Lance Armstrong demonstrates the art of speaking to non-cyclists:
The fact that you are reading this tells me all I really need to know about you. You’re a cyclist. I’m a cyclist. We therefore both know what’s really important in life (riding). We see the world as it truly is (a place to ride our bikes). If we were each to answer the question, “What would you do with a million dollars?” our answers would vary perhaps in what equipment we’d buy and where we’d go to ride, but in little else.
If we were to have a conversation, we’d have an understanding of how each other thinks. Maybe you’re a Cat 2 roadie and maybe I’m a cross-country endurance geek, but we both know that turning the cranks in a perfect circle is the ultimate form of self-expression.
Sadly, not everyone is like you and I. I am sad to say that there are people out there who rarely – if ever! – ride bikes at all. It’s possible you even know someone like this. A coworker. A family member. You’d be surprised at how common non-cyclists are, actually. You probably encounter them several times per day and simply don’t notice them, because they aren’t interesting.
Mostly, you can safely ignore these people, simply by riding away from them. Sometimes, though – at a company party, say – it is impossible to avoid non-cyclists. Surrounded, you have no choice but to communicate with them.
Don’t worry. I’m here to help. Just follow these five simple rules.
Rule 1: Understand their bizarre world view
You need to understand that non-cyclists don’t realize that cycling is the most important thing any person can be doing at any given moment at any point in the universe. Non-cyclists’ eyes – and minds – are shuttered, leaving them to believe that things like friends, community, work, and even family supercede what they naively call “just exercise.” It’s sad – OK, it’s pathetic – but it’s true.
To appease non-cyclists, when asked about what matters to you, you must from time to time mention friends, family, the environment, or some other such nonsense. Otherwise, they’ll never leave you alone and it will be hours until you can get away, back to the comfort and kinship you feel when with your bicycle.
Rule 2. Use metaphors from “real life”
Non-cyclists aren’t ready to hear about your exquisite existence in its unadulterated perfection. No, you will need to translate the sublime cycling experience into terms they might be able to understand. Naturally, you and I know that the following metaphors don’t do the actual cycling event justice, but they’ll have to do.
* To describe how it feels to ride down perfectly banked, twisty forested singletrack on a cool autumn morning: “It’s like that scene from Return of the Jedi where Luke and Leia are zooming on their flying motorcycle things. Except you’re the one powering the flying motorcycle. And you’re not being chased by stormtroopers. And you don’t have to tolerate the constant chattering of Ewoks.”
* To explain why you gladly get up at 4:30am each weekday morning to ride your road bike for three hours on an entirely unremarkable road: “You know how you have to drive your car in stop-and-go traffic to get to work every morning? Well, imagine if you didn’t have to stop. And imagine your car going as fast as you can make it go. And imagine starting the day feeling perfect. It’s kind of like that.”
* To explain why you pay $200 to participate in a race you have very little chance in winning: “Ever play the lotto? It’s like that, except much, much more so.”
Rule 3: Pretend to be interested in their life
This one’s going to knock you off your feet. Believe it or not, non-cyclists sometimes think they have something interesting to say, have an interesting hobby, or an interesting experience to relate.
This, of course, is utter nonsense.
Still, for the sake of propriety, you must act as if you care. Feel free, as they talk, to pleasantly daydream about biking. Just smile and say, “Absolutely,” from time to time.
Warning: It’s entirely possible that a non-cyclist will say something with which you disagree. When this happens, do not engage. If you do, you will have unwittingly stepped into a non-cycling conversation, and who knows where that will lead, or when it will end.
Always remember: Be polite, be brief, be gone.
Rule 4. Act like their theory on doping in cycling is very interesting
A tactic non-cyclists will often employ, once they have discovered you are a cyclist, is to try to talk with you about cycling. This usually takes the form of trying to talk with you about doping in cycling.
You will, no doubt, be tempted to gouge your ears out rather than hear their simplistic, uninformed opinion (“Doping is bad”) to its rambling, incoherent conclusion. After all, as a cyclist, you have no doubt been pummelled with story after story after story about doping. You have heard so much about doping that you could now be called as an expert witness at the next doping trial. Or open a lab. Or be the next president of WADA (and you’re rightly confident you’d do a much better job).
But if you point any of this out to your non-cyclist “friend,” he will no doubt take that as a sign that you are interested in continuing the conversation. So, instead, repeat this simple phrase, “Yeah, doping sucks.”
Your friend will feel like he has made his point, whatever it was.
Rule 5. Don’t tell them the truth about how much your bike cost
Few people ever own anything that works, fits, or looks as well as a truly well-built bike. And yet, when they find that your bike costs as much as their high-end computer or mid-range stereo, they will fake a heart attack, guaranteed.
The solution? Tell non-cyclists you paid $499.99 for your bike, no matter how much you really paid for it. This number has been scientifically formulated to sound like more than a non-cyclist would pay for a bike, without otherwise drawing attention to itself.
No matter how you try, you can’t always avoid non-cyclists. All you can hope to do is minimize contact with them – so you can get back to what’s important.
And I think we both know what that is.