Cordiality, camaraderie, posturing, and humiliation…
There is a tradition among Corvette owners called “The Wave.” If you’re driving a Corvette and you see another Corvette approaching, you wave to the driver. That’s just how it is. On occasion a driver will not reciprocate, for whatever reason, (they’re zoning out, they didn’t see you, they’re texting, they’re too cool, etc.), but you let it go. Having owned three Corvettes since 1999, I have embraced The Wave, and I feel a bond with my low-slung, loud, fiberglass brothers and sisters. I wave every single time at every single Corvette, regardless of the year or condition of the car.
Similarly, anyone I see riding a bicycle is my two-wheeled comrade. I acknowledge all cyclists with a verbal greeting, a wave, or a head nod. I don’t care if the rider is a lean pro racer or a guy smoking a cigarette riding an old Mixte frame because he has seven DUIs. I always acknowledge them. A third of the time, I get a blank stare in return, but that’s alright. I am okay with rejection. Some of us can sublimate; others can’t adjust.
When we wave at someone riding a bike, they are almost always riding toward us, and our contact is of short duration. But things are more interesting when we overtake a rider going in our direction, or if a rider overtakes us. If I gradually approach a rider who is pedaling a few mph slower than I am, I’ll pull alongside, say hello, and maybe chat for a few seconds, or longer if they wish. If I find that I know them, we may ride together for a few miles. If I overtake someone going considerably slower, I’ll wave and say “hello” as I go by, because, well…George Costanza sums it up here…
Often you don’t know the riders you see on the road, and you haven’t measured their ability on a bicycle. We assume that the younger and the skinnier they are, the faster they are. We assume (in my case, incorrectly) the more expensive the bike, the faster the rider. Most of us are anywhere from mildly to fiercely competitive, and there are varying degrees of ego shown on the road. A little competitive jousting with another rider can be fun, much like an impromptu drag race is in a car. (Something I wouldn’t dream of doing on the street.)
I’m a people person, and my preferred scenario when I encounter a cyclist I don’t know is some friendly conversation and some spirited riding. But that’s not always what occurs.
The Silent Fly-by
You’re lazily cruising along at 14 mph, and you’re startled by a “whoooshh!” as a rider blows by you, missing you by 18”, not uttering a word. This is usually because he is a SERIOUS BIKE RIDER, and he has no time for chatting with sedentary, inferior riders, such as you or me. There are real racers in our community and we may recognize them, watch them blast by us, and think “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” But a showoff who does a Silent Fly-by must be chased down. As The Dude from “The Big Lebowski” says, “This aggression will not stand, man!”
Time trialist Dianne “The Beast” Shanklin and I were returning from the Gunlock Reservoir two years ago at a moderate pace, and we were rudely dusted by a fly-by guy who offered no warning or greeting. Di and I looked at each other with that “let’s get this guy” expression. After a mile of doing a ferocious two-person time trial, we reeled him in and sat on him for a minute. Then we came around him (he still wouldn’t even look at us even though I said “hello” in my overtly cheerful voice) and we gradually picked up the pace. He hung for a mile, and then we dialed it up to hyperspeed, unceremoniously dropping the unfriendly rider. After a few more miles, we eased up and just cruised. Mr. Fly-by again caught us, and, of course, lurched past us again, without acknowledging our existence. I much rather would have just ridden with the guy, but he threw down the gauntlet. And then, he was humiliated by an old man and “a girl!” Don’t do a silent fly-by to Di Shanklin. She will catch you and make you pay…
Do you have any idea WHO I AM?
Twenty years ago the company that employed me had a conference for our dealers in Palm Springs during January. A California dealer of mine knew I raced road bikes, and he asked me if I was bringing a bike to the conference. Always looking forward to attempting to punish another cyclist, I told him to bring his Merlin and I would bring my Merlin, and we would ride. On our Merlins. Because the cool guys rode Merlins then. Over the three day event, we were able to ride three times; 30 miles on average.
For the first ride, there were three of us, all former district champions, yet the pace was comfortable with good camaraderie. No whoop-ass was unleashed. The second day we went into the hills, and I attacked hard on a long 4% grade. Thirty seconds later, a small guy on a Merlin came speeding by me. I jumped on his wheel, but I blew up a hundred yards later. I thought to myself, who IS this guy?? He continued to disappear, literally, up the hill into a low cloud as I gasped for air.
On our third and last ride, it was going to be just me and the guy on the Merlin. He was waiting by a parking lot as I rolled up, and when I got close enough, I noticed he was wearing a USCF national champion jersey, the kind they give you when you, um, win a national championship. As I looked at it slackjawed, he said to me, “Yeah, it’s a real one. And I have two more at home.” I was laughing and deservedly humiliated at the same time. Since then, Mark Hoffenberg has won a few more national criterium championships. Moral: You never know who you’re riding with, so don’t get cocky. Eventually, another rider will drop you like a bad habit.
Ask questions that require a long answer
There are a few good reasons to ask questions when riding next to someone you’ve just met. First of all, it’s interesting to listen to them and get to know them. But sometimes you might want to ask a question that elicits a very protracted, involved answer, which can cause the other rider to have labored breathing. Personally, to tire out another cyclist, I ask things like “Tell me all about your job,” or “Tell me about your grandkids!” or “How did you meet your wife?” or even, “Tell me your entire life story in painstaking detail!” Most riders will take the bait and talk for ten minutes about themselves. You learn about them…and they slow down because they’re breathing so hard. I use this technique often when the other rider is killing me. Which is “usually.”
Those of you who know me know that I like to push younger riders, most of whom are now faster than I am. And by “most,” I mean “almost all.” Still, for a geezer, I can hammer for short periods. Quite often after a hard effort with a younger rider who I hadn’t met before, there is a conversation, and it always goes something like this… Him: “How old ARE you?” Me: “I’m 70.” Him, patronizingly: “Gee, I hope when I’m YOUR age, I’m riding as fast as you!” That’s always the cue for me to drop my favorite line… Me, deadpan: “You know…you probably need to set more realistic and attainable goals for yourself…”
If they can’t tell that I’m kidding, which happens half the time, I make sure to tell them. I may act like a jerk sometimes, but I am not an actual jerk.
Cycling is about many things; fitness, freedom, weight control, competition, friendship, and the wonderful aesthetic of powering a passive human-powered machine. I hope you feel an affinity for other riders, regardless of who they are or what they’re riding, and I hope you share a moment with them in harmony. And at least say “hello” to them. If you then want to try and drop them, that’s up to you. But remember, you never really know who you’re riding with until they put the pedal to the metal, and a harsh reality may await you on the next hill…
Written by Paul Scarpelli
Cordiality, camaraderie, posturing, and humiliation…