It’s the elephant that’s always in the room. A vague, foreboding that’s fucking up everyone’s plans. People’s behaviors are defensive, regressive and often irrational. Races and events have mostly been canceled. Everyone is bummed out, looking for outlets, yet afraid to do the things that used to bring them joy and meaning. Even the upcoming holidays, truncated and downsized, don’t seem to have much chance of pulling folks out of the general funk.
Right now it’s very tempting to wallow in dark places. But if you’re the kind of person who has made cycling part of their life (and if you’re here, there’s a good chance you have), a closer look will reveal some pretty amazing things going on. With gyms, bars and theaters having restricted access or outright closed, the number of people engaging in (relatively) safe outdoor activity has skyrocketed, and more people are either discovering or returning to cycling as an outlet than any time that I can remember. Trail heads are packed, bike shops have burned through their inventory, and everyone seems to be playing outside.
What could this all mean?
Tip O’Neil made the now-famous observation that ‘‘all politics are local.” Guess what? The same thing is true of culture. Macro trends exist, but what’s really important are the things occurring on the ground, with people doing what matters to them and creating their own local scene. Individuals getting together and doing the stuff they’re into creates energy, and sometimes the creative forces that are unleashed really can change the world in ways that are magical. Maybe it’s a few New York beatniks who decided to drive across the country in a dilapidated school bus in 1964. It could be some session musicians in a little town in Alabama who bought an old coffin showroom to jam in. Or maybe it was some dirtbags who decide that getting together to ride their coaster-brake bikes down some fire roads and drinking beers is a helluva way to spend an afternoon. Once we progress past the base of Maslow’s pyramid, people doing the stuff they’re into really is what makes the world go ‘round. It’s what meaning and vibrancy to the brief time we all have. And sometimes, it can even spark a movement.
If you’re a lifer, there may never be a more important time to have a healthy but humble
appreciation for your role in your local cycling culture and its potential. This appreciation can inform the way you interact with the people in your local scene, no matter how big or small it is. Beyond what general manners dictate, it’s good to think of yourself as an ambassador for the sport, someone who can help foster the growth of others while helping to make your own experience that much more fun.
That hammerfest road or gravel ride you and your buddies do on Saturday mornings: Is there a way to make it more inclusive? Maybe it would be a nice idea to add a ‘B’ or ‘C’ group that rides off at the same time and does the same (or slightly shorter) route. And why not move the start/finish to the local brewery, pavilion or similar venue, where folks can have a post-ride beverage and talk about what went right, what could have been better, and how much fun they had? Get those new folks engaged, point them in the right direction, give them a consistent forum, and before you know it you’ll be surprised at what it becomes. It doesn’t take much either, just consistency, perhaps a bit of social media interaction, and a tiny bit of good-natured effort. What’s more, it will almost certainly make your own experience more fun.
For riders who are just starting out or otherwise need a bit more consideration, it’s sometimes a good idea to ask them to arrive later and arrange things so that they can participate in an abbreviated ride. This approach works particularly well for mountain bike rides where difference in skill set, equipment and comfort level can be starker. After the ‘regulars’ hammer, do a shorter and (perhaps) less technical spin that allows everyone, not just the enduro bros or the kids who climb like goats, to get some time in with other riders. It won’t be long until the number of people at the ‘cool kids’ ride swells. But even if it doesn’t, the worst-case outcome is that a few more people will have fun riding all for the cost of a bit of time.
The next time you’re in your garage, basement, cell, or whatever, take a look around. How much unused cycling stuff do you see laying about or tucked away? Do you really need that 3-year-old wheelset or those completely functional shifters sidelined from your last upgrade and waiting for obsolescence? If you haven’t gotten around to posting them for sale, will you ever? Of course, not everyone has the resources to be a philanthropist, but why not just give it to someone who could use it, or trade them for some beer? (Note: Beer trades with Junior riders are not advised.) Remember that feeling you had when you first started riding and you got something that made you excited? You might be in a position to give someone that, and what is it really going to cost you?
For some folks all of this stuff may be self-evident, and maybe you already do it (or more) by default. If so, great! If not, it’s good to remember that some of the people who are coming out now are going to also be lifers, the people who become the core of your local community. Soon they’ll be the folks organizing rides, putting on events, mentoring other riders, and driving the local culture. And if you care about such things, it’s not ridiculous to think that your town could spawn the next cool event, or be the home of the next pro racer. Or maybe it will just be a better place to hang out and ride bikes with your buds while we’re all waiting for things to return to ‘normal.’
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