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Cycling Is Not A Sport Just For Skinny Men…

September 2013
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I read a post the other day that jumped to the incorrect conclusion that cycling is a sport for skinny men in super-tight clothes.  It’s not, but skinny helps.  Gender?  Not so much, cycling is all about legs and drive…

What you see, and assume:

You see people, generally men, like me, thin and muscular, tree trunks for legs, ripped calves that show every nook and cranny of every muscle under taught skin.  You see us in clothing that seems impossibly tight and possibly a bit too revealing.  You see us on bicycles that cost enough money that you cannot possibly imagine wanting spend that kind of money for a freaking bike.  You see us pushing those bicycles, often in packs of ten to thirty deep, at speeds you have a tough time wrapping you head around over distances that you think border on the insane (or stupid).

Most importantly you assume that all of this, including the speed, just comes naturally.

After you see this spandex spectacle, you naturally jump to the conclusion that you’ll never be able to attain such things and therefore we are some exclusive, elusive or even pampas and sexist group.

To make things worse, after you finally decide to get off the couch and try to jump in on our club ride (the advanced one, with the high-priced carbon, with a bunch of guys whose jerseys match their bikes), you are dropped within the first few miles and assume that we don’t care about the new guy/girl.

To a degree, you’re right, we (they) don’t care about you, but not because you’re a woman, or you’re fat or you’re a noob.  Most advanced groups, including the one I ride with (which happens to be a lot friendlier than most I’ve heard of) don’t care much to help you fit in or keep up.  Once you get into the faster groups the dynamic changes, the onus is on you to keep up.  In the good groups, your ability to ride your bicycle well and help the group is your ticket in.  If you can’t fit in and help the group, you will be left behind.  You will not be welcomed in.

What you don’t see or are failing to grasp…

Personally, if I have the legs on a particular day, I will help a noob by dropping back to give them a wheel and a chance to get back to the group, but that’s a rarity indeed…  Normally I’m just trying to hold on for dear life myself – as are most in the back, so if you fail to keep pace, the chance that there’s a horse back there to help you is somewhere between slim and none.  I should know, I’ve only ever managed to finish with the lead group in our ride (where the field is winnowed from 30+ cyclists down to five or six), one time in two years.  In other words, damn near everybody gets dropped.

More importantly, you’re failing to understand that cyclists don’t grow on trees.  I started out big like you – twelve years ago with running.  I picked up cycling 2 years and 5 months ago.  Funny, I didn’t see you there with me on any of the 818 training workouts I’ve completed in that short time (do the math, there are only 885 days in that span).  You didn’t see me at the end of that first season when I bought my first road bike, a $400 used Cannondale that was two sizes too small but I still managed, with an overly padded and cheap $30 saddle, mountain biking shoes and pedals, to get that thing up to a 20 mph average over 12 or 13 miles – and with cheap $30 cycling shorts and a crappy jersey (all I could afford at the time) too.  It felt like I was riding on barbed wire after ten miles on those shorts, with that saddle.  But I still stuck with it, and learned not to push through the pain, but to accept it, because the farther I rode, the more it hurt.  How about that first winter when I bought my first legitimate (used) road bike, a 13 year-old Trek 5200 that I set up on a trainer in my office so I could stay in shape for the next season…  Even that bike had an inadequate saddle that I suffered on for months before I could afford a decent replacement because it was too wide for my butt.

Where were you?

Where were you while I was out riding half-way around the freaking globe (.458 to be exact, or 11,404 miles), training to get dropped every week on a brutal Tuesday night ride?  Where were you when I was puking on the side of the road from the effort?  Where were you while I was scrimping and saving so I could finally afford one decent jersey that I bought on sale and off-season?  Where were you when I finally could afford a decent pair of shorts and a nice cycling jacket.  Where were you while I was absolutely busting my ass, playing real Monopoly with money I didn’t have and couldn’t afford to lose, so I could finally afford the bike of my dreams?  Where were you while I was out shedding the last little bit of fat so I could look good in those tight ass clothes like the rest of the assholes?

You were on the couch eating Doritos and a Big Mac, fries and drinking a Diet Coke, and now you just want to up and run with me so you can feel better?  Better yet, you want me to wait for you?  After your incessant whining and/or bitching that cyclists are a sexist lot, that we’re mean and pretentious with our skinny asses and our tight clothes…  You want me to wait for THAT?

Good luck with that.  Call me after your first 3,000 mile season and you’ve managed to pop your head out of your ass.  We’ll talk about it.  Then put in another two seasons because it takes about three to lose the weight and get fast enough to hang with the fast crowd.

