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Style vs. Skill

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Road Cycling “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” -- Ernest Hemingway

Style vs. Skill

Old 08-18-21, 11:48 AM
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Style vs. Skill

I have a theory about road biking street cred, authenticity points, or how “legit” a rider is perceived… whatever you want to call it. I’ll use some abbreviations and put forth my theory, with a few examples. I'm curious to see who agrees, who wants to just add some minor modifications, and who thinks I’m a total doofus out in left field.

Let a = cycling ability, or skill. This encompasses athletic conditioning, bike handling skills, and even wisdom in how to react to tricky situations on the road.

Let s = style, a.k.a. aesthetics. Your bike, accessories, and attire are all included here. Of course, this is very subjective, but there are some generalizations we can maybe agree on: In attire, Rapha > Pearl Izumi > Nashbar house brand > WalMart. (Similar tiers for bikes themselves are easy enough to define.) I’m not talking about product quality and certainly not about value--just style.

Consider the mismatch situations first…

A rider with very high a and very low s will tend to win a great deal of respect. If you disagree, imagine a group ride or race where some guy shows up on a 20 year old no-name beater. He’s wearing tacky, outdated shorts and jersey, cheap weightlifting gloves, and a model of mountain biking helmet that Target just moved to their clearance bin. As soon the ride starts, he absolutely schools everyone. Plays around with the strongest of the other riders like a cat with a mouse. I know… this is extremely unlikely to happen. If it did, you’d be looking for the hidden camera… or waiting to see who’s going to break this guy’s thumbs like they did to Paul Newman in The Hustler. But without a doubt you’d give the guy major points. Everyone would be in awe and wonder what this biking demigod could do on a Dogma or Tarmac. It’s sort of like Dave Stoller from Breaking Away, when the Italian team came to Bloomington (except he rode a pretty legit Masi).

With very low a and high s, a guy will be branded a poseur. Everyone assumes he has lots of money to spend but hasn’t put in the blood, sweat, and tears to earn real respect. He might look cool, but that doesn’t count for much outside of a coffee shop. Serious riders tend to dislike this guy, in spite of the latter’s weak attempt to fit in with the former.

And now the more typical situations, where a and s are closely matched…

With both a and s rated very high, there will usually be plenty of respect, but also perhaps some envy. This guy will have the street cred and may also get a lot of admiration, at least from others in a similar tier. From those who hang in the lower tiers, it's more complicated. Some worship this guy, but others don't admire him much at all. Many will aspire to be more like him. I think a small percentage of lesser riders resent his ilk, and they will resolve to one day beat him but never become him.

With low scores for both a and s, a rider will either be discounted as not very serious, afforded sincere pity for wanting to ride but not having many resources, or accepted but given newbie status… not granted much cred, but not actually disrespected.

When we see a increase faster than s in someone, we congratulate and encourage him.

When someone focuses on s and strives to improve it while neglecting a, we usually tell him, “You’re wasting your money. You need to just get out and ride more.”

Here’s a simple visual:
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Old 08-18-21, 11:57 AM
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tl;dnr

I have both mad skills and pretty decent style (when I want to display it).
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Old 08-18-21, 12:03 PM
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Interesting take. I wouldn't use the word 'style' for the S variable, but I can't think of a better term.

As for being low on the S scale and high on the A scale, it happens a lot. There are people who have massive base fitness from commuting or touring or other sports, and they get a crap bike to start riding recreationally. For instance, the Gold Medal winner in Tokyo for women's match sprint was won by a Canadian who was an accomplished athlete in other sports, but only started cycling in the past couple years. Someone in her position* could have started out on an old or 'beater' bike but had fitness and natural talent that would have been very impressive at any club ride.

*she was actually 'discovered' by a high level multi-sport development program and likely was put on good quality bikes from the beginning, but similar people exist who don't wind up at high level development programs so show up riding beaters until a more senior person sees their potential and gets them on a good quality bike.

