I’m an avid cyclist – not very good or very fast, but I like the exercise – and the fresh air you get from riding everyday is invigorating. Yesterday, after my standard 12-mile jaunt, I stopped for coffee at Starbucks. Sitting at one of the umbrella-covered tables was a group of men about my age. They were all dressed in the same funny-looking bike clothes that I was wearing, so I stopped to talk bikes.
After the usual pleasantries about where we had ridden that day, one of them noticed the seat on my bike, which is one of those skinny, Lance Armstrong types. He said, “At your age, you ought to change out your seat and get one like this,” pointing to his bike. His seat was one of those fat, cushy, gel-covered types with a split in the middle to relieve pressure on the rider’s groin. Real bikers sneer at those miniature Lazy-Boys® as being the mark of a beginning biker.
For me, it’s not just biker snobbery (although, I know I’m guilty of being one.) I’ve researched the subject and there are solid reasons why “real” cyclists ride a skinny saddle (the proper term for a bicycle seat.)
1. It’s lighter so there’s less weight for the rider to propel.
2. It’s designed for the rider to put his weight on the sit bones that lie under the gluteus maximums, so it forces you to ride in proper position. (If your feeling pressure on your groin, you aren’t seated properly.)
3.On rides longer than 10 miles, it doesn’t chafe the way those cushy seats do.
So I replied to the fellow, “Those seats are OK for leisurely riding, but they are killers if you’re going more than a ten miles.” At that point, he shrugged his shoulders, as if to say, “Suit yourself.” One of the other members of his group then said, “Charlie here ought to know what’s the best seat – he rides 50 miles per day. At 75, he looks like a man in his 50’s – don’t you think?”
It was true. Charlie did look young and fit. But he wasn’t looking at me. He was staring off in another direction in a way that told me that he’d disengaged from the conversation.
I made a few more comments, wished them a good day, and went on my way.
In retrospect, I realize that my quick response to Charlie’s comment had cost me the opportunity to get to know him – to maybe gain a new riding partner –all because I’d jumped in and offered my opinion without ever having given due respect and a fair hearing to his. At that point, instead of engaging in further discussion or debate with me, Charlie had simply written me off as a jerk.
It reminds me that difficult conversations are often difficult because we make them so. We expect others to give us a fair hearing when we are unwilling to do the same for them. If I could repeat the conversation with Charlie and his friends, I think I would do it differently. When Charlie told me that I should get a different saddle, I would ask him to tell me why he likes the wider saddle. I would inquire about its features. I’d ask him if there is anything about the seat that he doesn’t like. I’d also ask him about his riding habits, what his favorite routes are, and if he has tried any other kind of seat. I’d want to know what the pros and cons were for each of them. And throughout this inquiry, I would listen to his opinions and not argue, deny, or negate anything he said.
Then, once I was sure that Charlie felt like I had truly listened to and respected what he had to say, I would offer my opinions about the type of saddle I use and why it works for me. My guess is that even then, I probably wouldn’t change Charlie’s mind, but the odds that he would hear me out with a semi-open mind would have risen. And had I done so, maybe I’d have a new biking partner. I guess I’ll never know.