cycling utah October 1999

No such thing as a fast bike, only fast riders

By R. S. Stone

I'm reminded of bygone days in southern California when as a younger man I spent many happy hours in the saddle in the company of cyclephiles like myself.

This group was a subculture of the San Fernando Valley Bike Club, known as the "Renegades."

On one particular Saturday morning ride, during the customary 10 minute wait after the scheduled 8 a.m. start so as not to attract or pick up any unwanted "Freds", a young Asian man drove into the parking lot and hastily unloaded his Huffy bike.

He quickly donned his helmet and gloves, threw his leg over his trusty steed and joined up at the rear as we exited the parking lot.

The "Bogwan" of the group, Bobby, had chosen after a tertiary consultation with club hierarchy the "Camarillo-Santa Rosa Canyon" as the ride of the day. This route would take us to Simi Valley and included the steepest, off-camber corner, four fingers on both levers, smell of burning brake pads in all but the top 10 positions of a descent I have ever been on. It's an 80-mile, four good climb jaunt that would bring us home by 1:30 p.m. with legs respectably drained of glycogen.

The first 10-15 miles of any ride were always a relaxed 15-20 mph warm up that gave us time to circulate through the 25-40 man pack and catch up on the latest news.

It was during this warm-up that numerous snickers and comments had made their way through the group regarding "Fred on the Huffy." This was refreshing to me as I normally rode the oldest, most antiquated frame and equipment in the group and on the receiving end of the snickers. That the teasing and questions were directed to another was not lost on me. Riding amid Ciocc, Daccordi, De Rosa, Cinelli, Tommasso, Tomassini and Bianchi with a smattering of Land Shark, Kestrel and Look was, to say the least, intimidating.

But for now the topic du jour was "Fred" and the Huffy. "Fred" was dressed OK with real shorts and nice jersey and even ankle socks. Some "Freds" would show up with shorts and jersey but with the calf length crew socks or worse black dress socks. But this picture was complete, save the Huffy.

Bobby, as was his charge, moved out of his place in the pack and slowly drifted to the rear until he was pacing next to "Fred." With a kind hand on "Fred's" shoulder, much like father to son, Bobby suggested that today's ride may not be what he had anticipated. The length and intensity of the ride may in fact leave him stranded a long way from home, sapped of strength and in need of rescue. He may find it more suitable and to his liking to turn off soon and make his way back.

But with eager eyes "Fred's" only reply was, "80 miles, cool!"

With raised eyebrow Bobby returned to his place in the pack, he had done his duty.

A few remarks and a few minutes later, "Fred" did in fact pull out of the pack. However, rather than drop back, he dropped the hammer!

As he passed Bobby at the front of what was now a double pace line clipping along at 22 mph, someone mid-pack yelled "Hey Bobby, you gonna let him do that to ya?"

Bobby was up to the challenge, small though it may have seemed, and jumped in obligatory fashion. There is nothing so beautiful, so graceful, and so spontaneous as watching a jump ripple its way through the pack. It's like "the wave" working its way around a stadium, except more calculated, more deliberate and more refined. Jump we did! Each of us carefully watches the wheel ahead, careful not to over accelerate and touch wheels. The kiss of death itself. Careful not to get caught unawares and get dropped in the surge of speed undulating through the pack.

The wolf pack descended upon its helpless and hopeless prey. The jump completed, the broken white lines of the highway were being devoured at 28 mph. Levers shifted and the speed increased. 30, 32, 34, 36 mph. It would soon be over, 30+ riders blowing past a lone insolent rider whose only sin was to go off the front uninvited and on a Huffy. The pack would fly past with only a short, expressionless glance over their shoulders, letting the speed and the bike do all the talking.

Over four miles of blacktop was devoured by the hungry pack, an appetizer whose main course would never be had. Four miles turned into five, then six. "Fred" only widened the gap, heaping insult to injury. Thirty seasoned well-trained riders on $60,000 worth of state of the art equipment. We were defeated, dejected, put in our places, given a tongue lashing without a word being spoken. The speed and the bike did all the talking. The teacher had spoken and the students listened.

"On any given day, the best rider can be beaten."

"You are only as good as your next race."

"There are no such things as fast bikes, only fast riders."

Cliches? Yes. Trite? Yes. True? Yes. The lesson?

Be kind, polite and entreating to all you encounter on the road! Wave at passing cyclists, wave at cars that honk at you. Whether old, overweight, out of date, out of place, under dressed, you won't know, don't know, can't know what experience, what expertise or what greatness you may be in the company of. You don't, won't, can't know what greatness you may inspire in someone who latches on to your ride.

Imagine the volumes of cycling history we would be without if some full-of-himself wanna-be saw a young and inexperienced boy named Greg join their training ride and turned him away causing him to think to himself "those cycling guys are jerks."

There's nothing in life worse than being wrong at the top of your voice.

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