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Gear Prudence: I ride my bike every month of the year to commute and for exercise. This past weekend I was out on the trail and noticed even more obnoxious behavior from my fellow cyclists than usual. In fact, it’s been getting worse all of July. I wondered if I was just imagining it, but I mentioned my observation to my friend and he identified the culprit: the Tour de France. He claims that every July the bike riding gets appreciably ruder because area cyclists, inundated with coverage of bike racing, can’t help but to imagine themselves as pros in the peloton, and these delusions of grandeur translate to much worse behavior on local roads and trails. Could this possibly be true? —Wants Answer Now, Not Affronting Bicycling Efforts
Dear WANNABE: This is an interesting theory, and there are elements of it that sound plausible. Within the niche sport of road cycling, few events garner as much mainstream coverage as Le Tour. Faced with few exemplars of proper cycling behavior in other contexts, amateur riders might seek to emulate the bike racing heroes they see each day undertaking profound feats of athleticism. But whereas the athleticism doesn’t translate, what might is the underlying mentality of racing and the profound desire to “win the time trial” to work or become King of the Mountain by cresting some minor roller in north Arlington marginally faster than usual. Deeply enthralled, the attempts at mimicry become akin to a sickness. They have developed maillot jaundice.
But there’s much to be skeptical about as well. When someone in a Chevy tailgates you on the Beltway, is that behavior chalked up to Dale Jr.’s performance at the Daytona 500? Additionally, GP questions the power that watching something has to directly influencing behavior. Mad Men had a niche and fervent audience but that didn’t translate into any more office day drinking. Immersion and fandom don’t necessarily mean the inability to disambiguate what you see from how you act.
The explanation could be much more obvious. Within a set of bicyclists, some will act poorly. July is one of the more popular months for bicycling, and since the overall number of cyclists is larger, the overall number of jerks is too. It’s not the popularity of a bike race that’s causing the uptick in bad actors—it’s the popularity of bicycling overall (which, admittedly, might be impacted by the popularity of the bike race). But at best, it’s an indirect connection, and while your friend’s idea is pithy and shouldn’t be dismissed outright, it’s likely much more nuanced than a peloton of poseurs. —GP