Road Cycling, the Little Things (Or, Are You a Fred?)

The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club.
The second rule of Fight Club is: you DO NOT talk about Fight Club!
Fight Club (1999)

For my local cycling community, I have written often about what I would call first level issues related to road cycling: holding your line, holding the wheel in front of you, proper fit and positioning on the bicycle, riding in a paceline, and recognizing when you should contribute in a paceline or stay out of the mix.

Here, however, I want to address second level issues related to road cycling, the social or aesthetic elements of the recreational sport. And those second level issues can more efficiently be covered by the simple question, Are you a Fred?

First, let me caution that parts of speech matter here, notably the article “a.” This is not about being named Fred, but being a Fred. In fact, my lessons in not being a Fred were handled classically and ironically by Fred Gobillot in the 1980s. Fred was the most not-a-Fred among our cycling group, and he would regularly drop me, only to ease back in order to pull me up to the group so he could drop me again (often berating me and questioning my humanhood; think the drill sergeant in An Officer and a Gentleman, but not as compassionate).

Next, it helps to recall those glorious days of middle or high school—or those rush weeks in college—when you either witnessed or were a part of the ugliest possible clique you can remember. Road cycling’s social dynamics are about 300% worse than that.

Road cycling is about bodily fluids—sweat, urine, and occasionally blood—intense physical pain, and relentless public shaming. In fact, the greatest moments of recreational road cycling are those in which you can maintain intense pain longer than others, ideally by causing that intense pain; and then the best of the best is when you pop or drop a close friend during all this pain so that you can mention that event as often as possible over the next 3 decades.

Now, again keeping in mind that first level issues of road cycling are in fact primary, let’s examine those second level issues. In other words, Are you a Fred?

  • Do you use the plastic cap and fixing bolt that come with inner tubes? You’re a Fred. Pro Tip 1: The technical term for both that cap and fixing bolt is “garbage,” thus toss both in the trash or recycling bin. Pro Tip 2: If your stem rattles, take a 1-inch piece of black electrical tape, poke a small hole in the middle, and then carefully slip it over the stem, sticking it neatly to your rim.
  • Do you have the plastic spoke protector behind your cassette, the reflectors in your spokes—both of which come with bicycles purchased in shops? You’re a Fred. See Pro Tip 1 above as same applies—’tis all garbage.
  • Is your rear wheel skewer pointing backward? You’re a Fred. Pro Tip 3: Close your rear skewer into the rear seat/chain stay angle; close your front skewer pointing backward and parallel to the ground.
  • Is your stem pointing upward? Are your hoods and handlebars turned slightly upward also? You’re a Fred. Pro Tip 4: For stems, hoods, and handlebars, flat is where it’s at.
  • Do you call your tires “wheels,” as in “I need new wheels” when you mean tires? Do you call your saddle a “seat”? You’re a Fred. Pro Tip 5: Know all the proper names of the parts of a bicycle.
  • Do you not shave your legs? You’re a Fred. Pro Tip 6: Shave your legs or be better than average at first level issues of road cycling.
  • When you have a flat, do you: (i) exclaim that you have never changed a flat before, (ii) tell everyone you do not know how your CO2 cartridge head works, (iii) not have an extra tube, Co2, boot, etc., with you? You’re a Fred. Pro Tip 7: Know how to change a flat and use your equipment; in other words, practice.

I know all of this may seem juvenile and trivial—because it all is juvenile and trivial, much like recreational road cycling. Keep in mind that most recreational road cycling involves grown men [1] with shaved legs wearing lycra while riding a mechanism most strongly associated with children, a bicycle.

Two final points: (i) there is no shame in being a Fred, and luckily, it isn’t terminal (thus, I share remedies above), but (ii) road cycling is a lot like Fight Club because I have broken the sacred rule: Don’t tell a Fred he/she is a Fred.

But I am willing to sacrifice myself, now that I am aging and see the likelihood of being thinned from the herd, I mean pack soon simply because whether you are a Fred or not, if you are younger and stronger, you’ll be able to pop and drop me soon enough.

[1] Women constitute a minority in all this ugliness, and of course, the leg shaving thing is inconsequential for them as it comes with all the other social norms that make being a woman a struggle that dwarfs all the silliness I am discussing above (seriously).

