Friday, May 23, 2014

37 Velominati Rules You Can Ignore


This is my second of two posts on The Rules, a set of cycling-related standards put forth by  I bother to write about The Rules in part because I feel that bicycle road racing has a recruitment problem.  In the mid-‘80s when I was a junior in Colorado, turnout was great—routinely we’d get like sixty kids in a race.  Now, in many cases, there are scarcely enough juniors to have a race, even at major events like the Nevada City Bicycle Classic.  Also, the three teams I rode for during my college years had trouble recruiting women even back then.  So when popular websites like Velominati’s suggest that the roadie realm is a bunch of (adult, male) elitists, I feel like somebody ought to step up and assure the newcomer that a lot of us are actually pretty laid back.

Several Velominati fans have commented, below my first post on this topic, that I’m missing the point and that I have no sense of humor.  Well, I doubt that the point of Velominati’s site is that these Rules are entirely facetious and the entire thing is a great big spoof.  If that were the case, a seasoned cyclist like me would disagree with all of The Rules, not just 37 of them.  Moreover, if humor were the only goal of The Rules, we wouldn’t have such straightforward, clearly non-tongue-in-cheek items as Rule #18, “No baggy shorts and jerseys while riding the road bike.”

I suspect that the point of The Rules is twofold:  to inform and to entertain.  It’s evidently meant to be fun to read, while imparting a body of knowledge about the culture of road cycling.  The fact that I don’t find much of it funny doesn’t mean I have no sense of humor.  After all, I laughed out loud at the Ronnie Johns “Harden the Fuck Up” video that Rule #5 links to.  I also chuckled at Rule #34, “Mountain bike shoes and pedals have their place:  on a mountain bike.”  Beyond, I can even enjoy a comic declaration I totally disagree with, provided it’s sufficiently funny, as in the case of George Carlan’s diatribe against guys named Todd.

The Rules list strongly resembles a similar list from many years ago, “The Official Euro Cyclist Code of Conduct,” by Dom Guiver and Mike Flavell, except that those guys seemed to be making fun of themselves, and their directives were, in many cases, obviously facetious (e.g.,  “[long] hair shall be neatly slicked back in maximum euro-styling, and helmet SHALL NOT be worn” and “a gold pendant on a very long, thin chain bearing some sort of religious icon is STRONGLY recommended for mountain races”).  In contrast, the overall effect of the Velominati rules is that of actual advice from unapologetically elitist self-declared authorities.

When I asserted this in my previous post, a few Velominati fans told me to lighten up.  Their suggestion seems to be that because The Rules are all in good fun, nobody should object to anything.  The problem is, it’s really hard to tell when a rule is meant as a joke vs. an actual directive.  If something is not obviously funny, it’s not obviously a joke, and we are entitled to think it’s meant seriously.  (It’s a bit like one of my kids insulting the other, and then, when I chastise her for it, saying, “C’mon, I was just joking.”)

This post (like my other one) is for cyclists who have read The Rules and don’t like them, and/or are feeling intimidated by a sport that, as Velominati portrays it, holds its participants to exacting standards.  This post is for cyclists who disagree with some of The Rules and might like being let off the hook.  And finally, it’s for my friend Mark, who originally sent around the link with the comment, “We need to annotate this list … Dana?”

37 Velominati Rules you can ignore

Here is the list of Velominati rules I knowingly break—not due to a rebellious streak, but because I simply think they’re wrong.  Please don’t construe my list as an endorsement of the idea that cyclists need to meet a uniform standard … as far as I’m concerned, other cyclists can do as they please (outside of obvious misbehavior like running over pedestrians as they pursue downhill Strava  records).

Rule #1, Obey the Rules.  This is needless; the idea of obedience is built-in to the notion of rule.  I think it would be an improvement to change this one to, “Take the following Rules with a grain of salt.”

Rule #3, Guide the uninitiated.  Per my previous post, other riders’ behavior is their own business and I don’t want the job of telling strangers they’re doing it all wrong.

Rule #5, Harden The Fuck Up.  This was funny in Ronnie Johns’ video.  It’s less funny when aimed at a reader whom the Velominati folks have never met, and who a) may already be plenty hard, or b) may not care to make the sport a personal pissing contest.  I went further into this in my previous post.

Rule #6, Free your mind and your legs will follow.  This is just blather.  Any good cyclist knows that this sport requires brains.  And “Do all your thinking before you start riding”?  The idea of Velominati acolytes thoughtlessly drifting along, lost in reverie (“wrapped in the sensations of the ride”), is somewhat  frightening.  Yes, much of cycling becomes instinctive and automatic, but decisions still need to be made.

