Book Review – THE RULES, The Way of the Cycling Disciple – The Velominati

‘The Velominati embrace cycling not just as a pastime or a means of travel, but as a way of life – as obsessed with style, heritage, authenticity and wisdom as with performance. THE RULES is their Bible.’

There is much to cherish in the Velominati’s extended paper copy of their famous online RULES (Sceptre £12.99). At times, there also appears much to scoff at, deride and probably a few to sensibly ignore. Such are the potentially divisive nature of some of THE RULES.
There is bound to be disagreement with some of the 91 Rules (there are now 92 on the website) set down by the Velominati, and I’m sure that they, the self-styled ‘Keepers of the Cog’, wouldn’t have it have any other way. Apart from the side benefit of enabling the good-natured, post-ride debates that interpretation might foster, disagreement also shows a less than total dedication to the cult and therefore elevates the total believers more fully. THE RULES are set up as a litmus test for the knowledgable road cyclist and, looking around at those on the roads these days, the non-believer rate is high.

20130908-082132.jpgI was introduced to THE RULES almost as soon as I expressed a resurgent interest in using my bike as more than a mere mode of transport.

The moment I started cycling for cycling’s sake again, it was suggested to me by a ride companion that there was a code of conduct which would further enhance my experience in the saddle. In true Velominati style he did not directly admonish me for my baggy shorts, overly stacked stem nor even the fact that I walked up part of one hill on our route. He merely spoke about one of the other rules relating to something else and let me find out the rest myself. Needless to say the next time we rode together I was an altogether more presentable acolyte and I have never walked up a climb again – no matter how bloody awful I felt.

That is not to say that I agreed with everything I found written in THE RULES. In the online version it’s all too easy to dive straight into the rules themselves without understanding a little bit about the the people writing them. Taken out of context, and especially if read individually, they can come across in turn as impossibly elitist, boorishly macho or just plain impractical. They end up becoming a ‘take it or leave it’ wishlist to cherry-pick from, and in the wider context are often simply reduced to a single Rule. The infamous #5. Harden The Fuck Up.

The book version of THE RULES is more fulfilling than the original list in three pretty basic but very important ways. Firstly, the book format requires the reader to first engage with the explanatory preamble, which does much to set the scene and the tone for that which follows.
Secondly, rather than repeating the more haphazard chronology of the original list – which presents them in the order they are added to the canon – , here the 91 rules have been arranged into five thematic sections . This new arrangement makes reading easier and allows underlying points to be built upon with each complementary Rule.
Thirdly, the thinking behind each Rule has been expanded (and in some cases updated) giving better insight into both its purpose and into the minds behind it.

The Velominati are American and Australian. It shows both in their writing and their many references to ‘malted ale’, but their love of cycling centres around the cobbled farm roads of Flanders, the tortuous beauty of the Dolomites, and the men who have conquered either, or preferably both of them. As a result grit and suffering feature heavily throughout THE RULES, only to be balanced with the ideal of looking good whilst suffering. It should be made very clear that the Velominati are not trying to sell you a Lifestyle. As a cyclist they reckon you’ve already got a Life – they are just trying to show you the path to a richer version which places an understanding of the heritage and mechanics of cycling alongside the need to try harder and look cool. Only then will a new level of ‘enlightenment’ be achieved. It’s a noble cause.

Yes, it’s a pluralist mix of Far Eastern mysticism, New World self image, Protestant stoicism and the occasional bit of Catholic self flagellation but so is much of our modern society so none of it seems jarringly out of place. Exacting a little more suffering from oneself in the name of the ‘Prophet’ – Merckx recast as God on Earth – sits comfortably alongside references to a ‘Sensei’ instructing an ‘Initiate’. It’s the loose jargon of a club, created organically on long rides and longer pub sessions. Uniquely it’s an in-joke to which we are all invited. Just remember not to wear coloured cycling shorts or a Livestrong wristband.

THE RULES are written with a level of humour and wit that is sadly missing from all religious texts and from most cycling clubs. They set out to firmly guide the uninitiated but manage to do it with their tongue planted firmly in their cheek. The result is funny and engaging. The Velominati may set themselves up as a cult of sorts but it’s a cult I’d like to join.

Having praised them for expanding and expounding on their original shorter form it seems odd to finish with a distillation of everything that THE RULES has to offer but here we go: ‘Take whatever you do seriously but, whatever you do, don’t take yourself too seriously.’

And that is one rule we could all benefit from.

Read more from Velominati Founder Frank Strack in his column in Cyclist magazine.
You can also follow the Velominati on Twitter: @velominati

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