The Two Spoke forum was talking (again) about being a Fred. So I thought I’d post this here to point to in future discussions.
Fred is a derisive term used by “serious” road cyclists to describe other cyclists who do not conform to serious road cyclists’ norms with regard to dress and equipment, and appear amateurish to them. The term is generally reserved for men, while the female Fred is sometimes called a “Doris.”
The exact qualities that define one as a “Fred” vary widely among regions and cyclists. The earliest two definitions used for the term are actually completely contradictory.
In the UK, an early usage of the word is the more common—used by ‘serious’ roadies (cyclists who ride racing bicycles, and may themselves participate in competitive events) to refer to (stereotypically) bearded, sandal-wearing, cyclists without any high-tech gear. These Freds are not generally total novice cyclists, and often ride fairly frequently. This usage still survives in the US. David Bernstein, presenter of The FredCast says the term is “used by ‘serious’ roadies to disparage utility cyclists and touring riders, especially after these totally unfashionable ‘freds’ drop the ‘serious’ roadies on hills because the ‘serious’ guys were really posers.”
More recently, particularly in the US, a Fred is more often somebody with higher quality and more expensive cycling equipment than his or her talent and commitment would warrant. For example, a stereotypical Fred by this definition would be an individual with little cycling experience who watches the highlights of a few Tour de France stages, then goes to a bike store and purchases a Trek carbon fiber Madone in Team Discovery colors, along with Team Discovery shorts and jersey. Thus outfitted with equipment virtually identical to that which Lance Armstrong used, far more expensive than that used by many high-standard racing cyclists, and more costly than many automobiles, the “Fred” then uses his bicycle merely to ride on a cycling path at 15 mph (24 km/h), something which even the most casual untrained cyclist can manage on an inexpensive hybrid bicycle. Some use “Fred” in a somewhat similar matter, but more synonymous with a roadie poseur. However, a Fred isn’t necessarily someone who intentionally tries to put forth an image of being better or more knowledgeable than they are. Rather, a Fred is an inexperienced or unskilled cyclist who gets some top high-end or copy-cat racing gear for any reason. Unlike most poseurs, a Fred may still ride lacking some fundamental piece of competitive roadie equipment or style.
A third use of the term that is a hybrid of the earlier two main usages has arisen most recently and become increasingly popular relative to the older definitions. In this usage, a “Fred” is a cyclist who has a ton of cycling gear, especially of the utilitarian “uncool” kind, like mirrors, powerful lights, fenders, bells/horns, heavy leather seats, racks, reflective gear, bags, baskets, etc. The gear and bike may be put together by kludgey homemade solutions, like duct-taped flashlights to the handlebar. This type of Fred is a bike geek who likes/needs lots of gear (even if it is modified stuff not intended for bikes) that a racer would never use, no matter what roadie cyclists or others think. Sacrificing some, or ignoring completely, concerns of speed or traditional roadie/sport cyclist style, these type of Freds are more concerned with practical concerns like comfort, safety, versatility, maintenance, being able to quickly transition to time and culture on/off the bicycle, etc. Freds of this type can be well aware of their fredness, once they are aware of the concept, and often embrace it wholeheartedly.
I had never heard the term before but I’d have to say I am a Fred (1st and particularly 3rd definitions). Of course, I and other 3rd definition Freds believe we ARE serious cyclists.
Perhaps “serious road cyclists” can chill. There’s no rules that say that the only possible way to enjoy bicycling is to buy overpriced lycra and shave your legs. If I want to ride my three-speed to the grocery store while wearing pedal-pushers and a football helmet, that’s no concern of Mr. Serious Road Cyclist.
One of the things that prevents people from casually enjoying hobbies is derision from people who mock newbies and those who participate only occasionally. And one of the best ways to get people interested in your hobby — music, athletics, whatever — is to welcome them regardless of their level of skill or involvement.
The cycling community in my neighborhood is a lot of the reason I ride!
I remember some bicyclists yelling at me to get a *real* bike when I had my rather small Schwinn Graduate scooter. All I could think was, wonder if they do that kind of sophomoric stuff to everyone?
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Mike, I just find the whole thing humorous. And, I don’t look for confirmation from others for what I do–if I did that, I would probably not have done many of my stretch goal performances.
