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Dear Frank : Daylight Snobbery

Frank Strack
22 May 2015

The professional elite draws admiration from the keen amateur, but it's not just racing that defines a cyclist, says Frank Strack.


Frank Strack Daylight Snobbery

Dear Frank

One of the guys at my cycling club asserts, ‘You cannot call yourself a cyclist if you’ve never raced.’ What’s your ruling on this?

Andy, by email

Dear Andy

Road cyclists have a reputation for being elitist snobs, and that reputation is earned and carried proudly by people like your club mate. (Also by Velominati, although we aim to be funny while we’re doing it.) Allow me to digress for a moment to point out that anyone can race. My curiosity is piqued by the fact that your mate’s edict doesn’t go so far as to set an expectation for how well one must race in order to considered a cyclist. The point of competing, afterall, is to win (Rule #70). 

If I unwind the implied arrogance in the assertion, I do see where he’s coming from. There is nothing that matches the intensity, danger and excitement that comes with racing. The closeness of the pack, the racing in and out of tight corners, riding climbs at full gas when the scrawny waif of a grimpeur on the front turns on the afterburners. If you’re still in it for the finale, your ability to keep your head about you while your eyes are bulging with effort could mean the difference between being in the winning move and rolling over the line in the laughing group. At the finish, it comes down to who wants it the most, which is the cyclist’s way of saying it comes down to which rider is willing to suffer more than anyone else.

Artists suffer because they must; cyclists suffer because we choose to. We push ourselves in training, we do intervals, and we form groups to simulate the pressure of racing in the bunch. We head out early in the morning for a day alone on the bike with the express purpose of meeting The Man with the Hammer. 

But a race is always different. There is an extra cavern in the pain cave that can only be entered on race day. The adrenaline, the speed and the pressure push you ever further into its depths.

But racing isn’t for everyone, and there is much more to cycling than just racing. Cycling is about the simple enjoyment of pedalling a bicycle and the sensation of flight as you hover above the tarmac with the wind in your face. A cyclist cherishes this above anything else.

Cycling is about camaraderie. It is impossible to suffer alongside a stranger– once the suffering begins, the stranger has already become a kindred spirit. 

Cycling is about the history and etiquette of the sport. Ours is a century-old sport steeped in myth and legend. It embraces tradition and innovation equally, a fact that serves to build a culture full of contradiction and subtlety. 

Cycling is about a love for the bike itself. The bicycle is a unique machine; the frame, the wheels, the components are beautiful things that convey not only the taste of its rider, but of those who built it. The bicycle itself is a work of art worthy of obsession.

Cycling is about self-discovery and improvement. Cycling is a difficult sport, and its practice requires that one learns to push beyond what the mind believes is possible. It takes courage to face the pain that lies along a tough climb, ready to be gobbled up like those dots in Pac-Man. Suffering cleanses the soul, and those who learn to suffer are better suited to face the hardships of life.

These are the qualities that define the cyclist. While their study leads those with a competitive spirit towards racing, a non-racer is perfectly suited to call themselves a cyclist. 

We are cyclists; the rest of the world merely rides a bike.

Frank Strack is the creator, and curator, of The Rules. For futher illumination see velominati.com and find a copy of his book The Rules in all good bookshops. You can email your questions for Frank to cyclist@dennis.co.uk

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