Lance is bad for cycling

I was working up to a post on my mixed feelings about what Lance has done for bicycling, and of bicycling understood exclusively as anything but a practical means of transportation in general, but Tanya says it better:

I watched a few segments of the Tour de France while it was going. Its pretty neat to see how amazingly fast the riders can make a bicycle go. But on the other hand, it doesn’t fascinate me near as much as just seeing someone toodle along on a bicycle carrying a baby, dog, or a couch. (speaking of couches, I have a strong urge to pull one with a cargo trailer. If you are buying a couch and want delivery, let me know. You can ride on the couch :) ) I wonder if Lance rides places for transportation. Does he get groceries by bike or by Subaru? I suspect most of the riders probably don’t use a bike for the more mundane things, and that’s to me what’s coolest about bikes–their practicality.

Jim links to an editorial about Dubya’s privileged time budget for exercise, which asserts that the rest of us normal peoples’ jobs are too demanding to permit an hour or two of exercise daily. I commented there “How many peoples’ demanding jobs are within an hour’s bike ride of their homes?”

How many people even know what’s within an hour’s ride of their homes? Even those with bike racks on their cars? How many people would think, if you suggested seriously that they ride 1-2 hours daily, “I’m not Lance!”?

They’d be right about that, but wrong that they need to be anything like Lance to ride far more than they think they can. I know that when I was in the best cycling shape of my life, I could put out for 30 seconds the kind of power that Lance can sustain for 30 minutes. If I trained as hard as he does, I suppose I could get that up to maybe 3 minutes. I’m not Lance; bicycling is not my sport, or something I train for–it’s just how I live. I wasn’t born with enough midi-chlorians in my blood; the Force will never be with me. I won’t sleep in an oxygen-deprivation tent. My would-be competitors aren’t driven to take drugs to come close to me.

What Lance says about bicycling isn’t about the bike, or even mainly about bicycling at all. Besides the significance of genes, Lance is about an amazing capacity for suffering. Lance is about clawing one’s way to the top–over the top–with one testicle left, having left the other as a deposit in his grave. Lance is, in short, scary, the way gods are scary. I bow to him.

Lance sells a lot of extremely refined Trek bicycles to people who have no idea why they might need them. Lance makes it safe to be seen on a bicycle without being considered a girlie-man, which is important mainly if you were worried about that in the first place, and, well, we should be careful of what we wish for.

11 thoughts on “Lance is bad for cycling”

  • Jonathan Maus


    I see where you’re coming from but I think Lance is good for cycling…even for us folks that see bikes as more than a recreational hobby. The bottom line is that Lance furthers the cycling dialogue and that means more people will start looking into the sport. True, some of them will blow too much money on a carbon bike that just sits in their garage, but others might end up going to Trek’s website and finding a more utility-oriented commuter or city bike.

    Lance has re-ignited an interest in cycling for many people and not all of them will be weekend-warrior-roof-rackers. If I had to choose between having Lance take over the world, or having cycling remain a fringe activity only known to car-free bikeys and leg-shaving racers, I would quickly choose the Lance hegemony.

    Lance has also lined the wallets of many bike companies and some of this money will go to advocacy groups and other non-profits (among other things).

  • Todd

    I agree that Lance furthers the cycling dialogue. Why else would I use his name for cheap incendiary effect in a post about plain old bicycling? You say that Lance gets more people to look into the sport, and I agree with that too. What all but an elite will discover is that the sport is forbidding in its demands. But bicycling is, was, and always will be something far more important than sport. To the extent that bicycling is understood as a sport, and an athlete of the most intimidating accomplishment as bicycling’s icon, and racing gear upheld as the standard of bicycling excellence, bicycling is misrepresented as other than a sustainable, healthful, practical, gentle, and fun alternative to other forms of transport.

  • john

    Most folks will probably never make the connection that their bicycles can be used for anything other than riding around the neighborhood on weekends. Heck, the roadies in my area still look in disbelief at me and my little bike loaded with groceries. I think they’d be less surprised if I were riding down the street on a unicorn.

    Still, a few of Lance’s legions will eventually get it. I’ve ridden bikes recreationally all my life, but I didn’t get hip to the “utility cycling” angle until just recently. Sometimes a bicycle saddle can chemically alter a person’s brain (I guess it travels up through the spinal cord, somehow). However, repeated applications are often required before the desired effect is realized.

    Even if only a small segment of this latest bike boom is converted, that’s probably more than we’d see without Lance.

  • Jim

    On the other hand, there are people who will be inspired by Lance to buy a $5,000 Madone 5.9 (or some lesser bike that looks kinda like a Madone 5.9), and they’ll take the accessory discount that comes with the new bike to buy all manner of lycra, a racy helmet, some wrap-around sunglasses, and some alien shoes. Then they’ll go racing down the River Road next weekend in view of about 10,000 people who will pass them in their cars. Will the motorists say this? “I really should get into cycling. Those alien shoes look really comfortable and I always looked good in gaudy-printed lycra.” Or will they say this? “Look at these weirdos. I wouldn’t be caught dead in a get-up like that?” There are people who are intimidated by the whole package that comes with being a “serious” bicyclist like Lance. These people would and should be riding bikes, but they don’t even know that “regular” bikes still exist. I’m convinced that this is true. The package of lycra, shoes, and sunglasses isn’t necessary as much as it’s simply a way for the bike industry to make dough. The markup is far larger on the clothes and shoes than it is on the bike.

