Ride road bikes long enough and you’re bound to hear the “F-word.” I’ve used it. Perhaps you’ve said it too. It’s not very nice, and now more than ever, I’m trying to cut it out of my vocabulary. What am I talking about?
That’s right, it’s the catch-all term that roadies use for someone who isn’t indoctrinated in the ways of the peloton. A Fred might be someone who shows up on a group ride with a tee-shirt and a dirty bike. A Fred might unknowingly half-wheel fellow riders for miles and miles. A Fred might air up their tires with a gas-station compressor, wear a mirror on their helmet, or ride flat pedals in sneakers. Then there’s the type of Fred who’s completely inexperienced, but buys a $6,000 bike, an aero helmet, and the nicest kit. Either way, “Fred” is used by core cyclists to disparage newcomers and keep the gates of their clique closed.
It’s time to put an end to this pejorative. It’s time for us to take back the term “Fred” and turn it on its head. I’m here to make a case for why being a Fred is a good thing, why these new, enthusiastic riders are the heart and soul of the sport, why we should all aspire to be Freds.
The genesis of the Fred term is understandable. Road cycling is, by nature, a rather elitist pursuit. In some ways, it needs to be. We’re all riding along at high speeds in tightly packed groups, relying on each others’ skills, experience, and etiquette to finish the day without bodies covered in road rash and piles of wrecked bikes.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve gotten a little cross with a few riders in the bunch when I felt endangered by their riding. That doesn’t mean we have to be rude about it though. We shouldn’t shame or exclude. The onus should be on experienced riders to bring new cyclists into the fold. We are all in it together, rolling along in the draft, so it seems to me that any new rider who had an ounce of self-preservation instinct would greatly appreciate the pointers, no insults needed!
As for judgments about style, I think we experienced roadies could do with a little perspective. We are clacking around in gaudy slippers like penguins, wearing skin-tight clothing emblazoned with random corporate logos, wearing sunglasses and helmets from a bad ‘80s sci-fi movie. Who are we to turn up our noses at a tee-shirt or some plain-old cotton tube socks?!
Maybe we have a little more knowledge about the sport of cycling, and certainly, we have far more expensive apparel, gear, and bikes, but we seasoned cyclists are actually not that different from those we deride as “Freds.” We were all in their position once, and someday they may come to be in ours.
I doubt anyone reading this is actually a pro rider (except maybe Alex Howes … hey bud!). None of us are relying on the craft of cycling to pay the bills. This sport is maddeningly difficult and nearly impossible to master. And yet we’re all clipping in, rolling out, and challenging ourselves. We all have the same passion. We’re all doing it for pure recreation and enjoyment.
Anyone with enthusiasm for bikes and cycling should be embraced as one of us. If we can teach them something to make the experience better, we should do so, and do it in a way that’s encouraging and helpful.
If they’re wearing apparel that’s ill-suited for a grueling 70-mile weekend ride, we should give them credit for being a little bit tougher than us (and maybe offer some advice if they ask for it). If they’re decked out in high-vis clothing with lights and mirrors galore, we should remember the fact that it is a bit unnerving to be out on the roads in traffic, especially for new riders. If they’re riding an ancient, shoddy bike, we should admire their cool vintage ride and offer a spare tube if they flat (okay, maybe that should be when they flat).
Cycling is just too small of a sport to kick people out because they don’t live up to the “pro” standards that have become an unhealthy obsession for many. You might be a Fred, but if you love bikes, love riding, and are out there in the saddle, you’re doing it right.
We are all Freds.