My favorite Strava feature thus far is the ‘privacy zone’ option—being able to control who sees (or doesn’t see) my start and finish points. It’s been the biggest seller for my personal style of riding ever since my neighbor’s door was kicked in—twice—during the summer of 2015 in Salt Lake City.
Despite being a mountain biker, I tend to start a sizable portion of my adventures from home, particularly in the age of COVID-19.
In a correlate of COVID-19 and riding closer to home there is also the inverse: getting way, way, way out there. Getting way away. How far away? Remote enough that electricity, toilets and a shower are an unlikely scenario, civilization or cell reception are laughable terms and established ride routes are even fewer and farther between than the next proper potty. The lure of the untamed and untested road, trail or two-track that may not even exist outside of an ancient map is what gets some folks’ juices flowing. It’s exciting. The whole adventure is venturing into the unknown on potentially questionable equipment* at a point in human history where nearly everything is mapped, photographed, uploaded and easily accessible. Will we discover an amazing new way to circumnavigate that ridge? How do we get from here to there, slower but not on foot, so a little faster, to me that means by bicycle.
These questions and the hundreds that follow have created an entire sub-community of bike riders who, much like in the climbing world, are devoted to discovering and exchanging plans, personal pitfalls or location recommendations about a route, sometimes referred to as “beta.”
The folks at r/bikepacking have compiled routes from their 43,000-plus members, for example, and r/GravelCycling isn’t in the same subreddit; r/biketouring is a similar discipline, but also wholly separate from the others. Getting out there has connected with “we’re here” in ways that only the Internet could facilitate, which is only a good thing eerily akin to the strata of the financial portfolio, beta information and risk indicators that can make or break a ride investment by elevating a weekend trip or potentially endangering (even injuring) everyone involved.
The rapidly-growing adventure-biking scene also has few structural confines; social norms are regularly discarded for a chance at the opportunity to chase a new ride and good friendships can be near-instantaneous in conception:
“You like exploring on bikes?
“I like exploring on bikes!”
People form bonds, extend trust and exchange beta.
Bikepacking, gravel riding and adventure crews are outgoing and friendly, but can also skew exclusive based on the levels of trust and confidence in these disciplines, which can often lead to seemingly gatekeeping behaviors when riders get tight-lipped about details.
These route inquiries, however, aren’t always as they seem, especially for people who exist in spaces not built for womxn, people of color, trans, non-binary, gender non-conforming, differently-abled and so forth—it’s the unspoken understanding that dictates exactly how far “out there” many people in cycling can safely go without contact to friends or family.
A conversation online recently brought my attention to the keen peripheral vigilance required to exist in most spaces; someone sent me a message asking my opinion about giving out information that might compromise my personal safety or well-being, and whether or not I agreed with the label of “gatekeeping” that had been assigned to this person’s refusal to provide specific beta on a short ride they do on a regular basis.
“Well,” I said, “who’s asking?”
Therein lies the rub: if it’s someone I know and trust, telling them specifics like, “There’s zero traffic and no cell reception between __________ and ___________,” isn’t going to be an issue. But a random bike shop customer? A stranger at a trailhead? The nice person at a bar frequented by adventurous outdoors-people? I am most definitely not going to give anything even remotely resembling details that would possibly enable them to find me while I’m out on a solo mission. I’m not going to say where I live, when I ride a certain spot or whether I ride alone. Those types of details simply aren’t pertinent to ask for nor give out, and this world doesn’t treat everyone equally, unfortunately. More bike people having a small bit of self-awareness accompanied by some common sense and understanding of appropriateness would go a very long way.
So what’s the actual etiquette? Well, as this column is titled “Miss Manners,” I suppose if someone has the audacity to tell me that I’m an asshole or gate-keeping for setting boundaries and not sharing individual particulars that may compromise my safety, that seems to be a damn good reason to steer entirely clear of that person or place.
People who unilaterally love bikes and are enthusiastic about sharing rides will respect those personal boundaries. Creepos who just wanna creep or make someone feel unwelcome or watched…well, they won’t.
* It’s 2020 and we should be honest—there’s no such thing as questionable bikes unless you’re taking the famous Bike magazine “Shitbike” for a spin in the far reaches, and even then, you’ll probably still find some hipsters who’ve started up a boutique Airstream glamping bikepacking camp just around the next corner or state line.
A new Miss Manners will be posted every second Monday of the month starting in November. Don’t miss it!