Passed Behavior

Even though I don’t race anymore, I still get in lots of time on the road bike.  I also still ride pretty much the same way I did when I was racing – fast and hard!  As a result, I regularly pass other cyclists during my rides.  Not that I’m a super stud – the vast majority of cyclists I pass are recreational riders and weekend warriors who don’t have the benefit of years of racing in their legs.  I try to be “polite,” not take them by surprise, and treat them with respect – racing types are often accused of “arrogance” towards non-racers, and I don’t want to be automatically regarded as such due to my flash bike and color-coordinated lycra.  I suppose there are different ways to accomplish this, but my way is to announce “On your left” as I get within earshot, pass them at an even keel without standing or accelerating, give them a friendly nod and a “Howdy” as I pass, and then continue on my way at the same steady pace.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I was not like this when I first began racing.  In those days, anxious to validate my abilities, I would chase down any cyclist I saw up the road and consider it a “victory” when I caught and passed them.  I tried to ride by them as fast as possible so they could be really impressed at how fast I could ride.  And if another cyclist caught and tried to pass me?  Well, it was on!  In the years that followed, I learned to appreciate the traditions and etiquette of road cycling as much as the act itself.  After racing for seven years and achieving some degree of competitiveness, I eventually learned that it is the character and not the speed with which one rides that impresses others.  Ironically, the better a racer I became, the less I felt the need to demonstrate those abilities.

It is with that backdrop that I share a few recent events that have left me chuckling.  Both involve the reactions of cyclists that I had overtaken on one of my rides and remind me of my former, less mature self.  The first happened a few weeks ago on my lunchtime route, when I passed a cyclist on Clayton Road.  He was on a pretty good road bike and dressed in one of the local team kits – unusual compared to what I normally see on my lunch rides. I passed with my standard courtesies, and when I didn’t recognize him as anyone I’d seen before I continued north on Baxter.  At the bottom of the hill I had to slow for a stoplight but could see that it would turn green again soon, so I scrubbed a little speed on the approach and then started picking it back up when the light turned green right as I was reaching the intersection.  I had forgotten about the cyclist, but right as I was picking it back up again he came flying by me (I don’t know how he would’ve stopped had the light not turned green when it did) and headed into the short, stiff climb just past the intersection.  I just kind of chuckled as I watched this and continued picking it back up, and then I could see him slowing rapidly on the climb.  It was a pretty easy climb, really, and without any effort I started closing back in on him.  “Great,” I thought, as I really wasn’t interested in playing games with him, so I eased up to let him get over the hump, and as he did he started thrashing the pedals to get going again, even looking back over his shoulder – presumably to check out whether he was still “beating” me?  Fortunately, he quickly  turned onto a side street, and I was spared any further annoyance.

A few days later I was stopped at a light on Chesterfield Parkway and saw a cyclist turn right onto the Parkway and continue on ahead of me.  Like the previous guy, this guy was also on a racing-type bike and wearing kit, though not from any local team that I could recognize.  Again, in my younger days this would have been like a red cape to the bull, and I would have started chasing him down as soon as the light turned green.  However, I was in the last 15 miles of a hilly 70-miler, so even if I had the notion the smart move would’ve still been to chill.  Nevertheless, as I continued on the Parkway I could see him on the climb up ahead, and by the time we reached Wildhorse Creek it was clear that I was closing in on him.  When I was fairly close, I had to gauge whether I really wanted to pass – he was carrying a decent pace, but just a bit too slow.  I made the move on a slight rise, but then got held up at the stoplight.  He pulled up behind me, and I turned and said, “Hey.”  He replied in kind, but something about his tenor said, “Don’t talk to me.”  So, in awkward silence, I stood there waiting for the light to turn.  When it did, I started off and got up to speed, but I could “feel” him on my wheel.  I’m sorry, but it’s just really presumptuous to ride somebody’s wheel without at least asking them if it’s alright.  Regardless, I kept my pace, and he followed me for the next mile or so until we hit a climb.  He continued pacing me on the bottom half, and then about midway up he moves around and passes.  It was a harder effort than I wanted to do (much harder than what he was doing on the previous climb when I passed him), so I didn’t try to up the effort at all.  As he passed, he kind of gave me a look but didn’t say anything, and then continued on ahead.  Unlike the previous guy, I didn’t have to worry about what to do with this guy once we crested the climb, as he continued jamming a hard pace for the next half mile or so before turning off on Kehrs Mill.

Who are these guys?  They’re me.  When I was younger, more insecure, and less appreciative of the finer points of cycling etiquette.  I’m sure both of them were much more impressed with themselves than I was, but I can live with it.  In fact, maybe in a few years, having become sage veterans of the road, they’ll recount the experience themselves and feel the same twinge of embarrassment that I feel when I think back on similar events in my earlier days of cycling.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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About Ted C. MacRae

Ted C. MacRae is a research entomologist by vocation and beetle taxonomist by avocation. Areas of expertise in the latter include worldwide jewel beetles (Buprestidae) and North American longhorned beetles (Cerambycidae). More recent work has focused on North American tiger beetles (Cicindelidae) and their distribution, ecology, and conservation.
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6 Responses to Passed Behavior

  1. Brian H. says:

    Great post, Ted! I myself struggle with how to pass someone without seeming like an as$. Even at my slow pace, on occasion I meet someone slower. Despite my best efforts at a friendly wave and “hey” or “how’s it going” I worry that I’m coming off as a jerk. Oh, well, can’t make everyone happy.

    The worst is your first case…you pass someone, then they destroy themselves passing you, then you pass them again. Cyclists…what can you do?

    • Thanks, Brian. As long as I know I did my part to not turn it into a competition, I don’t lose any sleep about the way others act. I never get any bad reactions from the recs and weekenders – just racers (and only the occasional one at that). I suspect the ones reacting like that are young’uns who haven’t yet learned respect for their elders 🙂

  2. Patrick says:

    I liked your conclusion as to whom these cyclists are. Everyone is a reflection of me, and I am a reflection of each of them.

    • Hi Patrick – this post started off as a rant against such behavior, until I realized I used to do exactly the same thing. We are all reflections of each other – just at different stages of awareness.

  3. Allison says:

    This is great–in the town of slow-ww-ww-ww- runners and cyclists, I have a double whammy when I pass slow runners and zip past slow kids on nice bikes that I could make go faster. Man, you’re not at fault at all–I hope that when I zip by others and they feel the wind in their hair, it makes them more motivated to hit that max VO2 and work to their highest ability. That’s what good sprinters are made of.

    • Thanks, Allison. I bet you’re as passionate about running as you are about everything else you do. You understand what drives us to go faster – it isn’t the need to compete, just an expression of the passion within.

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