Austin Tri-Cyclist Blog

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Cultivating the Roadie Cool

by Kat Hunter

Pro cyclist and bike mechanic Tristan Uhl, unflappable
Long-time roadies are the cool kids of the cycling world, and not just in terms of their general aplomb and fashion sense. They're also remarkably composed.

For me, the sound of a car horn is one of the worst in the world, like being called the dirtiest of all dirty names. I find that even when I'm mostly in the wrong, if a driver lays on the horn, I'm more likely to defend whatever action inspired his anger and respond in kind. If a car intentionally cuts me off or does something dangerous, I give the person a piece of my mind with colorful words and descriptive gestures. I take it all so personally that I'll still be angry days later.   

At the root of it, I get startled or scared. Being on a bike is a vulnerable position, and with Austin's roads and traffic, I often feel like I'm entering an all-out war zone—without the two-ton steel armor everyone else is wearing.     

But when I ride with a truly "pro" roadie, the atmosphere is much different. Someone just yelled at us to "get off the road"? Or (an entertaining Easter Sunday a few years back) to "get to church"?  The experienced roadie responds one of two ways: sarcasm or complete disregard. A wry wave, a smile, a blank stare, an expression of casual indifference...all seem to communicate smug disdain rather than anger.

I aspire to that, like a kind of Buddhist bicycle philosophy that, while not accepting a call to battle, doesn't back down from it, either. It's dignified. It's productive. You can't be arrested for it. 

But how do they do it? In my case, all the good and noble intentions in the world won't stop a surge of anger from flowing helmet-to-shoes like a lightning bolt. I have three theories: 1) Serious roadies have no fear. Obviously. The personalities involved in competition tend to be the least worried about leaving skin on the pavement. 2) They ride so much that they've just come to accept and ignore drivers' aggressive behavior, as they would rain or wind. 3) All physical and emotional resources are being reserved for the workout itself, which makes responding to or steaming about an unrelated incident not worth the effort required.

These unruffled roadies, whatever their true intentions or compulsions, have a good strategy. A calm approach will usually get you further in a dialogue with someone. If the only words a driver can exchange with you are antagonistic, you probably weren't going to accomplish anything with the communication anyway. And, of course, sometimes the fact that you're keeping your calm when the other person clearly can't has its own hidden bonus: it can be infuriating. All in all, the system works much better for minor infractions, and can be adapted as needed for other situations. There's certainly a time and a place for being angry and taking a stand in spandex and cleats, but it should probably be the exception rather than the rule, if for nothing more than your own sanity and a little positive cycling PR.  

Maybe the important thing to at least TRY to remember, in the quest of roadie cool, is that the person on the high road usually does win. Or at least looks really suave in the process.  

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