Saturday, September 08, 2018

You train yourself

You train yourself all the time, whether you are purposely practicing a discipline you want to perfect or just thinking about concepts you want to incorporate into your behavior.

As long as I have been in the bike business, articles in the trade publications have talked about making shops more welcoming to all sorts of riders. Female riders in particular criticized the elitist and sexist characters they met in some shops.

Because I learned most of my basic mechanical techniques and riding skills from a woman, I never thought that "girls" were inferior or did not belong in the pure realm of cycling. But just being your  average horny idiot is a gateway to inadvertent acts that could be construed as creepy by someone particularly sensitive. And any time you find yourself even temporarily being an above average horny idiot you can be sure that you've already made a pile and skidded through it. The job offers many opportunities to stand too close, or talk about personal things, or even lay a hand on someone under the pretext of biomechanics or bike fit.

The more attractive you find a person, the more you need to focus on the professional necessities of the encounter. It's fine to be friendly, but remember why the person came to the shop in the first place.

The recent surge of awareness of the constant barrage of unwanted male attention faced by so many women highlights the need to maintain a certain distance and reserve. Almost 30 years ago, I wouldn't hesitate to flirt with a customer I found attractive. I figured I was a good looking guy with a bright future, what's not to like? History has proven otherwise, but that shouldn't be the only reason I take a much more reserved approach. I figure that women need a break from even the hint of lust. The deeply buried horny center of my brain still tries to get my attention, but now I enjoy thwarting it while I laugh at its promptings.

Last week, a very attractive and friendly woman came into the shop on a ride with a male companion. They seemed like a couple, but not a gooey cooey kind of couple. They were on interesting bikes. Hers was an old Trek 520 touring bike. His was a Bridgestone XO. She asked questions about how riding position might relate to some calf pain she was having. She's a yoga instructor, and they both seem to work in fields where anatomy is important. They could name muscles that I used to be able to locate, but now the names are more like people I used to party with that I haven't seen in years. Soleus? Oh yeah, we used to hang out together. And gastrocnemius. I could tell you stories about gastrocnemius, oh yeah. I've had to cram my head with so much bike anatomy that my knowledge of human anatomy has faded like a fax in the sun.

The woman was riding in running shoes. I suggested that the pain started because she was trying to ride some stiff climbs in floppy shoes. Because she was using calf muscle to stiffen and stabilize her foot as well as provide power in the pedal stroke, it was shortening and tightening the muscles. We turned out not to have bike shoes to fit her, but while she was sitting to try on what we did have, she spotted a road bike hanging on a display hook. She ended up test riding the bike and putting it on hold.

Today they came to pick up her new road bike. She had new shoes that she'd picked up during the week, so she bought pedals to match. She'd never ridden clipless before. I gave her the usual instructions and warnings before we went down to the back parking lot to check her position on the bike.

"Remember that you have to twist your foot outwards," I said. "And release both feet when you're getting ready to stop, in case the bike happens to tip the opposite way from the one you'd expected."

She circled and landed successfully once. Because she was also practicing getting into the cleats, stopping and starting as we dialed in her riding position gave her a good opportunity for repetition. Around she came for another landing. She unclipped a foot...and it was the wrong one. Over she came, toward me.

"Never touch a woman without her consent," was the first message to my brain in the split second as she toppled toward me.

Yeah, so she hit the parking lot. She might have bounced off of me a little bit, but I had it so engrained in me to keep my hands to myself that it never occurred to me to grab her. I wasn't even sure if I should help her up. She's an athlete and a yoga instructor after all. And in the scrabble to regain dignity after suffering the newbie cleat fall, isn't it more empowering to let her take control as quickly as possible? Yeah, that's it: it was empowering. Empowering is good, right?

R-e-s-p-e-c-t. Yeah, buddy.

Fortunately, she was only a little scuffed up, and the bike was barely scratched. Scratched is even too strong a word. There was a bit of grit on it. I brought her some hydrogen peroxide to wash out the minor scrapes while we joked about how I had totally blown the trust fall.

Talking about it with my coworker afterward, he said, "So you weren't a creep, but you weren't a hero either."

The couple left on their shakedown cruise. They reported back just before closing time. It went well. So that's good. The goal is to put people happily on bikes.


Coline said...

The world has veered form one kind of crazy straight through to an opposite kind of crazy without even considering a calm collected balance! I am helping an old friend with his hospital visits and he is terrified to take my arm without renewing consent.

cafiend said...

Yep. And we're complicated creatures who try to concoct norms to apply universally. Way back in the 1990s I read in a women's studies textbook that some women believe that any sex initiated by a male is automatically rape. There was no supporting information to delineate where the threshold of initiation was. Is just raising the subject coercive? In some cases, yes. And that just addresses the realm of sexual activity. The rest of the problem extends into male condescension and hostility in every aspect of life.

I'll admit that I miss feeling attractive and desirable, but it was never for me to say, so maybe it was just one long illusion better forgotten. My job requires me to see and hear things that could veer off into the premise for something potentially controversial. I consider it a matter of professional pride to make sure that it doesn't. And then afterwards I will have a laugh about all of the inappropriate things that didn't happen.