Friday Group Ride #49

Woodsmoke is one of my favorite aromas. Its first charry scents on the breeze signal the advent of winter. It also takes me back to the camping trip on which I met my wife, but that’s a different topic.

Pine is another scent I quite like. It’s that Christmas tree smell. Some people get it from the paper air freshener dandling from their rear view mirrors, others get it by dragging a freshly cut tree through their front door in advance of the holiday.

Fresh coffee puts off a nice bouquet. And while it’s a fragrance I appreciate year round, is it ever really better than on a cold morning, when the brew’s stimulative properties are enhanced by the warmth it imparts to your hands?

Of course, my dog smells bad, as dogs are wont to do, but I bury my nose in his neck anyway. It’s a stink I love. I’ll not list the stinks he loves.

Down in the garage, citrus degreaser mingles with lubricant to create a perfume I think of as “bike.” It clings to my tools and tool box, to the floor around my work stand, to the work stand, to the drive trains of all my bicycles. It’s a heady aroma that fairly suffuses the air down in my private bike shop. It’s a smell, to me, like grandma’s cookies, one that says ‘home.’

This week’s Group Ride is about smells. What are your favorite cycling smells? Where do you find them? Why do you like them? What do they say to  you?



  1. Nelson

    Grapes…I live in Mattawan, Michigan and most, if not all, of my routes take me past grape vines. When the smell is at its height, they tell me 3 things.

    1.I will no longer be able to take a 3 hour ride (my favorite loop) after work.
    2.I am at or near my peak condition for the season.
    3.I have an almost unlimited amount of mother natures GU on any given ride.

  2. Bill H-D

    The smell I associate with cycling in Michigan in the Summer is roadkill. Nothing like being on the rivet and passing through a wave of death from a bloated carcass on the side of the road. Bracing.

    I once rode the Enchanted Circle in New Mexico. That ride smelled like brake pads.

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  4. Rick

    Late fall, early winter late afternoon ride at dusk on the way home in the gathering darkness in a New England town seeing the lights on in the kitchens of the houses you pass and smelling what is being cooked for dinner…nothing better

  5. TV@VT

    Weleda Arnica Massage Oil – the first warming oil I started using for early season rides. The smell of that on my legs tells me spring is here, even if there’s snow on the roadsides.

    These days, Quoleum wintergreen-scented embro is a sure smell of cool season riding.

    The smell of roadside honeysuckle is one that says the best time of year has arrived. It’s mid to late June and life is just about perfect.

  6. Rhys

    The smell of the river, riding alongside it on the way home. Once it’s scent hits, I know it’s downhill all the way.

    The smell of the silage during the wednesday night group rides. Not the nicest aroma, but it’s the perfume of the countryside. Eau de Taieri.

    The smell of the road after the rain. Because the sun has come out, and I’m still riding.

  7. james l

    The smell of the air after it rains, the backroads of Woodside, CA while doing ‘the loop’

    The smell of wet old musty trees, which also happens to remind me of the pirates of the carribean ride at disneyland from 25+ years ago. Kings Mountain Road, also in Woodside.

  8. James

    This will sound weird but… After years of riding in Wisconsin (can you see where this is going??!!) I got used to the piquant aromas of dairy farms and, believe it or not, the sweet smell of tobacco plots. Now living in Oregon I periodically catch the whiff of a dairy farm which sends me back to younger and faster days on my bike! The tobacco I can do without because out here it’s smoked and spit…not just growing!

  9. michael

    see Pegoretti, Dario in “Of Steel”. For the most eloquent expression of a cycling related smell ever recorded. I won’t dare compete.

  10. Spumoni

    Back in the old days before fancy embrocations we used to cover our legs with Ben-Gay then coat them with baby oil for cold, wet races. The combined smell of baby oil and muscle rub smells like cold to me.

  11. Jim

    My sense of smell is hit or miss due to years of being hit not missed in various contact sports. But what I notice is the peculiar crispness of the air on a cold morning in the woods; if it’s 25 and dry the air hits the nostrils and clears the lungs; if it has any odor to it, it is almost a very mild lavender smell and grass smell, the odors of decaying wood and trampled grass caught in the cold air.

  12. Dan O

    Maybe not a favorite – but the smell of rubber – tubes and tires. Reminds me of my bike shop days, when my hands always smelled like a bicycle tire. That smell still brings me right back there.

    This would be a favorite – the damp smell of the woods after a rain. Perfect reminder of many great rides cruising singletrack on mountain bikes.

    Another one is the smell of BBQs and other whiffs of people’s dinner while bike commuting home. Helps you crank it up a bit to arrive at your own dinner plate.

    Lastly, cycle related – but not pedal powered. The smell of a two stroke motor running – leaf blower usually – brings me right back to my motocross days of the ’70s.

  13. S_H

    Memphis – the dogwoods in bloom, the landfill near Frayser, the Cat Pee store.
    Oxnard – the dusty chemical smell from the fields, the sea breeze as you head down PCH.

