Sunday 10 May 2009

Ranting time

Kae has been kind enough to point me at a post of hers regarding a story about Air Scout CDF Angus Houston breaking his wrist after slipping over in his bike shoes.

Been there, almost done that. I think I have the same type of shoes as Houston. Whenever I stop, I tread very, very carefully. I used to curse the marble foyer in the building that I worked in last year - I had to swap from one set of lifts to another when coming up from parking my bike in the basement, and I nearly went arse over tit a few times. I think my beer gut provides the ballast that I need to stay upright in those situations.

I am now firmly of the opinion that one should never remove one's bike helmet whilst bike shoes are being worn - unless you are sitting down. If you happen to slip over backwards, the helmet will stop the back of your skull from smacking into the hard surface that you just slipped over on. Call it risk mitigation. You will still hurt from going over backwards, but your scone should still be in one piece.

Now, to ranting.

Claire Harvey, who wrote up this story for the Tele, is a stupid bint. That's me being polite on Mother's Day.

If Claire had bothered to talk to a few cyclists, rather than just sniggering at them, she might realise that we don't wear lycra in order to go faster (as she thinks). We wear it for comfort. Do you think I like to ride around looking like a brightly coloured clown wearing ball-huggers? Let me slowly stuff her article into a large shredder for you.

OK, let's start with the "brightly coloured lycra" snigger. If I wasn't wearing lycra, I'd still be wearing something brightly coloured. If I was just pottering down to the shops on an old grannie bike in my normal casual daily attire, I'd stick an orange safety vest over the top with reflective stripes. Why? Because 10% of you twats in cars are blind. I'm not saying all of you are blind. I'm not even saying 50% of you are blind. But one in 10 should be driving a white labrador rather than a car, and I need to be brightly coloured so you don't fucking run me over (again). Some of you are so blind, you don't even see brightly coloured people with a megawatt headlight attached to their handlebars. Motorcyclists have the same complaint, and they tend to ride things that make more noise than a bus full of drunken wogs - at least you can hear them coming, even if you can't see them.

Hell, some clowns in cars haven't even be able to see me in my 4WD with its headlights on. That's how blind and stupid some people are.

So we wear brightly coloured clothes in an attempt to stay alive. I live in Sydney, so unlike Melbourne, there is no legal requirement to wear black at all times. The stuff I wear on the bike is not a fashion statement - it is a survival statement. I don't hear you laughing at sailors in their immersion suits during an ocean race for wearing "brightly coloured sailor suits". I don't hear you saying, "Yellow is a stupid colour for life vests. Why not produce them in a more fashionable colour, like blue or black?"

Then again, if you sat behind Claire on an aircraft during the safety demonstration, you might well hear her say that as the hostie dons the life jacket ("Oooh, look at that awful vest, Marcus. You wouldn't see me dead in that.")

Then we have the "skin tight" issue of the lycra. Yes, it looks ridiculous on middle aged men. I should know. Do you think I dare look in a mirror before going out for a ride? Don't be silly. The path from where I put my gear on to the bike is devoid of mirrors. If I caught sight of myself before leaving, I'd be too embarassed to leave the house. I'd be riding around with a raincoat over the top, looking like a fast moving flasher.

However, there is one over riding reason for wearing skin tight "knicks", as we call them.

I like my balls. I treasure my testicles. I think my gonads are great. I like them to be warm and dry and comfortable. I also like the skin on the inside of my thighs, and I prefer it to be smoothe and soft.

Because how else could it be?

Well, if you ride any distance in normal clothes, chances are they will not wick away moisture, and they will bunch and rub on your skin. Ever had the seam of your undies dig in somewhere uncomfortable? Think about that times about 100. If you wear normal jocks and a pair of shorts on say an 80km ride, you will probably finish that ride with ball rot and badly chafed thighs. Riding with your nether regions bathed in sweat is an open invititation to infections and rashes. Seen all those annoying ads on TV for thrush creams? Imagine having the external equivalent of thrush all over both arse cheeks, down your thighs and all round your reproductive bits.

No thanks. If I have to wear skin tight, moisture wicking lycra to avoid that, I'll do so. It's worth the odd bit of embarassment.

The more serious amongst us, especially commuters, have to be prepared to ride in any weather. I have ridden in the rain more times than I can count. You are on a bike. You get wet. You get wet everywhere. Try wearing normal clothes, then jump in a swimming pool. Then walk 5 km, being sure to jump into a swimming pool every kilometre to stay good and wet. Suffering a bit from chafing are you? Got an incoming set of nasty crotch rot? Walking bow-legged to stop your thighs from rubbing together? Lycra knicks prevent all that.

The skin tight bit also avoids bunching of cloth. Again, I've seen enough ads for women's underwear that talk about a lack of seams and how important that function is. But if you don't normally wear women's underwear, think about this.

Ever been on a really, really long plane flight where you are stuck in a seat for hours on end? How do your undies feel by the time you've landed? Wedged halfway up somewhere they shouldn't be? Seams digging in?

The problem with normal shorts and undies is that the fabric moves and bunches, and it bunches in all the wrong places. And then it rubs. On a long ride, it is as uncomfortable as buggery. In fact, it can downright hurt. Lycra does not bunch, and the knicks are made in such a way that they feel like they are seamless.

So you can take my smelly knicks, Claire, and stuff them. Or, as many Blairites would say: "Suck my nuts!"

