Ask a Cyclist

One of the nice things about the Bloggies contest is that, for a couple weeks, several non-cyclists will visit my site.

So: Welcome, non-cyclists.

As a non-cyclist, I am certain that you have many questions about the strange subculture that has grown up around riding bicycles. Likely, you have been so put off by the pungent smell and crazy eyes of cyclists that you have not dared ask those questions.

I don’t blame you. I, too, avoid cyclists whenever possible.

I have, however, been immersed in the world of cycling long enough that I think can both anticipate your questions and answer them to your satisfaction.

Why do cyclists shave their legs?
I give a detailed answer here, but there are in fact two answers. first, there’s the answer cyclists would have you believe: “We shave our legs in order to clean gravel out of our legs when we fall, and to make it easier for the masseuse to give us a good post-race massage.”

Unfortunately, this answer is a lie.

The honest reason cyclists shave their legs is very simple: vanity. We’ve worked so hard to get the legs we’ve got; we want to show them off.

Here, I’ll show you what I mean. These are my legs, on the same day, before and after shaving. The photos are not Photoshopped or otherwise retouched.


A hint of quads, buried beneath a thick winters’ coat

…and after:

OK, I’m flexing so hard my knees are about to explode, but you still get my point.

Why do you wear those clothes?
Cyclists wear tight lycra shorts with a “chamois” — which is French for “diaper-like item that is supposed to keep your butt from being rubbed raw, but doesn’t” – sewn in. The lycra’s job is to keep the chamois in place. The lycra’s secondary job is to make your package fall asleep from being compressed into one place for hours on end.

Cyclists also wear a polyester zip-up “jersey,” a shirt designed to quickly evaporate all the sweat from your upper body, while expertly retaining the stink the sweat creates. Modern jerseys are so well made that they will smell terrible after even one use, and will never release that smell.

Fun fact: The proper way to dispose of an old jersey is to call the local HazMat team, which will properly discard said jersey at the nearest nuclear waste facility.

What’s going on with your shoes?
Really dedicated cyclists never want to be separated from their bicycles, and so have invented special shoes that actually snap on to their pedals. Like ski boot bindings and skis, except for nobody wears ski boots attached to skis in rush hour traffic.

The idea behind these special shoe/pedal combinations is to let cyclists transfer as much power as possible from their legs to their bikes, pulling up on the cranks as well as pushing down on them.

The practical effect is that when cyclists come to a stoplight, there is a 70% chance they will not be able to detach their shoes from their pedals and will fall over sideways. If you ever witness this, be certain to take pictures or hopefully video; there’s nothing quite as memorable as a cyclist wrestling his bike as if it were a rabid badger. You and your family will treasure these images for generations to come.

Sometimes when I’m in my car and pass a cyclist, I get an urge to either shout at the cyclist, honk, or throw a beer bottle. Is that OK?
You bet it is. All we ask is that when you yell at us, you shout slowly and clearly. Even as often as it happens, I have not yet once understood the actual words automotive passengers yell at me as they go by.

I must confess: I feel I am a poorer man for missing these messages.

What’s the point of cycling? I mean, you’re just turning your feet around in a circle. How can you call that a sport? How can you even call that “fun?” 
Most cyclists wrestle with this question their entire lives, without ever coming close to the answer. The best I can offer is something a wise man once told me:

Life is pain. And cycling hurts. A lot.

Why do you ride in groups? And why do you wear matching outfits?
We ride in groups because we like to imagine that our silly outfits don’t look as silly in a group as they do individually. We wear matching outfits to avoid the likelihood that we’ll otherwise look sillier than one another.

It’s a vicious cycle, and must be broken.

Lightning P38 (a short wheelbase recumbent) and rider rest during a long tour.I have met three recumbent cyclists in my lifetime. All three were angry and had beards. Why is this?
A recumbent bicycle is a bicycle that lets the rider sit in a reclining position, rather than in an upright position. “Bent” cyclists, as they like to call themselves, are angry because they are convinced their way of doing things is absolutely correct, but nobody cares or wants to join them.

Nobody wants to join recumbent cyclists, ironically, because recumbent cyclists are so angry.

Recumbent cyclists all have beards, by the way, because they are all also Marxists.

dropbar I’ve noticed that road bikes have “drop bars” that curve down so you can grip them much lower than you otherwise would. What What is that low position for?
Cyclists almost always put their hands on the topmost part of handlebars. The sole exception is when they are pretending they are Lance Armstrong. If you see a cyclist riding with his hands “in the drops,” so to speak, you may be assured that he (or she) is conducting a narrative about how he (i.e., Lance Armstrong) is dropping the competition, putting them in a spot of bother, and otherwise forcing them to unpack their suitcase of courage.

I apologize for the weird metaphors. Your cycling friends got them, I promise.

I often hear about doping running rampant in cycling. Are there any clean cyclists out there?
Anything’s possible.

Is cycling all you think about?
No. I also think about eating. And I dedicate a fair amount of time to thinking about eating while cycling. And to what I will eat after I finish cycling. And to how long I have to wait after eating before I can ride.

One of my neighbors is seriously into bike riding and has asked me to join him for an easy ride. Should I go?
Under no circumstances. By “easy ride,” he means that he intends to take you on a four hour tour across three mountain passes. He will ride just a little bit faster than you the entire time, using body language to urge you to keep up. Within two hours your lungs will be burning, your heart will explode and you will wish for death.

Worst of all, he will not realize the misery he has put you through and will tell his riding buddies that he thinks he’s got you “hooked.”

I hear that bike saddles make you impotent. Is that true?
I don’t know. This numb sensation I’ve got down below won’t go away, so it’s difficult for me to find out.

I’m interested in getting into shape and think a bicycle might be a good way to do it. How much money do I need?
You’re in luck. Bikes are relatively inexpensive. You just need a few things to get started: a bicycle, a helmet, bike shorts, bike jerseys, bike socks, bike shoes, floor bike pump, extra tubes, seat bag, tire levers, CO2 cans, CO2 adapter, lube, water bottles, bike rack for the car, bike gloves, bike glasses, energy bars, energy drinks, bike computer, plus a few other accessories.

The great news is all of this together shouldn’t cost much more than a typical Lexus.

You weren’t serious about those other blogs in the Sports category being China-based, lead-infested sweatshops, were you?
No, of course I wasn’t. Except for Deadspin, which is a site. Gawker really is a blog sweatshop.

I have another question. May I leave it in the comments section?
Yes. Yes you may. I might even answer it. I’m that generous.

PS: A few weeks ago, I mentioned a strange blog, which I would have named “What if Eeyore were a Human?” but which is called by its writer,  So Very Alone. To my amazement and chagrin, it managed to capture a finalist spot in the Bloggies category I was gunning for: Best-Kept Secret. To tell the truth, I have no idea whether Harlan would like winning a Bloggie, but I think it’d be fun to find out. When you’re voting for me (or Jill), go vote for him, too.

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