Friday, October 22, 2010

Jumping the Shark

Please remember and give me credit, because you have heard it first here: Cycling has Jumped the Shark. It occurred at 9.00 pm on October 21, 2010. At that point, precisely, the ascendancy of cycling peaked and we cyclists can pinpoint that particular moment as the high point of cycling in popular culture, and from that point onwards, we are in decline.

Now I know what Major Taylor thinks when he rolls over in his grave, "We used to be great! We used to be popular and interesting, but now . . . these kids . . . they have no idea."

Maybe you don't know that of which I speak. Maybe you didn't catch the shark jumping, or recognize it as such, or maybe you don't know what it means to jump the shark.

For those of you old enough, you will recall a show named "Happy Days". Happy Days was a rosy look at 50's America that never really existed, but was warm and funny. It was an insanely popular show at a time when we all watched the same four TV stations. The show was on for ten years, from 1974 - 1984, although the last 3-4 years were a weak substitute for the prior years, but the actual jumping of the shark took place in 1977. In that episode, Fonzie was challenged to literally jump a shark on water skis. Actually, Fonzie was on water skis, but you get the point. And it is, in fact, a turning point, the one at which the show went from being good, interesting and maybe relevant and turned into a shadow of itself ("Nuking the fridge" is the same concept applied to the Indiana Jones series).

For us cyclists, the cold opening of The Office last night marked our own jumping of the shark. If you missed it, the gay accountant character, Oscar, is shown in the parking lot wearing cycling gear, with the de rigueur LiveStrong helmet, standing next to his shiny new Trek and spouting about his new found joy and meaning in life now that he is a cyclist. Sure, we've all been there, right? We cyclists have all had those geeky moments when we love cycling SO much that we have to tell non-cyclists, who really don't care. But we have never before turned on Must See TV and watched that scene lived out in on one of the most popular shows on television. No, cycling wasn't the focus of the episode, but it had raised to the level of mainstream consciousness that they felt comfortable making the reference to cycling and to Lance and knew that America would "get" it.

It has been a long period of rising to this level of awareness. Let's not focus on the fact that the Office made a parkour reference a year ago, but let's look at cycling's rise. It started, I think, with Greg LeMond. Greg and a sprinkling of Andy Hampsten spawned a group of young people who wanted to become Tour de France riders. Somewhat unbelievably, it spawned a phenomenal group that included Tyler Hamilton, George Hincapie, Floyd Landis and, of course, Lance "Killing Machine" Armstrong. Lance has now transcended cycling to become a true national level abd world level fame. All of this inexorably led to Hollywood celebrities riding bikes, legions of professionals purchasing carbon fiber bikes that cost more than their first cars (yes, I did it too, but to be fair my first car was worth around $800), Rouleur Magazine, the success of Rapha and hipsters on fixies, and now, The Office making fun of all of it so that it rings true to the mass of non-cycling humanity.

From here, there is nowhere to go but down.

Looking back, it will be obvious. Rome wasn't built in a day, and it sure as hell didn't fall in a day. We have had an ongoing series of drug investigations, fallen heroes (Tyler, Floyd - we trusted in your boy scout/mennonite goodness!?), and hidden motors in seat tubes. We now are knowledgeable about plasticizers on blood and have to constantly explain to our children to not take too seriously any of the sport we love so dearly. Spain, never a bastion of drug control (Italy - I'm looking at you . . .) just arrested 32 people in a clenbuterol ring and we are awaiting the results of a federal investigation into Lance and a whole era of cyclists. Frankly, I'm not hopeful that one of these days a Federal Prosecutor is going to announce, "All good! Couldn't find any evidence of drug use in professional cycling!" No, I have to think someone is going to be charged, someone is going to spill the beans and all of us will be less happy even though it is better to know the truth.

Cycling, I loved you and am going to stick with you, but like Major Taylor, I'm glad I was here while it was good and I'm looking forward to the next cycle of ascendancy. The good news for us? From Major Taylor to today took 100 years. In this internet age, it will only take 100 weeks. Until then, beware of anyone simultaneously wearing a leather jacket and flotation device.
Rider Three

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