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Having recently run into one of the Freds on your list, in particular a German fellow, ran about 230 pounds, decked out in full German National Champion gear, there were five of us riding in a tight group between 22 and 23 mph and Fred decides to stand on his pedals to stretch his legs, without warning of course. His bike jerked back about a foot into my front tire and he almost took me out. Later on that same ride, in a parking lot at a rest station no less, the German National Champion cramped up trying to stop his bike and ran into a friend of mine, taco’ing his wheel, ending his ride, and costing him $400 to replace that wheel. I’ve never witnessed any derision of anyone other than those who put us “good cyclists” at risk and I can tell you, I am merciless when it comes to whiney Freds complaining about why they think the group should slow down for them – also towards those who can’t ride in a straight line. I could care less that you have a bell and a basket on your bike, as long as you can ride in a straight line and keep up.
It amazes me that the actual Freds fail to recognize the safety aspect of being a Fred (or lack thereof)… They always gloss over it as if the good cyclists actually care if you’re wearing tightie whities under your bell bottomed cycling shorts. We don’t. If you don’t know that underoos will lead to bloody chafing on a 15 mile ride, chances are you don’t know how to ride in a pace line either, therefore you are dangerous.
I’m not sure Freds care about riding in a pace line. But then, as Mike sez, maybe I just need to chill out. After all, it takes all kinds of people to make a world.
As a Fred of the third type, I can say that I’ve ridden in a few pace lines some years back and wouldn’t dream of trying to do so with my current gear, even if I didn’t weigh what I do now. I have, for example, done an MS-150 with a Sedona DX with front shocks and a big fat saddle, but never with the idea of keeping up with the Big Ring folks. I just like riding long on occasion. I have neither the money nor inclination to spend the big bucks to be a type 2 and I’m too much afraid of the results to try riding in sandals, so type 1 is out too.
I have, however, felt the snobbery that “real” riders sometimes feel for those of us who don’t bother taking off the rack and panniers to go for a long ride. That usually is somewhat dispelled by the end of the ride when I make it in without sagging (albeit much later than the guys in the pace line do).
There are Freds in other sports. Like the recreational skier who buys the top of the line powder skis, yet seldom skis off trail, or seldom skis at all. In the long run, do what you enjoy and have thick skin. “Those who mind, don’t matter, those who matter, don’t mind” (Peter “Chanman” Chandler).
Actually, that quote was originally via a gentleman named “Bernard Baruch” and widely attributed to Dr. Seuss who popularized it. Awesome quote anyway you look at it.
Oh don’t get me wrong, I don’t worry about labels. I do find them interesting.
Utility cyclists get enough crap from passing 4x4s. That we should also be targeted by elitists who are cycling for the health of it seems a little absurd :oP Let’s hear it for the Freds!
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I’d never heard of this before, thanks for the definitions, I hold my hand up to being a 1st and possibly ‘minimalist’ 3rd Fred cyclist as my bike goes through a steady evolution and daily use in all weathers.
Hi Andy in Germany. I used my bike daily in Germany back in the 70s and again in the 80s. It’s too dangerous where I life to ride my bicycles. But if the bike path that has been in the works for ten years ever gets built, I’ma gonna ride again. (I live next to a highway.
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After reading a bit of the Bike Snob NYC blog, I came across “Fred” and looked it up, which brought me here. It seems the definition, much like that of the “hipster” is quite malleable depending on the varying definitions and observers of these trends.
More importantly, riders that consider themselves the “true” non-fred cyclists have a large pole of snide self-importance shoved way too far up their non-heavy-leather-seat riding butts. Personally, I think the real cyclists are the kids and adults that just do it to enjoy the ride and are good representatives for all cyclists. Those that only ride because they are competitive or who “only” race or train (are there really people like that?), or the “fishing lures” as I like to call them (matching spandex outfits, bikes worth thousands, often the spandex and bike matching in color) that patrol the roads once or twice a month are the Fred Fishing Lures du jour. My way of telling them apart is pretty straight-forward: FFL’s don’t wave and aren’t friendly to other cyclists. FFL’s often don’t understand or otherwise follow the traffic laws when riding on the street and generally act as though they own the road. FFL’s can often talk your ear off about tech and gadgets (and especially gear like clothes), but rarely elaborate on a favorite ride. The problem here is the influence of the racing culture on cycling in general. It sure has made bike shops more money, but for 90% of the riders out there, wearing clip-in pedals (aka “clipless” ???) and buying carbon-fiber or titanium everything with components whose cost could fund a school district is about as useless as hoping banks will be ever be regulated or held accountable for predatory lending and the subprime mortgage crisis.
