Anything

I am exceedingly over-educated, well-read to an absurd extreme.

I am also too self-aware, introspective to the point of near paralysis.

And my fortune of privilege and leisure leaves me too much time to think about everything.

Broken, I lie here writing after having been handed an entirely new life not of my choosing, an accident in the first week of my holiday break probably redirecting a significant part of my life as a recreational cyclist.

That first week of recovery was consumed by pain and immobility, but I was not able to relax and read, although I thought that would be one positive to the situation.

This week, however, as most everyone has now returned to work, I find myself entirely alone. I resumed reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half a Yellow Sun, a 2006 novel focusing on Nigeria during the 1960s.

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half a Yellow Sun

Reading this essentially political novel in 2016-2017 has been chillingly prescient about the current U.S., and while I balk at the use of the term “universal” since it tends to be a veneer for normalizing privilege, Adichie’s narrative often exposes the enduring.

In Part Two: The Late Sixties, the section opens as the novel does with Ugwu, an Opi village boy who is a servant for a Nsukka University professor, Odenigbo.

Several years have passed in the story, and Ugwu is temporarily back in his village:

His visit home suddenly seemed much longer than a week, perhaps because of the endless grassy churning in his stomach from eating only fruits and nuts. His mother’s food was unpalatable. The vegetables were overcooked, the cornmeal was too lumpy, the soup was too watery, and the yam slices coarse from being boiled without a dollop of butter. He could not wait to get back to Nsukka and finally eat a real meal. (p. 151)

This is a powerful scene in the context of the first paragraphs of the novel as Ugwa walks to Odenigbo’s house to become his houseboy. Ugwa’s aunt tells the boy, “‘You will eat meat every day'”:

Ugwu did not believe that anybody, not even this master he was going to live with, ate meat every day. He did not disagree with his aunty, though, because he was too choked with expectation, too busy imagining his new life away from the village. (p. 3)

So as I was reading Adichie’s dramatization of politics, privilege, and what is and becomes normal for anyone, I was reminded of Albert Camus’s The Stranger and Meursault’s thoughts from prison:

Afterwards my only thoughts were those of a prisoner….At the time, I often thought that if I had had to live in the trunk of a dead tree, with nothing to do but look up at the sky flowering overhead, little by little I would have gotten used to it. I would have waited for birds to fly by or clouds to mingle, just as here I waited to see my lawyer’s ties, and just as, in another world, I used to wait patiently until Saturday to hold Marie’s body in my arms. Now, as I think back on it, I wasn’t in a hollow tree trunk. There were others worse off than me. Anyway, it was one of Maman’s ideas, and she often repeated it, that after a while you could get used to anything. (p. 77)

Much of my undergraduate time spent as a student-by-choice focused on existential philosophy and literature, leading eventually to my discovering and embracing the educational writing of Maxine Greene.

So as I recover in the weeks leading to my 56th birthday—a new year, a new age, and this new existence forced onto me—I am deeply moved by “you could get used to anything.”

Anything?

What an ugly thing to be human and having the capacity to get used to anything.

But there was a time in the U.S. when slavery was perfectly normal. There was a time in the world when the Holocaust was perfectly normal.

Because normal, like history, is the province of those with power, a way to render some Others “deliberately silenced,…preferably unheard.”

And today the U.S. is eagerly normalizing a person and ideologies that would have seemed illegitimate just months ago.

As happened to Ugwu, will we in a few short years have our tastes so dramatically transformed that this bitter dish being served to us now will become what sates our hunger?

Franz Kafka’s A Hunger Artist is a brief parable about the “art of fasting”—in which the artist becomes so transformed that he fasts himself to death, explaining:

“Because I have to fast. I can’t do anything else,” said the hunger artist. “Just look at you,” said the supervisor, “why can’t you do anything else?” “Because,” said the hunger artist, lifting his head a little and, with his lips pursed as if for a kiss, speaking right into the supervisor’s ear so that he wouldn’t miss anything, “because I couldn’t find a food that tasted good to me. If had found that, believe me, I would not have made a spectacle of myself and would have eaten to my heart’s content, like you and everyone else.” Those were his last words, but in his failing eyes there was still the firm, if no longer proud, conviction that he was continuing to fast.

