We cycling enthusiasts get a bad wrap from time to time.
You see us out riding in those Godforsaken outfits with those silly skin-tight shorts, on bicycles that cost more than your car (or at the very least, our own vehicle). We clip our feet into our pedals with shoes that cost more than your huffy 21 speed mountain bike. We do crazy things like ride in the mountains – for fun and sign up for those ludicrous 100 mile rides. You can’t figure who would want to be on a bicycle for ten straight hours. Oh, and we have those stupid tiny saddles on our bikes – they can’t be comfortable. After all, you’ve got one of those extra padded saddles the size of a motorcycle seat and another padded cover over that and your butt hurts after ten miles!
I am one of those guys, a happy enthusiast. One pair of my shorts costs more than some of the bikes you’ll find at Wal-Mart. My shoes? More than all but a few of the bikes in the two-high by 40′ rack. My shoes and pedals cost more than all of the bikes they sell there. Heck, my socks cost more than a used Huffy. I’ve got it all too. Special cycling specific jacket, covers that go over my shoes so I can ride comfortably when the temps really drop, lights for night riding (even though I only need them once or twice a year)… And just one of my bikes is worth more than the vehicle I drive. I also match my outfits to my bikes when I ride.
First of all, I have not lost my mind. There is purpose behind everything we enthusiasts own. Even my race bike has a greater purpose than my just “wanting to ride a cool bike” (though I will cop to a partial desire simply to have a sharp-looking bike). You see, when I ride my bikes, I usually don’t do so simply to get from point A to point B and back. I don’t ride my bikes around the block to lose a pound or two and get my government recommended thirty minutes a day in. I ride my bikes because I love to ride – the longer, the better. I have a mountain bike to play in the dirt and a few weather specific road bikes to play on pavement – and make no mistake, to me it is playing. Riding my bike puts a smile on my face like nothing else that can be done with my clothes on.
Allow me to explain the function of all of this stuff… First, contrary to popular belief, the tiny saddles and those ridiculous shorts work together. The padding is in the shorts, not on the saddle and it’s still pretty thin, only a couple of millimeters, but that’s more than enough. See, I love to ride long distances. I ride with a group of about 40 other enthusiasts on Tuesday nights out in the sticks (minimal traffic), a 33 mile ride that takes less than an hour and a half. On the weekends, I’ll ride anywhere from 40 to 100 miles a day depending on how much time I have. Now, the reason those big fluffy seats hurt is they cut off blood flow to your “seated area”. There are two veins that pass right through there and too much padding, plus the pressure of sitting on the seat, cuts off the blood supply. This is why your nether regions start to hurt. My saddles also have a cutout right up the center of the saddle so I’m sitting on bone, not my butt, and there isn’t enough padding to spread out and cut the flow of blood off. So while you’re hurting after ten miles, I’m still smiling after 100.
The shoes and pedals are quite helpful as well. At ten miles an hour, you’re pushing your pedals around maybe 30 to 60 rpm. To go 25 mph, 90-100 rpm is necessary. Having my feet locked into the pedals helps keep my feet centered and on the pedals at that speed and it allows me to pull up on the back stroke and at the top and bottom of the pedal stroke – there’s no wasted effort trying to keep my feet in the proper place on the pedals. Also, and this is important, when I ride at those speeds, over that distance, if my feet are cocked even a little bit at an unnatural angle, I can do some serious damage to my knees and ankles. Keeping my feet locked in keeps them in the proper position (which has been exhaustively measured to make sure my legs operate efficiently and correctly).
Next up is those silly bright-colored jerseys. They are made out of special moisture wicking material that bleeds the sweat to the outer part of the material where it evaporates, keeping us cool. Cotton tee shirts, while infinitely cheaper, saturate, sticking to the rider which, over a short period of time, heats the rider up. Also, cycling specific jerseys have three exceptionally handy pockets in the back so we can carry anything from food to tools or a spare tube in case we get a flat. Now, those two factors alone are incredibly important, but add to that the bright colors and we become much more visible to traffic. When you’re on the sidewalk five miles a day at a leisurely cruising speed this isn’t so necessary but when you’re on the road pushing out five or ten thousand miles a year, being visible is helpful.
Now, for those distances that I wrote about earlier… When I ride my bike, I’m riding two times faster than an average “bike rider” rides. A century might take a normal bike rider ten hours to complete, while my last was done in just over 4-1/2 hours. See? That’s not so bad.
Finally, and to wrap all of this up, is the amount of money I dedicate to my hobby. I have, over the last three years, spent a lot of money on cycling. Between shoes, clothing, tools and bikes (for the whole family), we’re talking about a pretty penny but it’s still only about half the price of a middle of the road Harley-Davidson dresser – and our bikes run on fat while a Harley runs on your wallet.
So there you have it – while much of what I own might seem unnecessary to the average bike rider, none of it is wasted money on arrogance. Every piece of equipment we enthusiasts own has a distinct and important purpose. The fact that manufacturers make that equipment look awesome is strictly out of our hands.