In the meantime, please don’t compare what you feel inside to what you see on my outside.  I worked my dick off for what I have and you can’t possibly fathom what I’ve sacrificed to be fast enough to get dropped by a bunch of racers who sacrifice even more, on a weekly basis from the comfort of your couch.

You are right about one thing though…  It isn’t fair.  Of course, it isn’t easy either.  If it were, anybody could do it.

UPDATE:  Do check out the comments section immediately below, this is a lively topic.


8 Comments

  1. i LOVE this post.

    and, now my ramble…

    as a noob with just 9-mos (two of which were off) and 920-mi under my wheels, i’m so thankful that so many “old-timers” were and are willing to offer advice, especially considering — like you — they’ve worked their dicks off to get as good as they are, and many likely went it without the same help they’re offering.

    the learning curve:

    starting in january, wearing ski clothing instead of a winter kit, weighing more than several “old-timers” put together, having little-to-no aerobic capacity, mashing a 35-lb, 30-year-old steelie, with down tube shifters (only 2 gears of which worked), and straight pedals,

    to…

    joining a club in summer, buying my first kit, building up to 35-mi rides, spinning a brand-spankin’ new 20-lb, aluminum/carbon, with shifters by the brakes, and cage pedals, was enormous!

    i can’t **wait** to find myself in a smaller kit, with a lighter bike, able to keep up for longer periods, and graduating to clip-in pedals.

    the “old-timers”, shaped like string and weighing only about as much as a paper clip have been and are fantastic. their help was and is immeasurable. even presently, this past weekend, that a competitive rider stopped to troubleshoot a skipping chain for me… was exciting. i didn’t deserve his attention, but that he offered… sent me over the moon. 🙂 knowing that i can’t yet keep up, but feeling accepted as a member of a fantastic community is energizing. don’t get me started on two times i was struggled up a hill and had a complete stranger come from behind, put a hand on my back, and push me along. i could have cried from ecstatic happiness… not only being helped, but also that someone so much better than me bothered, even at the risk of breaking his own speed and interrupting his own workout.

    as you point out… some people “try” cycling without understanding. when they can’t keep up and are left behind, it’s not “fun” anymore. for others? cycling looks like work, and this is invigorating. the thinness of “old-timers” seems incredible, if not enviable. and, getting dropped is simply the sign of a goal in sight, something that makes a wanna-be work harder. the former isn’t worth concessions, and the latter doesn’t expect concessions (but we’re really thankful when we get one). 😀

    man… reading your blog makes me want to get outside!

    cheers!

    • bgddyjim says:

      Thank you! I always feel like I’m going out on a bit of a limb, but yours is the right attitude to have. I tend to help a lot of others out as well, on any ride other than Tuesday night. That one’s for me. The important part is to bring noobs in who understand what the game is, and in a peloton, with experienced and competent cyclists, it’s always the more the merrier. Thanks for commenting.

  2. zoeforman says:

    You can’t buy cycle fitness and no shortcuts – just shut up and get out and ride.
    There’s a place in groups for all, just need to be realistic and find your starting place then work up the pack.
    🙂

  3. cyardin says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head as to what type of sport Cycling is. Unlike say golf where you can go out and buy a better (translated more expensive) driver to gain an extra 30m in your swing and it has a bigger sweet spot on the club head so the side effects of your poor technique are minimised, grabbing a bike is only the first ticket for you to quite simply get out and ride. And ride, ride, ride.

    Since taking up cycling as my chosen sport nearly 4 1/2 years ago I have lost 8kg, but what went with that is over 15,000 km on the road. I could ride more and lose more. But no-one sees me as the cyclist who sets out for a 120km ride at 4am in the morning so he can get home in time to spend time with the family on a weekend. Too many people are watching some useless TV program in their lounge rooms on their couches while I am out riding for 2 hours after dinner during the week at night to keep my ride fitness up. No-one sees (my wife aside) the hours spent on the trainer because it is too cold in winter to entertain riding and catching pneumonia (and the trainer is what I affectionately call my torture machine).

    So when people wonder why a club ride is not prepared to wait for the person who only wants to put in the effort of opening their wallet to buy the bike and not ride it into the ground – then they are missing the point.

    But if you want to know what you need to do to get there, I (and every other cyclist who has respect for others who want to call themselves bike riders) am more than happy to let you know what I know and even go for a ride with you if you are prepared to get out of the saddle and feel knackered at the end.And then if you see that I am knackered too, but have a smile on my face then you will know that there is the next journey you need to take and buying the bike was only the first very small step.

  4. masitim says:

    Bravo Jim! Telling it straight on and real. It is posts like these that when I ride I think about what would Jim say as fall off pushing myself.
    Thanks.

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