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Fred Clements: Support Your Local Bike Shop, Rule 58

Published December 31, 2014
A blog by the NBDA's executive director.
Editor’s note: This blog post was written by Fred Clements, executive director of the National Bicycle Dealers Association. Clements’ previous blog posts can be read on

Casual cyclists sometimes feel intimidated in bike shops because they don't understand the equipment, the complexity or even the people working there.

They may not know why they are uncomfortable, but they may have a sense that they just don't fit in somehow, that they are missing something, that everyone knows things that they do not. Did they miss the orientation session? Did they not get the secret decoder ring? What is all this STUFF? What does it all do? What is up with that $8,000 bike? Am I not special and entitled here?

To address this, store employees are often encouraged to clean up, to simplify, and above all not talk down to those who are interested in cycling but don't know where to start. Ask probing questions, we are advised. Don't talk tech. Ask questions and wait for the answers. Be supportive. Ask questions.

These fundamentals help a lot, but the fact remains that many experienced cyclists, especially road cyclists, are part of a subculture that they may not even fully understand themselves, and that can befuddle the uninitiated. The subculture has taken many decades to develop, may not always make sense, and takes some time to understand. What may strike the experienced cyclist as common good practice can cause a neophyte to gasp, run for the door, and take up bowling instead.

Help is now available in an irreverent and funny book entitled The Rules, authored by the mysterious and sacred Order of the Cycling Disciple called the Velominati. It describes 95 specific rules for those pursuing the Life of the Cycling Disciple, "one who holds the sport, its history, its culture, its etiquette and its practice in a nearly religious context." While it might not be the best initial introduction to cycling for a raw beginner, the book will certainly give them some insight and hopefully make them laugh.

Focusing on road racing etiquette and techniques, the Velominati promise nothing less than two-wheel enlightenment. "When a Cyclist kits up and climbs aboard their bike, they aren't standing on the shoulders of giants," the authors write, "they stand upon a towering mountain of history and legend. They stand upon the mighty rock of Mount Velomis. We are Cyclists. The rest of the world merely rides a bike. Obey the rules."

Particularly noteworthy for the bike industry is rule 58, Support Your Local Bike Shop. The authors bluntly advise, "never buy bikes, parts or accessories online." Researching at a local store and buying on-line (showrooming) is "akin to having a beer with your best friend before sleeping with his wife." It is a clear violation of The Rules.

If a consumer buys the wrong derailleur on-line, the advice is straightforward: "it's not the shop's fault if you don't know your ass from your elbow. Don't get uppity when you're told that you'll need to purchase a new derailleur. And if you happened to get the right one online, don't balk at being told that there'll be a labor charge for your friendly mechanic to fit it. They're not running a charity."

As for bike mechanics, "a good bike mechanic is an artisan not a laborer or engineer." Equipment is important and "bar tape alone can speak volumes about how dedicated one is to riding the path of the Velominati ... The selection of the saddle, pedals, shoes and handlebars is where the lines between style, fit and function begin to blur even further."

The Rules covers a wide range of subjects. Some are straightforward ("It's all about the bike" ... "Hold your line" ... "You shall not ride with earphones" ... "Shorts should be black"). Others may be more debatable ("Free your mind and your legs will follow" ... "If you are out riding in bad weather, it means you are a badass. Period." ... "Never lift your bike over your head."). Others are sure to cause some arguments ("Family does not come first. The bike does" ... "A bike race shall never be preceded by a swim and/or followed by a run" ... "No European posterior man-satchels" ... "Humps are for camels: no hydration packs").

The book definitely relies on the key principle that "you need a healthy and possibly sinister sense of humor" to successfully practice the art of the bike.

Finally, the root rule that trumps all others, Rule 5 (also The V, pronounced The Five) the foundation rule from which the others flow. It is, reverently and crudely, "Harden The Fuck Up."

"Many of the obstacles ... require us to eschew the wisdom taught to us by society. Listen to your body, you are told, when in fact your body is a chatty thing that has few sensible contributions to make. Stay inside when it's wet, or you'll catch cold, the folk knowledge claims, while in reality those who stay indoors are more likely to catch cold. What doesn't kill you makes your stronger."

While "hardness" may not be the best way to sell cycling to a pleasure-seeking general public, it may help to demystify some of the more obscure practices of committed cyclists and hopefully give everyone a few laughs along the way. And for those who want to pursue the Life of a Cycling Disciple but don't know how, The Rules is quite a resource.

More on The Rules and associated wisdom is available from the The keepers of the cog, Velominati all, include Frank Strack, Brett Kennedy, John Andrews, Mark Carlson and Jim Thomson. The book's forward is from Greg Lemond, a cyclist with a number of jerseys in his closet, three of them yellow.

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