Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Classic Cyclist, Part One

The Classic Cyclist, Part One
By Chris Kostman

Originally published in Endurance News #70, June/July 2010

Photo above of the author (L) and Sky Boyer by Dustin Sharp

Road Cyclists entering the sport over the past fifteen or so years have tended to come in by way of mountain biking, triathlon, or fitness, rather than pure road cycling. As a result, most of these “cyclists” lack the knowledge which makes up the foundation of the classic cyclists’ repertoire and which builds upon the backbone of the sport. Here are some things the classic cyclist knows and does:

The best way to start a ride, or conduct any aerobic activity, is to warm up properly. “Warming up” is not just about elevating heart rate, however; it’s also about gradually warming up the entire body and bringing one’s attention to the matter at hand. This takes time to do it properly. A classic cyclist will take the first ten to twenty miles of a ride, or even a race, to warm up properly, usually staying off the big chainring and two smallest cogs. As a result, he or she will actually ride better and more quickly than the current jackrabbit style of cyclists who catapult onto every training ride or event. Frankly, it’s shocking to me that riders today just take off “like a bat out of hell” even on a training ride, or social ride. Back in the day, at a double century or a road race, riders would all cruise together for the first hour or more, socializing while warming up properly. They’d end up becoming fitter, setting faster PRs than riders today in the same events, getting to know one another better, AND having more fun.


Most cyclists nowadays not only don’t know how to ride in a paceline, but that they don’t even understand why they should. In ultras, or even club rides, where drafting is allowed and the overall intention is to get down the road ASAP, one thing should be kept in mind: Work together, and when it’s not your turn up front, covet that rear wheel of your buddy! In the moment, you may think “it’s too hard to keep up at this speed,” but the classic cyclist knows that riding solo instead of with another means more work and less speed. Where’s the logic in that? Equally important, there’s a beauty and a grace to working with one or more fellow cyclists with an “all for one, and one for all” attitude.

This effort to keep the group together is specifically continued at checkpoints during events; those who arrive together, leave together. (Riders today will often sneakily slip out of a checkpoint a minute or three ahead of the riders whose wheels they were just drafting. Riding solo, or with just one or two others, they will then ride more slowly than they had been in the group. Why not just keep the group together after the checkpoint, too?)


Allow me to let Tim KrabbĂ©, author of “The Rider,” explain:

"The greater the suffering, the greater the pleasure. That is nature's payback to riders for the homage they pay her by suffering. Velvet pillows, safari parks, sunglasses; people have become woolly mice. They still have bodies that can walk for five days and four nights through a desert of snow, without food, but they accept praise for having taken a one-hour bicycle ride. 'Good for you.' Instead of expressing their gratitude for the rain by getting wet, people walk around with umbrellas. Nature is an old lady with few friends these days, and those who wish to make use of her charms, she rewards passionately."

The classic cyclist accepts suffering as an intricate part of the experience. He or she certainly doesn’t whine in person, nor blog about “how tough that was” after the fact, nor just “call it a day” like some child collecting up his toys from the sandbox to go home and pout with Mommy.


Whether he or she rides as a lone ranger or a dedicated club rider, the classic cyclist shares a bond with all fellow cyclists. As such, other cyclists are always acknowledged along the road, usually with a tip of the head to riders in the opposing direction, or a cheery hello when passing or being passed. Classic cyclists never ride hi-lessly, wavelessly, and nodlessly by. Likewise, categorizing or deriding other cyclists is a pursuit never considered. All on bicycles are appreciated and respected.


Until about 20 years ago, it was relatively easy to spot a good cyclist. Simply put, good bikes went with good riders. Sometimes good riders went with so-so bikes, but the opposite was almost never true. Unfortunately, that's not the scene today as cycling has become trendy, hip, and stylish. (Note that stylishness is, of course, the absolute antithesis of style.) Cycling has also become a status-related activity, so much so that when one sees a really fine machine humming down the road or trail, it is almost invariably being ridden by someone whose ability doesn't come close to matching his or her checking account. Of course, the classic cyclist can spot the poseur right away, regardless of his or her equipment (but is still nice to him or her).

See the original publication of this article in the scans above and below.

Chris Kostman has been a classic cyclist since 1982. Besides competing in races as diverse as the Race Across America, the Iditabike Mountain Bike Race, and the 24 Hours of Canaan, he also organizes the Badwater Ultramarathon and Furnace Creek 508 races, a series of four century rides, and the Rough Riders Rally. This is his fifteenth article for Endurance News. Learn more at his blog,, and at

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