22 Sep 2021
Reading Time: 6 minutes
This is something that’s been sitting with me for some time now. Riding in Sydney of late has made me ponder it further, as the rate of bike snobbery seems to be on the rise, and when I say bike snobbery, I don’t strictly mean a snobbery associated with the physical bike but more of the all over mentality of ‘fitting in’.
What really got me thinking, and maybe the cause for this post, was a recent incident that occurred in the comments section of an online review for kit we’d sent over to Bike Rumor.com. The stand out comment that fired me off was, and I cut and paste, “…honestly, no matter how great the kit may feel, if it’s rocked by a dude like that, posing in a way like that, i’m gonna pass it right up. #nothanks“. This was in reference to the appearance of the reviewer, who took pics of himself to show the kit he’d tested.
That was the corker of a string of similar comments and actually kicked me to hop on and say what I thought of this sort of attitude. But this instance was, at least in my experiences, a worst case scenario. The sort of stuff I see on a regular basis is a lot more passive but every bit as insidious.
Before I get further into it, I think a bit of a background might be important…
I started riding road when I was 13-14. I did a few club races but mostly friends and I would tart up our bikes, read the Euro mags and go ride every opportunity we could. By 15 I was (very) lucky enough to be riding a Colnago Mexico, bought second hand from the owner of the local bike store where we hung out. It was, and still is (if I still had it) the nicest bike I’ve ever owned, nicer than the handmade Ti ‘with everything’ I had many years later. In Australia back then, cyclists were more than a minority, they were fringe. I recall many a ride where someone would stick their head out the window of passing car and call us ‘poofs’ (‘fags’ if you’re in the US). From those days I have ridden lots of bikes, on and off road, in Australia, the US and Europe, with all sorts of people and for the past 10 years have worked in the industry both locally and internationally, at all sorts of levels. I’ve been lucky and I’ve done a lot. Now, much to my amusement, many of those name throwers from some 30 years ago are riding bikes, as they are too old and clapped out to keep on playing football and golf has lost its gloss.
There is no doubt cyclists are a peculiar bunch, myself included. As a whole we obsess over little things and depending who you are, the obsession can be very strong. I obsess a whole lot less these days as riding to me is about the physical riding itself. Everything else is an optional extra. ‘I ride therefore I am’ and having the latest or looking the coolest, when you’re not riding, or are not actually any good at it, is pointless. Maybe it’s this attitude that’s got me seeing things that others might not be?
I have lost count at the number of times I have been snubbed on the road. I know why but the fact that the incidences are increasing I find somewhat sad. The why is pretty basic – I’m riding a slicked out 26” hardtail. Yep, you read that right. It’s my franken bike and while this year will be its last, as we finally start playing with our own frames, the fact is I love it for the sort of street riding I’m doing. Carbon frame, fork and post, single 48T ring, wide flat bars, discs. It’s a rocket and eats up the crappy Sydney roads and tight urban street circuits with ease. For riding pure urban based road miles, it’s reshaped the way I think a road bike should be built. But no matter how cool the bike I ride is, or how fast I push it, I don’t fit in with the cool kid’s preconceived notions of what it is to be a cyclist. So while I may happily reel many of them in on a long hill, make them uncomfortable on the flats and out corner them on the curvy stuff, the fact that I am not getting it on with the new ‘accepted norm’ means, more often than not, they look down their nose at me. And they are quite blatant about it too. (I also wear my mtb POC helmet and full finger POC gloves, because I like my fingers protected in a stack -> imagine the shock horror!!)
Marketing, the ‘scene’, photo’s of Espresso sipping bearded hipsters have all gone a long way to create a skewed ‘norm’ that many now aspire to. If I had to count the number of black jerseys with a single stripe on one arm I see on a morning’s ride, I’d loose count. More than ever in the past 30 years of my riding life, do I see riders in (rather expensive) matching ‘photoshoot’ outfits, on bikes to match. It could be a Sydney thing, Sydney after all is a showy and a somewhat shallow sort of place, but there is a ‘thing’ going on and if you don’t prescribe to the ‘thing’, then you are not worthy – and that will be made known to you. It’s this that I dislike.
Image found on Tumblr (after being reposted a million times!)
Riding is about the ride, not what you ride or what you wear while you are riding. Aspiring to be like a magazine photoshoot, the latest pro team or any other predefined, contrived model of what a ‘cyclist’ is supposed to be defeats the whole purpose of riding. That sounds funny coming from someone who owns a cycle clothing brand, but I mean it; I myself have finally got some new ELEVEN vélo kit to ride in, over a year after starting it and have you noticed that 99% of the time, we never use a lifestyle image to show our designs…? There’s a reason for that.
It’s a known fact that cycling’s the new golf and that’s a good thing; golf’s interesting but boring after 20 minutes and going fast on a bike is far more fun. But cycling is nothing like golf and the Rolex mentality should be left to the golf course. I remember not that long ago passing a, *ahem*, middle aged guy in ‘the Park’ on what must have been a AU$13k Biancci with full matching ensemble. He could hardly ride despite having all the gear, yet he refused a reciprocal nod as I passed him by. He might look good at the local cafe with all his mates but on the bike, well, and clearly, at least from the attitude he expressed, thought himself better than me. For myself, I ride harder and faster now than I ever did on my Ti/Campy wonder bike (should have kept that frame!!) and over the years there have been lessons for me in that realisation.
Riding a bike is about lessons. The first is that when you are on the bike, you are equal to all other riders. The second is that no matter how good you think you may be, there’s always someone better. Period. Lastly, it’s not about the bike, as corny as that may now sound, but very much about the ride itself. Thinking you are better than someone because of what you wear or don’t wear, or ride/don’t ride, does not make you a rider, is makes you a douche and my bet is in five year’s time you won’t still be riding.
Nice gear is, nice. Wearing it makes you feel and look much better than wearing cheap gear, simply because it’s better… most of the time (and on that note, go grab some of our gear – it feels wonderful and makes you look good!). Nice bikes are even nicer. I am very much looking forward to my new stainless frame later in the year. But like a uniform or any other bit of kit, by themselves they are nothing but fabrics and metals. It’s the person in the clothing and on the bike that makes them, so ultimately that same person can be in any clothing or on any bike and the result will be the same. If the spirit is there, the rest is window-dressing and window dressing on its own means nothing if the person behind it is missing the whole point.
Copyright 2023 Gerard Thomas. All rights reserved.
I've run mtb events, distributed some legendary brands, ran my own cycling clothing brand, designed bikes and was a GM and head designer for a famous but sadly now extinct mtb marquee; and after 20 odd years I decided riding bikes was more fun than working with them.
Over that time though, I wrote (and some wrote for me) a lot of stuff about bikes, on blogs and the like. Some was good, some, well... not so much. Rather than loose it all when I shut everything down once and for all, I have kept some of my favourite, and more popular pieces here for... prosperity?
I also am working on new pieces as well...