A gift of Kafka comes in the final paragraph when he offers the briefest of parables within a parable:

“All right, tidy this up now,” said the supervisor. And they buried the hunger artist along with the straw. But in his cage they put a young panther. Even for a person with the dullest mind it was clearly refreshing to see this wild animal prowling around in this cage, which had been dreary for such a long time. It lacked nothing. Without having to think much about it, the guards brought the animal food whose taste it enjoyed. It never seemed once to miss its freedom. This noble body, equipped with everything necessary, almost to the point of bursting, even appeared to carry freedom around with it. That seemed to be located somewhere or other in its teeth, and its joy in living came with such strong passion from its throat that it was not easy for spectators to keep watching. But they controlled themselves, kept pressing around the cage, and had no desire at all to move on.

Like Ugwu,Meursault, the hunger artist—the panther “get[s] used to anything.”

Kurt Vonnegut’s Introduction to Mother Night, a work confronting a Nazi reality now again before humanity, begins:

This is the only story of mine whose moral I know. I don’t think it’s a marvelous moral; I simply happen to know what it is: We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be. (p. v)

I am exceedingly over-educated, well-read to an absurd extreme.

I am also too self-aware, introspective to the point of near paralysis.

And my fortune of privilege and leisure leaves me too much time to think about everything.

I am afraid of who I have become, who I pretend to be, and if I too can “get used to anything.”

And I am near to terrified of the same for the world around me.

Rage

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

“Do not go gentle into that good night,” Dylan Thomas

More than 27 years ago, when I was 28 and my daughter, only three months old, a drunk driver hit me while I was cycling with a friend.

The impact broke my ankle bone, leading to a long 10-week recovery over that summer. But as I lay in bed when my parents visited me after I was released from the ER, when my mother said certainly I was done cycling, my dad rejected the idea, knowing I was already planning how and when to ride again.

I have been an avid recreational and competitive cyclist for about thirty years now, completing a significant number of challenging 100-mile and 200-plus-mile cycling events and rides.

Yesterday morning, Christmas Eve 2016, as I found myself trying to stand up from the pavement on the highway passing in front of my subdivision, my sight was blurred and my left hand was bloodied; my pinkie appeared as if someone had bashed it with a hammer.

I had just watched three of my cycling companions flipping and tumbling from the impact of the car that hit me and them from behind. Another five in the group were spared.

This morning, Christmas 2016, I suspect my life as road cyclist is over.

As I have aged, this moment has been one of the things I have anticipated and feared most because it had to happen; our physical selves inevitably decline and the athlete becomes who we were and not who we are.

Now, I don’t want to sound melodramatic because I plan to continue and increase my mountain biking as soon as my broken hip allows (sooner even).

I likely will still occasionally take the road bicycle on rail trails, and have thought about using some of the insurance settlement to buy a smart trainer so my second road bicycle (now the only) has a purpose.

But I don’t want to understate either that this accident in the wake of what seems to be a year of far too many other car/bicycle accidents and dog/bicycle accidents has left me broken—yes, my hip, but also my spirit.

I am afraid.

Among our nine yesterday were 20-somethings and the older crowd in our 50s and 60s; we, the cycling community, are good people, professionals and those who wish to enjoy life.

We were riding legally 2-abreast in the far right lane of a four-lane highway. The motorist was negligent, completely at fault.

But none of that matters to the cyclist airlifted to the ER and who now lies in ICU. Another close friend and I suffered significant injuries, and several very expensive bicycles were destroyed or damaged.

Even when we road cyclists are in the right, we lose versus cars.

The human body doesn’t just wither with age; the human body is quite frail against a ton of metal traveling 40 or 50 miles per hour.

Setting aside for a moment Dylan Thomas’s sexism, I am drawn to “Though wise men at their end know dark is right” because choosing to stop road cycling is wise but not acquiescence, not meekly choosing life over living.

Being human is in fact our mortality, our mutability—but being human is also having the capacity for fear.

As someone paralyzed my whole life with anxiety, I am acutely aware of irrational and rational fear.

Fear is not universally a negative emotion since it is grounded in, ironically, survival instincts— it can be our tool to “[r]age, rage against the dying of the light.”

These things can live with us in the sort of pseudo-movie slow motion of being a witness and a victim simultaneously.

As I rose out of the shock of being hit, I became aware of three other cyclists down, two appeared to be in critical situations.

We were just going out for a recreational 30 miles before spending time with families for the holiday. This is a hobby among friends.

That all seems quite trivial in the desperate moments of an accident.

Thomas ends his poem making his refrain-as-plea to his father, and as I lay in the ER, I saw my father’s hand when I looked at mine; when I tried to stand to leave, I saw my father in a hospital gown, older, struggling to dress as I was then.

So when I was home yesterday and we turned the DVR to Little Einsteins for my granddaughter, she came to me as she always does so she can hold my index finger as she twirls and dances to the opening theme.

