Fred woke up excited. He’d been invited to join the Friday coffee cruise by his friend Elaine, who was one of the South Bay cycling crowd and a real sweetheart. Fred and Elaine were neighbors, and he’d gotten into cycling two years ago after developing knee problems from running. Fred had been fit all his life and he quickly took to cycling. Occasionally he’d ask Elaine advice about riding and she would always invited him to join one of the group rides.
“You’ll love it,” she said.
“I don’t think I’m ready yet,” Fred would always say, declining the invitations but secretly wishing he had the nerve to say “yes.”
One day he stopped Elaine as she was coasting up her driveway after finishing the big Saturday ride. “Hey,” he said. “I was wondering if there are any really easy rides I could do with you and your friends?”
“Of course! We have a coffee cruise every Friday. It’s usually six or seven riders and it’s always easy. We pedal for an hour or so, hit a coffee shop in Santa Monica or in PV, then sit around and chit-chat for a while before pedaling back.”
Fred looked anxious. “You think I’ll be okay?”
“Oh my gosh, you’ll be more than okay. You’ll be saying to yourself, ‘I was worried about this?’ It’s a super friendly pedal, not even a workout, really, just friends chatting and pedaling together. It’ll be a perfect introduction to the gang!”
Fred had hardly slept the night before. He was going to do his first group ride with a bunch of real roadies, and even though Elaine had promised that it would be slow and easy, it was going to be fun. He’d seen the big packs swirling along the bike path, charging along the Parkway, rolling out on the weekends, and he’d always wanted to be a part of it. Now it was going to happen.
Fred and Elaine rolled up to the Pier ten minutes before eight. One by one the other riders showed up. Elaine introduced him to the others, and they were all friendly except for one guy, Liam, who made a point of saying hello to everyone except Fred. Liam was kitted out in the nicest Assos clothing and was riding one of the fanciest bikes Fred had ever seen. Just before they left, Fred caught Liam’s eye and smiled. “Hi,” he said. “I’m Fred.” Liam rolled his eyes, clipped in and pedaled off with the group.
It was a gorgeous winter day in the mid-60’s and Fred wasn’t about to let a little rudeness spoil his morning. He was soon chatting with one of the other riders, a friendly and easygoing woman who looked like she was in her forties. She inquired about Fred’s cycling background in a friendly and interested way, making him feel like part of the group.
Pretty soon Liam had swung to the back and was right behind Fred. “Hey!” he yelled. “Watch your fucking line!”
Fred didn’t know what Liam was talking about, and lightly touched his brakes. “What are you doing you fucking idiot!” roared Liam.
Fred looked over his shoulder, causing his line to wobble again. “What?” he asked, somewhat frightened.
“Goddamn you!” shouted Liam. “Don’t you know how to ride a fucking bike?” Liam sprinted back to the front, looking over his shoulder once to glare at Fred.
“What was that all about?” he asked the woman next to him.
She laughed. “Don’t worry about him. He’s an asshole to everyone who’s new or who’s not wearing the right stuff, or riding the right bike, or who’s inexperienced.”
“Yes, he’s infamous for it, actually.”
“Really? Why does he do it?”
The woman laughed again. “It’s the snobbery of road cycling. Some people are so serious — usually the riders who aren’t very good and who no one really likes — and they treat new riders like shit just to make themselves feel better.”
“Wow,” said Fred. “He sure has fancy stuff, though.”
“Sure does. It’s to make up for the fact that his legs and lungs are completely ordinary.”
After a while they got to the coffee shop and everyone filed in. Fred turned to his newfound friends. “Coffee’s on me,” he said with a smile. “Thanks for letting me be part of the group.”
Liam glowered at him and pushed by. “I can pay for my own fucking coffee.”
Fred didn’t know what to say. “Okay.”
They sat around and enjoyed their coffee in the sunshine. Liam had cornered one of the riders and begun a detailed lecture on gear ratios and proper descending skills. He talked loudly, making sure that Fred could appreciate the depth of his knowledge and experience.
Finally, they remounted and returned to the pier. Everyone said their good-byes and thanked Fred for the coffee. Liam ignored him and rode away.
Fred and Elaine pedaled back together. “What did I tell you?” she said. “Piece of cake, right?”
“Yes,” he said. “Thanks for letting me tag along.”
“Want to join us on the ride tomorrow? It’s a bigger group and a bit faster paced.”
Fred looked at her. “No, thanks,” he said.