Rule #7, Tan lines should be cultivated and kept razor sharp.  In my book, any behavior associated with suntans—with the notable exception of protecting your skin—is narcissistic.  And yes, narcissism is a bad thing.

Rule #9, Riding in bad weather means you’re a badass, period.  Not everybody who rides in bad weather is a badass (some do it just to show off), and conversely, not all badass cyclists are eager or even willing to ride in bad weather.

Rule #11, Family does not come first, the bike does.  I suspect this is facetious, but it’s not very funny, and certainly isn’t right.  If an amateur cyclist, such as one in the Masters, wishes to bail on his family every weekend to go race, that’s his or her business, but to mandate it is ridiculous.

Rule #12, The correct number of bikes to own is n+1.  No, that’s not always the case.  For me, five is plenty since I don’t ride track or cyclocross.  Also, what about people who can only afford one or two bikes?  Are they not allowed into this sport?

Rule #13, If you draw race number 13, turn it upside down.  As Daniel Coyle describes in his excellent book Lance Armstrong’s War, superstitions can vary from rider to rider.  I have no problem with the number 13 and would want to wear it right-side-up, to make sure the officials can read it (as opposed to giving me a DNF).  Declaring that something should be done a certain way, just because some cool athlete does it, is getting into slippery territory.  Should the Velominati guys, in accordance with Rules #2 and #3, go tell Rohan Dennis—winner of the Mount Diablo stage of the Tour of California—that he pinned his numbers on wrong?

Rule #14, Shorts should be black.  This is silly because the majority of pro teams have non-black shorts today.  Meanwhile, my club’s jerseys are orange, which I love, but which wouldn’t look good with black shorts (i.e., would be too much like Halloween).  We wear navy blue shorts.

Rule #17, Team kit is for members of the team.  In general, I don’t try to impersonate someone on another team.  But I received a sweet long-sleeve Rabobank jersey for Christmas years ago and reserve the right to wear it, with my non-Rabobank shorts. 

Rule #18, Know what to wear, don’t suffer kit confusion – No baggy shorts and jerseys while riding the road bike, no lycra when riding the  mountain bike.  Pure malarkey.  I’m not going to put on my cycling clothes just to return a video.  And mountain bikers have been wearing Lycra for at least a couple decades.

Rule #19, Introduce yourself … it is customary and courteous to announce your presence.  I have never required this of any random Joe joining our club ride, and have never been so formal in joining a random rider or group on the road.  I’ve also never witnessed such formalities, in over thirty years of club rides.  Sure, I’ve had a paceline disrupted by an unskilled interloper, but the best way to deal with that is just to ramp up the pace until he falls off.  And if he doesn’t?  Well, good on him!

Rule #23, Tuck only after reaching Escape Velocity.  Since I reserve the right to recover during descents (see my comment on Rule #93), I’ll tuck when I please.  And by the way, the photo of the “LeMond tuck”?  That’s not even a tuck.  Look at Taylor Phinney soloing in that Tour of California stage … that’s a tuck.  There are plenty of great photos of LeMond tucking; why didn’t the Velominati guys find one?

Rule #24, Speeds and distances shall be referred to and measured in kilometers.  Look, the Americans I ride with mostly use miles, and so do I.  That doesn’t make us “Neanderthalic,” as the Velominati suggest.  (Meanwhile, “Neanderthalic” isn’t even a word.)

Rule #25, The bikes on top of your car should be worth more than the car.  This is only true for juniors in really crappy cars.  And the Velomati guys’ “relatively more expensive” caveat is slippery:  where do you draw the line?  How many bikes are we talking about?  Is a $40,000 car okay with a $3,000 bike?  Their “put your Huffy on a Rolls” example is neither funny nor helpful.  I could agree with a more definitive guideline:  “If you drive a 2010 Nissan Elantra with upgraded rims, but your bike is a 1995 Novara Trionfo, perhaps you should reassess your priorities.”

Rule #30, No frame-mounted pumps.  This is just plain stupid.  I don’t like seeing pumps poking out of pockets because I’m afraid they’ll fall out, and I don’t use CO2 canisters because they’re not eco-friendly.  Prohibiting Zéfal pumps and insisting on Silca is like requiring VHS over Betamax.  And the Velominati-sanctioned method of mounting a pump in the rear frame triangle is wrong.  You don’t prop it on the quick-release skewer, because that’s not secure enough.  You take a big file and put a notch in the pump handle that slots right over the dropout.  But of course you can’t do this on most modern frames anyway (or are we all supposed to be riding ‘80s-era steel frames too?).  One more thing:  the authors spelled “canister” wrong.

