Jean Paul Sartre wrote the famous line: “hell is other people”, today I’m repurposing it: “hell is other riders.” Now, I hope I don’t murder this line, and do it justice. I don’t want to incur the wrath of literary folk around the web.
The line is often misunderstood as a literal, “Ugh, people! Am I right?” I have no plans on going down that road today. We have enough divisiveness in cycling at the moment for me to start criticizing everyone. Plus my soapbox is non existent. It’s also not “the world revolves around me and everyone is wrong”. And I refuse to take it down “every other rider that does things different is wrong” road. Shitty riders will always be there, whether they hold things up, loiter around, litter or just get on your nerves. That’s part of sharing trails and we either learn to let things go, or correct them.
So if it’s not all that, then what is it?
It’s more about how we view ourselves through how others see us and act around us. We view ourselves, based on how others view us. It’s also how we see the world around us. Is everyone mean to you? Then it’s definitely a reflection of you being mean to everyone around you. It also has a sense of, you act one way in public as that’s your social self with eyes everywhere watching. Yet when you are alone, you are someone else, a free you. It’s why we keep our skeletons and guilty pleasures nicely locked away. Hell is the ever present look you feel others give you, even when no one else is looking.
How does hell translate to bicycles and cycling?
Well, pretty much in every way that’s not riding. This sport is very social and wether we like it or not, who we interact with, who we interact against and what we interact with, dictate our opinions and choices.
How much hell did 29ers, plus tires, and e-bikes get? How many of us are out there hating these things without ever having ridden one? I’d say most of us angry talking heads. Why? Because we read or heard an opinion that resonated with us or with our social group and we stuck with it.
When 29ers were coming out, everyone was against them. I was against them, to hell and back. And yet, I hadn’t ridden one. Everyone I knew didn’t like them and made fun of people who had them. So I went down that road as well. It changed my preconceived notion of what a wheel size was, and they seemed aimed at “noobs” and XC riders. Not for me Mr. Super Enduro, I remember sounding like a parrot repeating: “29 for XC, 27.5 for enduro, 26 for DH”. So what changed? Well, they became common, capable and good looking. Pro riders started using them with success and the dislike slowly withered away.
For a good while, I have had an anti carbon stance; use aluminum as much as possible. The more I look into my position, I realize it’s influenced by the people around me, the stores I shop at, and my disposable income level. Still I pretend to be a carbon anti, and yet, look at Ibis’s Mojo with awe and I would do anything to have one. Except spend way to much, so I stick by my aluminum RB and talk smack about carbon; reflecting my insecurity about affording one.
Hell, the ever present look of others
My bike, my clothes, my gear, they are a reflection of how I want to be perceived as a cyclist. They are my reflection, as much as they are a reflection of how other riders see me and their influence on me both positive and negative. Hell for cyclists is the ever present judging look you feel others give you and your stuff, even when no one else is looking.
The majority of our wants, likes and purchases are done to impress people we don’t know or don’t care much about. To try and fit in at any cost, “Look at me! I’m cool with this stuff I bought!” or “Look at me! I’m cooler, I don’t care about that.” But the reality is we do care. Whether we look to fit in with the main culture or resent it and go with the counter culture, we care enough to fit in somewhere. Even introverts not fitting in, are fitting in somewhere. Marketing folks know this, and it’s why divisiveness works so well to sell more. Of course this is just all re-labeled like “enduro specific,” “premium,” “versatile,” “advanced,” and all the other buzzwords. Its up to us to establish how to guide our life on needs and value, instead of perceived social status and buzzwords.
I tend to ride plain jerseys and prefer bikes from small companies. That in no way makes me better or worse than someone who likes the neon billboard jerseys and the big box bikes. Try to care less about what you need to fit in, and what others do. And instead focus on how good we have it and how we can improve with what we have.