My first response was to tell her I was hurt, but then I stood so she could dance before as she always does taking both hands and pushing me back to sitting so I can watch her watch the show.

I am already upset about the road cycling events I will miss now; this has been so much of my life.

But as I stood through the pain and watched my granddaughter twirl, I thought “rage, rage,” and know that missing those rides are pale things compared to that hand.

“Share the Road” about More than Bicycles and Cars

A few days ago, a cyclist just recently introduced to the sport, Joshua Edward Duncan, was struck from behind by a motorist. He suffered injuries that led to his death, and the motorist explained that she did not see him.

Duncan was 31, married, and the father of a 13-month-old infant.

In 1989, a friend and I were cycling in the northern part of the county where I live when a drunk driver hit me from behind before speeding off. I was knocked into my riding partner and suffered a shattered ankle bone. At that moment, my daughter was 3-months old—as I lay in the road, coincidentally one road over from where my sister-in-law lived.

Since a cycling friend of mine who was riding with Duncan texted me about Duncan being struck and killed, I have been unable to stop thinking of two things: back in 1989, I could have very easily lost my life, and the motorist who has not been charged (just as the hit-and-run drunk driver who hit me was never charged even though he was apprehended) explained that she did not see Duncan.

South Carolina has strong cycling laws that guarantee cyclists the right to “Share the Road” in our state, and the signs are nearly everywhere:

I have been an avid cyclist in the Upstate of SC since the early/mid-1980s, many years logging as many as 10,000 miles on roads throughout rural SC and North Carolina.

Along with being hit by the drunk driver in 1989, I have been in two other accident with cars—one in which a motorist dragged a fellow cyclist under the car for a quarter mile leaving him permanently injured.

This motorist also didn’t see us, and despite being elderly, retained his license after the accident.

I live, work, and cycle in SC—the state of my birth. And I cannot ignore that I witness everyday the hollowness of the “Share the Road” signs against the behavior of people.

SC is a stark microcosm of the U.S.—where word does not equal deed.

We in the South are quick to shout that we are pro-life, that we are a Christian people.

And then we drive while texting, we make no effort to allow merging cars onto the interstate, we behave at traffic lights as if we are the only car on the road.

I also cannot ignore that this inexcusable accident taking a young man’s life occurred within days of a local high school coming under fire for banning the U.S. flag at the traditional Friday night football game.

The uproar is a powerful but misrepresented lesson about us as people. The media and the public anger have focused on the flag being “banned,” but almost no one has confronted the real issue: students have in the past and intended at this game to use the U.S. flag to taunt Mexican students at a rival high school.

I taught high school for nearly two decades in this area, and I am not suggesting we overreact to this adolescent behavior; it happens everywhere, and in many ways, it is simply really poor behavior that is the consequence of being young.

And the school had an undeniable moral obligation to teach these young people that bullying and hatred are wrong, unacceptable.

The lesson here is not about the behavior of a few teens, but about, once again, the willingness of adults to wrap ourselves in words and symbolism while refusing to translate those ideals into behavior.

How do we teach young people lessons (do unto others) about hatred while a presidential candidate behaves the same way yet suffers no real consequences—in fact, garners support?

As an educator, parent, and coach, I have always been acutely aware of the danger of hypocrisy—and how it corrodes the authority of any adult seeking to influence young people.

In his “Lockridge: ‘The American Myth,'” James Baldwin rightfully proclaimed:

This rigid refusal to look at ourselves may well destroy us; particularly now since if we cannot understand ourselves we will not be able to understand anything.

“Share the Road” as hollow sloganism and the motorist admitting that she did not see the cyclist she struck and killed with her car—these raise a concurrent truth to Baldwin’s: the rigid refusal to see the other.

And it is destroying us—literally and figuratively.

#BlackLivesMatter is a confrontation of the fact that white America refuses to see black America and the inequities they suffer.

A presidential campaign built on slandering Mexicans as rapist and murderers; on building a wall; and on casting out Muslims—this is a rigid refusal to see ourselves and the other, and it is breeding another generation of hatred.

A couple of springs ago, a friend and I met for our weekly Tuesday evening ride on the westside of town. We rolled out early to do a warm up lap and chat.

As we rolled two-abreast down a small country road, a highway patrolman parked there and apparently monitoring speeding stepped out of his car and stopped us, telling us to ride single-file.

I politely told him that SC law is two-abreast, and he replied, “Really?”

He was neither aware of the law, nor willing to see our right to be on the road as cyclists.

