Meet the Moses of Cycling
The Northwest co-author of The Rules: The Way of the Cycling Disciple on creating biking's one true gospel
The writers at Seattle-based website Velominati consider themselves a Da Vinci Code-esque brotherhood, replete with a prophet, a bible, and set of infalliable commandments. They’re devout—fanatical, even. What do they worship? The joy of the ride.
On May 5, Velominati will release its definitive gospel: The Rules: The Way of the Cycling Disciple, a tongue-in-cheek (and frequently hilarious) compilation of 93 commandments for new and experienced riders. (Example: "Rule 7: Tan lines should be cultivated and kept razor sharp.")
We asked co-author Frank Strack about the book's purpose, hipsters, and the most important commandment of them all.
How did this book come about?
The Velominati is a community of cycling nuts. There are five of us who write for the site but we're a community of tens of thousands of people that participate in these conversations. We have a lot of geeked out fun and laughter about cycling. Out of all that has come The Rules, which are a set of tongue-in-cheek principles of all the things you should and shouldn’t do as a cyclist.
If you could only follow one rule, which one is the most important?
Rule V: Harden the f*ck up. (laughs) Cycling is a really hard sport. A really, really hard sport. Especially if you get into racing its just unimaginably hard. And so, yeah, you have to harden the fuck up. You can’t be afraid of hurting yourself, physically or psychologically. You can’t even be afraid of falling off your bike and getting cut up. You just have to tough it out. A bicycle race is not really won by the strongest rider. They’re usually won by the smartest rider and the one that tries the hardest.
We’ve got this concept that’s called the ‘five’ and its written as a ‘V’. The V is kind of like The Force in Star Wars. It’s the psychology behind Rule V: always being tough and trying to hold yourself to a higher standard.
Some of the rules are focused on eliminating distractions, heart rate monitors, and music. Why?
It’s about the beauty of the ride. Going out and riding hard doesn’t leave room for any other kind of thought. If you had a stressful day or you’ve got a lot of worries or something hard, it gives your brain a break. It’s such a simple world—you can push on the pedals and you can come back feeling like you’ve accomplished something.
It can give you a bit of positive momentum to take back into the real struggles of everyday life. I think cycling is really a good healing mechanism. You just do A, and B comes out the other end. You get fit and you push on the pedals, you go faster. Don’t push on the pedals, you don’t go faster. Very simple.
You write about the "Man with the Hammer." Who or what is that?
In cycling, when you run out of sugars in your blood, you can go from feeling great and going fast to going down fast. When your body has used the sugar stores and energy stores, you burn out and stop. So, the Man with the Hammer is this mythological being that exists in the cycling world to describe that. If you’ve ever had hunger knock or a bonk while you are out exercising that is what it is. The Man with the Hammer lurks in the shadows and waits for you to come by and then all of a sudden you’ll just bonk.
Tell me about the Velominati's prophet, Eddy Merckx.
Well, he’s just the epitome of the cool cyclist. One of the things we focus on is the history of the sport. Eddy Merckx was this guy who rose to stardom in the late 60s and dominated the sport throughout the 70s— by far the most wins ever of any professional cyclist. So he has 525 wins throughout his career, which means that he won almost every race that he entered as a professional. He was hugely dominant. He won five Tour de Frances, five Tours of Italy. He won, I think, at lest three tours of Spain.
He also looked fantastic, right? He kinda looked like this Elvis guy—big mutton chops—and was always super stylish. His appearance on the bike was perfect. Absolutely ridiculously obsessed about his bicycle and how it was set up and configured. So, he's the epitome of everything that we think is perfect about cycling.
How many of the Velominati disciples are female?
Cycling is a pretty male-dominated sport, which is really unfortunate. Seattle has been seeing a lot of women getting into it. The racing scene is definitely growing with women, which is really awesome. On an international level, women’s cycling has struggled but is starting to gain momentum— they’re starting to televise the events. There are organizations that are focused purely on promoting women’s cycling, like womenscycling.net. So it’s really great to see a shift in that tide a little bit.
Are you worried about cycling culture being appropriated by hipsters?
(laughs) There are really good things about it and really disappointing things about it. For instance, hipsters have stolen the cycling cap from us. It used to be a really cool piece of clothing you could wear around and then it would be a sign to other people who also ride. Now, if I were to go out wearing a cycling cap I’d feel like people would think I was trying to look like a hipster. So that’s disappointing.
But at the same time, people are customizing their bikes. They’re not just taking a stock bike off a shelf and riding it. They’re riding their bikes, they’re customizing handlebars on it, painting it, they’re putting on cool colored tires. It’s a cool process to go through, to customize a bike. So I’m really happy to see that a) they’re riding a bike in the first place and b) that they’re discovering this really fun process of tweaking their bike and making a really personal statement.