If you grew up middle class in the middle of the country, there were certain things you didn’t know existed: religions other than Christianity and Mormonism, ethnic food besides Mexican and Italian, salads made with anything except iceberg lettuce.
In Aurora, 30 years ago, having any kind of bike was a real score. Huffy, Giant, the K-Mart house brand—everything made us happy. Nobody knew about Greg LeMond or the Tour de France—we barely knew about France. And so I’ll never forget the first time we saw road bikers. We were down by the Highline Canal, trying to catch crawfish (probably so we could blow them up with firecrackers), and two road bikers stopped on the bike path to take a break. With their shiny, skinny bikes and tight lycra, there was little doubt that these men came from a higher class than we did: higher income, higher education, a greater knowledge of the world. This was a new kind of transportation, and possibly a new way to make our skinny, pale, nebbishy bodies into something strong, long and lean. And when we saw these men, we did what any pre-adolescent Aurorans would do: we fell down laughing, and we did not stop for 14 days. (And this was before we found out that many road bikers shave their legs.)
With the possible exception of Greco-Roman wrestling or outdoor chess, no sport, to us, ever surpassed road biking in off-the-charts, life-wrecking dorkitude. Most sports gear makes you look tougher: shoulder pads, rifles, Air Jordans. These men, in their giant helmet heads and thin spandexed bodies, resembled stick insects. Their shoes clicked like tap shoes, and they walked like colonoscopy patients. They had spent thousands of dollars to look like a ballerina from outer space.
Fast forward. Time has passed. Colorado has changed. Cool has changed. If you want to have friends in Colorado—which you do, because the good breweries and pot shops are in Colorado—you almost have to ride a road bike.
Even after all these years, with all these friends who ride road bikes, I have never joined in. But with summer coming, and with any hope of ever actually being cool having long since faded away for me, I borrowed a slick, light road bike from my friend Pat.
This was when I learned that the tables have turned. Decades after we kids ridiculed those road bikers, now the road bikers scoff at us. I learned this when I called Donald Cicchillo, the director of the Boulder Cycling Club, to ask if I could come with them to lose my road biking virginity.
“This is not something you can do,” he said.
“What do you mean?” I said. “I know how to ride a bike.”
“You’ve never done it? You’re not going to be able to keep up,” he said. (With introductions like this, membership in the club must be booming,) “This is not Cleveland. Boulder is a bit of a—what’s the word?—competitive place.”