Saying Goodbye and Good Riddance to Cycling’s Macho “Rules”

In Forget the Velominati’s Rules, you’re not doing it wrong Peter Flax tells the story of coming to hate “the rules” of cycling.

He writes, “The outermost layer of the problem is that many of the rules are empirically stupid. Telling everyone to stuff tubes and tools in jersey pockets sounds really clever until a group ride grinds to a halt because no one has a chain tool. Urging the masses to remain in the big ring and slam their stems and ditch frame pumps is neither smart nor droll. (But telling a demographic of hobbyists that spends thousands of dollars to buy bicycles that reduce road chatter to “Harden the fuck up” — now that’s funny.)”

What are the rules, anyway? Here’s the list, The Velominati’s Rules.

About “the rules” The human cyclist writes,

Velominati’s The Rules are to be admired for their verve, chuckled at for their humour, but never to be followed. A mixture of the serious, the chest beating, the polite and the traditional along with a healthy dose of tongue in cheek humour, The Rules make a good read and will lead all cyclists to shake and nod their head at the words before them.

“The greatest crimes in the world are not committed by people breaking the rules but by people following the rules”

The Rules come in for much criticism, perhaps because the most (in)famous of which is Rule Number 5. Harden the Fuck Up. Very macho. That said, the only criticism I have is not of The Rules themselves but anybody who takes them seriously. Or quotes them at every given opportunity.

You’ll often hear folk out on rides or see commentators quoting numbers and referring to The Rules on cycling forums, mostly in jest but sometimes not. This blog post then is The Rules Rewritten, an antidote to the chest beating inner-chimp behaviour that exists within a certain type of cyclist, mostly but not exclusively of the male variety.

Here’s his version of the rules, rewritten.

On Facebook my friend, colleague, and fellow cyclist Tim Kenyon has written about his own version of cycling’s rules and I blogged about them here.

Recently Tim talked about his bad experience with the macho cycling culture associated with “the rules.”

Tim wrote,

So last week as I rode between Bamberg and St Agatha, I passed another cyclist traveling the other direction. While I have never endangered any land speed records while cycling, it’s fair to say that I was at least not dawdling at the time. I smiled and nodded my head at him, in a reasonably normal show of cycling solidarity and neighbourliness.

“COME ON, WUSSY BOY, PICK IT UP!!!” he screamed as he went past.

Naturally I found this a bit puzzling. What sort of relationship did he imagine that he and I had, that could make this a non-pathological form of interaction? Did he read on one of those sad “The Rules” internet pages that this was the way to prove one’s status as a *hard man*? Or was this somehow imagined to be a bit of beneficence — a piece of pro bono personal life coaching from an expert who would normally charge big bucks to scream insults at elite athletes?

These questions occupied me only for a few minutes, though, and I can say I had quite forgotten the incident before yesterday, when, riding up the last hill into Kitchener from Petersburg, I recognized him coming the other way, down the hill. My friend and I were at the end of a long ride, and my friend was hurting just a bit. So he was spinning his way up the hill a minute or two behind me. I was getting a last good anaerobic push in before the end of the ride, so was standing up and doing my best to shatter myself on the climb. By the time I’d recognized the roving screamer, he was speeding down the hill past me.

“PICK IT UP, PICK IT UP!!!!” he screamed at me.

*Now, that really is just plain weird*, I thought to myself. When my friend caught me after the crest of the hill, I asked him whether anyone had screamed at him on his way up the hill.

“Yeah,” he panted, clearly very puzzled. “Some guy yelled that I was, uh, a wussy boy.”

So now I am left to wonder: Who is this sunglassed crusader? Does he ride the streets, day and night, since wussy boyitude never sleeps and hence neither can fighters of wussy boyitude? Was he called a wussy boy in his formative cycling days, and does he now reenact this tragic memory when encountering strangers? Is this a kind of verbal tic, and if so, is it limited to cycling situations? What if we met in the Superstore, each pushing our shopping carts laden with espresso beans, agave nectar, and Clif Bars? If I met him walking on the sidewalk, or on the ice playing hockey, would he still be neurologically compelled to scream “WUSSY BOY” at me?

I cannot say. It is a riddle, wrapped in an enigma, dusted with freakshow, encased in Lycra, and perched atop carbon.

I confess that I’ve liked “the rules” in the past as a cycling in-joke, a way of making fun of how seriously we take it all.  I especially like the “badass” rule.

I’ve written about riding in bad weather here.

But insofar as they seem to be taken seriously, not as cycling culture poking fun at itself, and they seem so macho as to exclude those who won’t play by the rules, I think the joke might have just run its course.

We don’t need gatekeepers to tell us who the real cyclists are. As is the case with my academic discipline, philosophy those who want rules are interested usually in keeping certain kinds of people out. We don’t need that, not in cycling, not in philosophy.

