Proselytizing, fitting in, and giving out half-shorts to neighbors


.My neighbor Tim, proudly riding his elite hooker...I mean, Hooker Elite

Ramón was an unlikely candidate. He was the pudgy Nicaraguan kid who sat in front of me in math class. I had noticed from from the first day of school, largely due to the fact that he had a massive head, which was roughly the size of a Kenmoore side-by-side refrigerator. He was hard to miss. Ramón was uncoordinated, awkward, and dressed like an elderly farmhand, despite the fact that we were both in the 8th grade. We got along well though, and always talked before and after class. He struck me as brash at times, loud and unapologetic. In spite of all these things, I subconsciously picked him as someone that I could change. At the time, I was very much into skateboarding, punk rock and metal music. The middle school that I attended in Miami had very few kids with such tastes, so I guess I decided to create one more person with those tastes. I picked Ramón. This may sound like a terribly misguided and dreadful thing to a discarded plotline for a sequel to the movie Clueless. But ask anyone you know who was ever involved in any kind of teen subculture, and they'll tell you that they did this very thing at one point. Perhaps it was not as planned out as my scenario. Still, I think that at some point, everyone who sat at the lunch table with the weirdos (or who ate in a bathroom stall, as I did), probably made a mix tape and gave it to someone in hopes of getting them to join whatever music they were into. I was no different.

For the record, It's not as though I thought so highly of myself, that I was reaching out to Ramón as an act of charity. I was not the alpha male, picking the loser and recruiting him into my social circle. Quite the contrary. I was in such a lowly social strata that I needed company...and Ramón fit the bill. I let him borrow numerous cassettes of my favorite bands, showed him issues of Thrasher magazine (although I was terrible at skating myself), and I spoke endlessly about the fun times I had with my friends skating after school. He took the bait. He took it a little too well, actually. Within a month or two, he was a much better at skating than I had ever been. He started to spend more and more time with my friends, and quickly moved on to far cooler kids from another school. By the end of the school year, he was easily one of the best skaters in southwest Miami. Secretly, I was just a tiny bit envious of his abilities and his popularity. But who could I tell? No one. It's not like I had created him in a lab or anything like that. Still, in the back of my mind I remembered the the pudgy Nicaraguan kid who sat in front of me in math class, the one with the gigantic head. I kept thinking of him that way because it made things easier.

Although I'd like to think that I've grown and become a bit cooler since the 8th grade, the amount of taunting that I get during group rides (because of my jersey, my festive hats, or my walkman) would say otherwise

This memory, the shameful and awkward one of how young teenagers interact, came back to me recently during my commute to work. Since then, it's something that I've mentioned to other people who were also part of such subcultures during their youth. Everyone I spoke to about this had similar memories. Memories of the kid from down the street, the one who they tried so hard to reach out to by getting them involved in whatever they were into at the time. Similarly many also remember how a friend from school, or a cousin did this for/to them. It was never malicious, it was merely a friend trying to have another person in the world to relate to. Still, as an adult, I can't help but cringe by the whole notion. What an odd time in our lives, a time when we are all so malleable that we can try and often succeed in reaching out to one another in an effort to change each others ideas and tastes. As adults, we can share the things we enjoy with others, but our aim is not to proselytize.

But what if it were?

It's a ridiculous idea, but I suppose there are still adults who do this sort of thing. They are very much in love with a certain hobby or pastime. They want companionship, or they think their hobby or lifestyle will improve someone else's life. With this in mind, I must think that surely there are cycling proselytizers out there, the ones who creepily go beyond sharing, beyond showing videos of races, and finally go out and buy their unwilling neighbors a pair of bib shorts...all in order to have one more person to ride with. This is not about simply sharing and encouraging the act of riding a bike, but rather getting people involved in all the other stuff that can come with riding a bike. Has anyone reading this done such a thing? If so, was every aspect of the full cycling experience (riding and being a fan of the sport) divulged to that individual from the get go? I'm referring to the fact that cycling (in its many iterations) is a place where several potentially obsessive behaviors and passions intersect. Fitness, weight, diet, and a competitive spirit magically (or tragically) come together with other interests. It's a place where many of humanity's worst qualities (particularly those in men) get together and take over people. Fun is usually the first thing to go, quickly replaced by being judgmental, competitive and petty. When it comes to the equipment used, some people enjoy fulfilling the desire (or need) to show off wealth (training in Zipp tubulars, owning a sizable stable of bikes with each frame costing more than a gently used Toyota), while others do the opposite and take even greater pride in their relative austerity, while ideally being faster than the guy with the Zipp tubulars. With their relative austerity comes the ability to brag about the how old their jersey is, how their socks are from the Dollar Store, or how their frame alone weighs more than a gently used Toyota. All along, they are happy about the fact that they are faster than the guy in the Zipp tubulars, the guy who (in their words), doesn't deserve the wheels he has. Along these lines, some may even say that I don't deserve the right to have all these opinions, for any number of reasons. In cycling, you have to qualify to do or say anything and everything.

