There are, to generalize, two kinds of people who will describe a cyclist (stereotypically: one in lycra, on a city street, at rush hour) as a “wannabe.”
The first type are pros, top cat amateurs, or other elite riders — let’s just call them “Fabios” — who paste the label on amateur (particularly mid-cat) racers. (To be strictly accurate: the word most often used is “Fred,” but the sentiment is roughly the same.) Elite racers have earned the right, through years of suffering, to look down on any racer they choose. Most importantly, they may be called on it by another Fabio. Basically: “put up or shut up.” This is called Trash Talk and what athlete of any ability doesn’t do this? The subtext of Type One Fred-dom is: “you will never be a Fabio.” And given that I’m starting this racing thing at, eh, age 40? — yeah, they’re probably right. At the same time, it’s hard not to be a little in love with the Fabio life. I say this as a Fred.
The other type are non-cyclists, or at least non-competitive-cyclists. You can spot these types in an instant because “wannabe” is usually somewhere near the word “Lance.” (Because “Lance” is apparently the only notable cyclist, ever.) They also tend to call cyclists — racers or not — “bikers,” and they are quick to remind you they “love bikes and ride every weekend on the Springwater trail.” In much the same tone someone might say “many of my best friends are gay.”
Type Twos are quick to paste the “wannabe” label onto any cyclist in any article of bicycle-appropriate clothing (e.g. black spandex leggings, yellow rain jackets, “click-in” shoes), especially if such persons did something objectionable in road traffic, like jumping a red light. Type Twos bug me, not because the “wannabe” label is necessarily inaccurate (Although in the vast majority of cases, it is. Most folks riding too-fast in lycra in traffic are statistically unlikely to be any kind of racer, amateur or otherwise. They are statistically most likely to be people in a hurry trying to get somewhere on a bicycle, in clothing that maximizes their effort. If you grab 100 random bike commuters — in Lycra! — off the Hawthorne Bridge, I’d bet only one or two of them have ever ridden in a competitive event.)
Here’s what bugs me about the “wannabe” insult coming from a non-racer: it implies that only reason I’m doing this stupid thing is because I “want to be like Lance.” The subtext of Type Two Wannabe-dom is “you can’t win, so don’t try.” As if the world is divided into two types of people: record-setting Tour de France victors, and Everyone Else. And Everyone Else should quit putting on airs; stay home and, I dunno, watch Fear Factor. Leave adventure to the pros.
I contend that the world is sufficiently large and adventurous to accommodate any number of people willingly applying themselves to any number of difficult, painful things. The world is so big and so fun that I wonder why more people don’t actually do so. I may never “win,” (certainly not the Tour de France seven-plus times) but that’s no excuse for not trying. My bike motto is “DFL before DNF.” My life motto is “it’s better to be a loser than a quitter.”
The greater the suffering, the greater the pleasure. That is nature’s payback to riders for the homage they pay her by suffering. Velvet pillows, safari parks, sunglasses; people have become woolly mice. They still have bodies that can walk for five days and four nights through a desert of snow, without food, but they accept praise for having taken a one-hour bicycle ride. ‘Good for you’. Instead of expressing their gratitude for the rain by getting wet, people walk around with umbrellas. Nature is an old lady with few friends these days, and those who wish to make use of her charms, she rewards passionately.
— Tim Krabbé, The Rider