I personally put myself around the middle of the A scale (good/very good bike handling skills, but mediocre fitness) and a little left of centre on the 'style' scale - I generally ride bikes I have assembled from the parts of other older bikes, usually emphasizing practical items like tires and wheel bearing quality and bike fit over worrying about having the most aero or lightweight and modern bike. . I struggle to keep up with the fastest riders but it's not the bike's fault.
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Old 08-18-21, 12:10 PM
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Originally Posted by indyfabz
tl;dnr
"Talk Later, Do Not Resuscitate"

Originally Posted by indyfabz
I have both mad skills and pretty decent style (when I want to display it).
I think you mistook what OP meant by 'style' - they are referring to the quality of your equipment and kit, not your ability to mix an energy drink or change into a more stylish outfit while leading a paceline.
I was thinking the same as you before I read through, thinking how it applies to me mainly from this time when I caught one side of my handlebars on a bollard at a trail junction, the bike flopped over and threw me off, and I managed a perfect shoulder roll back up onto my feet. I lost my glasses in that event, but I feel like I never looked cooler in the eyes of my riding buddies.
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Old 08-18-21, 12:11 PM
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Originally Posted by ClydeClydeson
I personally put myself around the middle of the A scale (good/very good bike handling skills, but mediocre fitness) and a little left of centre on the 'style' scale - I generally ride bikes I have assembled from the parts of other older bikes, usually emphasizing practical items like tires and wheel bearing quality and bike fit over worrying about having the most aero or lightweight and modern bike. . I struggle to keep up with the fastest riders but it's not the bike's fault.
Hey, you've described me almost perfectly! Everything here applies, if I'm being honest.
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Old 08-18-21, 12:11 PM
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"A rider with very high a and very low s will tend to win a great deal of respect. If you disagree, imagine a group ride or race where some guy shows up on a 20 year old no-name beater. He’s wearing tacky, outdated shorts and jersey, cheap weightlifting gloves, and a model of mountain biking helmet that Target just moved to their clearance bin. As soon the ride starts, he absolutely schools everyone. Plays around with the strongest of the other riders like a cat with a mouse. I know… this is extremely unlikely to happen. If it did, you’d be looking for the hidden camera… or waiting to see who’s going to break this guy’s thumbs like they did to Paul Newman in The Hustler. But without a doubt you’d give the guy major points. Everyone would be in awe and wonder what this biking demigod could do on a Dogma or Tarmac. It’s sort of like Dave Stoller from Breaking Away, when the Italian team came to Bloomington (except he rode a pretty legit Masi)."

Sounds like you've met Larry Sellers.
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Old 08-18-21, 12:12 PM
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Originally Posted by Mojo31
Sounds like you've met Larry Sellerz.
Not in person.
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Old 08-18-21, 12:19 PM
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Originally Posted by Broctoon
Hey, you've described me almost perfectly! Everything here applies, if I'm being honest.
If you're ever in Eastern Ontario, Canada, let me know, and we'll go for a medium paced ride on some old beat up bikes.
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Old 08-18-21, 12:23 PM
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Originally Posted by ClydeClydeson
If you're ever in Eastern Ontario, Canada, let me know, and we'll go for a medium paced ride on some old beat up bikes.
Thanks! Same to you next time you're in northern Utah. I always have a spare or two (maybe three) in the garage, much to the chagrin of Mrs. Broctoon.
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Old 08-18-21, 12:26 PM
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There's a third dimension. Call it m for 'mass'. Lower m generally gets more respect, regardless of a and s values. Higher m gets less respect, especially when paired with low a and high s. BUT, high m with high a gets respect even in the face of high s.

I personally aim for roughly the median value for all 3 parameters.
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Old 08-18-21, 12:28 PM
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Old 08-18-21, 12:32 PM
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Weird, it feels awfully warm for winter.
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Old 08-18-21, 12:33 PM
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Originally Posted by genejockey
There's a third dimension. Call it m for 'mass'. Lower m generally gets more respect, regardless of a and s values. Higher m gets less respect, especially when paired with low a and high s. BUT, high m with high a gets respect even in the face of high s.

I personally aim for roughly the median value for all 3 parameters.
Absolutely! Big, pudgy guy who can walk away from the muscular welterweights? I'm in awe of him, regardless what he's wearing, and even if he's on a high end bike--or especially if he's on a klunker.
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Old 08-18-21, 12:33 PM
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In a slightly more serious response, this happens elsewhere as well. It’s fun in triathlon to shoe up with a road bike and thump people.
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Old 08-18-21, 12:37 PM
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Originally Posted by Bah Humbug
Weird, it feels awfully warm for winter.
Right? Getting these threads up a bit early. Actually, I'm really looking forward to my weekly group ride this evening, if the weather will clear up. We're getting rained on right now, the most we've had in months. It feels a lot like winter, so maybe that's what prompted me.
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Old 08-18-21, 12:38 PM
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Very interesting, I had no idea riders think that way.

