Road cyclists are to bike riding as analytic philosophers are to philosophy: Discuss

Posted with the greatest affection for both analytic philosophers and road cyclists, two groups of which I’m proud to be a part…

Road cyclists look like the archetypal cyclist. With greyhound like physiques, massive thighs and calves and underdeveloped upper bodies, they are the elite of the cycling world. They are also the gatekeepers against which others others are judged and judge themselves.

The image of the left is from the terrific animated movie The Triplets of Belleville.

If you haven’t seen it, you must. The trailer is here. (Brief description: “When her grandson, Champion, is kidnapped during the Tour de France, Madame Souza and her beloved dog Bruno travel across the Atlantic to Belleville and team up with an aged song-and-dance team to rescue him from the French mafia. Directed by Sylvain Chomet. Categories: Animation, Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Music, Foreign Film. Year: 2003.”)

When someone says, I’m not a real cyclist. I just commute by bike, what they mean is, I’m not a road cyclist. I don’t have one of those bikes with the skinny tires and the curled over handle bars. I don’t wear special cycling shorts or shoes and I don’t carry everything I need for a 160 km ride in the back pouch of my bike jersey.

Road cyclists love rules. For the complete list, see here, from the Keepers of the Cog:

For a great taxonomy of the kinds of cyclists, see The bike snob’s guide to cycling tribes:

Here’s his description of the road cyclist, or the roadie:

The Roadie is, in a certain sense, the prototypical cyclist. Road racing is certainly not the oldest form of competitive cycling, but it does have a long history and it is by far the most popular competitive discipline. After all, even people who can’t tell a road bike from a mountain bike have heard of the Tour de France. The drop bars, the jersey with rear pockets, the tight shorts and the diminutive brimmed cycling cap together embody the cyclist in the popular imagination.

Because road cycling is steeped in tradition (and occasionally garnished with attitude), every single aspect of road cycling – from clothing choice to equipment choice to hand signals to which way to pull off the front of a paceline – is governed by rules. And like all rules, some of them have evolved out of necessity, and some of them are simply tradition for tradition’s sake.

The negative view of the Roadie is that he or she is fastidious, snotty and aloof. On the other hand, the romantic view is that Roadies are the toughest of all cyclists and that their careful preparation and studied appearance is a natural expression of this mental and physical toughness. But there’s a deeper truth. Beneath all the training and suffering and Lycra and embrocations, the fact is that all Roadies are freeloading cheats. I’m not talking about doping. No, Roadies are freeloading cheats because the true essence of road cycling is the conservation of energy. Naturally, the only way a bicycle is going to move is if a person puts energy into it and they do what they can to make their bodies strong, but there the effort ends. Beyond this, everything else is based on not making an effort. It’s based on making things as light and aerodynamic as possible; it’s based on slipstreaming behind other riders for as long as possible and it’s about expending as little effort as effectively as possible.

It occurred to me while chatting with other philosophers of sport that each activity, philosophy and cycling, can be thought of as big tents. There are analytic philosophers, continental philosophers, pragmatists, feminists, historians of philosophy, etc. Likewise, there are road cyclists, track cyclists, urban fixie riders, mountain bikers, commuters, etc.

But in each field there is one group that likes to make rules about who counts and who doesn’t, who belongs in the tent and who must remain outside–not a real philosopher, not a real cyclist. My conversational thesis was that it’s the road cyclists and the analytic philosophers who are the fussiest this way.

Which may explain why analytic philosophers are drawn to road cycling. (Or not.) I’m just having fun here but later I’d like to blog about the sports that attract philosophers and why. Mountain climbing anyone? Maybe some yoga after?

In each area–philosophy and cycling–my own inclinations are the same. I’m an analytic philosopher drawn to the big tent idea. I dabble a bit. I’m a road cyclist who also rides track owns a mountain bike, and has cyclocross ambitions.

If our blog had an exam, wouldn’t that be popular?, the analogy between road cyclists and analytic philosophers might be a good topic for an essay question. Discuss.




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