Monday, November 1, 2010

Why Do Cyclists. . ?

Wear tight clothing?

I get this a lot. Believe it or not, it’s more comfortable. Bike shorts and a proper jersey hug the body, but they don’t restrict movement, the only discomfort is psychological if you’re jigglier than you’d like (yo).

Technical fabrics, (technical being German for “sexy”) Lycra and the like, in constant contact with the body’s surface pull away sweat, leaving your skin dry, minimizing chafing. If you’re repeating the same basic actions (pedaling), for five to eight hours, this becomes very, very important. If you don’t believe me, try running in wet jeans some time. Men in particular already have enough complication to deal with on a bike saddle, making things as still and smooth and dry as possible is as important as imaginable.

Unless you don’t love your scrotum? I mean, don’t get me wrong, self-hate manifests in all sorts of weird ways, believe me, I know, but grinding off your boy-bits like a sand-block maliciously worrying its way through a grapefruit seems on the wrong side of sensible. The reason touring cyclists (REI’s bread and butter: the hungry, tan, and bearded) get away with other options has more to do with the shape of the bike and saddle and the intensity with which they’re riding. This isn’t to say tour-riders don’t work hard, they’re just not operating at a racing pace, so lay off the hate mail, beardos.

All that said, it does become a matter of aerodynamics at the professional level. There was a pseudo-scientific experiment done on UK television a few years ago where they had a man in full road kit (bibs, jersey, gloves, vented helmet, etc.) ride a circuit, and then do the same route in a tweed suit smoking a pipe. The difference was measurable but infinitesimal, on the order of microseconds, which, to most people, would make all the Lycra seem unnecessary—they aren’t as smart as you, they don’t know about not having their skin torn apart by damp, wrinkled fabric—but if asked, a guy named Greg LeMond will tell you just how critical microseconds can be. Greggy-poo won the 1989 Tour de France by eight seconds; a race that takes place for upwards of five hours a day, every day, for three weeks. Microseconds add up.

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Only two things get through these fancy duds. A stiff breeze and the derisive laughter of children.

Wear gloves?

The primary purpose of gloves is vibration dampening. While everyone is different, I know that I, personally, will lose feeling in both of my arms from the elbow down if I don’t wear gloves that fit right. It’s time to replace my gloves when it takes a few days for the feeling to return in the pinky and ring finger on my left hand. I’ve heard they’re also a big deal in a crash, but every wipeout I’ve ever had, I hid the deck so hard and fast my hands were still on the bars after I’d slid to a stop, shaking my head, trying to remember my name.

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Beauty mark on my pointer finger courtesy of plier-ing myself changing a weed-wacker cartridge. You know, just to feel alive.

Wear padded shorts?

Padding (albeit minimal padding) on the shorts as opposed to the saddle itself prevents discomfort because it holds the cushion to the body for the exact same reason a rider is in Lycra to begin with. If the foam or gel were on the saddle, it would create friction “hot spots” on a rider’s ass, leading to the dreaded and difficult to treat saddle sore. For the curious, a saddle sore is how a cursed, enflamed soul escapes the body, or at least, that’s what they feel like.

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“Sugoi” is Japanese for “I love my balls more than I fear wearing spandex in public.” A terse, efficient language, Japanese.

Wear funny shoes?

You can ride faster and go harder with much more confidence if your feet are firmly secured to the pedals. When sprinting, a cadence (leg rotations per minute) north of one hundred and seventy is common. Imagine rotating your legs that quickly when they’re not bolted to the pedals. Hell, try going faster than thirty miles an hour with out your feet bolted to the pedals. The very idea is terrifying.

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Bender B. Rodriguez look-a-like, the SPD cleat, patron saint of Me Not Kneeing Myself in the Teeth and Dying.

Ride in the street?

It’s safer.

When you’re twelve, a sidewalk is your highway. You fit fine at a comfortable speed of maybe twelve miles per hour. At any given moment, a “serious” road cyclist will be cruising at twenty-five miles hour. They won’t even be killing themselves to do so, capable of maintaining that speed for hours on end. Going that fast on a sidewalk is dangerous, doing so as an adult with adult proportions is suicidal. Furthermore, in theory, if you crash in the road, cars already knew you were there and can react. If you crash on a raised sidewalk, you stand a good chance of falling into the road and into the path of a car that isn’t bothering to notice you because you were riding on the sidewalk.

Shave their legs?

The most honest answer is it’s part of cycling culture. It’s flying the flag, it’s being a part of the group. It’s the same reason a punk has a Mohawk, a skinhead wears oxbloods. That said, there are practical advantages: putting on sunscreen or embrocate (“Belgian knee warmers”) is easier, cleaning road rash is easier, and, frankly, if your legs are well developed, it shows that off. I’ve been made fun of, probably five times as frequently behind my back as to my face, but I have never had anything but positive comments from women in the sort of situation where positive comments are incredibly important. If all those other bits weren’t reason enough, that last one makes any derision worth it. As long as I ride, I’ll keep it up.

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The first blade lifts the hair. The fifth blade scrapes away any lingering sense of masculinity.

Take drugs?

The sport is hard. Very, very hard. Its most famous race, the Tour de France, is thirty-six hundred kilometers long; up and down The Alps and the Pyrenees and anything else L’Equipe decides to throw at the racers. Riders are covering one hundred miles a day and they’re doing so at speeds that even most upper echelon amateur racers (who could chase you down in your car) can’t maintain for two hours, let alone five, let alone every day for three weeks. It is also not the only race on the calendar. Le Tour is one of three grand tours, and there are countless one-day criterium (multi-lap, urban races) and “the classics,” one-day endurance events.

Beyond difficulty, million dollar salaries and multi-million dollar endorsement deals means the stakes are incredibly high so, like any sport operating at that level, advantages are sought by any means necessary, legitimate or otherwise. The intensity, the stakes, do not excuse drug taking, but you asked, that’s your answer.

In my opinion, the sport is no dirtier than any other, it’s just been stigmatized and, as such, is under greater and more specific scrutiny.

Talk about riding so much?

It’s physically demanding and it rewards dedication in measurable ways more than many other activities. You can watch yourself get faster; you can feel yourself more and more capable of going up and down mountain roads.

It’s impossible to make gains and not be proud, and most people can’t be proud of making progress like that with out talking about it.

The more insidious answer is it’s addictive, psychologically, chemically. Even if you’re aware at all times of everything around you (if you’re not, you can crash pretty easily), you are in your own world, free of disturbance, left to think about everything or nothing, bringing new and often more optimistic perspective (thanks to endorphin release) to whatever may be troubling you at any given time. You are also getting stronger and trimmer as you do this.

Ride so far/ride up mountains?

Because the more you ride, the easier it gets, and cyclists are so used to everything being hard, they don’t have any fucking idea what to do with themselves if something is easy.

Bother answering these questions?

Because at some point, we hope you’ll stop asking or get over yourself and join us.

Welcome to Skunk Works. Bikes and fitness on Mondays (next week, we cover how to fart in a saddle), Very Serious! literary critique of otherwise non-literary stories (television, comic books, movies) on Wednesdays, and fiction every Friday.

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