Then there is the aerodynamic helmet. The helmet that I had as a kid looking like a pudding bowl with a few small holes in it. It was all about stopping your skull from caving in when it made contact with the pavement. It was not fancy at all. Modern helmets are about 50% plastic, 50% holes. The main aim is to stop your skull from splitting open, but the secondary aim is to stop your brain from boiling under the helmet. The shape is designed to suck in a stack of air, flow it over your head and then eject the hot air out the back. Essentially, it is helping your head act like the radiator on your car.

And I can say, most of them work really well at doing that. I can ride for two hours without a bead of sweat running down my face, and then when I stop, it's as if someone has poured a bucket of hot, salty water over my head; because it all runs into my eyes. You can laugh at the shape, but it performs its function well.

Clip on shoes. Why do we wear shoes with little clattery cleats on the bottom?

The main idea is that by being connected to the pedal, you not only push on the downstroke, but you pull on the upstroke. That gives a much smoother pedalling motion, and also provides more power, since on each stroke, both legs are working. On a bike with old-style pedals, on each stroke, only one leg is working. I have a lot of trouble riding one of those bikes now - my "idling" leg keeps coming off the pedal on each stroke as I try to lift the pedal.

The second idea is that they lock your foot into the most bio-mechanically efficient spot for power output. If you don't have toeclips or cleats, your foot slids forward and the pedal sits under the arch of your foot. The ball of your foot is the bit that should do the pushing. So although cleats can be a bit deadly when you are off the bike, they are magic once you get used to them - and they do take some getting used to. Particularly the clipping out when you stop. I think everyone who uses cleats has fallen over sideways at some point from being too slow at extracting a foot to put down on the pavement. Yes, it hurts, and is embarassing as hell. I would no more ride a bike any distance these days without cleats than play a game of footy in boots without studs.

Let me finish with shaving the legs. I don't do it, but I know quite a few people that do. They don't do it for speed. They do it for the pain and suffering they avoid when they hit the ground.

Don't get me wrong, the initial contact with the bitumen hurts just as much whether you have hair on your legs or not. It is the weeks of treatment afterwards I am talking about.

I have gone down 5 times in 4 years. On 4 of those occasions, I ended up with skin loss on arms and/or legs. Take a cheese grater or potato peeler and remove a section of skin on your forearm about the size of a cigarette packet - that's what tends to happen when you hit bitumen. It doesn't bleed as much as you might think, and unless something is broken, you lie there and go "Ow, ow, ow" for a minute, then get up and keep riding.

After the ride, you have to get it treated. For my worst skin removing prang, I went to a medical centre in town for some professional treatment. The rather robust Kiwi nurse took one look at my arm, then pulled out a brilo pad, some Detol and a bottle of iodine. The brilo pad and Detol were then used to vigorously (and I mean vigorously) scour the wound to remove all particles of road and dirt. All the squashed bugs and dog poo and engine oil and other muck that builds up on the road had been rubbed into my skin by the fall, and now it had to be rubbed out.

Unlike those old western movies where they give the cowboy a belt to bite down on as they cut the bullet out, they don't give you anything these days for a skin scour. Including anaesthetic. You just grin and bear it. Once all the grime has been removed, the wound is bathed liberally in iodine - which hurts some more.

The worst thing about this is that if you have hair, your hair has also been jammed into the wound by the fall. Even after it has been scrubbed free by the brilo pad, it will get bound up in the scab that forms. That scab will come off every few weeks as the wound heals, and when it does, it will tear out a few hairs - like a slow moving wax job. And then there are the regular changes of dressing, which remove hair by the square inch on each occasion. That is why the serious types shave.

Cyclists (who are semi-serious) tend to have an engineering-type mindset. I have never riden with an airey-fairye "artistic" type (probably because they are never out of bed at 6am on Sunday) - it is amazing how many of my fellow cyclists work in IT. All cyclists care about is function, function, function. If someone finds that it is more comfortable to have a shaved head when riding, that trend will probably sweep the cycling world (as it is, I wear my hair Marine-short because it is more comfortable under a helmet).

This article simply reinforces my impression that Houston is a sensible fellow who isn't swayed by the chattering of fashionable idiots who know nothing about which they speak. Like Claire Harvey.


kc said...

This is me, applauding your rant. ((()))

Being a motorcycle enthusiast (former rider, now passenger) in America, "of a certain age," I completely understand your points! Completely!

I'm not an engineer type - except for some domestic engineering - but for me, function equals beauty in most cases. If something serves its purpose AND has more than one function, it is a thing of beauty, no matter what it LOOKS like. Did you know that - 'cool' as it may be - black leather & denim are not the best fabrics for long-distance motorcycling, either. They stay wet, they mildew, and they aren't nearly the protection from pavement-at-80 that some new fabrics are.

Bicycle riders look kinda funny, but the sneers are from the vain, not from anyone who needs to USE the technology to protect themselves from wind, weather, wear, and automobiles.

Kat212 said...

Excellent points BOAB... The funny looking things we bike users wear are actually for a purpose, I've lost count of the amount of times Ive tried to explain that to my non biking buddies.
But that said I can deal with the funny looks and jibes about wearing a helmet etc because at the end of the day I'd rather look like a fool and be alive then look cool in a coffin. ( brilliant blog btw it brightens up my day)

Richard_H said...

A mate of mine is still traumatized from seeing me walking in knicks (I'd busted a spoke and was walking home). Keep explaining to him that, yes, I'm fully aware that on my body (charitably described as fat) skin tight lycra is a bad look, but do even moderate distances in normal clothes and it's ridiculously uncomfortable. I don't even like MTB shorts with knicks on the inside.