"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 rare female Fred is sometimes called a "Doris."
The exact qualities that define one as a "Fred" vary widely among regions and cyclists. The main 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 to refer to (often) bearded, sandal-wearing, touring cyclists without any high-tech gear. 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."
Recently, particularly in the US, a Fred is more often somebody with higher quality and more expensive gear than his or her talent would warrant. For example, a Fred could be guy with little cycling experience who watches the highlights of a few Tour de France stages, then goes to a bike store and buys a Trek carbon fiber Madone in Team Discovery colors, along with Team Discovery shorts and jersey, and then rides it on a cycling path at 15 mph (25 km/h). Some use "Fred" in a somewhat similar matter, but more synonymous with a roadie poseur. Such a person is more aware of roadie culture, and wants to be seen as a roadie despite lacking in the requisite ability and style (whereas the other type of Fred may have purchased some high-end gear, but is oblivious to road cyclist ways). An interesting corollary for the poseur type of Fred is that if someone is worried about being a Fred, he probably is one of these Freds. In addition, it is this type of Fred who is most likely to use "Fred" as a derisive term for others.
A third use of the term that is a hybrid of the earlier two main usages has arisen most recently and become fairly popular. In this usage, a 'fred' is a cyclist who has a ton of cycling gear, especially of the utilitarian "uncool" kind. The gear and bike may be put together by kludgey 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. Freds of this type can be well aware of their fredness, once they are aware of the concept, and often embrace it wholeheartedly.
The roots of the term "Fred" are unclear, though some believe it originated from a touring rider named Fred Birchmore from Athens, GA. In 1934-35, Birchmore rode around the world on a bicycle he named Bucephalus. Birchmore and Bucephalus traveled approximately 25,000 miles. Bucephalus is now on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. In one famous incident while touring in Italy, Birchmore passed a bunch of racers during a race he had crossed paths with by chance. And despite going up hill on his loaded 50 pound non-racing bike, he passed the finish line well ahead of the racers. The cheering crowd at the finish line assumed him to be the winner of the race. In addition to the Birchmore origin idea for "Fred," there also is a vague idea that there was an old grumpy touring rider named Fred (but probably not Birchmore) from which the term derived.
A southern California bicycle store printed and sold "No Freds" t-shirts in the early-to-mid 1980s to local racing cyclists. This t-shirt depicted a hairy-legged, bearded cyclist (with bug-splatted teeth) wearing sunglasses and a Bell "Biker" hard-shell helmet (with rear-view mirror attached). At the time, very few racing cyclists wore sunglasses due to their (then) lack of functionality, and virtually none wore hard-shell helmets until they became mandatory in 1986. Few racing cyclists wore helmets outside of racing events until advances in technology allowed lighter, better ventilated helmets to exist in the market.
There are different theories how the term moved from its first definition of a regular guy on a simple old bike, to the definition of guy who has spent way more on his bike than his riding would merit. There was an article published in the BOB Gazette and Ultra cycling in the mid 1990s by Chris Kostman in which Kostman expresses distaste at the whole use of "Fred" by some arrogant cyclists to put down cyclists who aren't seen as up to their level. Kostman writes, "To some USCFers, those cyclists who don't race their category or higher are Freds. Likewise, bicycle tourists, commuters and recreational riders are necessarily Freds in the eyes of the egomaniacal Racerheads'of both the club and federation species. And, Fredliness can, of course, also be the result of clothing and equipment choice, like judging a book by its cover." This was basically the early version of "Fred," although it was clear it was in some cases being used by some just to mean the cyclist wasn't up to a certain level. But, in the article, Kostman turns the term on its head in order to deride its use and point the finger at the very people who use it. He goes on to say he's got no problem with any kind of cyclist, but there are certain behaviors that are inappropriate and shine a bad light on cycling. He decides to call these behaviors "Fred-like" to make the point, and then lists many "Fred-like" things like, "Ceaselessly and vociferously itemizing the weight and cost of your newest titanium parts," "Riding on aero bars while drafting someone," "Wearing Oakleys around town, telling the uninitiated that you train with the national team, are a 'Neo-pro,' or plan to ride in the Tour next July," "And finally, spending your spare hours name-calling other cyclists." It is possible that many missed the point of the article, and eventually there grew an understanding of "Fred" to mean one who has some of the behaviors that Kostman was frustrated with. It may just be that the term is flexible enough to fit whoever a culture of roadies wants to distance themselves from.
There may be some relationship to the fact that amateurish surfers had often been referred to as "Barneys" by their more advanced surfing peers, and "Fred" may have been created to complement this fact. Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble, characters from the animated series "The Flintstones" often found themselves engaging (amateurishly) in numerous sports during the series run.
- ↑ http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread.php?t=521075
- ↑ http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread.php?p=8725659
- ↑ http://www.amazon.com/Around-World-Bicycle-Fred-Birchmore/dp/1887813128
- ↑ http://www.onlineathens.com/stories/072107/gymnastics_20070721041.shtml
- ↑ Weird U.S. by Moran and Sceurman 2004, p. 154.
- ↑ captioned picture of Fred and Bucephalus from the Georgia Division of Archives and History
- ↑ http://www.sdrecyclers.org/fred/
- ↑ http://www.adventurecorps.com/way/freds.html
- The FredCast, a podcast about cycling
- Triathlon Radio, a podcast about triathlon (the host, Jeremy Vaught, is a Fred)
- The Spokesmen Cycling Roundtable, a roundtable podcast about cycling
- More relationship between Barneys and Freds.
- Bicycle ForumsA blog thread where cyclists wrestle with the term.
- #bikes on Synirc.net, an IRC channel, known to have reintroduced the concept of the Fred, reinventing it as a part of the hipster lifestyle.