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On the outside

This is written partly in response to Jacquie Phelan’s recent musings about where women fit into the cycling industry, and partly because I sometimes kick ideas around about my own “place” in the two-wheeled underground.

I think part of the problem(s) that both Jacquie and Bike Hugger were addressing (1) (2) (3) stem from how very commodified cycling has become. You’re being sold a look, a niche, a lifestyle. You can be a rugged, outdoorsey moutain biker, a fleet, elite roadie, a hi-viz, nerdilicious commuter, a hardcore fixie hipster, or a quaint and ladylike city cyclist swooping along gracefully on an European Citybike. You can buy the identity, kit by kit, from a well-stocked LBS and become a demographic.

Then, there’s the fetish of commodity, and this is something I see pretty regularly from my own dirtbag-woman perspective. Cycling, in all its guises (even the twee euro-city-bike contingent) is still pretty male dominated. And a lot of guys who totally buy into the whole “lifestyle” want to date women who fit into that comprehensive picture. Lady cyclists (and we know who we are) become a bit of a “hot commodity” because we’re relatively rare. And because of how niche-marketed even bicycling has become, the selection narrows if the selector’s criteria are at all precise. Some MTB guys would rather masturbate eternally than date a roadie. And god forbid a hipster even look twice at a hi-viz nerd. If you fit handily into one of the archetypes, then you may find yourself beset with male attention that you may not have been looking for.

And the cycling industry seems to be trying to promote some sort of sexual insanity, like this CyclePassion thingy or Knog’s TaTU-like girlkissing campaign, playing into this male lust for hottt biker babes. I think it indirectly fosters the notion that girls on bikes are all vixens just waiting to bust out with their boobs and booties and Tawney Kitaen hair-tossing.

And if you don’t fit into one of the pre-sets, then a lot of folks just don’t know what to do with you.

I’ve ridden bikes with enthusiasm and regularity since I picked up the knack at about age 8. For the majority of my cycling life, I’ve ridden bikes that don’t make any good sense. A Schwinn Continental that was at least two sizes too big. A Huffy 10-speed mountain-bike-shaped abomination that I managed to wring six years service from. The Trek 800 that I’m still flogging along. This bike, I have dubbed “The Cadillac Of Old Shitty Mountain Bikes.”
The Cadillac of Old Shitty Mountain Bikes
It has been revived more times than a Gilbert & Sullivan musical.

I never dress right, and I’m always wearing those godawful boots:

I recall the last time I rode the MS150, thinking that I could create a highly effective drinking game if I carried a flask and took a pull off it every time somebody asked me how in the hell I rode in those boots. (My usual answer is that I pedal).

I was riding down to Friz a couple of weeks ago, with the intention of playing a little bit of frisbee while riding a bicycle with a bunch of other friends who want to play frisbee while riding bicycles, too. I also had the intention of stopping by the grocery store afterwards ’cause the cupboards were getting a bit bare. So I was riding the old Trek abuse bike with my big red waterproof panniers which have almost certainly seen more grocery store action than touring action, coast-to-coast trip notwithstanding.

I was riding to midtown, and I’d been fighting my way up the hill Penn Valley Park on that heavy-assed Trek when this fellow on a road bike overtakes me, as well he should given the weight-and-performance disparity of our respective steeds. And I guess he was intrigued by my setup or insanity or lovely haircut or something ’cause he slowed down and proceeded to ride alongside of me and rhapsodize about the cycling lifestyle.

He said to me, “I can see that you’re a true cyclist.” This comment gave me pause and continues to churn around in my brain in a sort of dyspeptic fashion.

What in the everlasting hell is a “true cyclist?”

Moreover, is it that much of a part of my identity?

I kind of think that it isn’t. I mean biking is obviously a big part of my life; I ride nearly everywhere I go, but I don’t really think of myself as a “cyclist.” This may be a lame copout in the manner of women who are all “well, of course I think women should have like rights and stuff, but I’m not a feminist.” I’m not sure if this is analogous.

I just know that I’m pretty turned off by how niche-marketed cycling has become and don’t feel like any of the pre-set categories really comprise a comfortable fit for me. Advocacy annoys the shit out of me. I’m not hardcore enough for any kind of racing. I’m not willing to go out of my way to look cute while riding. I’m an irredeemably shitty (if enthusiastic) mountain biker. I just don’t put enough effort into doing anything right to do anything right (yay, solipsism!). I just ride a bike, try not to wreck too much, and get to where I’m going and have a little fun along the way.

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