Ah…the Roadie. I am a Roadie. As much as I don’t like labels, I do like being called a Roadie. I love riding and racing on the road, the equipment, clothes, the history and tradition of road cycling. I have friends that are mountain bikers, but the majority are Roadies. When I was a kid, it was really the start of the BMX race scene. For whatever reason, I never got into it, maybe because I was more interested in football and baseball. When I first got into road riding, I swore I would never wear those silly shorts, shoes, “shirts”. Slowly but surely, I adopted the Roadie ‘dress code”. My first kit was a hand me down from a local Cat. 2 racer, little did I know but he was a local legend. He gave me a Specialized jersey, a wool World Champion jersey and a pair of Shaversport bib shorts. Man I wish I had kept that wool WC jersey. I was pretty self-conscious at first about wearing the tight shorts, but after awhile, I realized comfort was more important and plus, the serious guys wore them.
If you spend enough time on the road and riding with other Roadies, you adapt to the Roadies vernacular, dress, style, equipment, mannerisms. To an untrained eye, we probably look like a bunch of spandex wearing, preening, skinny guys. Sure, we can be a funny conglomeration of characters but when you are in the middle of the storm that is Roadie culture, you are very much the norm and accepted as such. A true hardcore Roadie is very obvious to other Roadies. The rider that has multiple road bikes (rain specific, time trial, beater bike), no mountain bikes, multiple kits, shoes, helmets, glasses, gloves, rollers, trainers etc. They sometimes have a supple pedal stroke honed from years of being on the road, they exhibit a certain style on the bike.
A commitment to the culture combined with thousands upon thousands of kilometers in the legs results in a very distinct look; shaved legs, low fat around the knees, developed quads and calves, muscle definition and vascularity, what I call the “frog leg” look. Just sitting on a bike at rest, a roadie will straddle the top tube just so, the cycling cap bill pointed down/or up at just the right angle, the bits of color on the glasses, shoes, bottles are all matching. The look, the style, the pedal stroke, the relaxed position on the bike, the effortlessness…..the Roadie.
Even amongst Roadies, there is a look/style segmentation. You have Roadies that don’t care about the history of the road scene, they got into riding for fun but now embrace the lifestyle. They will on occasion have hairy legs, clothes that don’t fit properly, gangly pedaling technique. Then you have the Roadies who came from the sport of Triathlon, they are fairly recognizable as well. They will have shaved legs, wear socks that are very short (almost disappearing into their shoes), position their seats far forward on the bike (holdover from using time trial bikes for Triathlons), will keep one steady speed and often have trouble accelerating effectively to match the violent surges of the group. Even the most ardent Roadie accepts the various types of Roadies within the culture, they know we all suffer the same, we are bonded together in our shared suffering.
I actually enjoy being around all types of Roadies. I have a affinity for what I call the “hardcore bike guys”. They are the Roadies that don’t care how clean their bikes are, they ride crazy amounts of miles, travel to as many races as they can, know all of the pro racers and results, don’t keep up with any other sport or cycling disciplines, will ride when it is raining, try to make every group ride, have great stories about races and group rides, everyone knows these guys in almost every bike shop in the area, local legend, just a straight up Roadie….I love those guys! I wish I could care less about my bikes’ appearance, but I have to clean my bike/chain before every ride….oh well.
There are some quarters that ascribe to the Roadie style Rules. I think they are fairly tongue-in-cheek but many riders follow this. Some of the “rules” are traditional, road cycling is a very traditional sport and many respect that history by I guess…coming up with rules. We can be a pretty insular group. For example, you can meet all of these rules but show up on the group ride wearing a Camelbak and you’ll get stares and maybe snickers. For sure your riding skills will be assumed to be below average. Ah, snap judgements gotta love them.
On the flip side, those in other disciplines like MTB or Track will say Roadies have an attitude. This is true in some cases but I think it has more to do with some of the individuals that gravitate toward the road discipline that give the group as a whole a bad reputation. The attitudes they often point out are arrogance, mean-spiritedness, and being condescending toward those riders not meeting their style/ability/skill approval. Yeah, I met a lot of those types but have also met many humble, easy-going, and really nice people that are Roadies. I think the worst of the Roadies can and do give the entire group a bad name, those individuals just take themselves too damn serious. If not for the sport of cycling, I would not have met some of my best friends nor experienced the joys and beauty of the sport. Of course we have that crazy uncle that we try to keep locked in the back room or the village idiot, they may be all of those things but hey…they belong to us!
I’ve ridden in the dirt, on the track, and everywhere in between. For me, being a Roadie in all of its significant meanings is not what I do, it is my lifestyle. There is nothing better than riding mile after mile and seeing significant improvement in fitness. It is a sport that offers so much; it tests your perseverance, pain threshold, mental toughness, stamina, character, grit.
The adrenaline rush you get from climbing for an hour, your mind and body telling you to stop yet you keep going while asking yourself why you do it. You really don’t know why, you just know it is what you want to do, have to do. The speed, the descending off of the top of a mountain at 50mph with only your skills and nerves to help you get down safely. I love racing for all of its intensity, the rewards of victory, the team work, the flow of the peloton, the tactics. If the sport of bicycle racing had no tactics, it may not have been so appealing to me. I love that the most sucessfull racers are using physical fitness combine with tactical acuity to give themselves the best chance at victory; they are playing chess when the rest are playing checkers.
The dirt is cool, the track is cool, but give me the road. I am a Roadie.