I asked Maynard to write some original content for the Earle Wheels Website, and he readily agreed. He wrote a nice piece, much in the vein of columns he has been writing for decades. Any of his regular outlets would have run it without changing a word.
But I am picky, and wanted to coax more out of him. We exchanged a series of emails back and forth, with me suggesting changes and him making some of them. He got closer to what I had in mind, but wasn’t there yet. He wrote me saying he had thought of a different approach, and was going to start fresh. I responded with this: How would you feel about a dialog? You write 100 words or so, I respond to it in 100 words or so, and through the exchanges, build the article I want to write, but cannot write alone.
“That’s a super idea,” he responded.
And here it is …
Maynard: Tamar and I went to an evening gathering of cyclists, mostly veteran riders. Several got up to address the group, making comments that were not intended to be provocative. We were all supposed to nod our heads in agreement: “You bet.” One guy said that every ride involving two men at some point becomes a race. Do you believe that? He further (and he was not the only one) praised fit, gifted riders who could and did drop their riding buddies, even their spouses. Left them to finish on their own. Both of those statements were met with general approval, even laughter. I couldn’t get over it.
Earle: I thought it was just Madison. When I was a newspaper guy, I was away from cycling, barely rode at all and never in a big group. Literally, one organized century between 1989 and 2002. I managed a metric century in about 5 hours. When I moved to Wisconsin, I committed myself to riding more. I dropped 25 pounds or so riding the rolling hills on my fixed gear, then got out a geared bike. I found the newsletter and ride schedule for the local club and was interested. I finally went out on a B class ride with the club, because the start and finish were close to home, and found myself in a lower category race instead of a congenial ride. Nobody was really working together. There were gaps all over the place and squirrelly bike handling seemed to be the rule. As soon as the whole group did get back together, somebody attacked. This was no fun at all. I thought I had just picked the wrong club. I did not realize that the whole sport had changed in the years I was getting fat and lazy.
Maynard: What happened to class? Class and speed could be related, but in the ’70s and ’80s, being fast wasn’t nearly enough. Class mattered more. Riders would accept you if you were slow. There was no shame in being less fit or not a natural. If you were one of the guys you could fall off the back on the first climb and someone would drop back to tow you back up in their draft. Taking care of your riding friends meant class. If you had the strength to ride away, but instead used it to help others, you had class.
Earle: Yeah, class is what I’m talking about. In the mid ’70s when I first started to ride seriously the best thing you could say about a cyclist was, “He’s a classy rider.” Class wasn’t always about speed, or even about the ride. Classy guys would share their experience with you. When I lived in Charlottesville, all the other riders looked up to Andre Meyer. Yeah, he was strong and fast. He taught a lot of people about riding. And about the culture of cycling. He taught me a great lesson about how to dress on the bike. I was visiting his house about 20 miles west of C-Ville, butted up against Shenandoah National Park. We looked west and saw a tall, black thunderhead bearing down on us. Andre said, “You’re going to need this,” and handed me a thick wool long-sleeve jersey. When I got on my bike, it was 80 degrees and sunny. Once I was rolling, I did not feel at all hot and sweaty. Just a couple of miles into the ride, the front caught me. Not only was there torrential rain, but the temperature immediately dropped. I was soaked and miserable, but surprisingly warm. Class is having the right gear, knowing when to use it and being willing to share it.
Maynard: We were brought up in cycling by classy riders like Andre. I can hear their voices even today. I especially remember Bob Muzzy, who taught me so many things, but never sounded like a drill instructor. “The better the rider,” Muzzy said, “the slower he goes in town.” His words were never truer than that they are today, given big-attitude urban cyclists and Strava.
Earle: Bob Muzzy is a smooth rider. One reason he’s so smooth: He follows the old tradition of using a low fixed gear for winter training. Before the hipsters, even before the messengers, old school riders trained on fixed gear bikes. When I first tried to race bicycles, I joined the James River Velo Club, sponsored in part and generally led by a pair of Dutch brothers, the Teeuwens. The club had something like 100 racers at the time. The more experienced among them were not shy about telling newbies exactly what was what. A fixed gear was part of the program. Your fixed gear bike did not need to be fancy. Mine was a gas-pipe frame with a cottered crank, but it did have the right gear. I started riding 35 miles a day in February, and the coaches told me I could have a freewheel in April or May. That fixed gear turned out to be a tremendous training tool. I got faster really quickly. It was just another part of the program that turned a ‘guy on a bike’ into a ‘cyclist.’
Maynard: Everyone understood in those days that you weren’t going to get fit in a day. You got fit over time by doing lots of things right. One of them was lots of early-season miles on a low fixed gear. You certainly did not get fit by dropping your wife and leaving her to finish 2/3 of your club’s century by herself. If you did stuff like that you took heat from the guys. The group and your individual riding friends were keys to your progress. Not opportunities to “beat” somebody who wasn’t your opponent. Your riding friends were your best friends in life — on and off the bike. You weren’t going to ride away from them in search of some cheap sense of triumph. Nor did they want to drop you. That just wasn’t the idea. If there was competition among you on steep grades or in city limit sign sprints, you reassembled immediately after. You were each a part of the ride. You felt that there was something very cool going on in those rides…and you were part of it. I am sure that there was indeed something cool going on, something that has been lost. Maybe it was a sort of ideal community, riders looking out for one another. It’s no wonder so many of us are nostalgic.
Earle: One of the cool things was that almost all serious cyclists could recognize each other. If you were going the same direction, you would ride together as long as the pace was comfortable. You did not have to drop everyone you saw. Now, not only does every group ride turn into a competition, but when a solo bike rider sees another, he has to chase him down and drop him. That’s a game that can get downright silly. Often I will have kept my pace slow to let a rider behind me catch up. The guy then blows by me without a word and gets 100 meters down the road — but never opens a bigger gap than that.
Maynard: A hundred times….
Earle: I’ll admit it. I sometimes let myself get goaded into the game. When that happens, when the guy who passed me is clearly slower over the next few miles, I will return the favor and pass him. There are a couple of differences, though. As I’m catching him I say “On your left” to let him know I’m passing, then something like “Great day for a ride, isn’t it?” And when I drop him, he will stay dropped. To me, this is just passing along a lesson I learned a long time ago. No matter how fast you are, there is somebody out there who is faster.