Law enforcement unaware of the law, unaware of the larger concept of justice, and unwilling to see the other—this is now in front of us in disturbing ways, and this is why many people are raising voices.

And many years ago, on a Sunday morning like the one today, I was riding my bicycle from my home to my in-laws to have lunch with my family.

A car zoomed by me, nearly clipping me, swerved immediately in front of me, slowing dramatically, and then turned onto an exit ramp as I raised my hand in the “what in the world” manner (and, no, I did not offer a one-finger salute).

The car suddenly stopped on the exit ramp, and I saw clearly it was a family dressed for church, children in the back seat. The diver, a man in a nice suit, stepped out shouting profanities at me for being on the road because they had to get to church.

Punctuality for church mattered more than my life—and his children were there to witness this. I have never forgotten that moment.

“Share the Road” is about more than bicycles and cars.

It is a message to be heeded every moment: See the other in a way that is listening to the other, in a way that honors the dignity of every human being.

Driving a car as if only your life matters reveals a great deal about the driver, but the consequences are often suffered by the innocent other.

“But I know now that there is not a chance in hell of America’s becoming humane and reasonable,” lamented author Kurt Vonnegut in “Cold Turkey,” adding:

For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.

“Blessed are the merciful” in a courtroom? “Blessed are the peacemakers” in the Pentagon? Give me a break!

And in his novel, Slapstick or Lonesome No More!, Vonnegut included:

I wish that people who are conventionally supposed to love each other would say to each other, when they fight, “Please—a little less love, and a little more common decency.”

What if “common decency” were a real American value—one we not only voiced, but also practiced daily?

What if we set aside our rigid refusal to see ourselves and to see the other?

What is a people who fervently claimed to be a “Christian nation” truly began to live as such?

Yes, what if …?

Matthew 5:3-10

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

globalbike: Two wheels making a world of difference

For several years now, I have been a member of the globalbike Spartanburg chapter team. As pedaling billboards, we represent globalbike, a nonprofit founded and based in Spartanburg, South Carolina that provides bikes to community careworkers, and women and girls organizations in Tanzania, Africa.

July 4, 2015, our chapter team is sponsoring a metric century in part to raise money for the upcoming trip to Africa by globalbike representatives.

Please consider donating and supporting the cause: Two wheels making a world of difference.

Bicycling and Education: More on the Burden of the Impossible

I have been both a serious educator and cyclist for around 30 years, and I am often struck how competitive group cycling offers us important lessons about how we tend to fail the promise of universal public education.

Competitive cycling—many people probably do not realize—is a team sport, and even recreational cyclists (as my friends and I are) often ride within the same principles of team competitive cycling.

As well, professional cycling (which has several layers similar to Major League baseball in the U.S.) has a long history of corruption—doping (performance-enhancing drugs, or PEDs).

Both the principles of group cycling and the culture of doping help explain some of the failures of how we do schooling in the U.S.

Collaboration Trumps Competition

I have been cycling in the Greenville-Spartanburg area of Upstate South Carolina for three decades—as a part of a very organized cycling community (we post group rides 6-days a week throughout the entire year) and several different bicycle clubs and teams (currently globalbike Spartanburg).

Over those years, we have maintained a nucleus of cyclists and a revolving door of new riders, often runners and other elite athletes looking for a different challenge.

One of the recurring problems of integrating new riders into cycling is the complex culture of the sport (road cycling is tradition-rich, and also a bit insular) as well as the principles guiding riding in an organized pack, specifically participating in a paceline:

Members of globalbike Spartanburg 2015 participate in a paceline while doing a spring training ride in the North Carolina mountains.

Members of globalbike Spartanburg 2015 form a paceline while doing a spring training ride in the North Carolina mountains.

A group of organized cyclists (a paceline or eschelon) can ride faster and longer than a cyclist on her/his own. The key to that group advantage is that the principles governing a paceline are built on cooperation and not competition.

Cyclists in a paceline work in ways that consider the impact of the wind, the abilities of the cyclists (strong riders taking longer pulls with weaker riders sitting on, or not participating in the pulls), and the advantages/disadvantages of drafting.

For example, a paceline is constructed of two lines of riders, one driving the pace forward and another receding (to allow riders to rest and to block sidewind from the advancing riders who are pulling). If there is sidewind, the receding line should be on the side that blocks that sidewind from the advancing line, but always, the advancing line must create a pace that is consistent (riders must not surge when pulling through, and as well, after taking a pull, the rider pulling through to the receding line must ease off the pace slightly):

A paceline with a group of committed riders is an amazing thing to watch. A paceline with riders trying to disrupt the group (attacking or flicking [purposefully creating gaps for weaker riders in order to drop her/him from the group]) or without any regard for the principles of cooperation is a nightmare.

