Tales from the Peloton, October 27, 2005
If you are a cyclist (and considering where you're reading this, I think that's a safe bet) the following moment either has happened, or will someday happen: you are on your bike, riding along, when a car passes you, with one or more bikes on its rack. After doing a quick assessment, you think to yourself: "Junk." Or it might be an equivalent word, probably with the same number of letters.
That, my friend, is the moment you became (or will become) a bike snob.
Gauge your bike snobbery
So, the question is not whether you are a bike snob. Rather, it's how much of a bike snob are you? Answer these questions to find out.
Finish the following statement: "My bike is worth…"
a. More than I admit, even to close personal friends. And it's worth much, much more than I admit to my significant other.
b. Its weight in gold.
c. Really, just gold? Well, I guess that's how much mine was worth before I upgraded the wheelset.
You are riding along the pavement when a recumbent bicycle with a bright orange flag approaches from the other direction. What do you do?
a. Smile and wave. Hey, it's great that we're both on bikes, no matter what kind!
b. Nod nearly imperceptibly, so that others on real bikes will not notice.
c. Ignore this Philistine, and avoid eye contact at all costs. Cross to the other side of the street if necessary.
When was the last time you cried?
a. When someone stole my bike.
b. When someone scratched my bike.
c. When I was in the local bike shop and a pudgy guy with baggy MTB shorts and a BMX helmet came in with a Bianchi S9 Matta Ti/Carbon Record, asking the mechanic to put slime in the tires so it wouldn't get flats so often.
How many bikes do you own?
d. Are you counting complete, rideable bikes? Or do I have to count all the frames? Also, do I have to count the vintage bikes I keep in case I ever decide to open a bike museum? How about the one that Eddy Merckx once touched?
How to score yourself: Oh, be serious. You know how bad you are.
Now that you've admitted that you're a bike snob, you have a choice: either suppress it, or embrace it. My recommendation: embrace it. Be as snobby about bikes as you possibly can. What's the fun in being only mildly elitist? Here, then, are several helpful tips you can use to demonstrate to everyone you ride with that, of all bikes in the world, the only one that is not beneath contempt is the one you are currently riding.
Bike brands: They're all terrible
There are a lot of bike manufacturers out there, and chances are you don't have enough time to learn why they're despicable on a case-by-case basis. Instead, use the following sweeping generalisations.
Big Manufacturer: If you need to scoff at a big-name company's bike, take a back-door tactic: talk about how great they were back in the old days, before they sold out to corporate interests and lost their soul. Isn't it a shame that now they just churn out these lowest-common-denominator bikes with no personality or flair? As a bonus, if you're confident they manufacturer overseas, make a snarky remark about cheap labour and getting what you pay for.
Boutique Manufacturer: Crouch down and take a very close look at the welds on the bike. After looking at a couple, say "Hmmm..." When the bike owner demands what that "hmmm" meant, raise your eyebrows, smile just a tiny bit, and say, "Oh, nothing."
Drilling Down: What's Wrong With Everything
The bike manufacturer is just the tip of the iceberg, though. To be a really thorough bike snob, you need to start looking at minutiae.
Frame Material: All frame materials have weaknesses. No, not weaknesses inherent to the materials themselves. More importantly, they say something about the rider that can be easily despised. Steel? Oh, you must be going for that "retro" look, at the expense of performance. Titanium? That's so 2002. Carbon fibre? Well, that's fine, if you want to be a slavish, me-too trend follower. Aluminum? Well, that both delivers a harsh ride and is what beverage cans are made from. Which, when you think about it, is just…well…gauche.
Components: Naturally, any bike snob will quickly assess all components on a bike and be ready to render judgment. If any of the components are below the absolute highest level available, well, it's almost too easy. "You know, I think you made a good choice going with Chorus for now, though once you've been riding for a while you may notice that shifting just doesn't feel as crisp as with Record."
The real component snobbery battle is not in the level one has, then, but rather with which brand: Campagnolo or Shimano. And since both in reality work exceptionally well and are extraordinarily reliable, the bike snob needs to work in intangibles: "I find Shimano componentry lacks the flair of Campagnolo." Or, "Campagnolo just doesn't feel as precise as Shimano." The great thing about these statements is that they indicate that your biking sense is so refined that you notice subtleties that aren't even there. Even more importantly, they can't be quantified, so they can't be disproved.
Cranks: Really, this one is too easy. No matter what crankset you are scoffing at, ask the hapless owner "Don't you find that crankset a little bit flexy?" Try to use an incredulous tone, as if it's the most obvious thing in the world. Do not consider, even for a second, the possibility that 99.99% of cyclists cannot tell the variance of flexibility between the stiffest and squishiest cranks in the world.
Pedals: If the pedal has any float, squinch up your nose and say it doesn't have a positive enough connection to the bike. Say it feels "vague." If it has no float at all, indicate that it's a fine pedal indeed…if you don't mind having your knees ruined.
It's possible, unfortunately, that you may run across another cyclist who is as great a bike snob as you, but happens to know more about bikes. This is a serious situation, but can be handled. If you are countered at every assertion, stop talking. Smile. Fold your arms. Exude wisdom. Eventually, the other cyclist will stop talking and look at you, wanting to know what you're smirking about.
This is when you say, "Nothing, really. To me, it's not really so much the bike that matters - after all, it's the engine that's going to win or lose the race, isn't it?"
Of course, this is a two-edged sword. Now you've got to prove that you're not just a bike snob, but a fast cyclist, which, naturally, you'd be happy to do - in fact, you would insist - if it weren't for your tendonitis.
Get more useless advice, fake news, and fact-free opinions most weekdays at Elden Nelson's 'Fat Cyclist' blog