Of Dogs and Cyclists
by: Jill Homer

I’ve always thought of my self as a cycle “tourist” -someone who uses a bicycle as a means of travel, escape and relaxation. As such, I often find myself sweating up a challenging stretch of road near my home known as Middle Canyon. The reward is a sublimely tear-jerking descent.

From time to time I see Greg pounding up the canyon. Greg is a self-proclaimed roadie who enters races and rides Middle Canyon — not so much for the alpine scenery, and not so much for the screaming descent — but to time himself on the punishing four-mile, 1,900-foot climb. Riding with Greg in Middle Canyon usually involves him approaching me from behind, nodding a quick hello, followed by several miles of me trying, rather futilely, to catch up. Despite my sluggishness, Greg told me he still enjoys my company as a fellow “roadie.” In an effort to recapture my self-dignity, I always silently maintained my independence as a “tourist.”

Then one evening Greg passed me as we rode by a dilapidated RV parked next to roadside picnic tables. The campsite seemed only to be inhabited by a scrawny yellow dog, who immediately bolted for our ankles. Greg took off in a flash, leaving the slow cyclist behind to deal with the dog in shouts of fear masked by indignation. The dog, predictably, got bored and walked away.

“See, that’s what separates you roadies from the rest of us,” I panted at Greg when I raced to catch up with him several hundred feet up the road. “You guys outrun the mean dogs. We usually just continue along, and if the dogs get too close for comfort, we kick the living daylight out of their ugly faces.”

“Don't you think you'll get bitten?” Greg asked. I thought about it for a second. “Probably.”

“You're messing with me,” he grinned, and his teeth seemed to reflect the shimmering white on his jersey. “There’s no real difference between you and me.” Greg gestured at my bicycle, a 2004 IBEX Corrida that was decidedly “road” in appearance. “You’re just slower.”

I smiled. True, Greg and I were both on skinny tires. Greg and I both had the tell-tale farmer tans grease-stained hands that come of regular riding. But standing next to Greg with his sleek, streamlined helmet and skin-tight lycra, and myself a picture of cycle frumpiness in running shorts and a “I Climbed Mt. Whitney” T-shirt, I struggled to see many similarities at all.

As he shot ahead I continued to labor up the mountain. “Greg and I might not be so different,” I thought, “but we’re not so much the same.” I pictured that snarling yellow dog.

See, cyclists are a lot like dogs. No, not because they eat protein snacks and bark at cars. They’re like dogs in that they come in different breeds, but in the end, they’re all cyclists.

First there are commuters. Commuters are the Labrador retrievers of the pack. Throw them a good bicycle route, and they’ll keep coming back. They love a good game of “catch” — that is, they race to catch green lights. They’re highly sociable, largely domesticated and don’t mind being leashed to the same roads day after day.

Then there are the recreational riders, who resemble toy poodles in that they’re mostly out there for show. They often have the best bikes on the block, but those bikes only see the light of day once or twice a year. They coast gingerly along smooth payment, chrome sparkling in the sunlight, all while smiling dreamily to grab the attention of passers-by.

In contrast, there are the extreme mountain bikers, the huskies, pulling their powerful bodies over terrain evolution never intended them to cross. Their bikes show the marks of a life fully lived, coated in mud and marred by deep scars. They live on the cusp of tame and wild, fully prepared for the roughest conditions. They work well in groups but their minds stay fiercely independent, and they’re never fully content when they come down from the mountain.

Recreational mountain bikers are golden retrievers. Like their husky brothers, they love going on long rides in the mountains, jumping in the mud, and summoning their maximum energy level whenever they go out. However, they’re also just as happy to curl up on the couch when the weather gets bad.

There are club riders, the Shetland sheepdogs, who are happiest in large groups. They’re always nipping at the heels of other riders to keep a good drafting speed as they move in formation along the road.

Road racers, on the other hand, break out of the pack when it really matters. Like greyhounds, they move in graceful unity until the time comes to rush forward in a stunning burst of speed. Their sleek, lycra-clad bodies were built for speed, and speed alone. They can be a delicate breed, prone to freezing in the winter and unable to carry the weight of life’s necessities on their ultra-light bikes.

That’s where cycle tourists are different, and, thinking of Greg, we’re vastly different. Tourists are more similar to St. Bernards than any other breed - big, bulky, slow, but built to last, built to withstand the rain and snow and ice and wind that gets in the way during the long haul. Tourists are well adept to carrying large loads on their bikes, pulling them when necessary, moving at a steady speed until they reach their final destination, whether it’s 5 or 5,000 miles away.

I laughed at the thought of a St. Bernard running up a dog racing track, lumbering alongside and tripping over the other greyhounds. Greg was much too far up the canyon now for me to share my scenario, and the sunlight set low on the horizon. I opted to turn my bike around, adjusted my helmet and began cranking up the gears. Soon I was moving so fast I scarcely noticed the stifled barking of the yellow dog. “We’re not so different, you and me,” I thought, and continued down the canyon.