Regular readers might be shocked to find out that I am very regularly asked for my advice, vis a vis, cycling products. To say that my opinions don’t necessarily reflect those of TCI, or even reasonably human persons, is probably fair. And yet, the non-cycling people in my life have this idea that I know what I’m talking about. These are the same folks who refer to cyclists as “bikers,” a group, in my mind, who wears leather vests and maybe, thrillingly, belongs to a gang (that may or may not distribute methamphetamine), rather than a gaggle of leotard clad try-hards.
I represent the latter, not the former, disappointingly.
Requests for input take forms such as: “I want to get my boyfriend some biker shorts,” or “What’s a good jersey?” or “I need one of those things that lets you ride your bike inside.” Almost all such queries are accompanied by a disclaimer like this: “I don’t know the best thing. I’m not a serious cyclist like you.”
Yes. So serious. So very, very serious.
And so I become engaged in internet searches (Did I mention that none of these people wants to go to a bike shop, although it’s always the first thing I recommend they do (which should serve as foreshadowing really for the most common outcome from all this careful consideration of my expert advice)), for the best, adequate, cheap stuff that might possibly fit their particular bill. I am dedicated to helping them find the best stuff in their price range, whatever that is.
I know that cycling can be an expensive and thereby exclusionary sport, and I am firmly of the view that the very best equipment is an unnecessary luxury. Those of us who are out on two wheels every day might be able to justify what we spend, but not everyone who wants to ride, desires or is able to plonk down a pile of their hard-earned, just for the privilege. If you need to buy $18 jerseys factory-direct from Myanmar, brokered by Jeff Bezos and delivered to your door by unmarked van, then that’s what you need to do. I support you.
But it sorta removes the point of asking for my “expert” advice. I have not road-tested any of these things, because, as we established at the beginning, I am a very, extremely serious cyclist.
My friend Shawn once asked me what bike he should get for commuting to work in London. If you’ve ever ridden in that very fine city, you will know that it’s insane. Traffic is rampant and vitriolic. The roads follow no discernible pattern, and they’re narrow. I told him that, as a guy who hadn’t been on a bike in more than a decade, he’d be best off on a light hybrid. Having an upright position would improve his vision, and since his ride was only going to be a few miles, and theft was a distinct likelihood, an economical investment in a bike like that would serve him best.
He said, “What about a dual-suspension mountain bike?” In his mind, this commute would lead to adventures outside the city, perhaps with his young son.
I said, “Well, you’re not a regular rider, and you’ve never owned a mountain bike. I’d suggest you get the commuter schtick down, convince yourself you’re actually going to ride, and then think about mountain biking later.”
He bought the mountain bike. He rode to work on it a handful of times, and then it got stolen.
This encapsulates my experience with giving people cycling advice. What they really want is for me to validate what they already think. They want me to tell them that the cheap thing is the best thing, or to confirm that their crazy-ass notions of themselves as future outdoorspeople are 100% accurate.
“Why ask,” I always think, “if you’re not going to follow my advice?” I continue to try to help, but my attitude about it is somewhat fatalistic at this point.
With the holidays nigh, I suspect this is a topic many of you are embroiled in. This week’s TCIF asks, what percentage of the time would you guess the people who ask you for bike advice actually take it? Do you think I’m just bad at recommending things? Or does your experience mirror mine?