This little essay captures what may have been my attempt to sound like a magazine writer. Looking back, what I find most striking in this essay is that its conclusion is completely untrue. I highly doubt I believed it even then.
Old-school - January 13, 1989
He’s in my French class. One of the traditional, seventies‑style cyclists. Incredibly long hair, capped by the black Campagnolo cap, bill turned up, worn high on the head, towards the back. Red jersey, blank save for some racy stripes‑‑ wool. He also sports the first‑generation lycra cycling shorts. They’re dull, lackluster, somewhat threadbare, and openly display the bulge of his reproductive equipment. His bare feet are shockingly white beneath his barely tan, shaven legs; his black Detto Pierto cleats, which had hung over his shoulders by their laces on the trip up to the classroom, are now on display on the floor where books normally go. Of course, he waited until he got to class to remove the old knit cycling gloves. During class he will frequently nurse off of his La Vie Claire water bottle, to wash down the banana and bran muffin. He brought the bike into class with him ‑‑ a daring feat since we’re on the second floor, and the stairs are a zoo between classes.
The guy’s got guts. The last fella I saw who showed that kind of effrontery was my brother Max, back when those wretched cleats with the toes curling (actually, curdling) up in front, and that red wool jersey that came down to his knees ‑‑ they didn’t make jerseys for kids back then ‑‑ made up his entire wardrobe. I used to sport a cap of the Campagnolo or Cinelli persuasion, bill up, myself, but that was the extent of my indoor cycling regalia ‑‑ just enough to get some recognition without risking the brutal gibe of my peers.
The bike is as old as his uniform. No stickers ‑‑ an obvious sign of weak heritage. I suppose I could ask him about the make, but I can guess his response: “She was built by an Italian framebuilder. I can’t tell you more than that, except to say that she’s very fast.” In other words, a Univega. Perhaps the affordable Viva Sport, as Max had. (He, too, expounded on its rich Italian origin with little provocation.) All the same, only a heartless fink would leave his mighty steed outside, to brave the fierce elements or the jeopardy of theft. I dare anybody to challenge this hardcore cyclophile about bringing the bike to class.
I almost feel irresponsible in this era of sleek, trendy apparel which has no respect for tradition. My shoes fasten with velcro, of all things, and are made in Korea, not Italy. There’s not a fiber of wool left in my cycling wardrobe, and my shorts and jerseys alike are billboards for sponsorship, forsaking the simplicity of blank jerseys that said no more than “I am a cyclist.” No longer is the bike a constant companion; in today’s cycling world, it’s a mere fitness tool, with no more personality than a Nautilus machine. Most importantly, even the best riders of today refuse to tie up their identity in the sport. They not only look like everybody else, but they are everybody else. They just happen to ride a bike, that’s all.
I have an urge to turn to this old world cyclist and say, “Power, brother!” But I would be out of place. I’m not one of him, and never again could be. I belong to the new generation of racers, who attend clinics and belong to clubs. It’s become trendy to be a noveau‑cyclist, to ride a quick, sporty bike with a “cream teal” paint job, and to wear sleek, fashionable pastel clothing and a lavendar helmet with a name like “Brava.” We attempt to keep training diaries, recording pulse rate, diet, and our performance during today’s “training session.” We throw around terms like “paceline”, “repetitions”, and “technique” and combine our riding with circuit training to maximize our “fitness potential.” Gone are the days of aimless, carefree riding for riding’s sake. The technology has raged out of control, too; many new‑ generation riders never knew life before step‑in pedals or shifters that clicked, or brakes with a “light, snappy” feel.
Most of all, the perpetrators of this stylish new breed of cycling aren’t rebels. Their conduct is met with complete acceptance, even admiration, from the layman. They need not explain their shaven legs. They have never known the scorn and mockery that cyclists received, and even accepted. To them, cycling is just another way to fill in the time.
Only the guy in my French class deserves to call himself a cyclist. The rest of us gave up that right when we left our cleats at home and started dressing like everybody else.
dana albert blog