The Rules. Hang around roadies long enough, and you’ll eventually hear them quoted with deference, much like a devout pilgrim quotes scripture. It’s raining out? Rule #9. You’re tired? Rule #5. That new bike is cool and all, but c’mon. Rule #34. The Rules are written with a facetious tone, but embedded in every joke is a half-truth, and peeling away the outermost layer of flippant smugness reveals an ugly, toxic attitude that has permeated much of American cycling culture.
An imposing block of no less than 92 platitudes published by The Velominati, The Rules cover a narrow range of topics, mostly relating to fashion, both for you and your bicycle. Reading through them, and all articles related to them, one gets the distinct impression that they are concerned primarily with one thing: conformity to their narrow vision of what cycling should be. In short: very, very expensive, and as similar as humanly possible to professional road cycling. Anything else is subject to ridicule.
In a recent article “Gianni” (née John Andrews), discusses the “EPMS”, a.k.a. European Posterior Man Satchel, a.k.a. saddlebag, an object strictly forbidden by Rule #29. “I weaned myself off a discreet EPMS after twenty-five years of use. I was not happy about transferring the contents to a rear pocket but I’m a team player so I conformed,” says Gianni. So let me get this straight… an ubiquitous and practical object has served you well for the past TWENTY-FIVE years, and you abandon it for some weak notion of conforming with “the cool kids”? Fuck that, no thank you. A quick peek into the comments section reveals even more ugliness. One brave defender of the saddlebag posted a picture of his setup, and was met with ruthless derision: “It’s like your fucking bib shorts got caught when you tried to cyclocross mount yer road bike for a laugh and now they’re stuck under your saddle. Take off.”
People are, of course, free to adhere to whatever ridiculous codes of behavior they create with their buddies, but what I find troublesome is the pervasive and inescapable negativity that bleeds from this small corner of the Internet and stains cycling culture at large. Outsiders looking in on cycling as a whole see the pettiness, the vanity, and the douchebaggery, and it serves only to reinforce negative stereotypes about cyclists: that we are funny little men who dress up in logo-plastered spandex and clog up the streets with our overpriced plastic toys in a sad attempt to imitate the latest emaciated European pretty boy. And while The Velominati do not represent the majority of cyclists, their inane attitude offers up a prime target for those already inclined to despise cyclists to cherry-pick as fodder for their faulty generalizations.
I have no doubt that loyal acolytes of The Rules will jump to the defensive, armed with that most typical justification that all is said and done in the name of irony. The Rules are quoted and preached ironically and humorously, because to take them seriously would be just too ridiculous. But like with other familiar subcultures that employ irony as a core part of their existence (including much maligned groups such as hipsters and bros), it’s difficult to tell where the irony ends and real identity begins; especially so, when, as is inevitable, the comedic value of said irony peters out, yet all other manifestations persist.
We here at Boyz on the Hoods have our own rules, but only one of them is really important. They are the words of Grant Petersen, bicycle visionary and owner of Rivendell Bicycle Works — “Just Ride”. Bicycles in all shapes and forms are beautiful, and the right bike for you is the bike that makes you happy when you ride it. Don’t ever let anyone convince you otherwise.