Letter to Lisa's Mum - What is a cyclist and the $15,000 starter kit

Lisa's Mum received the following letter from Jerry Castle. She'll compose a reply, but wanted to throw it open to her learned readership first. If you have any suggestions, please send them through to her.

Hello Lisa’s Mum,
I’m told by reputable sources that you are the expert on all cycling related matters. I’m hoping you can help me with a question that has been troubling me.

This may seem philosophical, perhaps a touch post-modern, but I’m struggling with the question, “what is a cyclist?”

I was happy with the answer, “someone or something (happy to include Thai performance monkeys) that rides a bike”, but a few recent events have made me question this logical position – the following one included.

Sitting in my favourite breakfast spot a few weeks ago, my bleary morning-eyes were assaulted by a gleaming 2010 HTC-Columbia kit stretched like a sausage casing over a 140kg beast. The owner of the kit was broadcasting his proud achievement of conquering sixty Beach Rd bitumen kilometres that very morning. At his table was a similarly HTC-Columbia clad heavy-weight, clearly the riding buddy (team mate?) of the above mentioned beast, and his wife, who was kitted up in Fluid gear (Anaconda’s cheap and cheerful private label).

I couldn’t help but eavesdrop on the conversation of the two HTC-Columbia team mates (their female companion sat quietly and read the paper). Come to think of it, I doubt it even qualified as eavesdropping; the conversation was for the public record – the café was their stage. Topics covered included performance on the days climbs (climbs on Beach Rd?), weight savings from switching to carbon wheels (perhaps more efficient to lose a few of those 140kg!) – you get the point.

I’ve seen this scene a thousand times before. I’m sure you have too, Lisa’s Mum. Fat dudes with expensive bikes proudly drinking coffee after a 20km roll on the flat. It’s never bothered me before, but it’s starting to itch a little.

Are these people cyclists? Or have they simply purchased the “$15,000 starter kit”?

I contend that they have bought the starter kit because they want to identify themselves as cyclists. They want to have a legitimate answer to the question, “so what do you do?” Having bought the starter kit I think they feel comfortable answering, “I’m a cyclist”.

While starter kits are familiar in plenty of other sub-cultures – skateboarding, emo kids, and members of the Fitzroyalty – the phenomenon is not universal. You don’t see 45 kg runts in muscle-singlets gathering en masse in the cafes, bragging about bench-pressing a 12 kg PB or discussing the optimal amino acid blend for mass gain. What is it about some sub-cultures that make them conducive to starter kits?

Perhaps I’m getting worked up over nothing. The saying “all the gear but no idea” has been used by those who think they are better than others in a particular sub-culture for a long time. But who is keeping score? We live in a world where it is possible to gain fame and become independently wealthy by being a socialite – you don’t need skill you just need to look the part.

Anyway… I’m rambling now. I’m not sure whether the HTC-Columbia team mates qualified as cyclists or not in my book. I’d like to say no, but I’d also like to think of myself as less elitist than that. I will say that I did enjoy watching their departure. While one of the heavy weights was mounting his carbon steed his wife bolted off into the distance on her practical flat-bar commuter bike. Mr HTC was left wrong-geared at the side of the road squealing, “wait up honey!”, as he struggled with the dual task of clipping in and changing down a few gears. Beaten by the task, Mr HTC eventually over-balanced, tumbling into the gutter. OK so this very last part is fiction – the rest is true.

I am happy to say that Mrs HTC qualified as a cyclist in my mind.

So Lisa’s Mum, what is a cyclist? I’m confused!

I hope you can offer some advice on this matter.