August 10, 2019 § 8 Comments
This morning I didn’t get up at 4:00. After not getting up, I didn’t have coffee or breakfast, and after not doing that I didn’t wipe down my frame and chain.
I put on zero Wend chain wax and didn’t put on my sparkly white South Bay Cycling wanky socks. I didn’t refill my water bottle or pack a baggie with raisins and almonds and didn’t pull on my new Bahati kit; nor did I put on glasses and gloves.
I didn’t not put on a helmet, either, and all my sunscreen stayed in the bottle.
Once all that was not done, I didn’t affix my headlight and three taillights, didn’t switch them on, didn’t clack down the stairs and wake up the neighbors, and didn’t roll down Silver Spur at 45 mph, where I didn’t carefully avoid the pothole near the speed limit sign by the high school.
The ride started but I didn’t, and I didn’t say hello to anyone, or attack, or get dropped on the Switchbacks. I wasn’t late for breakfast with the grandkids, either, and I didn’t have any mid-meal howler leg cramps.
I wasn’t wrecked the rest of the day and didn’t nap at noon. For two hours.
I was conversational all day and I didn’t yawn every third word; nothing I said was related to the morning ride or the antics thereon. Later in the day I didn’t check out my ride on the Stravver that I don’t have, and I posted no photos on Facebag of the ride I didn’t do.
It wasn’t a perfect day.
August 7, 2019 § 11 Comments
Fields wasn’t great when he first came to Austin, he was just better than everyone else at a time when cycling was a micro-niche within a micro-fissure of a fringe activity. By the time he left, he was the dominant racer in the state during the second golden age of cycling–his style of riding had made Austin the epicenter it remains today, and he made it such an attractive place to train and ride that Armstrong made it his home base.
Everyone wants to be great. It is a near-universal human longing. But what is greatness? Simply, it is transforming yourself from the person you are into the person you want to be.
Armstrong wasn’t great because he won seven Tours. He was great because he transformed himself from a poor kid raised in a broken home into the most dominant rider in the history of the Tour. It wasn’t until the methods to his dominance were revealed that the greatness crumbled, because greatness is about process, the process of change, and when you shortcut the process you are simply mediocre.
The process of greatness, although it leads to the most intense feelings of satisfaction and pleasure of which we are capable, demands failure, repeatedly, as each step transforms you, bit by bit.
Cycling is only one of countless means to greatness, where you can become who you want to be. And people hunger for it. From the moment they see the first results of a week’s worth of riding, they are hooked.
Whether it’s weight loss, better health, more energy, athleticism, freedom, or big picture control over their lives, cycling is a powerful avenue to greatness. I have personally met hundreds of people who have become great through cycling.
But because greatness is a process of continual, painful catharsis, the moment you stop pushing, your greatness slides into the past. You were great, not you are great.
This is one impressive thing about Armstrong. He is driven to transform himself. From lonely kid to cycling hero to cancer advocate to parent to media commentator … whether or not he “succeeds,” his drive to transform doesn’t appear to rest. He, like everyone who aspires to greatness, gets meaning from his life through the struggle to become the person he wants to become.
But back to Fields.
Back in the day, Fields gave you the chance to be great but it was all on you. You were the one who had to turn the pedals, put on the rain cape, endure the 100-degree, 90% humidity of central Texas, repeat. And he was resented for it. The first time I ever heard his name was at Freewheeling, where the mechanics were shit-talking him and the “carpetbaggers from I-O-Way.”
Greatness upsets everyone else’s apple cart because it reminds them that they are mediocre, that they are satisfied with mediocrity, and that they are too lazy to do anything about it.
And the corollary to greatness truly is mediocrity, where most people live despite their inner desire to achieve greatness. Because greatness is a process that wrings sweat and pain out of you, few people choose to pursue it even though it brings such incredible rewards.
In cycling, the mediocre among us come up with shortcuts to greatness, and there are a couple of biggies–equipment and #faketraining.
Equipment and gear let you think that the extra watts you can now churn out thanks to the equipment have somehow transformed you, the same kind of flawed thinking as if a battery-powered crank or a drug-induced performance have made you different from who you were.
They haven’t. Take away the motor and the EPO and you’re still the same old girl you used to be, as the Eagles once sang.
Same with #faketraining, which, like equipment and drugs, seeks to transform you without making you hurt and hurt badly. Because with cycling, the transformation is first physical, that is, you have to pedal your bike at a speed that tears down, then allows your body to build back up.
The #faketraining of canned riding plans, riding plans that emphasize “recovery” and “rest,” computer data, and cycling social media are all distractions from the ugly and brutal process of greatness in cycling, which simply means riding until it hurts really bad, and then riding harder. Real training isn’t in order to win races or to win group rides, although those things may well result.
Real training is transformation, is greatness, and it admits of nothing but slamming up against your limits and then pushing beyond, whether your limit is riding around the block or winning the Tour. Do you sometimes have to take a break from it? Of course. But not for long, unless you’re done with transforming and ready for mediocrity.
Fields insisted on the long route. He knew that shortcuts were just that, and he held them in total contempt. You were free to ride your bike however you wanted, but you were never free to claim that greatness could ever be a byproduct of laziness.