  14. Kuzu

    @ Nelson,

    I don’t know who your are, but we ride similar routes, if not the same. Nothing is better then the Monday night groupe ride as we wind between grape fields on our way to Lawton and back. It signals the time of change and next year will signal the time for cross. (I got addicted)

    Another smell is that of maple syrup, REAL maple syrup. Nothing takes me back to grandma’s house faster than it’s sugary aroma.

  15. david A

    @JamesI yes, that kind of ozone smell after it rains and the sun comes out strong and the mist starts rising off the road. The way the asphalt and mist smells. Also the smell of cow poo and dairy farms and the smell of certain kinds of embrocation in the changing areas takes me back to Flanders.

  16. randomactsofcycling

    Sunscreen. We did a 135km loop this morning and after a disastrously wet Spring, the dominant smell of sunscreen in the bunch definitely signalled Summer is here.

  17. Gary

    This time of year, here in Michigan, it’s that “cold” smell. It’s a certain muskiness, almost a subtle ‘wet dog’ smell coupled with that tingling feeling in your nostrils as the moisture freezes on each inhale.

  18. Souleur

    fresh Italian roast beans, ground just right, tamped and resultant perfectly creme’d espresso; steel cut oats warmly simmering on the stove, its a harmonious marriage each day of winter.

    Souleur finds them in the kitchen nearly every morning, and then its ride time.

  19. todd k

    My sense of smell is pretty weak and becomes more so with each passing year…. that said, occaisionally I will come across a stand of cottonwoods shedding their leaves in the fall and that smell does continue to resonate with me…

    I am also fond of the smell of tire rubber that seems to be most concentrated in the smaller of bike shops…. for whatever reason the larger the shop, the more diluted this smell seems to become….

  20. Armybikerider

    Smells, like certain songs, are like triggers that take me back to specific places and times. I remember the smell of rubber that hit me when I first went into my favorite (now defunct) bike shop in San Antonio TX. B & J’s was my entry, 29 years ago into a world that would quicly become a part of me, and change my life. Later, when I went to work for them that smell would fade into the background and wouldn’t even register unless a friend would comment on how I smelled like a tire. Now, back to only visiting shops, the smell of tires (and to a lesser degree all the other smells associated with bikes) is like a time capsule that takes me quickly back to the days when I would tie on the apron, happily getting my hands dirty showing someone how to fix a flat, or lube the chain, or selling another newly initiated person into the world of 2 wheels…..also like ‘home.”

    On the bike, smells of dry grass on a scorching summer day take me back to riding in South Texas……the smell of pines to single track in North Carolina….the smell of salt air from riding a cruiser on the beach in Atlantic Beach FL….the smell of bus fumes and dank parking garages to “urban assault” rides in downtown San Antonio under cover of darkness….I’m also reminded of my early attempts at embro when I smell Tiger Balm and Icy Hot….and most recently the smell of horse manure that hits me when I follow in the tracks of Mennonite and Amish buggies on the rural roads of Southern KY and Northern TN.

    With the good comes the not-so-good also. It amazes me how I can tell when a passing car contains smokers (of whatever substance) or someone with a heavy handed application of perfume….or how I catch a whif when I’m on a group ride of someone in dirty kit or that needs a shower.


  21. steve

    My commute takes me past a bakery that produces cookies right on schedule with my morning commute. It is both a blessing and a curse because it is one of the most pleasant smells you could ask for while on the bike, but it is a brutal reminder if I ever ride by while in a calorie deficient state.

  22. Marco Placero

    The pig-shit toothpaste (thanks Bob) when it rains in Toscano, but keep spittin’ & don’t open your mouth or even lick your lips.
    The Persecco grape harvest September in Valdobiadene. Handmade tubulari and mastik. TriFlow.

  23. The D

    Tubular cement, tires, degreaser, lubes, embrocation and lithium grease also play their part, but when it comes to the indispensible cycling smell, Spinal Tap said it best: “Smell the Glove.” The glove has the titrated essence of all the funk that lingers on my fancy bike gear.

    1. Padraig

      Everyone: We owe every last one of you a beer (or two) for your contributions on this one. I’ve been working on a draft about smells I connect to cycling and after all your contributions, I gotta admit, it might not be necessary.

      For my part, I could echo much of what you all wrote, so I’ll add just one: On my first trip through Provence I was on a descent and began to encounter this amazing, heady perfume. I shot around a bend and was confronted with the back of a slow-moving flatbed truck stacked with bales of lavender. I happily stayed behind that truck, soft pedaling until it turned off a few miles later. My love affair with lavender had begun.

  24. Waffles and Steel

    I often go by a BBQ joint on the outskirts of Ann Arbor. Once on an after-work ride, I forgot to eat a snack before heading out the door. I nearly went insane with hunger when passing the BBQ place. Oh, the scent of sizzling protein coated with a red sugary carmelizing sauce. It seems to appeal to our most primative cravings and appetites.

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