Bike shops, drum shops, and the drawbacks of cycling's many unwritten rules

Rush drummer Neil Peart talks about why he wears a "special bicycle racing helmet" while playing drums.

There was a time in my life when I would spend entire afternoons at a drum shop where several of my friends worked. I was going to school then, while working a job where my hours often went from second into third shift. Going to the drum shop was a pleasant relief from my responsibilities, so I started to go more often and for longer spans of time. While I had originally started going simply to buy drumsticks, I soon found myself spending hours at the shop. I would play ridiculously-sized drumsets for hours, while laughing and joking around with friends. We talked about the drum industry, we gossiped about local musicians, and had endless debates about musical minutia. It was exactly what I needed to get my mind off of school and work, which is why my visits grew to be so long. At one point, I even found myself helping a customer after having just aided employees in unloading a shipment of cymbals. So I was working for free. It was a foolish but entertaining thing to do.

While spending numerous hours at the drum shop, I came to see patterns in clientele. Patterns that I now recognize in bike owners, and other will certainly recognize within the world of skiing, golf, tennis and pretty much any other endeavor that people engage in. There were the guys with more money than ability or skill. They owned drumsets that would require several eighteen wheelers to transport, while being unable to even keep time. There were those who only wanted to play vintage drums and cymbals, while obsessing about making sure that every last screw in their cymbal stands was period-correct. At the opposite end of the spectrum, there were those who only played the most technologically advanced equipment regardless of its price. Some talked about the soul and feel of vintage drums, while others cared about the sonic precision of new materials. These personas kept reappearing, albeit in different guises. In retrospect, it's almost scary how closely these personality types match up with those at bike shops.

Speaking of similarities: is it just me, or does drumming legend Kenny Aronoff look a whole lot like Richard Sachs?

But as I think about all those characters (the funny ones, the sad ones, and the angry ones) I always think back to one person in particular. One who didn't really fit into any of those character types. He came into the drumshop unassumingly. Asked a few questions about cymbals, and then requested a pair of drumsticks so he could play on one of the kits. It was customary to ask a few questions of the person who wanted sticks, to get a feel for their ability. This was done in order to filter out those who couldn't play, which may sound rude and elitist, but the prospect of hearing someone who's never played drums bang on a drumset for two hours is understandably something drum shop employees like to avoid.

After a brief interrogation, the young man was handed a pair of sticks, although the employees were split on whether or not that was a good idea. As he sat down behind a drumkit that cost as much as a new car, a few of the employees cringed. But then the young man started to play. His playing was not just good, or great, or amazing. At the risk of sounding cheesy, it was sublime. None of us had ever heard anyone play like him. Not at the shop, not anywhere. Local session musicians, jazz luminaries, rock gods...none of them compared. This kid, who was still a teenager, blew them all away. His ability was uncanny, and our mouths dropped. He had it. Whatever "it" was.

Once he was done, we all went up to him to ask questions, and he answered politely and quietly. He had been playing for two years, and seldom practiced due to a grueling work schedule. When asked what brand of drum kit he played, the young man replied promptly.

"It doesn't have a brand. The ChuckECheese near my house was closing, and my mom bought the small drumkit that the animatronic mouse used to play every hour on the hour."

In short, he had been playing for a shorter amount of time than any of us, he played less often, and his drum kit was worth less than one of our cymbals. But he was better than all of us combined. It came naturally to him, and we couldn't hate him for that. So we looked on in awe as he went back to playing. He had something no one could buy, and he had it in amazing quantities: natural talent.

Nowadays, I only go to drum shops to buy drumsticks when I run out, much as I did before I started spending hours upon hours at the shop where my friends worked. My time inside the shop is now measured in seconds, rather than pages in a calendar. But whenever I go to a drum shop, I still think about that kid and his CheckECheese drumset. I think about him, and I wonder how many similarly talented young men and women have come into bike shops, or tried group rides for the first time...only to be mocked for their bikes, the angle of their stems, the type of pedals they use, or perhaps for the the length or color of their socks. And I wonder how many of them never returned as a result.