The Velominati, or Keepers of the Cog, are a loose collective of guardians of cycling etiquette whose The Rules – a bible of 95 dos and don‘ts in the world of cycling – have become a source of inspiration as well as amusement for millions of lovers of the sport.
The known Velominati are founder and main author Frank Strack, fellow Americans Marko Carlson and Jim Thomson, Brett Kennedy from New Zealand and John 'Gianni' Andrews from Hawaii. Their website, velominati.com, allegedly gets over two million visits every month.
Although the authors acknowledge that the sport of cycling is fiercely modern and in constant development, their favourite image of it involves hard men grinding big gears in adverse weather conditions, preferably on cobblestones. The true lovers of sport, those who swore to live by The Rules are Velominati, the disciples of the religion codified by Eddy Merckx, The Prophet, and preached by saints such as Fausto Coppi, Roger de Vlaeminck and Johan Museeuw to name just a few. La Vie Velominatus is what you do if you practice The Rules collectively with other disciples – like living in faith in a community of fellow believers.
It all started as a blog in 2009. Initially it was the five creators, who refer to themselves as The Keepers of the Cog, exchanging their views on various things cycling but soon on, the idea of putting down The Rules germinated in Brett's head and the others jumped on it straight away. Most of the ninety-five "commandments" there are today were written by the keepers themselves but there have been outside contributors, including the former pro Robert Millar. One of the best known rule is actually a famous quote by Greg LeMond, three times the winner of the Tour de France.
In the prolog to the 2014 book version of The Rules, the authors present their overall attitude in five points that rule The Rules: 1) Ride your bike as often and as seriously as you can, 2) Have respect for the traditions, 3) Embrace progress, 4) Look good to feel good and – first a foremost – 5) Have a laugh.
While The Rules are presented on the Velominati website chronologically as they have been added to over the course of time, the book version organises them into five groups: I. The Disciple, II. The Ride, III. The Bike, IV. The Aesthete and V. The Hardmen.
Even those who have never heard of The Rules are likely to have come across some of them. Rule #12 aka The Bike Formula or n+1 showing that you always need another bike no matter how many you already have is often quoted and it even appears on tshirts. The Hardmen group contains only eight rules but it counts the three most important ones among their number. Rule #5: "Harden the fuck up! " is considered the default commadment by the Keepers. The same grouping contains rule #9 which gives riders the coveted badge of a badass if they ride in bad weather and #10 – the very popular Greg LeMond quote mentioned earlier – which tells riders that it never gets easier, you just go faster.
Rule #9 epitomises one of the essential sentiments of The Rules. Cycling is tough and often it's about how great you feel about yourself afterwards than about enjoying yourself while actually doing it. Fairweather riding is a bonus, not something you wait for to wheel your bike out once in a while...
Some of the rules are very hard to observe and they often aren't. Rule #49 forbidding you from turning your bike upside down is just not practical when repairing a puncture on the muddy or grassy side of the road, and #58 commanding you to not buy anything to do with bikes online is, sadly, from the era of the hardmen, as is rule #90 telling you to never get out of the big ring.
There are people who take everything too seriously. Especially religions. The Rules aren't a religion. Nor are they a model that everybody must emulate. People who think better of themselves because they observe The Rules are to be ignored. Or even better – dropped at the first opportunity.
My reading of The Rules is that you should take your cycling seriously. You can look great on a bike in many ways. The Rules present one of them, the one born out the Keepers' respect for the sport's traditions. You can accept them warts and all, you can pick and choose or you can ignore them altogether. Just have a laugh and enjoy yourselves riding. And remeber, the only rule everybody must observe without exception is #77: "Respect the Earth; don't litter."
illustrated by: Pavel Novák