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Bill  On The Road

 by: Bill Oetinger  12/1/2014

“Cycling is the new golf”…really?

I stumbled across an article related to cycling a few months ago and saved the link to it. It flies under the header at the top: “Cycling is the new golf.”

You can read the original article if you're interested enough. If you're not quite that engaged with the topic or if the link dries up, I'll summarize: the premise of the piece is that recreational cycling has taken the place of golf as that sporting pastime where business-savvy people go to mingle with their own kind…to network…and maybe make new contacts and hammer out new contracts with other entrepreneurs.

If I read it correctly, I think the idea is that going for a two-hour, 30-mile bike ride is a better way to meet people--like-minded people--while having some fun and getting some decent exercise…better exercise than you get rolling around the golf links in a cart. They claim it's more egalitarian: accessible to a wider range of people than those you'd meet at the golf club. It's less expensive to do on a regular basis and you can knock off your short ride in half the time it takes to bang out 18-holes of golf.

Of course, once upon a time, being more egalitarian--open to all sorts of people--would not have seemed like a plus to many business leaders and other movers and shakers. Belonging to an expensive, exclusive club served exactly the purpose of filtering out all that riff raff. Those clubs may still serve that function but, according to this article, a lot of people aren't cutting their next lucrative deals over cocktails at the 19th hole any more. They're doing it on the road or over burritos and beer after their ride.

The article cites several groups around the country organized with that express purpose in mind. They are not just bike clubs. Yes, they are “clubs” of a sort and yes, they do schedule bike rides for their members. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I will assume they like biking, first and foremost, and the networking is a happy collateral benefit overlaid on the basic bike adventures. But I suppose, if this trend really catches on, there may be riders out there on some of the networking rides who really hate biking--or at least are not passionate about it--but are only there for the business contacts.

I find the whole concept--as a newsworthy trend-setter--to be kind of amusing. Anyone who has been a part of a bike club for any length of time knows it's a great way to meet people and make friends. And any time you broaden your circle of acquaintances and get to know other people, there is always the possibility that you might make a connection with another person that could be a plus for your business or career. I've seen it happen. I've done it myself. But that was never the first reason or even the 31st reason I went on that club ride. And in fact, getting all hooked up over business while riding seems almost antithetical to why I'm there. Why most of us are out there is to get away from our work…to leave all that behind.

As proof of this, I can tell you that I haven't a clue what 80% of the people I ride with do for a living. It seldom comes up. We'll talk about the weather and the Tour de France, about the scenery or our bikes--what kinds of tires or chains or derailleurs we’re using--but work? Who cares? Only after I've ridden with people for years and gone beyond the rides to something approaching real friendships do I come to know what they do for a job, and when I do find out, I am always amazed at the wide range of career paths that braid together on rides…from engineers to artists, from plumbers to biologists, from tech sector whiz kids to heart surgeons.

It's fascinating to find out what people do for a living because it adds color and texture to what I know about them…fills in the blanks. But to go on a ride with the express purpose of leveraging my business opportunities? I don't think so. But that's just me. Maybe it really is working for a lot of other people.

Standing back and looking at the place cycling occupies in our modern world, with trends such as this one in mind, leaves me in a bit of a quandary. I'm conflicted. For all of my cycling life--which now spans most of half a century--I have been complaining that cyclists have been marginalized and made out to be some sort of second-class citizens. You've read my rants on that topic more than a few times in this space. However, more and more, as the years go by and the world turns, we see these signs that cycling is coming out of the shadows and is becoming mainstream. But I'm not sure I'm always 100% happy at this new popularity for my old pal cycling.

I like it when it means I'm treated with more respect and consideration out on the road. I like it when it translates to a willingness on the part of government to build better bike trails or bike/ped bridges or other bike-friendly infrastructure. But at the same time, there is a bit of outlaw crustiness in me that misses the bad old days when we cyclists were few and far between, freaky and disenfranchised and misunderstood. It always stoked my fires to feel I was raging against the machine…a voice crying in the wilderness…and now that my renegade pastime is being invited to sit at the table with the establishment types, I'm not sure I know quite how to deal with that.

I don't want to belong to a country club and I don't want my bike rides to be some sort of surrogate country club, at least in the context of being there so that entrepreneurs can schmooze up hot deals. I want my bike rides to be about riding bikes. I was raised in the world of private golf clubs. I gave all that up about the time I left the family nest and set out into the wider world as a young adult. It wasn't the world I wanted for myself. So now it's just a little disconcerting to see my path less taken leading back to the middle of the main road.

There was one other sub-topic mentioned in the article that really caught my eye: “Because the monthly rides are mostly male dominated, Kayzar recently launched a second group in the hopes of attracting more women. ‘It's half the speed and half the distance,’ he said.” Half the speed and half the distance for the women? Oh man…this guy has obviously not been riding with the women who come on our club rides! There are any number of women in our club who could kick this guy’s chauvinistic, entrepreneurial ass six ways from Sunday…who are comfortable pulling a pace line in the mid-20's and for whom a century is just a training ride ahead of their next double century or 600-K brevet. Right there, in one sentence, he disqualifies himself from being taken seriously in any true biking context. He may be on to the next big thing in world of corporate networking, but in the world of biking, he's just another poseur.

So…a little article about a funny little trend. Much ado about not much. I'm going to close my account for 2014 on this note, but perhaps in the last days of December, with 2015 just over the next little summit, I'll get back to more substantive bike blarney with a Best of 2014 retrospective. See ya then, and in the meantime, enjoy the holidays.

Bill can be reached at srccride@sonic.net

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