Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Letter to Lisa's Mum - What is a cyclist and the $15,000 starter kit

Lisa's Mum received the following letter from Jerry Castle. She'll compose a reply, but wanted to throw it open to her learned readership first. If you have any suggestions, please send them through to her.

Hello Lisa’s Mum,
I’m told by reputable sources that you are the expert on all cycling related matters. I’m hoping you can help me with a question that has been troubling me.

This may seem philosophical, perhaps a touch post-modern, but I’m struggling with the question, “what is a cyclist?”

I was happy with the answer, “someone or something (happy to include Thai performance monkeys) that rides a bike”, but a few recent events have made me question this logical position – the following one included.

Sitting in my favourite breakfast spot a few weeks ago, my bleary morning-eyes were assaulted by a gleaming 2010 HTC-Columbia kit stretched like a sausage casing over a 140kg beast. The owner of the kit was broadcasting his proud achievement of conquering sixty Beach Rd bitumen kilometres that very morning. At his table was a similarly HTC-Columbia clad heavy-weight, clearly the riding buddy (team mate?) of the above mentioned beast, and his wife, who was kitted up in Fluid gear (Anaconda’s cheap and cheerful private label).

I couldn’t help but eavesdrop on the conversation of the two HTC-Columbia team mates (their female companion sat quietly and read the paper). Come to think of it, I doubt it even qualified as eavesdropping; the conversation was for the public record – the café was their stage. Topics covered included performance on the days climbs (climbs on Beach Rd?), weight savings from switching to carbon wheels (perhaps more efficient to lose a few of those 140kg!) – you get the point.

I’ve seen this scene a thousand times before. I’m sure you have too, Lisa’s Mum. Fat dudes with expensive bikes proudly drinking coffee after a 20km roll on the flat. It’s never bothered me before, but it’s starting to itch a little.

Are these people cyclists? Or have they simply purchased the “$15,000 starter kit”?

I contend that they have bought the starter kit because they want to identify themselves as cyclists. They want to have a legitimate answer to the question, “so what do you do?” Having bought the starter kit I think they feel comfortable answering, “I’m a cyclist”.

While starter kits are familiar in plenty of other sub-cultures – skateboarding, emo kids, and members of the Fitzroyalty – the phenomenon is not universal. You don’t see 45 kg runts in muscle-singlets gathering en masse in the cafes, bragging about bench-pressing a 12 kg PB or discussing the optimal amino acid blend for mass gain. What is it about some sub-cultures that make them conducive to starter kits?

Perhaps I’m getting worked up over nothing. The saying “all the gear but no idea” has been used by those who think they are better than others in a particular sub-culture for a long time. But who is keeping score? We live in a world where it is possible to gain fame and become independently wealthy by being a socialite – you don’t need skill you just need to look the part.

Anyway… I’m rambling now. I’m not sure whether the HTC-Columbia team mates qualified as cyclists or not in my book. I’d like to say no, but I’d also like to think of myself as less elitist than that. I will say that I did enjoy watching their departure. While one of the heavy weights was mounting his carbon steed his wife bolted off into the distance on her practical flat-bar commuter bike. Mr HTC was left wrong-geared at the side of the road squealing, “wait up honey!”, as he struggled with the dual task of clipping in and changing down a few gears. Beaten by the task, Mr HTC eventually over-balanced, tumbling into the gutter. OK so this very last part is fiction – the rest is true.

I am happy to say that Mrs HTC qualified as a cyclist in my mind.

So Lisa’s Mum, what is a cyclist? I’m confused!

I hope you can offer some advice on this matter.



  1. It’s not the $15k starter kits that bother me. It’s the $2k commuter-warrior starter kit owners who are the real menace. Seriously, 140kg owners of nice bikes and nice kit pose no danger to anyone – let them have their fun. They are keeping the doors of the LBS open.

    BUT… as a result of the commuter-warriors, riding to work is more dangerous than racing downhill MTB. On my roll into work, not a day goes by without a commuter-warrior swinging out wide into oncoming traffic to overtake a pedestrian on a bike path – their head down, buried in their own personal smash zone. Thank god for the fluoro spray jacket being included in their starter kit, otherwise the oncoming traffic would have little warning and need to dive into the Yarra.

    Don’t get me started on recumbent cyclists!

  2. Wow! How naïve am I? I didn’t know there was so much snobbery and angst in the vast and diverse world of cycling. I have two bikes, no lycra or carbon, ride about 200 kilometres a week and wave to everybody I see on two (or more) wheels, be they 145kg blokes on their $15,000 “starter kits”, commuters, Triathletes (training for the Iron man), mums with kids, touring cyclists and yes even blokes on recumbents. It’s just great watching the world disappear under my front wheel; I’m with Lisa, I Ride Happy!
    Tery M

  3. Tery, please activate your humour circuits and re-read the internet.


  4. I must admit that kind of find it funny to see the $15,000 starter kits ridden by 140kg people. And as for the team jersey, I wouldn't be caught dead in one.

    That being said, truth be known when i strip away my delusional behaviour, its only that I'm jealous because i don't have the financial clout/talent to justify said starter kit to myself or anyone else for that matter.

    As for the team jersey that's because i believe the 'not pro' folk-law that wearing such jerseys are verboten unless you have a 'contract'.

    But at the end of the day who cares - both of us are having a red hot go... and besides, i have a red bike so I'm guaranteed to go faster anyway!!

  5. Is it ok to wear protour kit if it's cheap enough?? I picked up some 2010 garmin team kit crazy cheap!!!I know i look like a clown, but i can't see myself when i'm riding anyway.

  6. No. You can buy it, wear it around the house, hang it up and frame it on your bedroom wall, do whatever you like with it, but do not wear it in public. You will look like a clown. And a dick.

  7. Jerry clearly has a poor understanding of sub-nuclear physics. I saw on this documentary show "Fringe" (Go! on Wednesdays) that there are multiple universes and that we have quantum entanglement across them. Clearly I can justify a $15k bike, because in one of those infinite universes I am an Olympic cyclist and need it. I'm just doing my part.