Sunday, June 15, 2014

My Name's Not Lance

It's inevitable. If you spend enough time on a bike, at some point some jackass in a car is going to call you "Lance." When it happens, it's usually some half-assed attempt at a clever put-down. At its worst, it's a clearly intentional slur.

Today I was out for a ride and it happened again. A couple of very privileged-looking guys in a vintage top-down Fiat Spider buzzed a little too close and yelled something as they passed. It's another sign of driver arrogance and ignorance that so many of them have no apparent idea that anything they shout from their moving car becomes garbled, unintelligible nonsense to their intended cyclist or pedestrian target. Thank you, doppler effect. Regardless, people shouting from cars are rarely just trying to be friendly, and getting buzzed like that got my blood pumping.

A frame of reference.
We were closing in on a traffic light, so I thought I just might have a chance to catch up. I don't usually get so lucky, but today I did. The little Fiat got caught up in a long line of cars waiting to turn left at the light. I pulled up next to them and stopped. They looked a little surprised to see me again. It probably helps you understand my frame of reference when I tell you that they kind of reminded me of the rich college kids in Breaking Away. Seriously, I would not be surprised at all if one of them was named "Rod" or "Brick" or something.

"What did you shout at me back there?" I asked.

They grinned sort of sheepishly, like a couple of idiots who didn't expect to get caught doing something stupid. I pulled out my water bottle to take a drink.

"What did you shout at me back there?" I asked again.

The one in the passenger seat, closer to me, finally answered, "Go Lance."

I aimed the water bottle and squirted the guy in the face.

"My name's not Lance," I said, then rode away, leaving them very surprised and speechless.

True story!

Bike Snob wrote about the "Lance" slur in his first book. Here's a quote:

"We cyclists are often subject to ignorance. And when it comes to cyclist slurs, there's one that towers above all others. It's the L word . . . Lance Armstrong."

"Everybody knows who Lance Armstrong is. He's easily the most famous cyclist in the world. But what most people don't know is that we cyclists consider Lance Armstrong a slur. Firstly, most non-cyclists use it as a pejorative, as in, 'Hey Lance, get on the sidewalk!' or, 'I hate these bike riders in their neon spandex. They all think they're Lance Armstrong!' Secondly, even when non cyclists aren't trying to be insulting, it's still incredibly annoying to be compared to Lance Armstrong -- even if he's your favorite cyclist of all time."

I think that sums it up fairly well. But really, for me, it's not even so much the name, but what it represents about driver and non-cyclist ignorance more than anything else.

Anyhow -- did I over-react to the fools in the Fiat? Meh -- it was just a bit of water. The real Lance probably would have spit on them.


  1. And just to add, I graduated from IU Bloomington a few years ago, the rich boy mentality hasn't changed much since Breaking Away! Not so much on campus, but get away and into greater Bloomington and it still shows. Just replace the 79s cars with stuff in Germany and Japan, as well as the clothes and hairstyles...still same. Heh.

  2. I guess the smile on my face is just a tiny bit of payoff for so many negative encounters I've had over the years. Thank you.

  3. Good for you! My brother tells how a friend, 6'4" and 250 in his 20s and 30s, caught up with some such idiots at a light and sprayed the passenger's crotch with his bottle. (He also caught up with another car ditto and discovered two men inside even bigger than he -- he rode off sheepishly.)

    Once, waiting to go straight at a light, a pickup pulled up in the right turn lane and the driver (no kid; a man in his 30s with a child) yelled, "I hate cyclists!" I waved him over and we talked -- I asked him "Why do you hate cyclists?", he replied with stories about roadies 2 abreast on the narrow mountain roads near his property. I explained that hating all cyclists because of a few idiots is like hating all drivers because of a few who run red lights. We parted on much more amicable terms.

    As a decades long urban/suburban cyclist, I've found that, if I obey traffic laws (this does not by any means preclude claiming one's vehicular rights, such as taking one's lane), it's only kids who hassle me, and that is usually harmless yelling. I generally give them the finger and yell back and, if I can catch up with them, give them the dead-eye, paternal, "much older than you" authority treatment -- "What did you call me, boy?"

  4. However satisfying and justified it may be, I personally don't advocate such aquatic gestures or any sinking to a common denominator. I certainly don't blame you, but I wonder whether letting him hear himself say "Go Lance," then riding off in silence, might have been an alternative. These days, few people you encounter know to accept when they've been licked, and it escalates quickly, as with a second buzz that comes a bit closer.