ADDENDUM

Melissa Storm asks:

Being one of the shaven-by-social-norm gender, I need a little clarification here. If I can change a tube on my properly de-cluttered bicycle, and know I’m certainly not needed in a pace line right now, but have my handle bars and stem as not-slammed as possible, am I a Fred? Or am I a hardass for getting on my bike during my third trimester? Are there ever exceptions? I’m just wondering since I don’t seem to remember any of TheRules addressing the issue. You seem like the one to ask. I don’t mind at all if you deem my sadly mismatched kit to be over the Fred line.

Excellent question, Melissa, which brings us to one zero tolerance area and the appropriate exception.

First, regardless of Fred or non-Fred status, there is zero tolerance for being unsafe.

That said, there is a hardass/badass exception (note from above: dropping everyone while having not shaved your legs). Thus, riding your bicycle while in your third trimester clearly affords you the hardass exception, and notably in a way no male rider can equal. Bravo.

6 comments

  1. Melissa Storm

    Being one of the shaven-by-social-norm gender, I need a little clarification here. If I can change a tube on my properly de-cluttered bicycle, and know I’m certainly not needed in a pace line right now, but have my handle bars and stem as not-slammed as possible, am I a Fred? Or am I a hardass for getting on my bike during my third trimester? Are there ever exceptions? I’m just wondering since I don’t seem to remember any of TheRules addressing the issue. You seem like the one to ask. I don’t mind at all if you deem my sadly mismatched kit to be over the Fred line.

  2. William Reichert

    There was a guy in Boulder who rode around on a bike with the fixing bolt around his inner tube stem, rear skewer to the front,
    had hairy legs, and called his saddle a “seat’. He wore cut off jeans and had a rear view mirror on his helmut. He rode
    an old steel with shifters dangling from the top tube. He liked to troll along the roads tempting the non Freds with what appeared to be easy prey for the “catch”and then the “drop” with often a sarcastic passing compliment “nice gear!” on the ready. However, this Fred’s mirror saw them coming with their $4000 carbon frames , their snazzy University of Colorado Cycling Team kits and their glistening smooth legs reflecting the sunlight. He gently accelerated all the while allowing them to get closer and closer but with greater and greater effort until their power meters hit their programmed red zone, warning them that this effort was unsustainable for more than 6 minutes. After 5 minutes, Fred stopped pedaling for 10 seconds. The non Freds seized upon this as a sign of prey weakening, and, with joy in their souls, accelerated into the
    “zone beyond red”, used usually only for sprint finishes in important and career defining races. When Fred saw them coming
    he resumed his previous pace, The sprinters closed in for 30 seconds. They came upon Fred with their tanks empty now ,looked at him from along side,noticed he was barely breathing hard , noticed his garb, his mirror, his skewer in the wrong direction, his hairy legs. After they got a good look at him, they saw he was a Fred . “He’s a Fred!” they thought. “Thank God we weren’t dropped by a real cyclist ” they thought to themselves as Fred cycled away out of sight , his low chuckle inaudible from the
    distance between him and the real cyclists.

  3. Craig Fluck

    I am usually on board with your posts about cycling and education but my understanding of the Fred label is the opposite of yours. Please stop reading if I have missed the satire.

    My understanding of “a Fred” is the testosterone driven, lycra/spandexed cyclist who looks the part and follows all the rituals of throwing away reflectors, spoke guards, valve stem caps, etc. in order to fit in with what I like to call the Cat 6 wannabe racers. I have come to this perception by actually riding with these people and reading the blog of the New York City Bike Snob. Thank goodness I also have ridden with mountain bikers who are a more social and accepting group.

  4. Michael J Maher (@MJ_Maher)

    Nice…I rarely shave my legs, but since I’m above average at first level issues I assume that’s alright. FYI, my 13 year old daughter has begun cycling with me. We rode the MS 150 in New Bern NC (80 mile weekend, 50 Saturday, 30 Sunday) and this past weekend rode a hilly 60 at Georgia BikeFest. There’s nothing quite like sharing a fun but challenging experience with your teenage daughter.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s