Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Pedaling Squares

For racers, pedaling squares means something specific; pushing the pedals hard when you are already exhausted or undertrained. The cranks turn over in a stiff jerky motion instead of the smooth arc when one is riding strong. To everyone else, it potentially means something completely different. Most people look at us lycra clad, leg shaving, wheel obsessed skinny weenies and think one thing: bike geek. Despite the progress in the popularity of bike racing over the past 10 years, no matter the number of bicycles in garages, regardless of the joy every American kid gets from their first two wheels; Grown men who ride more 10 miles a year and own all the appropriate cycling gear are seen as dweebs, dorks, nerds, square pegs, i.e. pedaling squares.

I became a bike geek pretty early on. I could say it was when my best friend got a new Motebecone 10 speed with leather bar tape for his 11th birthday, or when I heard about a skinny kid from Reno winning the rainbow jersey, but it goes back further. I am sure it was when the training wheels came off my silver Schwinn Stingray. It was love at first ride, age 6. Most kids love the freedom their bike affords them at age 8 & 9. A few us just never loose the love affair. By jr. high I didn't care (much) that kids laughed at my goofy long black lycra shorts, or in highschool at the steel mountain bike I commuted on. I just pedaled fast to the first town line to escape the noise, to find some freedom. I read Bicycling magazine cover to cover every month (when it was more than 30 pages). And I still get a thrill from a long hard ride or a new bike. Once a bike geek, always a bike geek.

But we live in a strange age. First MC Hammer made "bike shorts" popular (though with out the bike). Then came the first wave of enviro chic and mountain bikes became popular (though typically for riding on pavement with knobby tires). Then came the age of Lance. Cycling became the new golf. Lots of 30-40ish professionals bought high end road machines, complete kit, and sunglasses. Then (perhaps to justify the thousands of dollars just spent) they jumped into the local fast group ride, only to discover that cycling is well, hard. It hurts to go fast. It hurts more to fall off the group pace. And it hurts alot more to fall down. Lance left the building, Tiger returned to the links, and now golf is the new golf.

And now we have hipsters; 20 something urban alt kids who like to play bike messenger. Fixed gear track bikes with riser bars are uber cool. Some of these kids even try to ride their bikes fast, or enter a local race or two. I can not describe or critique fixie culture properly, so I leave that to the Snob . I do know that I live over a 100 miles from the nearest metro area, yet even here I spy college kids sporting cobbled together retro fixies, wearing throw back punk band hoodies and Jack Spade bags. Eventually almost all of these hipster kids will get careers, loose the piercings, or laser off the knuckle tattoos. They'll trade PBR for Chardonay. The old fixie bike will end up on craigslist or in the garage behind the mini-van.

And that's O.K.; JFK was right on when he said "Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride" (even if he didn't likely mean it for himself). So I'll keep riding every day that I can; I'll commute to work on the clunker bike, or ride the local trails on the mtb, or race my buddies at the next town line on the group ride, or pin on a number on the weekend. My friends will still be the guys who can tell you in grams the weight of most of the parts on their bikes (and probably yours too). They'll still be willing to spend more on a new set of tubular tires than a new set snow tires. I'll still be fighting with the Mrs. over the good leg razor. Crusty, cranky, worn out, cycling obsessed fools that we are, we'll just keeping putting in the miles. Obliviously happy to be pedaling squares.