And that is the central problem with education and education reform in the U.S. over the last thirty years—a culture of competition instead of cooperation.

Demanding that each group of students surpass the group of students coming before is the same sort of disruption, the same sort of failure to understand key principles that we witness as cyclists when “that guy” surges through each time he rotates to the front in a paceline.

Group cycling is beautiful, efficient, and effective when everyone works collaboratively, but falls apart even when one or two riders decide to compete, choose to ignore the common good of the group. The best cyclists are always aware of both their own cycling as well as the entire pack of cyclists—a supple balance of the individual and the community.

Each fall, a group of 15 or so of my cycling community does a 220-240-mile ride in one day (11-12 hours of cycling and a 14+-hour day) from the Upstate of SC to the coast. This ride seems impossible for regular people who have jobs and ride bicycles for a hobby, but it is a testament to collaboration since the riders have a wide range of ability and fitness, but our goal is always having everyone arrive safely and together.

We all ride with both our own success and the success of the entire group guiding how we ride.

The single greatest reform we need in public education in the U.S. is to adopt a culture of cooperation (reject merit pay; reject VAM; reject testing students to label, rank, and sort; reject labeling and ranking schools and states by test scores; reject international rankings by test scores; reject school choice—vouchers, charter schools, etc.) and not competition.

“The Burden of the Impossible” and the Inevitable Allure of Cheating

Beyond the abundant evidence that collaboration is more powerful in most ways than competition, collaboration trumps competition since competition has many negative consequences.

Few examples are more powerful for those negative consequences than professional cycling and recently the cheating scandals in education.

Human athletic achievements are plagued by the pursuit of the amazing—less often are we willing to marvel in the essential. The U.S. sporting public struggles to understand the “beautiful game,” football/soccer matches that end nil-nil, because of the lust for scoring without an appreciation for the artistry of playing the sport.

Professional cycling has suffered—and failed to address—the direct relationship between creating “the burden of the impossible” and the inevitable cheating that has followed, over and over for decades.

Spring classics—one-day races often over cobbled roads, undulating terrain, and hellish spring weather—can cover 150-180 miles, and the grand tours (Tour de France, Giro d’Italia) last three weeks, averaging 100 miles a day and including the highest mountains of Europe. In fact, professional cycling seeks conditions (cobbles, mountains) that insure natural selection will separate cyclists despite the efforts of teams to work collaboratively.

The most recent, and possibly the most publicized, example of doping in professional cycling is personified by Lance Armstrong; two aspects of the Armstrong doping scandal are underemphasized, I think.

First, Armstrong and dozens of the best cyclists of his era (1990s and through the first decade of the 2000s) all have confessed to organized doping, noting that the decision to use PEDs was strongly influenced by a culture of competition that essentially required doping.

Cyclists who chose to ride clean tended to ride in obscurity, or eventually simply quit the sport.

Next, the revelation of doping by Armstrong and most elite cyclists of his era has resulted in demonizing and punishing individual cyclists—with Armstrong the most vilified.

Hundreds of race organizers, corporations, cycling team owners and leaders, and media outlets raked in millions and millions of dollars during the peak of Armstrong’s career because of the amazing and record-breaking (and PED-fueled) exploits of Armstrong—but essentially none of them have been asked to return that money, none held culpable for the culture within which those cyclists felt compelled to dope.

Especially in the U.S., the accusatory gaze focuses on failed individuals but refuses to consider the cultural or social norms that shape individual behavior.

It takes little imagination, then, to see how the culture of doping in professional cycling informs the rise of test cheating in U.S. public education under the “burden of the impossible”—the accountability mandates of education reform.

Prosecute and imprison educators who cheated, but ask not what led these people to such extremes, consider not that humans faced with the “burden of the impossible” are being completely rational to behave in ways that would not be reasonable if the rules were fair.

Serious recreational cyclists have much different reasons for cycling than professional cyclists, and for the most part, we create and maintain a culture of collaboration and cooperation so that everyone can excel, everyone can enjoy the beauty that is cycling.

Spaces dedicated to formal education are best served by that spirit of collaboration and cooperation, but are corrupted by a culture of competition.

While professional cycling (and all huge-money professional sport) may be beyond repair, education could be otherwise.

In order to end the rise of cheating in education (among educators or students), in order to close the so-called achievement gap, in order to end the inequity of opportunity and outcomes that characterize our public schools—end competition in education in all forms and begin a new era of collaboration and cooperation.

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.