On one of those perfect early spring Sundays, which brought all of the recreational cyclists out to play under a clear blue sky, I sat down on a bench by the Cherry Creek bike path and watched the parade. Oh, the colors. Virtually every rider that passed my position was decked out, head to toe, in bike-specific garb. On a weekday I would have seen a lot of riders wearing more 'normal' attire, office clothes, jeans and t-shirts, things like that, moving with no-nonsense purpose on a highly useful transportation facility. On this fine Sunday, most of the riders that passed appeared to be beginners who had spent as much on their bike clothing as they did on their bikes, and all with one credit card swipe during their very first visit to the local bike shop. The notion among new bicyclists -- and potential new bicyclists -- that special clothing is a necessary part of the program seems to be stronger than ever. A triumph for Pearl Izumi, perhaps not so much for the rest of us.

Besides the clothing, there was something else that really stood out to this bench-sitter. The faces. Almost everybody that pedaled by gave me some kind of Bicycle Stink Face. BSF can take many forms. One lady rolled past, at roughly walking pace, with a look on her mug exactly like Carlos Santana in the throws of his Black Magic Woman solo. If you're making a face like that, you'd better be wearing a fringe leather vest and playing a Gibson, or having an orgasm. Or both. Otherwise something has gone badly awry. Many turned and looked at me purposefully when they rode past, not in a friendly how's-it-going manner, but a sort of look-at-me-I'm-really-pumpin-it type thing, with the face all scrunched up in the anger and pride of the effort. In some of these faces I recognized the sort of play-acting I engaged in as a teen-aged race fan, tearing up the roads with a reinvigorated snarl immediately after watching ABC's half-hour coverage of Greg Lemond battling Hinault in the Tour de France. Not two minutes after the show ended I was out of the garage on my little Reynolds 531 Trek, imagining myself soloing to victory somewhere south of Bordeaux. Young riders like myself latched on to everything we saw in those John Tesh-tinged episodes, from facial expressions to pedaling technique. The Badger, man, his bike face was one of the best of all time. Like he was about to eat his rivals, and was really happy about it.

Everybody makes some snarly faces when they ride hard, that's just how it goes. You're in your own little world sometimes. It's been a long winter, and you're feelin' good, ecstatic to be outside getting some real exercise. Cycling is great fun, and you're loving it. I understand. The problem is, you're not really in your own little world. There happen to be other people in this world, milling about. And this Stink Face thing is usually not a friendly look. Mouth open, eyes glaring. Check me out. Check out my tonsils. It's alienating, off-putting, anti-social. If the rider is really feeling his/her oats, there is often an element of challenge and swagger to the expression, which plays to observers -- trust me on this -- as absurdly over-serious and self-important. It seems ridiculous to everybody but that individual bicyclist, frankly, when an apparent novice wobbles past at 16 m.p.h., wrapped in expensive racing gear and scowling angrily like Stephen Roche on the Poggio. It makes people laugh, and for the wrong reasons.

 

 

Arguably, Bicycle Stink Face in its egregious form crosses the line of civility and becomes part of the problem with bicycling advocacy in this country. It's very Us-versus-Them. It ain't the end of the world, but BSF makes it easier for non-bicycists to ridicule and ignore the idea of riding a bicycle.

When you pass another human out there, fellow bicyclists, how about taking half a moment to acknowledge their presence in a civilized fashion? Nothing fancy. Flash a little smile, a half nod. Try to change your snarly facial expression, just for a moment, into a picture of calm confidence and control, a friendly face that reflects the outright superiority of your chosen mode of travel, and humbly acknowledges your obvious lack of championship pedigree, rather than rolling past with a nasty case of needless and laughable BSF.

Next: What the new generation of hardcore transportation cyclists can and should learn from the 'lycra-clad' sport riders they ridicule.