It's a fine line in the world of cycling. A delicate tightrope that many try to walk. You should have the right stuff, but make sure that your stuff matches your ability and speed. In other words, the stuff should be good, but not too good. And remember that the level of your ability is gauged on a sliding scale, and is dependent on who's around you. Even then, remember that you get extra points for riding something below your abilities. See how simple that all is? I hope you explained this to your neighbor when you bought him/her a pair of shorts in your effort to proselytize. I hope you bought your neighbor bib shorts though, because wearing half shorts is foolish and ugly. Unless you're extremely fast and socially inept, in which case you're the locally-respected weirdo and are thus allowed to do as you wish when it comes to shorts or absolutely anything else.

You could also just forget all this nonsense, which robs you of the fun you might have on the bike. But who wants to do that?

Not really the local weirdo, but wearing awesome shorts. Not fast or strong on the bike, but a little weird.

But there's more that you should mention when giving out shorts to neighbors. Cyclists will eventually take a liking to of tinkering with, or attempting to work on their own bikes. So mechanical knowledge is a plus. But there's so much more. The numerous things that cycling fans not only put up with, but enjoy, is letting people in on this sort of thing is crucial.

- A cycling fan must be willing and eager to watch awful internet feeds of races in every language (Esperanto included) at crazy times of the day.

- You must be comfortable with terms in several languages other than your own, and you must be comfortable with the fact that you will now pronounce the word "Paris" differently, if and when that word is paired with another foreign word... "Roubaix". Aside from that combination, you will continue to pronounce that city's name as you always did.

- Additionally, fans of the sport should also pretend to have a very good understanding of the following things during conversations with one another: physiology, nutrition, overseas manufacturing, aerodynamics, engineering, fluid dynamics simulation, as well as hematology, pharmaceutical research, and international law.

All these abilities are not mandatory, but surely helpful in following the sport. The lame guy with half shorts doesn't know about hematology. But you do. With all this in mind, I think that getting your next door neighbor a pair of shorts to get him into cycling is a bit like giving someone smallpox-infested blankets. They don't need either. Let them live happily, as I should have done with Ramón all those years ago.

Other stuff:

When visiting art museums of any kind, my wife and I often do something rather crass and lowbrow. No, we don't purposefully vomit on paintings. We do something worse, we wonder what the paintings cost. We give estimates, and then mock the price. When walking into a gallery, we each pick the one piece we'd like to have in our house. We do this out loud, and we often criticize the other persons choice, and comment on how it would clash with our couch. Gallery attendants love this type of thing, I'm sure. We should be enjoying the art, not thinking about how the museum overpaid for it, and we shouldn't be thinking about how the painting would go with our couch. We are inserting commercialism into the realm of beautiful art, which is wrong (because we all know that there's no commercialism in art, right?).

But am I so far gone, and do I worship so readily at the alter of retail, that I'm having trouble understanding a gallery that merely shows bikes? Not necessarily old bikes, not necessarily hand-made bikes...just different kinds of bikes. And they're not for sale. While I certainly admire bikes of all kinds, and some are certainly worth looking at, the notion of a gallery that doesn't sell...but merely shows bikes is baffling to me. I think my priorities are all wrong, and perhaps I also don't understand it because I don't live in Portland (the world's new punching bag). Be that as it may, I think my wife and I will make a trip out to this gallery sometime. We will walk in...guess how much each bike is worth, and then pick one according to how it will look next to our couch.

Duarte in was second to Basso at the GP Di Lugano

Lastly, back to the subject of professional cycling, I'm delighted to see that Colombian neo-pro, and 2008 U23 World Champion Fabio Duarte was fifth overall at the Vuelta de Murcia. Even if the team he rides for has a farting shoe on its jersey. Suerte Fabio!