That’s all fine, except when you do things that way you don’t learn right. Particularly, you don’t learn the details. And while you think you might look the part and own the role, those of us who learned the hard way (by looking stupid until someone took pity on us and gave us a clue) can tell from some small cues you’re lacking in fundamentals. Just as dogs pick up on the minutest tail twitch, fur bristle, or ear movement, the experienced cyclist quickly looks you over and draws a conclusion.
Here are just a few of these cues. Some are better known than others. Most are referenced elsewhere on the internet. But I’m reiterating them here since I think they bear repeating:
(*A lot of this is roadie-specific. But roadies, as the most anal of cyclists, are the Keepers of the Law. Kinda like the Orthodox Christians or Jews. You may resent them, but they maintain the rules so the rest of us can violate them.)
Quick release levers should always be on the non-drive (left) side of the bike. On the rear, this is common sense since on the right side it would interfere with your derailleur and gear cluster. But the front wheel should always follow suit—I’m stunned at how often I see high-end road bikes with their QR levers on the wrong side. (The only exception is in the case of a disc brake-equipped mountain bike, where the front caliper might interfere with the lever.)
Also, positioning (direction in which the QR lever points) is important. 12:00 front and 2:00 rear is acceptable, as is 2:00 front and 10:00 rear, for example. Random compass-needles-in-a-magnetic-field angles are not.
If you have a rim with a label on it (like a Mavic Open Pro, for example), the label should be readable from the drive-side of the bike. If it’s not your wheel is backwards. If it’s the rear wheel it was built wrong. In this case it is imperative you remove the sticker.
The brand name on your front hub shell should be readable when you’re sitting on the bike. If you orient it this way and the rim sticker faces the wrong way, see above.
If you wear eyewear in conjunction with a helmet, the earpieces of your glasses should always go over your helmet straps. (Though even pro racers violate this one in the heat of battle.)
An experienced rider is readily identifiable by his pedal stroke. The most obvious cue is the knees. They should be as close together as possible, almost hitting the top tube. Bowlegged pedaling screams “I started riding yesterday.”
This should go without saying, but any stickers that came on your bike, particularly those conveying either the size of the bike or dire warnings, should be removed immediately. I don’t care that you’re riding a 56, or that improper assembly of your bike can lead to accidents, or whatever the warning labels say. If it ain’t under the clearcoat, get it off.
As far as stickers put on for aesthetic purposes or for the espousal of political beliefs, musical preferences, or equipment endorsements, I think it looks stupid, but go ahead if you want, it’s your funeral. However, equipment stickers advertising brands that are not present on the actual bicycle are especially idiotic-looking. (Like a Campy sticker on an all-Shimano bike.)
Don’t get me started on cards in the spokes.
This is the plastic disc that is often found under the cassette on pre-built road bikes. There is absolutely no excuse for having one of these on your bike. It is like leaving the tag in your underwear. Learn how to remove a cassette and get rid of that thing!
This may come as a shock to the newer riders out there, but there is absolutely nothing cool about trying to race somebody on your commute or on a recovery ride in the park. I know you’re very excited to be on your new Pista or Madone or whatever, and I know you feel like you need to prove yourself when you see someone else on a track bike or on a road bike in a team kit or whatever the case may be. But you need to learn something very important—it’s not always cool to attack, and it’s never OK to sit on a stranger’s wheel.
That guy on the track bike you’re killing yourself to pass may simply be on his way home from the velodrome, or from a day’s work as a messenger. The guy on the carbon wonder-bike in full lycra regalia may be returning from a 90-mile training ride, or a race, or may be cooling down from an interval. He sees you pick up the pace when you approach him, he hears you panting, he sees you look over your shoulder, and he knows what you’re up to. That’s why he lets you get a lead and then passes you on the next hill, often making a point of making a cell-phone call or eating some food, so he can pass you no-handed.