Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Classic Cyclist, Part Four

Above: Self-portrait of the author with Jim Swarzman during the San Diego 200km Brevet, January, 2011

The Classic Cyclist, Part Four

By Chris Kostman

Click here for Part One, click here for Part Two, and click here for Part Three of this series.

As I explained in the first three parts of this article, cyclists entering the sport of road cycling 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 respects the backbone of the sport. The point of this series of articles it to bring these uninitiated cyclists “up to speed.” Continuing with the theme begun in the first three parts of this article, here are some more things the classic cyclist knows and does:


The classic cyclist “looks just right” on his bike. The clean and minimalist bike set-up and the spotless, humming drivetrain are mirrored in two additional manners by the cyclist astride the wheel: Attire is neither garish nor loud, nicely fitting (neither “parachuting” nor the dreaded “sausage effect”), and tasteful. Most importantly, the classic cyclist’s posture and demeanour on the bicycle are confident, relaxed, and powerful with a tendency to ride “back on the saddle” with hands either on the bar tops while in traffic or enjoying conversation with another rider, or deep in the drops while pushing the pace. Pedaling style is the very definition of souplesse. As such, the classic cyclist is recognizable by these trademark characteristics even while running errands in street clothes on a 50-year-old three-speed.


The classic cyclist flows seamlessly with other cyclists and road users, while smoothly tackling all that the road and trail surfaces dish out. By staying in the moment, relaxed, aware, and paying attention with full peripheral vision and attentive hearing, “obstacles,” hazards, pedestrians, cyclists, and other forms of traffic are taken into account as forward momentum is maintained. She rides smoothly and calmly, whether riding solo, sitting in a group, or leading a paceline. When others are following, road hazards are quietly pointed out with small, but specific, hand signals and gestures (verbal warnings are rarely used). By riding predictably and elegantly, the classic cyclist saves energy, minimizes risk, and flows proactively through the world.


The classic cyclist does not fixate on mileage on elapsed time, nor elevation gain. In the grand scheme of things, a 100-mile ride is no better nor more worthy than an 87-mile ride. Miles are ridden for the sake of the experience, not to fill a spreadsheet. (In fact, many classic cyclists eschew bicycle computers and training logs.) Likewise, he will stop to enjoy a view, to read a historic marker, to help another cyclist (or motorist), to take a photograph, or to sit down and enjoy a cup of tea at a new, or favorite, café. All such moments are part of “the ride” and are to be savored as much as the hard push up a mountain pass while “putting the hurt” on friends and clubmates.


Riding no-hands for miles on end, removing or installing booties and leg warmers, and putting on a jacket while pedaling are all commonplace and natural acts for the classic cyclist. Indeed, he can change all pieces of clothing, except for shorts, while pedaling. Stopping for a café or scenic view is one thing, but stopping for actions better done while rolling smoothly onwards is quite another. The skills, balance, and awareness necessary for these classic talents make cycling safer, more graceful, and more rewarding.


The classic cyclist is an outdoor athlete who puts a premium on personal health, always takes a broad and selfless point of view, and pursues a soft life’s walk on the planet. Stopping to pick up some trash - especially any items clearly dropped by another cyclist - is a natural, every-ride experience. Running errands by bike, such as stops at the post office and bank at the start or finish of a ride, or actually bike commuting regularly, minimizes her footprint and provides more opportunities to “enjoy the ride.” An attitude of “you only live once” permeates her sense of adventure, her sense of purpose, and her appreciation for all that cycling brings to her life. The classic cyclist lives by the mantra, “if you’re going to do something, do it well.”


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, the Triple Ironman, and the 24 Hours of Canaan, he also organizes the Badwater Ultramarathon and Furnace Creek 508 races, as well as the Rough Riders Rally, CORPScamp Death Valley, and a series of four century, ultra century, and double century rides in California. Kostman is regularly seen on the roads and trails of California and beyond, riding brevets, centuries, bike tours, and other events and adventures. Learn more at

Above three images: The author and his Rivendell Roadeo prior to the 2011 San Diego 200km Brevet.