To me, the guy who gets to the top fastest or who makes me suffer the most into a headwind get my respect.

The rest are just pond scum like me.
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Old 08-18-21, 12:46 PM
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Originally Posted by Bah Humbug
In a slightly more serious response, this happens elsewhere as well. It’s fun in triathlon to shoe up with a road bike and thump people.
I knew a guy, 19 or 20 years old. He wrestled in high school, then enlisted in the Air Force. Tried out and was selected to represent AF at a national wrestling competition involving all the military branches, and I think he did pretty well there. He heard about an amateur triathlon in Idaho and thought, "What the heck. I'll see if I'm any good at triathlon." He had to borrow a bike for it, and ended up with a department store mountain bike. I heard he did very well, just through pure athletic ability. The guy had a childlike innocence and humility, probably was aware but did not care that he was riding the junkiest bike in the race. Totally in it for the sport, not even 1% about looking cool. (...and so, in a sense, I bet he was the coolest guy there.)
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Old 08-18-21, 12:46 PM
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And, as Rod Serling used to say, "There's a fourth dimension..."

Age. Call it A

High A plus high a generates high respect, with greater m enhancing the effect while greater s is largely irrelevant. An old, fast guy who drops you, especially if he's fat, generates respect whether he's in the latest Rapha, or the oldest worn out Nashbar kit.*

*That's right, kit. Hate me if you must, but the word is short, simple, and you know what it means.
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Old 08-18-21, 12:49 PM
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Originally Posted by genejockey
And, as Rod Serling used to say, "There's a fourth dimension..."

Age. Call it A

High A plus high a generates high respect, with greater m enhancing the effect while greater s is largely irrelevant. An old, fast guy who drops you, especially if he's fat, generates respect whether he's in the latest Rapha, or the oldest worn out Nashbar kit.*
Right again. I guess it's a more complicated formula than I realized.
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Old 08-18-21, 12:49 PM
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Originally Posted by Bah Humbug
In a slightly more serious response, this happens elsewhere as well. It’s fun in triathlon to shoe up with a road bike and thump people.
It's kinda like a spectrum, where on the one end you have posers, and on the other you have ringers.
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Old 08-18-21, 12:52 PM
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In our group, the first guy to the top has a 7-speed steel bike, gravel tires, full fenders, and a 20 liter canvas saddle bag. It would have been cheating for him to bring his carbon bike. To climb with me, he has to stand because he doesn't have gears low enough to go that slow seated.
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Old 08-18-21, 12:54 PM
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Originally Posted by genejockey
It's kinda like a spectrum, where on the one end you have posers, and on the other you have ringers.
I'm happily ensconced at one end of that spectrum.
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Old 08-18-21, 01:14 PM
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Originally Posted by genejockey
And, as Rod Serling used to say, "There's a fourth dimension..."

Age. Call it A

High A plus high a generates high respect, with greater m enhancing the effect while greater s is largely irrelevant. An old, fast guy who drops you, especially if he's fat, generates respect whether he's in the latest Rapha, or the oldest worn out Nashbar kit.*

*That's right, kit. Hate me if you must, but the word is short, simple, and you know what it means.
I'm high skill, medium age, medium style.
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Old 08-18-21, 01:19 PM
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No real correlation. Some would rather play the part of the sleeper instead of the pro. In a competitive event such as cycling, the sleeper will get advantages the poseur/pro cannot. Nobody knows or more importantly, cares about the sleeper. He heads off the front, who cares? He's a nobody. Pay him no attention. Remember, for the hustle to work, the person/people being hustled must have the illusion that they can win. It's way more important to somehow (eek out) a win, time and time again while looking like a loser, than to look like a world beater. That's what keeps the money flowing if there's money involved.

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Old 08-18-21, 01:20 PM
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Originally Posted by ClydeClydeson
"Talk Later, Do Not Resuscitate"

I think you mistook what OP meant by 'style' - they are referring to the quality of your equipment and kit.
I know what he means from scanning the OP. New Rapha jersey should arrive tomorrow, and my super fly, custom ti road bike is one of a kind in look. But sometimes I dress like a Fred for the fun of it. And I never use energy drinks unless I am on tour and have a hard day without any/many services along the day's route.
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