Friday, June 5, 2009

A Typology of Freds: the man in the helmet mirror

Everyone who lines up week in and out for the fastest group ride around knows that "Fred" is a cycling insult. Of all the bicycle freaks, Freds are the most dorky. To be called Fred is to say that you are square among squares, its like being called a nerd by the chess club. You still belong, but you are on the bottom of the dog pile. There are several types of "Fred" as follows;

1) The Classic Fred: The O.F. or original fred shows up to the Wednesday Night Road World Championships with a Camelback, wearing an non-descript jersey, SPD touring shoes, a decade old helmet (with mirror) and riding a hopelessly slow bike. If he is a mountain biker at heart, he will have a rack and mini-pump attached to the seattube, if he is training for his first tri, clip on aero bars. The classic fred has no idea why everyone is going so slow for the first 3 miles or what is going on at a town line, even if he's been on this ride before. The one advantage that the classic fred has is that he does know how to ride a bike reasonably well. Which is a big improvement over the next type of Fred.

2) The Neo-Fred: The neo fred is the guy who gave up running or tennis and found cycling. While recovering from an arthroscopic procedure, he caught Le Tour on Versus and thought "hey, I bet I can do that!" So he read everything he can in a week on Velonews and PezCycling about being Pro. Next off he goes to the Local Bike Shop to buy a full Record or Dura Ace Pro team bike, orders the matching Pro team jersey/bibshorts/socks/& cap from the aptly named, finds some Pro eyewear, Pro team helmet, and lastly gets fitted footbeds for his Pro carbon soled shoes (white of course, to match the white saddle, white bar tape, and white shifter hoods). The neo-fred shows up on Wednesday night after asking the shop guys where he can ride hard (like a pro). He may even roll up with his i-pod ear buds dangling from under his helmet straps. Unfortunately neo-freds think the thousands and thousands of dollars they've spent entitle them to be on the fast ride and talk like they know something about cycling. (as opposed to the regulars who only have thousands and thousands of miles in their legs) Fortunately the neo-fred rarely hangs on past the first 10 miles. If one makes it through that first ride, they will likely drop off at the end of the month. But it is a common occurrence each summer, like fruit flies in the kitchen. Apparently, there are so many neo-freds that they are forming their own team:

3) The Proto-Fred: The proto-fred is always under 17 years old. He rides a hand me down bike, his only pair of plain black shorts, and a jersey that is too big (or sometimes a t-shirt). Proto-fred really doesn't know any better, because, they're like tadpoles. They are the most likely fred to ride in the wrong gear, wreck themselves on a sprint, and neglect to drink because they can't get the bottle out of the cage in a group. And like tadpoles, they don't stay that way very long. In a matter of weeks they are pedaling through corners, drafting tight in the pace line, and taking emails from team directors about racing next season. The proto-fred is good for cycling's future and is the most tolerable type of Fred.

4) The Super Fred: One should always be cautious about casually dismissing another rider as merely a Fred. The Super Fred looks just like the classic type. He has hairy legs and an old ugly bike. He might be sporting a Camelback or fenders on his road bike. But he can also ride you off his wheel without breathing hard. The Super Fred just got done with some monumental mileage tour, or was the state cross country champion, or both. The first Super Fred was Fred Birchmore of Athens GA, who criss-crossed the Giro route in 1935 on a 50lb touring bike. He did this in the midst of riding 25,000 miles around the globe over 2 years. He was remarkably out of place on the race route with his touring gear, but could ride like he was racing with the peloton. So much so that he was noted by the writers covering the race and his name is permanently in cycling lore. He was the origin of the term "Fred" in cycling. There are very few Super Freds, but when one shows up, just smile and get on his wheel. Some pro racers were Super Freds, like Svein Tuft. Many serious cyclists are jealous of the Super Fred.

5) The Uber-Fred: This the last, latest, and most annoying type of fred. The Uber-Fred is convinced that they alone understand the "essence of cycling". They are Serrotta riding, Rapha clad, embrocating, cafe ferrets. They are as interested in wearing the right reproduction wool jersey as they are riding hard. They will spend as much time over their cappucino after the ride as they did on the ride. They drool over glossy books and "journals" about steel bikes or races from 30 years ago. They may hold on for the whole distance, they may not. It matters less to them than if they look good in the new vintage trainer. While many of them can ride fast, the cloud of smugness that follows behind makes drafting difficult with out an inhaler.

Truth be told, I was a proto-fred, I dress like a classic fred when I commute, and I like the cafe' as much as any uber-fred. I think most cyclists have been a Fred at one time, and still have some Fred in them somewhere. I suggest we all embrace the Fred inside of us. So, don't be afraid of your own fred-liness, and try to be kind when a Fred rolls up on your favorite group ride. After all, that Fred may just be the man in the helmet mirror looking back.