Every ride that I'm in is a charity ride


Like most of the stories that I so graciously share with my readers, this one takes places in Colombia. 1980s Colombia, to be more specific.

(Cue establishing shot, which shows me walking the streets of Bogota as a young man. I sport a fantastic mullet that is both coiffed and effortless at once. I'm seen wearing my green acid washed jeans and Iron Maiden t-shirt. Though the footage can't convey the scent of my Brut cologne, my swagger is clearly that of a young man sporting a significant amount of this highly coveted fragrance...a fragrance which I would only later realize was the equivalent of kryptonite to women.)

Tennis in Bogota
In the 1980s, tennis as a trend (or playing tennis to be more specific) spread through the Colombian countryside faster than pubic lice during a 1970's swinger party in Greece. First to succumb to tennis (or "the tennis", as experts called it) were the wealthy Colombian citizens who traveled internationally, and belonged to upscale country clubs. These pioneers were the ones who would often scoff at the thought of playing on a clay court (Wimbledon was played on grass after all), and they would go on to influence the manner in which less fortunate Colombians would take to the sport. Eventually, the rich, and the poor alike (and the few in the middle) would all end up playing tennis.

My mom was not one of the wealthy Colombians...but she too started to play during that lovely decade known as the 80s. While I don't remember if my mom was any good at tennis, I do remember that the skills she developed were helpful off the court. For example, I remember that she used a hand-shaped piece of plywood that she kept in her drawer to spank my brother and me for misbehaving. So while I don't remember her skills with a racket while on the court, I do remember that her backhand, volley and serve were all impeccable when she used those motions to swing that piece of plywood. We were usually treated to well-deserved shows of her volley and backhand, by the way, after she had begged us repeatedly not to take any of her expensive Gatorade gum (GatorGum) out of her Fred Perry tennis bag, and we had done so anyway. But I'm not here today to debate the issue of corporal punishment, or the pros and cons of the controversial 2001 switch to perennial rye grass at Wimbledon. No. I'm here to tie this tennis thing into cycling...so bare with me.

The way that GatorGum worked, was that it basically made you drool like crazy in order to quench your thirst. If that sounds like a stupid idea, it's because it is. Still, now that I see a picture of the packaging, and I'm having GatorGum flashbacks...I may go on eBay and buy a twenty something year old pack of it.

Friday morning calls
Since my mom didn't belong to a country club, she primarily relied on her wealthy friends to invite her to play. I remember her waiting by the phone on many Friday afternoons, hoping to hear back from a friend regarding playing at some point during the weekend. I also remember her disappointment when one of her friends called, but another wouldn't it. She'd hang up the phone, twist her face a bit, and say "ah, damn" (for all you bilingual readers, the actual word she used was "carajo"). After having heard this reaction from her a few times, I finally asked what the problem was. The friend who had agreed to play with her belonged to a rather fancy country club. They'd spend their day playing in a beautiful court, they'd eat a nice but overpriced meal, and hopefully chew some Gatorade gum (if my brother and I hadn't eaten it all) and wear white tennis outfits... I thought that was exactly what the sport was supposed to be all about. So what was the problem? I had to ask, and I did. "She's terrible, she really can't play very well at all", my mom said regarding her friend who had invited her to play that weekend. She then explained to me how tennis worked, at least how it worked in Colombia back then. "You never want to play with someone who is worse than you. Never. You can't learn from them, you might pick up bad habits from them, you won't be challenged, so you might as well practice your backhand against a wall during that time", she told me. It seemed harsh, but it made sense.

As soon as said told me this, I realized the bigger issue at hand. As a tennis player, you always want to play with someone better, someone who —for the same reason that you want to play with them—doesn't want to play with you. So when you play, you are either wasting your time playing with someone below you, or you're someone's charity case...and you're wasting their time. Playing tennis back then in Colombia, I soon learned through my mother, was nothing more than an endless pursuit of better players, and the annoyance of being pursued by lesser ones. You hoped and wished that you'd catch a good player during a weak moment, or in a weekend when they were out of options. More often than not, however, you ended up playing with someone worse than you, hating them for their lack of skills and abilities, and wishing that you could simply be practicing your backhand against a wall.

Sound familiar?
The more I ride my bike, the more I see the similarities between tennis (as it was explained to me by my mother) and cycling. Like in other sports, there are retro grouches, there are those who obsess on the lightness and technology of their equipment but can't play...and yes, there are also all the silly outfits and unwritten rules. More importantly, there's the emphasis on history and tradition. As a matter of fact, I can still remember my mom yelling at the TV when she first saw Andre Agassi wear something not white on the court. She felt that it was a disrespect to the sport's sacred history and tradition. She was also infinitely upset by Agassi's long hair/wig for the same reasons, but oddly enough she seldom commented on the fact that John McEnroe would throw tantrums and break rackets like he was Pete Townshend....since he did so while wearing white. In my mom's eyes, McEnroe was a lunatic, but at least he respected the history of the sport.

My mom nearly set herself on fire when she saw Agassi wearing this during a match.

