Cycling Instagram seems like it can get a bit tired sometimes. There are podium photos of people better than you, pictures of bikes leaning against things, shots from rides you were not on—well-established tropes that have all been done before.
Against that backdrop, cycling meme pages can be a welcome chuckle-worthy look at our irrational obsession while producing those “I feel seen,” moments you are not going to get from your rich friend’s two-week training camp in Mallorca. Feed Zone News, MABRA Memes, Cat 3 Memes, the Gruppetto, they all provide a reason to wade through watermarked photos of amateur racers too cheap to buy them (srsly, just buy the damn photos and support your local photographers).
However, one post from one meme account has stood out among the many snarky, often times all too real posts poking fun at the sport we love. That post was the Marge vs. the Gravel Event post from Thrillhousecycling.
While laughing hysterically at the time, I took to Twitter to say I wanted to do a full episode of the Groadio podcast dedicated solely to the Marge vs. the Gravel Event post. With the Groadio pod cranking out actual IMPORTANT CONTENT, I decided to settle for this GRVL blog post as a consolation.
To start, I am admittedly conflicted about cycling meme accounts. On one hand, I think they can feed into the exclusiveness and snarkiness bordering on negativity that pervades in cycling. I have long maintained that this kind of exclusivity does not make the sport welcoming for newcomers and those who do not “get the jokes.”
At the same time, I am a cyclist and a bike racer and the jokes are, more often than not, on-point and utterly hilarious. Meme accounts find ways of creating that special kind of truthy, “I feel seen” snark we can all identify with as way-too-self-serious amateur cyclists. Life is, of course, never easy.
The reason I absolutely ❤️ the Thrillhousecycling account is it combines The Simpsons—a show I watched religiously as a child that helped form whatever modicum of sense of humor I now have as an adult —with cycling —my passion du jour.
With the Frinkiac providing an easy tool for making Simpsons memes, references from the brilliant show—at least the first eight or so seasons before it started to suck—are now readily available for the masses, and more than once, made their way into posts I did at Cyclocross Magazine.
The Simpsons show is the perfect vehicle for a cycling meme account, with snark and sarcasm forming the backbone of the show’s societal critiques, spoofs, and original conceits. It does not hurt that during the show’s early days it had a brilliant cast of writers, with the Marge vs. the Monorail episode counting Conan O’Brien among its brain trust.
The name Thrillhousecycling comes from something many of us have likely done before—creating a video game alter ego. For example, I know I was always Zach Nicklaus in golf games or Zach the Ripper in the shoot-’em-up realm. Creative, I know.
Part of the gag with Thrillhouse is when Millhouse enters the name into the game Bonestorm in the Season 3 episode where Bart gets caught shoplifting, it gets shortened to “Thrillho.” Looking back, it is also a nice reminder for us Xers and Xennials of the days when video games only had room for eight characters. Mmmmm, nostalgia.
One subtle aspect of the Thrillhousecycling account I really appreciate is the semi-obnoxious over-dubbing style it uses to caption its posts. The Frinkiac site allows you to add quotes from the original episodes to the meme images, but the Thrillhouse caretakers often opt for overlays that harken back to the “Mr. Black” overdubs from the Kamp Krusty episode.
The source content for Marge vs. the Gravel Event, the Marge vs. the Monorail episode from Season 4, is arguably the best Simpsons episode of all-time. It features Phil Hartman (RIP) in a starring role as Lyle Lanley, a memorable Simpsons song, Homer eventually doing the right thing despite his best efforts not to, and a classic cameo from Leonard Nimoy. All vintage Simpsons essentials.
The entire episode is a send-up of The Music Man, with Hartman’s Lyle Lanley standing in for Harold Hill.
In the episode, the city of Springfield gets a bunch of money after Montgomery Burns gets caught dumping barrels of radioactive waste. At the city-wide meeting to decide how to spend the money, a grifter named Lyle Lanley—the episode’s Harold Hill—convinces the city to build a monorail with an infinitely catchy Monorail song that instantly woos all the city’s denizens except for the level-headed Marge.
With Lanley promising jobs for brain-dead slobs and insisting he was not sent by the Devil, the whole song was just too perfect for a gravel event send-up.
Given the source material—a story about a grifter who builds a monorail that fails spectacularly during its maiden voyage—it is hard not to read the Marge vs. the Gravel Event post as snark about the proliferation of gravel events as more and more traditional road, mountain bike and cyclocross events disappear from local and national calendars.
In the meme, Lanley plays the role of race promoter selling a “Dirtified, bona fide, certified gravel event.”
In the original Monorail song, Marge plays the sober foil to Lanley’s hucksterism, pointing out the money could be better spent on fixing Springfield’s decrepit Main Street. American road racers play the role of Marge in the Thrillhocycling version by pointing out road racing is dying, before being shushed by a Bart caught up in the spirit of the jingle. (This is not to imply an opinion about USA Cycling held by CXHairs; we are merely reporting the news.)
While the overall premise of the Marge vs. the Gravel Event post suggests a thorough snarking of the gravel takeover of cycling in the U.S., the middle part of the Gravelrail song does advertently or inadvertently get at a big part of why gravel is exploding in popularity right now.
If we are being honest, the discipline kind of offers something for everyone, except for maybe those Cat 2s looking for an easy race win. Peter Stetina and Lauren Stephens are sorry, not sorry, okay.
As the meme points out, equal payouts for women and men—if payouts exist—are pretty much a non-negotiable part of putting on a gravel race here in the U.S. That is definitely A. Good. Thing.
More snarkily, but still of importance to the average (white male) participant are finisher medals for those “just riding” the event and Masters categories for those fragile-ego-ed “Elite Masters racers.”
To wrap things up, the meme finishes with the big finale of Springfieldians paying those sweet sweet $500 reg fees, subtlely denoted in the italicized BikeReg font. $500 might be a bit over the top, but with bigger national-level events featuring reg fees pushing $200 a person, it helps snarkily highlight one of the reasons a race organizer might potentially want to put on a gravel event.
In the original episode, Lanley meets an unfortunate fate when, while carrying a suitcase of cash, his plane detours to one of the towns he previously sold a broken monorail system to. Ideally, the same fate does not await gravel race organizers here in the U.S.
In the end, comparing gravel race organizers to Lyle Lanley is a bit harsh, but man, what a beautiful piece of satire Marge vs. the Gravel Event proved to be.
GRVL … doh!