Bye bye rules!

Just ride your bike!







9 thoughts on “Saying Goodbye and Good Riddance to Cycling’s Macho “Rules”

  1. I completely agree; the era of The Rules is long over. Maybe once it served a purpose– both to attract people to road cycling and to make fun of roadie cyclists, but once it became no longer tongue-in-cheek, it was done. I think the now-thing is commuting– riding whatever has two wheels (maybe some unicycles too?) to wherever one needs to go, and advocating for safer streets.

  2. They started out tongue in cheek and a bit of fun. As a self-confessed roadie I find them amusing in a self-ridiculing kind of way. Once people started taking them too seriously and quoting them to others they became negative.

  3. I showed this to my husband, an avid, serious cyclist (I ride for fun :)), and he responded:

    The rules are meant to be broken:

    Ride a dirty bike.
    Wear sunglasses under your helmet straps.
    Tuck your jersey inside your shorts.
    When someone says “on your left” reply “on your right” or “make it so” or “brace for impact” or “roll tide”.
    When someone complains about the wind, offer to break wind for them.
    Drink a beer during the ride.

  4. The only useful rules are simply rules of the roads/paths so that we share the road or path safely with other non-cyclists. And give clear signals to other folks when we pass, stop or about to pass them.

    It’s so easy to judge cyclist or bike rider, just by looking at their attire and type of bike. You do not know the journey trip the person may have already done when you pass the cyclist.. they might have done several long hills or are tired out from a 80 km. or 100 km. ride that day.

  5. The Rules really intrigue me.
    I started cycling seriously in the early 80s when after my first bike tour (Perth, W.A. to Melbourne Vic., 3 weeks, solo camping), my cycle club ‘suggested’ (in the strongest terms) that I started racing on Saturdays to rub off a bit of energy before coming on the touring club ride on Sundays and tearing our peleton apart. The touring club (CTA of WA) had a number of ex-racers, including several guys who’d emigrated to Australia from Europe and South Africa in the 50s and 60s with the assisted passage scheme. When I knew them, they were mostly in their late fifties and sixties and had raced before and after WW2 – the heyday of hardmen. The stories they told of racing in Europe were fabulous. A lovely old Belgian guy who was brought along to the club, unfit, overweight and post-heart attack, by his son turned out to have been a real ‘name’ back in the day, and told of riding with bidons with half water, half wine, not to mention the other drugs of choice needed on the long races (with minimal support compared to todays’ following cars and whatnot). Others told of training in the Peak District (England) in winter on snow-bound roads, and of being beaten by the legendary Beryl Burton. They all remembered the distinct etiquette of riding and racing in those days and bemoaned the lack of style and civility in modern youth (how things change, eh?). I think there was a sense that because I seemed to be a cyclist in ‘the old mold’, turning my hand to whatever opportunity arose (racing on the track, road, crits, or touring) and from Yorkshire – home of legendary hardmen and women – I should be tutoured in these old codes of behaviour.
    It’s clear that ‘The Rules’ of the Velominati have formalised what these old gents told stories about. I think they have become ‘popular’ or perhaps ‘infamous’, because there is a feeling now that affluent, often middle-aged, late arrivals to cycling can simply throw money at the sport. There’s no sense of having served an apprenticeship, to have come up through the clubs and racing scene, to have arrived at wisdom (of sorts) through graft and application. These sort of cyclists, and include myself, think twice about being seen out on a flash or expensive bike if they haven’t got the legs (i.e. fitness) to ride it with appropriate flair. You use your winter bike until you’re fit enough to bring the ‘good’ bike out of hibernation. And there’s nothing like the kudos of beating someone on a £5000 top-of-the-range model when you’re on your winter hack, preferably with mudguards (fenders) and a pannier rack.
    The Rules allow the (self-defined) ‘real apostles’ to differentiate themselves from the mere enthusiasts. The club riders round where I now cycle are much more laid back about the Rules than the men (usually) you meet on sportives, who aren’t club riders and who tend to see the Rules as a sort of barrier they have to scale to be accepted, to prove themselves worthy of being called cyclists. The club riders on the other hand are cyclists almost by definition, so the Rules are just amusement and they don’t see them as some sort of personal reproach if their socks aren’t long enough or the have their cap peak down in the caff.

    1. Thanks. I’ve got a fondness for some of cycling’s old guys too. These days there aren’t enough of them on our club rides. They used to keep the young guys in line. The older men would scold me for not wearing knee warmers when it was below 15 Celsius and they’d tell me that even ladies should wear white socks. They shared lots of info with me and lots of lore and my sense was that I should learn the history and put in the work. You’re right– they would laugh at people who just bought expensive bikes and thought they were cyclists. They were also in lots of cases, real gentlemen. They’d go back and get dropped riders and offer advice on hills. They’d tell stories about old club races. Lots to admire about that generation of riders.

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