are professional cyclists, as an attempt to sway him into changing the free breakfast menu for us from cereal and waffle-machined waffles to eggs and pasta. We all know how that conversation would have ended, and I’m not entirely sure that that Super 8 proprietor would have even known what a professional cyclist was. The experience and my team’s trip this year to Spain got me thinking about the difference in cultural significance of cycling in Europe and here in the US, so I wanted to share some of my thoughts and anecdotes on the matter.
As you watch the Tour de France this summer, take a look on the side of the roads in the middle of the stages out in the countryside. If you ask them about the Tour, most French folk will tell you about their experience having a picnic under a tree beside the Tour route waiting for the day’s stage to pass by while listening to it unfold on the radio. A day’s worth of entertainment and time with friends and family even though the race will pass them by in perhaps less than a minute. The world’s biggest and most important bike race has been a part of France’s culture for more than a century and these roadside picnics are just as ubiquitous as Super Bowl parties here in America.
In Belgium, cycling and bike racing are a massive part of everyday life. I spent one summer a few years ago living in Izegem at the USA National Team house for young riders. The first thing that struck me being in Belgium were the sheer number of people on bikes versus cars. Little old ladies, male construction workers, and professionals in suits all on commuter bikes pedaling through towns. At one point while I was cycling on a bike path in Belgium, I came upon what looked like an entire Kindergarten class of two dozen children out cycling as their physical education for the day, clad in bright orange vests and no helmets! Fans of bike racing there are so fervent that they made me feel like a star, even though I was 22 and just starting my career. I had many people offer to buy me pastries at the pastry shop, ask for my autograph, and even a few recite parts of my palmarés (French for list of race results).
Popularity and acceptance of cycling has grown in leaps and bounds here in the States in the last decade, a fact that I regard with thankfulness and optimism. It may be another few decades until all the Super 8 owners will understand and cater to professional cyclists’ need for healthy food, but lasting events here like the Tour of Utah have promise of becoming staples in resident’s summertime activities. I’ve grown to love the sport of cycling, and it makes me love the countries that embrace it wholeheartedly like France and Belgium. We’re lucky to live in such a bike-friendly city here in Salt Lake, and I have a feeling we’ll continue to see more and more bike commuters like those old Belgian ladies. See you on the road!
Tyler Wren is a professional cyclist for the Jamis/Sutter Home Professional Men’s Cycling Team living in downtown Salt Lake City. He also coaches athletes and is available for cyclocross and road cycling clinics. To find out more information, contact Tyler at [email protected] or 610-574-1334.