It’s a complicated time to be alive. And while I have real feelings about the separation of church and state (i.e., they should be), I’ll leave those aside, because this is a cycling site, not where people come for my hot takes on constitutional law.
For the purposes of our discussion today, we will call the act and discussion of bike riding, church, and the act of working on and curating bikes, state. They are two different things, and I am going to make the case that often it helps to keep them separate. This all came from a conversation I had with my good friend Meghna, while riding mountain bikes.
Meghna said to me, “Do you have the same tires as I do?” I looked at hers and then looked at mine. “I don’t know,” I said. “I guess. Maybe. Honestly, I don’t know what tires are on this bike.” We had just had a minor discussion about tire pressure that ended with me advocating for the squeeze test, a sacrilege to my bikier friends.
My friend Meghna is an analytical environmental scientist. She is also an accomplished trail runner, as at home in the woods as most folks I know. In the last year or so, we’ve been riding mountain bikes together, a hobby she started at the age of 41.
Meghna said, “The equipment side of this sport is overwhelming, and sometimes it makes me feel like I just don’t want to do it.” To be 1000% clear, she has the ability to know and understand everything there is to know about a mountain bike, but she feels a thing that I also feel.
It feels like too many “cyclists” conflate the gear obsession part of the hobby with the pedaling around having fun part of the hobby, and that is alienating for people tiptoeing up to the door and peeking into the party. There is a sense that if you’re not willing to learn and know all the arcane nonsense then you’re somehow not doing it right. Imagine walking into a bike shop to buy a gravel bike, because you want to ride on some dirt roads and maybe some trails, and the salesperson begins talking to you about the rigidity of carbon fiber and the benefit of running low pressure tubeless tires.
Or, let’s change the setting. Imagine you went to a restaurant and asked the server, “How’s the pasta?” And they replied, “The gluten content in our pasta is tuned to the perfect level to produce the most al dente chewing experience. If your fork technique is really good, you can make the ideal-sized bites.”
Look, one of the things I love about bikes is that they contain multitudes. There are five or six hobbies that live under the umbrella of bikes. Riding. History. Material science. Engineering. Collecting. I could go on, probably. The point here isn’t that any of those is good or bad in and of themselves. It’s that people who want to ride bikes don’t need the judgment, baggage and distraction of all the other sub-hobbies, and when we stick them too closely together, we push people out of the party.
As a person who has worked in the industry for a long time and written hundreds of thousands of words about bikes and bicycling, I know a lot, but I’m nothing like an expert. I also glaze over when people want to talk seriously about headtube angles with me. I really like to keep the bike as visceral as possible, a living, breathing, physical experience, not a technical abstraction to be measured, parsed and judged.
It’s not that we shouldn’t know or care about our exact tire pressure. It’s that maybe that’s not a helpful conversational topic when we’re out with a friend who’s just finding their way on the bike. Put another way, “Neglect the stoke, neglect the rider.” I feel confident, if you’re one of the bikier types, that you can find someone of similar mind to pour over the details with. There are forums. There are support groups. But don’t get that stuff all over people who just like to ride their bike and try to remember that knowing a lot about bikes has not a lot to do with the joy of riding them. Know your audience. Pedal your bike.
The Cycling Independent wants to be home for everyone who rides bikes. Full stop.