These similarities aside, the one parallel that I keep going back to revolves around those Friday afternoon calls that my mom used to get from her friends. I'm referring to the whole idea of playing with someone better than you, and avoiding those who are not as good as you. In cycling, the same concept applies, I think. It's seldom expressed as clearly as my mom spelled it out for me back in Colombia on that Friday afternoon, but it holds true. You can get faster and better by riding with those who are better than you. They will push you harder than you would push yourself, and you may also ride longer and have more fun. Conversely, riding with those who are significantly slower than you can be tough since they may not even be able to make it back home, and your safety might be at risk due to their lack of experience on the bike. To some extent, this is understandable...but it led me to realize just how often I've been the charity case that someone else has to ride with. Look, I'm not delusional, I know that—in a way— I've had more charity rides happen in my honor than Multiple Sclerosis. I can be the lead sinker on the ride, though I can't say that I've ever jeopardized anyone's safety. Due to my unbelievable wit and superbly fun personality, I'm also a real joy to have around. Having said that, it's perhaps due to my lack of speed, my annoyingly good looks, or my annoying ridiculous adult braces that I'm a cycling leper of sorts. I live in isolation, having been refused entry into more group rides than I care to remember. This may also have to do with the fact that I only know about three adults who ride bikes...but you get my point. By the way, allow me to say that if you think that the group or friends you ride with are all awesome, fast and amazing in every way, and you can't figure out who the charity case in your group is....look in the mirror. It might be you, smart guy.

The Cycling Inquisition team is always willing to ride with others, and our team members will gladly share our insights into cycling's finer points, like our patented "bibs over jersey" look.

The issue of riding with those who are "above" or "below" you is further exacerbated by the fact that most cyclists are...uh...how can I put this nicely...weird, mean spirited, and kinda' creepy. I exclude myself from this, since I'm clearly beyond reproach, and I'm also the closest thing to perfection since Michael McDonald's angelic voice. Which reminds me that I received a pretty interesting bit of insight regarding the kind of person who is a cyclist from one Zach of the Ten Speed Hero Blog. The name of that blog, by the way, is taken so seriously by its contributors, that they wear actual super hero capes while riding, along with the tight Superman-like outfits that most of us wear while riding our bike. Anyway, as part of an ongoing email exchange in which we endlessly argued over which song is the finest within the sonic masterpiece known as the soundtrack to the movie the Bodyguard, this Zach gentleman—out of nowhere—stated the following:

If there's one thing that I've figured out from a good number of years racing, is that lots of cyclists are just weird -- good-weird and bad-weird. The sport attracts an analytical sort that relishes not only the intrinsic mechanical-based aspect of the sport, but also loves how shitty it sometimes feels to ride a bike. I'm talking about climbing, riding into the wind, riding in the snow, riding in the heat, riding in traffic, getting chased by dogs, etc. Few other sports I can think of place such a premium on being miserable. I think that does something to a person.

I'd have to say that I agree, and when combined with the whole notion of riding with those who are better than you (however passively its expressed)...you basically have a volatile mix that is less than fun to be involved in. Still, just as there are charities out there for every kind of ailment in the world, there are also charitable riders who are willing to put up all kinds of nonsense from us lesser beings, and thank god for them. As such, I say we all raise our glasses in order to toast these fine folks. By the way, if you're reading this at work, and all you have nearby to raise is your mouse, or an expense report, or the Linkin Park CD that Craig from accounting insisted that you'd love ...you're free to use any of those items for the toast. It's because of people like this that (who are willing to put up with charity cases) that most people can ride with others, so let's thank them. I would also add that we must all become a bit more like them. Ride with everyone and anyone. Ride with your friend from work, the one whose Wal-Mart mountain bike weighs more than Jaba The Hut after a trip to Sizzler. Ride with your significant other, your niece and nephew, your sister and your mom. I know it will get in the way of your training schedule, and that it will barely count as a "real ride" in your book. I know that you may not learn bike handling skills from them...but you may actually learn (or at least remember) how to have fun on a bike. You may also learn how to not be a miserable prick while riding a bike. Those aren't bad lessons to brush up on.

Extra credit (for those who actually made it this far down into the post)

The quote above led me to believe that Team Sky believes Rigoberto Uran is from Spain. He's not, he's from Colombia. Then I thought about it, and realized that perhaps I'm being oversensitive, and that the wording is not totally clear. But then reader Rich brought it up to me via email, and he also mentioned that the blog Inner Ring noticed the same thing. So maybe I'm not overly sensitive when it comes to Colombian riders.

Have any of you seen the website or the ads for this product? It's called the "Stemie", and it's meant to prevent you from hurting yourself when you hit your man-junk on the stem of your bike. Is this thing really necessary? Have any of you hit your prized possessions on your stem lately? Has it happened often enough to warrant this product even existing? Does Lance Armstrong get a 50% discount when buying one? Do I not get why this is needed simply because I ride my bike instead of assaulting it sexually by humping it, like so many young people do these days?