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Naomi  The Biking Life

 by: Naomi Bloom  7/1/2003

Different Strokes

Are you a bicyclist? A lot of different kinds of folks can easily -- and enthusiastically -- answer "Yes!"

Fourteen years ago, in his book Tales from the Bike Shop, Maynard Hershon identified some five diverse "types" of riders:

  • solitary, self-supported tourists
  • resolute, rain-or-shine commuters
  • "Italophile" racer wannabes
  • hard-training triathletes
  • "muddy-booted" mountain bikers
Nowadays there's a lot more variety. Here's just a handful of bicycling species I've recently observed on the road:

Self-Supported Tourists

  • Solitary
    Increasingly rare in civilized parts. Most of the self-supported tourists I encounter are not alone; they're in the company of at least one or two fellow travelers.

    Why go alone? Self-described independent soul David says, "I know where I want to go.". Touring on his own forces him to meet new people, try speaking new languages. "But," he hastens add, "I wouldn't want to be alone in really remote places like Alaska."

  • Buddies
    Speaking of remote places, Lynn just took off on a self-supported tour from the Canadian border to the Mexican border on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Accompanying her, one buddy rider. They may not be alone, but frankly, I think they deserve more admiration than any solitary roadie tourist out there.

  • Groupies
    Ruthie has twice packed her two-wheeled "mule" with panniers front and back to do a TransAmerica Tour. That's two times across the United States, with no sag, no luxury accommodations. Just the camaraderie of group support, instead of self-support.

Supported Tourists

  • Solitary
    How can a tourist ride "solitary" if he's also riding "supported"? Ask Paul G., who did his own solo TransAmerica tour with his wife driving sag.

  • Groupies
    Less rare are the groups of supported riders, from mammoth events like Cycle Oregon to intimate "self-guided" tours like those offered by The Bicycle Outfitter.

    These folks range in experience and ability from rank novice (see below) to seasoned tourer to mileage shark -- the kind who just eats up 100+-mile days. Some ride upright hybrid bikes with Backroads decals. Others may be sagged by the notorious (in Northern California, anyway) SuperTour bus.

    Some, like Steve T., spend an entire summer just moving from tour to tour as their fancy takes them. Steve started out in Corsica this year, then moved to mainland Italy and is now, I believe, in the French Alps.

Resolute Commuters

Most of the truly resolute commuters I've known have been women. Shari used to ride 20 miles one-way from Los Gatos to Mountain View on her single-speed track bike! Then she'd turn around and do it in reverse (uphill!) at the end of a long workday.

Karen was still commuting daily to a full-time computer programming job while winning pro races.

But the most resolute commuter I know has got to be Joellen. She rises at 3:45 am to pedal from south San Jose to the CalTrain station, rides the train to Sunnyvale, then to NASA-Ames at Moffett Field. The payoff, she claims, is that she gets to leave early enough to return home in daylight. Not to mention the $40 a month she saves by cutting two CalTrain "zones" out of her rail commute.

Then there are the former commuters, retirees who haven't given up utility cycling. Like Anne, who still does errands on two wheels. And Don, who as a Cupertino City Council Member for eight years arrived at meetings on his bike.

Racer Wannabes

Italophile? Today local racer-types may also be Francophiles or Aussiephiles. But most likely they're all Lance-ophiles.

I encounter these guys almost daily on my favorite roads. They have clean-shaven legs and are usually decked out in team or club colors. Too many still refuse to wear a helmet, in spite of recent horrible deaths and UCI rulings.

Grit-your-teeth triathletes

I rarely meet any of these in person. They seem to be so insular, pumping along at race pace, bent over those extreme, ultralight frames. Double water bottles behind their butts. Deadly serious. How can they be having fun?

Yet I'm aware that there are many laid-back triathletes. They just strike me as fellow recreational riders (see below).


These are the folks who think a century is just a warm-up ride. They're mostly card-carrying members of the Ultra Marathon Cycling Association (UMCA). They've usually just completed a 600-km Brevet, are about to do an 800-km Brevet, and are training for RAAM or Paris-Brest-Paris.

Reformed former long-distance rider Wyatt claims, "All ultra-marathoners are obsessed." "It's a disease," agrees Paul V., who is doing PBP this year for the third time. "I get to ride 1200 kilometers with very little sleep and not enough to eat or drink, alongside 3000 other cyclists who are just as crazy as I am." If so, it's a contagious disease, since this year the Davis Bike Club Brevet Program alone qualified over 100 riders for PBP.

Club Riders

Here's where all those different types come together under one label. There's just no stereotype for a typical club rider. But here are a couple of easy-to-spot clubbies:
  • Retired but not from the bike
    You see the gray hair (or no hair!) under the spiffy Giro helmet. Perhaps a raised stem and/or handlebars to ease stress on the lower back. SPD cleats on comfy shoes. And above all, wiry, muscular legs. All of which can be observed at the local Starbucks or Peets, a standard stop on weekday club rides. A really good example: my buddy Emam.

  • Swingin' Singles
    They're trolling for like-minded members of the opposite sex that can drive attendance at club "singles" rides to unprecedented numbers. Look for young women wearing lipstick and makeup, sexy shimmels or halter tops and really short shorts. The guys seem at a loss -- "You ride here often?" They'll give up too soon, pick up the pace and ride away from the objects of their desires, who, motoring along at 16+ mph, are left to wonder what happened.

    (How do cycling couples ever get together? That's a subject for another month.)

Mountain Bikin' Mamas and Papas

Rarely found on paved roads unless pedaling to and/or from the trailhead. Noted for mud-splotched baggy shorts, mud-splotched SPD pedals, mud-splotched technical frames and components. In a big hurry to get the paved part over with quickly; would much rather be atop Bolinas Ridge, shooting down Stevens Canyon Trail or circling China Camp. Yet curiously often seen a day or so later on a road bike and, like Tyler, Steve S. and Lynn (to name but a few), loving it just as much.

Newbie Recreational Riders

  • The smart ones
    Smart novice riders seek out programs that can help them ramp up fast. A lot of them are sporting Team in Training jerseys (not to mention shorts, socks, gloves and other logo accessories). These folks get lots of support and help with bike fit and fitness training.

    So do the ones who find their way to less gung-ho but just as effective programs such as the ACTC Academy or Effective Cycling-inspired Street Skills classes.

  • The not-so-smart ones
    My heart goes out to the newbies atop bikes that don't fit, or are too heavy, or have inappropriate gearing. Too often they've just bought that bike from a shop that's not interested in meeting their needs. And they may never learn to conserve energy, draft, or ride in groups or traffic.
Let's see. Who's missing from this list? BMXers. Antique collectors. And the observer/word freaks who write about all this. Like me. And Bill. Ray. Jim. And of course Maynard, who like myself used to write for California Bicyclist. Where are you now, Maynard? And what types do you see out there on the road today?

Naomi can be reached at naomibloom@earthlink.net

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