That’s my two cents worth. And yeah, I’m the guy with a beard who has sworn-off clip-in pedals who bought his 1999 Raleigh R300 off craigslist for $200, rebuilt it to my own specs, rode it across the USA and around NZ, and commutes back and forth to work 25 miles a day. I can tell you many favorite rides (and have many listed on Ride with GPS) and think of being a cyclist as a lifestyle that’s about as enjoyable and free from the fossil-fuel nipple as I can get. So yep, I’m that kind of “Fred” and darn proud of it 🙂
It just sounds like someone is jealous of those with 10k bikes and kits that cost 500.00. I would say the whole of “Fred” definition #2 is based on the jealousy that someone would want to and has the ability to buy a team issue bike that costs 10k. I’m damn proud to be “Fred #2” and I wish there was more of me around here. 😀
soo….you’re a “dentist”?
Tortuga Verde: Would you wave or be friendly to someone doing these things: “matching spandex outfits, bikes worth thousands, often the spandex and bike matching in color…wearing clip-in pedals (aka “clipless” ???) and buying carbon-fiber or titanium everything” or do you just automatically assume that they are your “fishing lures”? Not everyone who uses that type of gear has the same attitude.
I’m a “Fred” of the first type and proud of it. On my Dahon folding bike, usually cycling alone, I cover up to 100 miles a week, and undertake one foreign tour each year – this year in the Pyrenees, last year in the Alps. I wear no helmet and no lycra. At 67 years old I still managed to climb Ditchling Beacon yesterday (in the rain) without stopping.
One thing I notice is that all “Fred’s” invariably respond to my greeting on the road; few “serious” cyclists do.
Come on serious cyclists – aren’t we supposed to be enjoying ourselves?
Sorry about the “butcher’s apostrophe”; predictive texting, not me!
Can’t count how many times I loop back to a post in FB or a text to discover, much to my horror, that the fine word I chose has been changed to something just, … well weird. I remember when I used to ride a battery assisted bicycle and other a few other bicyclists would chide me for my choice of a ride. Every time they were young men who should have known better. But still it angered me. I never responded but I *did* suspect that their lives were very challenging and that they had no clue why. 😉
As a former competitive cyclist (racing) I see a big difference between a “bicycle rider” and a cyclist. Lots of kids and adults ride bicycles for lots of reasons (fun, scenery, transportation, even exercise) and some bicycle riders become cyclists. The modern use of the term “fred” has nothing whatsoever to do with clothes, the cost of the bike you ride, the bell on your handlebars, the helmet you wear etc. Being a cyclist has everything to do with your dedication to the sport of cycling – long distances, challenging difficult terrain and weather, excellent bike handling skills, high levels of fitness, and an elusive thing called “form.” I’ve been active in the sport for 45 years and yes, of course I wear lycra (and wool) – but Freds are simply put: poseurs. They have the right equipment and the right look but it all ends there. In fact, only Freds poke fun someone else’s bike or kit. Cyclists know that anyone riding a bike could be, like a pool shark, simply be covering up a finely tuned cycling ability with dorky clothes on a cheap bike! But hey, anyone can call themselves a cyclist even if they don’t have the foggiest notion of what that means.
When I moved from the country to the city, my steel Surly became my primary ride. Front and back racks, fenders, cyclocross tires, lights you can see in daylight, a handcrafted mudflap (I read somewhere how make one out of a cheap vinyl stair tread cut to size and bolted on).
Could I ride my carbon fiber Trek in the city? Sure. But the Surly really has been the go-to bike.
To me a Fred is a rider who has no clue about safety and etiquette on the road or multi-use trails, along with poor handling skills. A non-cyclist. Just a dude on a bike without a clue. Doesn’t matter about the gear.
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Great read, comments included, I’d be somewhere inbetween non-fred and fredness but surely a complete fred in some peoples eyes.
I plead guilty to Fred-ism. It’s what happens when you live 110 miles from the nearest bike shop. I completed a century two weeks ago, which makes me feel less Fred-like.
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