A special breed

In certain circles, there are those who fervently believe that there are two types of cyclists in...

Tales from the Lardbutt Peloton, December 17, 2005

In certain circles, there are those who fervently believe that there are two types of cyclists in the world; there those who do triathlons - a demanding sporting discipline that combines swimming, running, and cycling - and everyone else. Greg Taylor examines the finer points of this theory through tough experience.

Special.

Or, if you like, "clumsy" or "awkward" work equally well. But for my money the pithy "special" effectively captures it.

Now I won't pretend to hold myself out as an authority on exactly how the cycling world came to be divided into the two camps mentioned above. All that I know is that somewhere along the way some of the sniffier elements in our sport came to view triathletes as little more than poor souls who are incapable of deciding whether they are at a swim meet, a track meet, or a bike race. (Mentioning the fact that cyclocross races also involve hopping off the bike and running doesn't make a bit of difference. Cyclocross is Belgian, and anything Belgian is automatically okay).

The biggest knock on triathletes among the cognoscenti, however, is that they are seen as wobbly bike handlers. Again, it's impossible to say precisely how this bit of Revealed Wisdom attained any level of currency among the arbiters of cycling style. For example, there are those who mutter darkly that the true reason why triathlons always have to end with a footrace is because the type of athletes who are drawn to compete in these events lack a sufficient level of physical coordination and mental acuity to reliably reach the finish line on two wheels. Other theorists choose to focus instead upon the various equipment and aesthetic crimes committed by triathetes as the source of instability. The aero appendages, gimcracks, and doo-dads that triathletes are so deeply fond of are viewed by cycling's Defenders of the True Faith as hideous excrescences that befoul the classic beauty of a racing bike; artificial aids that do nothing more than loudly demonstrate the atrocious taste of its owner whilst rendering the machine an ugly and ill-handling monstrosity.

In short, triathletes and their ilk are viewed as total 'Specials' by Proper Cyclists; an unsteady branch of sport's extended family that is best given a very wide berth out on the road and welcomed into a fast pace line with the same level of enthusiasm normally reserved for a severe bladder infection.

Not that you could prove any of this by the Lardbutts, however.

Here in North America cold weather is upon us, and a fair number of the Lardbutts have taken to riding fixed-gear bikes on our regular Sunday ride. Fixies are this year's "in" ride for winter training; they slow things down, force you to smooth out your spin, to say nothing of the very high "cool" factor you get from showing up to a group ride on a bike with no gears and doesn't coast.

The cold weather has also brought a group of triathletes to the weekly Team Lardbutt Sunday ride. Lovingly referred to as the "Tri-Geeks," these men and women quickly fell into the spirit of things, making themselves very welcome indeed by putting up with our bad jokes and avoiding the cardinal sin of using their aerobars while drafting. All of them are excellent athletes, with one of the women reputedly turning in an exceptional time at a big Ironman event in Hawaii.

That's not to say that there isn't a friendly undercurrent of cross-cultural tension between the two camps - the fixed gear crowd and the Tri-Geeks. Take this past Sunday, for example. Even though he ride was supposed to be just a mellow roll over some pretty rural roads, about halfway through the ride a subset of the 'Butts - my buddy JT of dental floss fame, Todd the Arborist, and Yours Truly - began to feel the need to uphold a little hard core single-speed roadie honour over our triathlete friends, to establish ourselves as the baddest of all bad-asses occupying this particular stretch of road on this fine morning.

You could almost see the malignant little thought-bubbles floating over our heads as the group rolled along. "Just look at those Tri-Geeks, will you? Take the incredibly-fit Ms Ironman over there, all friendly and laughing on her decked-out Cervelo. Sure, she is probably capable of cracking walnuts between her petite little butt-cheeks or crushing each of us with her pinkie while sipping a protein shake, but deep down she are her friends are all still just a bunch of...Tri-Geeks. Gears? We Lardbutts don't need no stinking gears...or aerobars, or deep-dish 650c wheels, or especially those funny water bottle cages that clamp on to the seat post behind your ass. Just stand back folks and watch how REAL cyclists do it. Can I get an "Amen!" from the congregation?"

Or something like that...

