Once upon a time, cycling was a blue-collar sport. When young riders from a wide variety of socioeconomic classes wanted to start racing, they went to the local club, took out a license and learned the nuances of training and racing from local gurus of the sport. They learned how to get in the right breakaways, how to see if their competitors were strong or suffering, and how to use the collective strength of team tactics to get the best results out of themselves.
Somewhere along the line, those conversations turned to power outputs, aerodynamic savings, frame stiffness, and even a (sort of) tongue in cheek fashion police touting arbitrary rules of how riders should and shouldn't dress. Times change, and technological advances have relegated the superstitions and outdated traditions based in pseudo-science to the pages of folklore where they belong. The advantages of using high-tech equipment such as power meters and carbon wheels are undeniable, but their prevalence can sometimes lead to making mid-ride conversations at the coffee shop sound a lot less like a bike ride, and more like country club members talking about the technological advantages of equipment you can buy for “just” a few thousand euros/dollars.
As a sport that loves to celebrate a shared camaraderie between even the fiercest of rivals, such as the famous photo of Coppi and Bartali sharing a bottle on the Col du Télégraphe, the collective clan of cycling often forgets to support each other along the way and fall victim to an exclusive, snobbish attitude towards new riders. Though these attitudes, perpetuated by articles like the (in)famous Velominati Rules, are surely written tongue in cheek, enough riders point and laugh at the new rider “breaking” one of the rules to show that we could all stand to revisit the spirit of cycling’s true roots.
Here are a few new “rules” to live (and ride) by:
1. Smile, wave, and say hello to fellow riders you cross out on the road.
It doesn’t matter what kind of bike they're riding, if their legs are shaved, or if you think their kit is garish. Cycling is made up of many different types of riders, and we all love the feel of the wind on our face and the feeling of getting stronger each day. Encourage others along the way… the sport is hard enough already, there’s no need to ride around with a frown on your face all day.
2. Don’t worry about what type of kit other people are wearing.
Cyclists often turn their nose up at fellow cyclists who ride in professional team kit. Aspiring footballers around the world play with their friends in Barcelona’s shirt with a number 10 on the back. We all know it’s not Messi at the local pitch, it’s just a young girl or boy having fun playing the sport he or she loves. Why should cycling be any different? If riding in your club colors or the slickest new fashionable kit helps you feel inspired and motivated to train, then that’s all that matters and you should wear the kit with pride. Maybe the rider in the Lotto Soudal kit feels more inspired to train by Philippe Gilbert and wants to show support. Sport is about self improvement and an expression of ourselves, in whatever form that may be. Celebrate everyone’s journey out on the road and recognize it doesn’t have to be your journey.
3. Wash your kit, your bike, and your gear.
While there’s no need to be obsessive about turning up to a ride with a sparkling clean bike every day (or scoff at those of us who are known not do so), keeping your bike reasonably clean will help it last longer and perform better. In fact, it’s probably the cheapest performance booster available - besides training hard, that is. A clean kit every day should be a no-brainer… nobody wants to ride behind an someone riding in an unwashed jersey and bib shorts!
4. Learn the basics of group ride etiquette.
This one can be a bit tricky if the crew you ride with is also inexperienced or if there’s a prevailing snobbish, exclusive attitude in the group (we’d recommend finding another group in the case of the latter). However, there are a few basics to abide by:
-When you’re on the front of the group, you’re the pilot of the group. Calmly point out holes, large rocks, and other obstacles in the road with enough time for those behind to react.
-Either wait for slower riders at the top of longer climbs or agree to catch them on the way back down if you’re descending the same road you climbed. What you decide to do is up to the group consensus, but the idea of a group ride is to ride as a group. Keep it together as much as is reasonably possible.
-Keep the pace/effort steady (if that’s what the training/ride calls for). If you’re stronger than the rest, there's no need to accelerate while you’re on the front, just take a longer pull at the front. If you’re not quite as strong (yet), do your turn at the same speed/effort as the group, but make it shorter than the stronger riders. Even just a minute or two is fine when you’re starting off, but make sure to be on the front for at least a bit when it’s your turn. It’ll help your development immensely.
5. Be self sufficient.
Make sure that you take all the food, water, spare tubes, and repair tools you may need and know how to use them while you’re out on the road. Likewise, if you see a fellow rider stuck on the side of the road, ask them if they need help!