    I got into cycling only because I wan’t altogether aware of what being a cyclist entailed. At one point, I thought my Huffy was a pretty nice bike.

  • Me

    John said:

    “Heck, the roadies in my area still look in disbelief at me… I think theyââ?¬â?¢d be less surprised if I were riding down the street on a unicorn.”

    Perhaps the single best (also, most hilarious) remark ever written in all of Cycle (related) Blog-Land!! Great one!

    Jim… No offense intended but, aren’t you sort of disqualified from a lot of these types of discussions (figuratively speaking)? You work at a bike shop that pumps more carbon, uncomfortable road geometry, silly lycra, non-practical crap into and at the (would be) cycling public than not, right? Sort of like… talking/preaching about the benefits of healthy eating and working at McDonald’s.
    If you’re going to take a stand against cars, fuel and crude oil for instance, you wouldn’t have a lot of leg left to stand on if you worked at a car dealership or some such place. I see it as not much different that you work at a very “commercial” LBS (i.e. sells the big name crapola to the same unsuspecting folks as that LBS over in the next town does) yet talk about steel/lugs, cycling as transportation, non-cycling cycling clothes, etc, all of which isn’t what you’re advocating (for the most part I would guess) during your 8 hour work day. What’s that saying… Your hands have blood on ‘em too.


  • Mauricio Babilonia
    Mauricio Babilonia July 27, 2005 at 2:28 am

    Okay, so having toured the Trek factory and having been in relatively close contact with some of their marketing people in the course of my work, I have a couple of observations.

    First, yes, I think the “gotta be like Lance” mentality does some harm to utility cycling. Trek’s marketing is “all Lance, all the time,” undoubtedly at the expense of developing and marketing bikes for ordinary humans. But with Lance being a household name, they’d be pretty stupid to pass up using it though, wouldn’t they? After all, they’re a bike manufacturer. Their goal is to make and sell as many bikes as possible.

    The positive side to this is that Trek is now large enough to develop and manufacture bikes that don’t fit the Lance stereotype. While the same person who buys a Madone 5.9 may not be the same person who buys an L300, but that doesn’t change the fact that Trek makes the L300.

    Whether we like the spandex crowd or not, I think the Lance tide tends to lift more boats than it strands. The Trek corporate offices are full of people that actually ride bikes. Many of the people working there are clearly enthused about bikes, and not just the flashy ones. Somebody there even had a Dutch Gazelle city bike, which might as well be a unicorn as far as most Americans are concerned.

    I really do wish Trek would market ordinary bikes with more force than they do, but as in all marketing there’s a chichen and egg effect that tends to emphasize the sensational to the exclusion of everything else. sigh

  • Jim

    Me: You make a good point. I shouldn’t be in a discussion like this one since I have certain non-mainstream opinions about bikes, yet work in a mainstream bike shop. The BEST way to get people to ride bikes is to push lugged steel exclusively all the time, no exceptions. Seriously, those who ride aluminum or carbon are as legit as those who ride lugged steel, despite what you may have read on the Serotta forum. Believe it or not, many bike shops, including where I work, carry a diverse product line. Some of the stuff is stuff I buy for myself, and much of it isn’t. I ride a minimum of 100 practical miles per week. I work at a Trek dealer. How does that combination of truths disqualify me from this discussion? Would, say, not riding at all and not working at a bike shop of any kind be a better background from which to offer snide and petty commentary?

    I agree with Mauricio Babilonia 100% in regard to Trek’s motivations and what they do and don’t do, as a company, for the cycling world. The L300 is a sweet bike and a bargain if you can find one.

  • Sverre

    I agree, Lance is bad for cycling. And I’ll tell you why. What Lance has done for cycling is to make most non-cyclists think the rest of us are all Lance-wannabees. I am so frickin’ tired of the stupid Lance comments. You wear bike shorts and a plain jersey, you’re by default considered a lame Lance-wannabee. Don’t know how many “Go Lance, go” yells I have received, how many “I thought it was Lance” comments in the hallways at work, how many “Are you Lance?” comments from kids on the road. If I hear any more Lance bullshit I might be tempted to go postal…

  • Babe Lloyd

    Indeed, the idiot crap that Sverre has to endure from morons yelling proof of their own boredom and ignorance is reprehensible. But I wonder if Lance is to be blamed for the disrespectful behvaiour these people engage in. I mean, do people yell “Shoot, Magic, shoot!” at anyone who bounces a basketball? I think the disrespectful people are to blame for their own behaviour, not the person they’re erroneously referring to.

    We should hold jerks responsible for their own poor conduct.

    I commute by bicycle. I know little about bikes. I have an old 1980s Nishiki road bike that I built up with various disparate used parts. I put a triple chain ring on the front so I don’t wreck my knees coming out of the river valley. I’m pretty close to being one of the “ordinary humans” Mauricio referred to. And I hear very, very little about Lance, pro cycling, racing, or performance bikes. We don’t watch the Tour de anything. In my little circle, we just care about whether our bikes work correctly, are comfortable, get us around, and spray us in the rain. Of course, winter cycling is a very common topic around here. Sometimes we decorate our bikes a bit. Anwyay, maybe it’s because I’m up here in Edmonton, Alberta. I don’t know. But Lance hasn’t had much effect on the cycling lives of the people I talk to.

  • Todd (admin)

    OK, I take it back, mostly:

  • Gary

    I live in Texas and have been hit with beer bottles and ran off the road when riding. Since Lance I get a lot of "hey Lance" and waves out on the road. not a bad tradeoff

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