It all started to unravel at the traffic light at the intersection of Route 1 and Old Colechester Road. I was the first to suffer what I will call The Fall From Grace. The majority of the Lardbutts, deeming the red light to be merely advisory in nature, took advantage of a gap in traffic and took off across Rt. 1. The Tri-Geek Contingent, unfamiliar with the route, actually stopped and waited. In what turned out to be an ill-advised fit of politeness, I waited with them. The light turned green, and I started across the intersection, out of the saddle and cranking hard to get ahead of the group, when one of my feet unclipped and shot out of the pedal. What happened next was later described as either a complete flip or a barrel roll in the air while still attached to my bike. Whatever it was, it was fairly spectacular, with the end result being that I wound up on my butt in the middle of a busy highway in front of a group of stunned strangers.

Special.

This was clearly a case of pride going before a fall, and I spent the rest of the ride shaking off the intense embarrassment over my self-inflicted arabesque over the asphalt. My new triathlete friends wanted to know if I would do the fancy fixed-gear barrel roll dismount trick again because one of them had missed it the first time.

Ahhh...but the fates had not yet finished toying with the One Gear Wonders quite yet. Fall From Grace II occurred while getting coffee, featuring our own Todd the Arborist in his personal interpretation of the classic Bicycle Cleat Sidewalk Ballet. As is normal Lardbutt Procedure, an advance contingent arrived at our post-ride hangout, the Pastry Shoppe, to claim a table and get a head start on eating muffins and drinking coffee. Yours Truly and Lonesome Dave were inside waiting in line to place an order, while Todd was outside on the sidewalk, fiddling with his bike. Next thing you know, Todd is flat on his back and flailing incoherently with two bikes resting on top of him. It seems that Todd bumped my bike while fooling with his, my bike started to fall over, he spun around to catch it, and next thing you know it's "Help, I've Fallen And I Can't Get Up" time. Standing there watching it all unfold through the front window of the Pastry Shoppe, I can honestly say that the first thing that popped into my head - and into the heads of the rather sizable crowd who witnessed it - was that Todd was having some sort of bizarre seizure. The second thing that popped into my head was seriously debating whether it was worth giving up my spot in line to call an ambulance and get him untangled from all of those bikes.

Special.

Fall From Grace III involved another traffic light and another fixed gear, this one being ridden by my buddy JT. Through a series of miscommunications, JT and two of the Tri-Geek Contingent got separated from the main herd on the ride home. JT, being a true gentleman, stuck with our guests and rode with them back to the Pastry Shoppe. They stopped at an intersection and JT was in the process of giving them directions back to their cars when, somewhat inevitably given the events of the morning, JT had an equipment malfunction, keeling over and hitting the dirt before he could unclip his feet. Adding a final insult to injury, JT's dive took out one of the Tri-Guys. Ooops.

Special.

Reconstructing the events of the day over coffee at the Pastry Shoppe, it was immediately clear that it had been a fine morning's work for the Lardbutts: three riders on fixies, three embarrassing Specials. Having put on a display of skill that set back the cause of Unquestioned Roadie Superiority by a good 50 years, there was only one path left to us if we ever wanted to be seen riding our bikes in public again: it was time to turn in our wool jerseys, exchange our bib shorts for a Speedo swimsuit and some running shoes, and to ask Eddy Merckx for forgiveness. Having been found unworthy, we would be required to spend the rest of our days among the Tri-Geeks.

If they would still have us, that is.

We were all feeling pretty bad about it when Todd piped up that Lance Armstrong started out doing triathalons, and just look where it got him: seven Tour victories, corporate jets, a rock star girlfriend, and the enmity of the French nation. And, you know, despite everything that happened the incredibly-fit Ms Ironman didn't seem to be too embarrassed to be seen with us, even though she could easily smash our heads like ripe melons if the mood hit her. Maybe the Tri-Geeks would show up again and ride with us next Sunday.

Personally I think that next Sunday with the Tri-Geeks is probably a go, even though it might take a little convincing on our part to lure them back out. Somehow they've gotten the idea in their heads that fixed gear riders are all a bit sketchy, and that as a group they are pretty special in the area of bike control...

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