At the Back was a column in every VeloNews magazine for decades. It was a place where riders and staff writers would share personal stories. This year, we are running an At the Back every week for members to enjoy. In this piece from the 2006 Buyer’s Guide, Ben Delaney explains his metamorphosis into becoming “that guy” out on the road.
Without warning, it happened. I became that guy. The guy we used to mock. You know the one: all the high-zoot gear out for an ordinary weekend ride.
Rewind a few years. Racing in college instilled certain attitudes in me. Never train on the nice rubber. And never, ever go out for a long training ride on “race” wheels.
And so, when somebody would roll up to the group ride astride a pro bike, high-dollar tubular wheels and all, we would roll our eyes. “Get a load of that guy.” “Like he needs deep carbon wheels for a training ride.” And on and on.
Among our young-punk group, the understanding was that sweet stuff is for racing, period. If you weren’t racing that day, you had no justification for anything but heavy box rims and thick tires — training wheels. If you weren’t racing that season, you had no justification for a nice race bike.
Living in New Mexico, the goathead (a.k.a. “puncture vine”) capital of the universe, made the thick-tire rule sensible. The nice-wheel rule was less defensible — theoretically, trick lightweight wheels could be easily damaged and therefore should be saved for racing. But the nice-bike statute was flat-out silly, based on blatant, unspoken envy. Nonetheless, these tenets remained part of the culture.
I should have been prepared for the metamorphosis. Some larger power seemed keen on transforming me into that which I ridiculed. In high school, I laughed at cyclists, at the very thought of riding a bike. I recall passing a few roadies while driving up to the 10,678-foot Sandia Crest. “What are those nutjobs thinking? Why would you subject yourself to such misery? And who told them it’s okay to dress like that?” Cigarette in hand, I shook my head at one rider, his face red and grimaced from the effort.
A few years later, I was that guy.
Similarly, as an amateur racer with no familial responsibilities, I laughed out loud at masters riders getting up before dawn to train. Hammering away on the trainer before sun-up, or strapping lights on the bike, and pounds of clothing on the body to ride in the dark of winter? Ridiculous. But sure enough, one kid and a few years later, there I was, that guy.
Being that guy has its benefits, though. Riding to the Sandia Crest is a beautiful challenge. Getting up early to meet friends feels like getting away with something, getting in two hard hours before many people even put on the coffee.
Fast forward to the present. Chad, VeloNews’s production manager, just bought a ’cross bike and invited me on an easy off-road lunch ride. I don’t have a ’cross bike, and I no longer own any “training wheels.” So I went on my 2005 Dura-Ace S-Works road bike, my $1,900 low-spoke-count wheelset banging over rocks and washboards.
Why not? Today’s high-end products are not only sweet but solid. Sharp, educated people around the world have poured thousands of hours into manipulating alloys and carbon fiber into the most optimized forms possible for cycling. If lightweight handlebars can hold up under Magnus Bäckstedt hammering across the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix, they can probably handle me dawdling around on my lunch hour.
Back in the day, another common argument for riding heavy wheels and thick tires was that it felt great when you did put on light wheels with race rubber. This remains true. But with only a handful of races on my calendar this year, I want to enjoy each of my short rides to the hilt.
Do I need such sweet gear? Heck no, but who cares? I don’t need good beer, but you better believe I’m buying Beamish, not Schlitz. I don’t need to be riding a bicycle at all. But whether pedaling down a dirt road at lunch or racing in lung-burning circles around an industrial park, riding bikes is fun. And riding nice bikes is better.
So now I’m that guy with all the pro gear and barely enough fitness to pedal a 16-pound bike out of the garage. What next? Well, I’m eligible to race masters for the first time this year.
For an indication of the guy I’ll be next, maybe I should take a hard look at the guys who crack me up now. There’s the guy who swears masters crits are “harder than Pro/I/II because they’re shorter.” Or the guy who takes masters racing way too seriously, yelling at officials and other riders during some forgettable Tour de Nowhere Special. And, of course, there’s always the guy who grumbles about single, childless riders having an unfair advantage.
Look for me out there on the nice rubber this year. I’ll be that guy.