Rule #33, Shave your guns.  As a mandate, this doesn’t have much backing among the cyclists I know.  I did a blog post awhile back on leg shaving by cyclists, for which I did a survey of around 50 of my male cycling pals.  Of these, 93% either used to race or still do, and ten are (or were) Category 1 and/or professional riders.  Only 14% of these surveyed riders shave their legs year-round, and 45% never do.  (Meanwhile, 52% indicated they couldn’t care less if other cyclists shaved their own legs.)  My other issue with this rule:  calling your legs “guns” is like kissing your flexed biceps non-ironically.  Pretty sad.

Rule #39, Never ride without your eyewear.  I sometimes do a short ride at dawn.  I don’t need the UV protection, and I don’t suppose the few riders I see at that hour are scandalized from a sartorial perspective.  So who exactly is affected when I break this rule?

Rule #41, Quick-release levers are to be carefully positioned.  As I said in my previous post, I point my levers straight back because I think it looks cool.  As for how others orient theirs, I couldn’t care less and neither should you.

Rule #45, Slam your stem.  Maybe if I did yoga I could change my position to meet the maximum stack height prescribed by this rule.  A marginally cooler-looking bike isn’t worth back pain, at least for those of us who ride our bikes instead of parking them at cafés in the mistaken belief that passersby will admire them.  Meanwhile, a low-rise stem with more than 2 cm of stack height looks way cooler than a high-rise stem positioned directly on the top race of the headset, though this latter configuration would be technically permissible according to The Rules.

Rule #49, Keep the rubber side down.  Are you going to tell me a junior cyclist who can’t afford a bike stand or wheel truing stand isn’t allowed to flip his bike over to true the wheels?  Should this sport be restricted to those who can afford their own truing stands (or can afford to pay a shop to maintain their bikes for them)?

Rule #50, Facial hair is to be carefully regulated.  This rule should explicitly exclude women and juniors; because it doesn’t, I’m led to believe the Velominati folks forgot all about them.  Meanwhile, not shaving on the morning of a race doesn’t have anything to do with virility, as suggested by the Velominati writers.  As a junior I was plenty virile despite being too young to shave.  The reason you don’t shave the morning of the race, as everybody knows, is that you want to avoid the sting of sweat in razor burn (a pointless addition to the suffering you’re already doing).  As far as the prohibition of beards and moustaches, I really don’t think this has anything to do with cycling.  If I desire to grow some facial hair, even for the express purpose of looking like an idiot, that’s my business (see my previous post about the compatibility of iconoclasm with cycling).  In this photo I’m also visibly breaking Rule #14, Rule #33, Rule #45, and Rule #74.

Rule #56, Espresso or macchiato only.  This kind of epicurean fussiness has nothing to do with cycling, as I detailed in my previous post.  Prior to reading The Rules I’d never even heard of a macchiato.  I prefer NoDoz to coffee anyway.

Rule #58, Support your local bike shop—never buy bikes, parts, or accessories online.  Never?  Really?  I do support my local bike shop, by sending them business and by buying basic stuff there, but it’s ridiculous to expect a serious cyclist to do none of his or her shopping online.  Look, if you know exactly what you want, you know how to install and adjust it yourself and have the tools you need, and you don’t have a trust fund, you’d be crazy to buy all your stuff at a bike shop.  Excepting the ten years during which I worked in bike shops, I’ve bought major bike parts mail-order since about 1982 and I sleep well at night.

Rule #63, Point in the direction you’re turning.  What a pointless bit of advice.  If a car is well behind me, yeah, I’ll signal by extending my right arm.  But if a driver is creeping right up on me, he or she won’t see a right-arm turn signal (because my body will eclipse it).  So then I use the left arm bent-elbow signal.  Do these Velominati guys actually think about any of these directives before issuing them, or do they just write down whatever random idea pops into their heads?

Rule #68, Rides are to be measured by quality, not quantity … declaring “We rode 4km” would assert that 4000m were climbed during the ride with the distance being irrelevant.  I’ve never heard a ride described this way.  Why would the Velominati guys require a behavior that absolutely nobody, outside of their own weird little clique, actually does?

Rule #70, The purpose of competing is to win.  I think this was true in the case of Eddy Merckx, but most other racers use some races for training, and know they aren’t always in contention.  I think it’s perfectly fine—admirable, even—to enter a race that you know you can’t win.  How else are you going to improve?  Is the Velominati strategy to carefully select only the smallest of ponds?  This rule is just macho posturing.

