23 March 2011

A nod, wave, and a wink

The Cyclist's Greeting
It is again that time of year in Colorado when people in mass appear out on their bikes anytime the weather rises above 48 degrees. This is the time of year when I remember how to say hi to people 20 feet away from me. You know, the people across the road riding in the opposite direction from me on a bike. If they say hi, so do I. And if I am wearing my team kit, I feel I am obligated to be an upstanding citizen and say hi a lot.
I go into the market and never think of giving a shout out to every stranger in the vegetable section. I walk to the local ice cream parlor and although the other patrons are enjoying their ice cream as much as I am, I do not need to bond with them by offering a nod of approval for their choice of ice cream flavor. But heaven forbid I miss delivering the customary hello to every person I see on two wheels (and forgive me, I do miss my delivery at times). The cyclist's greeting is part of our cycling culture.
There is a certain amount of stress that accompanies this cycling tradition. I gotta get it right, and it differs depending on which county or country I am presently riding in. It is hard to take back a casually given wave, when I should have offered a nod. Or too late realize I just smiled, smiled? Oh no, "I meant to nod," I shout over my shoulder to the rider now passing me by. What was I thinking?

Here in Denver, Colorado, we give a nod. A straight lipped, never show signs of breathing heavily, nod DOWN of the head. Occasionally I will receive a hand down from the bar Jesus kind of wave. It throws me off a bit - is he a real racer I think? When I ride in Boulder County, I must give a wave (never a nod). The Boulder greeting is a slight lift the hand off the handlebars kind of wave. There are so many cyclists in Boulder, this sort of greeting can be timed perfectly with your pedal stroke. In fact, I had an old friend from Norway who was a professional mountain biker who stayed with us in Boulder and threatened to tape a waving hand to her left shoulder because she found this custom so ridiculously repetitive. 
In France they have the friendliest greeting of all - a nod UP of the head with a bright crisp Bonjour! Bonjour climbing, bonjour ripping past you on the descent, bonjour sitting at a cafe. Bonjour, bonjour, bonjour. The French are so happy to be out riding their bikes, they share their happiness by speaking out loud. People in Denver rarely speak while on their bikes (unless we are trying to make the other person feel better about themselves as we pass them climbing in the same direction). If we do speak to say hi, a cyclist sits up slightly as if to say - "what am I supposed to do with that?". We forget we can actually hear someone 20 feet away from us and respond with a perky "Hello".
As part of my travel planning and spring training for the year ahead, I have researched the new cyclist's greetings that I will need to learn for my 2011 riding season. In Santa Rosa, California, where I will be riding Levi's GrandFondo, the friendly folks at NorCal bikesport bike shop tell me that they are open to either the wave or the nod, "but never both, that would look silly". In Solvang, California, Dr J's Bicycle Shop happily tells me I may use my customary nod as a greeting. But here is the kicker, since I plan to ride the course of the Amgen Tour of California ITT early on the morning of the actual race in Solvang, chances are I will see a number of cyclists from other states and countries; what greeting should I offer? I am thinking I should choreograph my own original combination of wave, smile, pedal, nod, pedal, wave. I don't know, do you think that would look silly?
Maybe keep it simple - Bonjour!
If it is a wave, I must be in Boulder