Rule #73, Gear and brake cables should be cut to optimum length.  Well, isn’t this a pointless tautology?  Shouldn’t all things be done in the optimum way, by definition?  But actually my main issue is with the text of the rule, which includes “Right shifter cable should go to the left cable stop and vice versa” and the associated directive that cables should “cross under the downtube.”  Yeah, I’ve come across this before.  You occasionally see a complete moron setting up a bike that way.  It’s pointless.  As a bike shop mechanic I never encountered a colleague who did that.

Rule #74, V Meters or small computers only.  Not having heard of a V Meter, I took the bait and clicked the hyperlink.  A V Meter is a bike computer with a Velominati sticker obscuring the display.  This violates Rule #57, No stickers, and Rule #78, Remove unnecessary gear.  It’s also so precious I think I’m going to hurl.  Meanwhile, large computers (e.g., Garmins and power meters) are very common on pro racers’ bikes.

Rule #78, Remove unnecessary gear – When racing in a criterium of 60 minutes or less the second (unused) water bottle cage must be removed.  Once again, no actual cyclist would ever do this, not even a pro cyclist with a full-time mechanic.  On the other hand, at least this rule used the term “water bottle cage” instead of calling the bottle a “bidon” as the Velomati Rules website does in a dozen other places.  “Bidon” is shameless affectation of Euro-cool.  I believe it is a very small minority of English-speaking cyclists who ever say “bidon.”  (I thought this might be a British thing, but the British announcers, on Eurosport and also in the recent Tour of California coverage, all say “bottle,” as does the Brit on my bike club.)

Rule #85, Descend like a pro – all descents shall be undertaken at speeds commonly regarded as “ludicrous” or “insane” by those less talented.  This advice is irresponsible.  Descending at speed isn’t a talent—it’s a skill and should be developed gradually with no pressure from bloviating bloggers.  And the bit about “the inner leg canted” for balance and aesthetics?  I think they wanted the word “bent,” and anyway hanging your inside knee is the mark of a novice.  Once you know what you’re doing, you keep that knee in for better aerodynamics.  (I learned this from Dale Stetina, not some website.)

Rule #89, Pronounce it correctly.  Pronouncing “Tour de France” correctly is no problem.  But I think it’s best if my fellow Americans and I say “Tour of Flanders” instead of “Ronde van Vlaanderen.”  Why?  First, I dislike such showiness, and second, there’s nobody around to correct our mispronunciation.

Rule #90, Never get out of the big ring.  Okay, clearly this one is meant as a joke.  I guess I can’t fault the Velominati fans for getting a big laugh out of this, any more than I could fault a young child for laughing at “Garfield.”

Rule #91, No food on training rides under four hours.  I’m so glad I don’t have to ride with these guys and help them get home after their blood sugar crashes.  This advice is empirically bad, no matter what Johan Museeuw said.  (Besides, he was talking to an individual … perhaps that person had more fat to burn than a typical cyclist.)  It’s also curious that an exception is made for hard rides over two hours.  Well, if you’re not riding hard, aren’t you in violation of Rule #3?

Rule #92, No sprinting from the hoods.  Watch any mountaintop finish in a pro race and you’ve got a pretty good chance of seeing a guy sprinting while on the hoods.  The Rules authors could have so easily made an exception for uphill finishes, but they didn’t.  Why not?  Sheer laziness?  I think it’s also odd how they make a special exception for Saronni in the ’82 world championships.  How come when one rider, like Fabian Cancellara with Rule #13, does something that the Velominati guys like, that behavior becomes a rule, whereas when another rider does something forbidden by The Rules, like Saronni here or Pantani in Rule #50, he’s merely an exception?

Rule #93, Descents are not for recovery.  If you don’t need to recover on a descent, perhaps you didn’t go hard enough on the climb.  Moreover, this seems like irresponsible advice for these Velominati guys to give to readers of varying skill level.  A rider in my area died trying to set a downhill KOM on Strava.  “But we’re just joking, get a sense of humor!” the Rules fans might say.  I reiterate:  this excuse might work better if the rule were actually funny….
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  1. Good work Dana. Those rules are ultimately a joyless attempt at hipsterism. The main problem with them is that the genuinely funny parts are overwhelmed by the unfunny parts, the parts that show little more than inexperience (e.g., descending), and the clumsy efforts to create a tongue-in-cheek formula for being cool. What makes it even stranger is that other posts on that site suggest a genuine appreciation of something the rules end up making fun of, even if unintentionally. When I was a kid just starting out I gobbled everything up that had anything to do bike racing because it was so damn rare. But even back then, I knew the difference between experienced riders and “café pros.” In apparently trying to distance themselves from being café pros, i.e., poseurs, that’s what they’ve become.

  2. Once again, missing the point by at least a mile. Maybe more.