We’re coming up on the end of our fifth season of the Flog Ride here in the South Bay. It is the hardest regular ride around, and it leaves you wrecked every single time. What’s impressive isn’t simply the roll call of riders like Tregillis, Wily, Cowan, Brauch, Cobley, and Fernandez who have come out and dominated it. What’s impressive is the roll call of riders who have come out for years and committed to the process of transformation without ever winning a lap. Names like Klahr and Fischer and Landes and Reichmann, and so many others who were willing to suffer through the process.
The process of greatness.
August 5, 2019 § 12 Comments
I have lately been forced to pay attention to annual training plans. Ever since the invention of Internet coaching and power meters and the Stravver, bike racers have focused more and more on virtual things and less and less on actually riding their bikes.
This is why bike racers and those who aspire to ride fast are generally so not fast. They don’t know how to train.
What they know how to do is look at a computer screen and manipulate cool photos on the ‘Gram.
Back in the day I learned to train from Fields. His philosophy was simple. You had to ride your fuggin’ bike. And the corollary was that if you weren’t riding a lot, you weren’t training. Then, as now, this philosophy, which was rooted in Europe, didn’t adapt well to America, where people are generally soft, flaccid, lazy, and consumed with the self-righteous conviction that their opinions are facts.
But then I had self-doubt.
Was I simply mis-remembering? Had I fallen into the dotage of having been greater than I never was? Was I simply a cupcake of the 80’s, and because none of it was vaulted on Facebag, there was no one to point the finger and call me out?
I sure remember cycling as being real fucking hard. And I remember that riding with Fields was the apotheosis of hard. But then again, I remember a lot of things that never happened, right? So I texted Fields and asked him if he had any of his old training logs.
“Sure,” he said.
“Could you send me a couple of pages?”
“Because SoCal is drowning in fake training. People actually think they can get faster by dicking off.”
“Oh,” he said. Fields quit riding twenty-plus years ago. “Sounds like nothing has changed.”
A few minutes later he started sending me stuff. It’s really instructive. First, it shows you how fucking hard you had to ride if you wanted to be any good. And Fields wasn’t simply good. He was great. He cared not one half-broken dick about your training plan or philosophy if it didn’t involve pain and difficulty. These little snippets are from 1984. I’d bought my first bike in October 1982, rode for a year or so, then fell in with the racing crowd in fall 1983, when I met Fields. More about that in another blog.
On December 31, 1983 I did my first training ride with him. I was 20, he was 25, which seemed ancient. Here is what Fields’s training logs looked like.
Jan. 24/25/27 he motor paced for 1:50, :45, and 1:30. This is the kind of workout that destroys you. So he rested a day and then whacked out this gem:
Yep, 100 miles of motor pacing in 3:15. That’s an average of almost 31 mph. And he did it behind a 50cc motor scooter that had negligible draft. Every time I hear some nincompoop talk about his TSS or his trinket on the Stravver or about how he got on the leaderboard on that 30 second segment, or killed it on the NPR, or better yet, about how I’m fucking things up by RIDING TOO HARD, I think about Fields.
The moment you questioned hard riding, Fields would have ridiculed you, dropped you, and forgotten about your existence. As he always said, “If you are a bicycle racer and you get ridiculed, you deserve it for being a bike racer. And if you get ridiculed, you will either quit or get better. Hopefully the former.”
Fields would have hated the Stravver and all the fake training bullshit. He knew that if you wanted to ride fast you had to hurt. And if you didn’t know how to hurt and hurt often, you were NEVER GOING TO BE ANY GOOD AT ALL.
By the first week of January, when it was still cold as fuck, Fields was doing monster rides that invariably included some kind of horrific speed work for an hour or more. This wasn’t a brisk pace of orderly gentlemen riding 2 x 2 and shoutypantsing instructions about how to ride your bike, it was a full-gas paceline at threshold and if you couldn’t pull through you got left behind. After the speed work you went back to a stiff 2 x 2 formation where the front riders pulled at threshold for about five minutes, and when you got off the front you were a whimpering, beaten sack of jell-O. But you had better have fucking recovered when your turn came again …
Here’s what a January leg-stretcher looked like, this one on Jan. 7, 1984:
And of course when you rode with Fields you didn’t pop off, mouth off, or advise anyone on what to do or how to ride. You kept your fucking mouth shut. First, because you didn’t want to sound like a moron, and second because you were breathing too hard to talk. And you didn’t holler “rock,” “crack,” “tree,” “sky,” “apartment building,” either. If you were too fucking inattentive to steer around shit then you fell off of your bicycle and onto your ass.
After a couple of those, and no, no one wore a helmet, you started to pay the fuck attention. And if you kept jumping off your bike onto your ass, no one would ride with you any more. Nobody felt responsible for you or cared about you at all. If you were silly and stupid enough to want to race a bike, you deserved whatever you got.
And one more thing about talking: if you talked, it was generally to ask a well-considered question and then listen carefully to the answer. The idea that a Cat 4 would instruct anyone about anything related to cycling was preposterous. If you were lucky, your question was answered or ignored. If you were unlucky, it was picked apart, laughed at, and remembered forever, only to be trotted out to remind everyone that you were an idiot. Not there was ever any doubt.
By April, after riding so much and so hard that races seemed like a vacation, Fields was eating people’s lunch. Here’s an entry from April 8, 1984, at the Aggieland crit, where Fields stuck a 50-lap break, lapped the field, and won the field sprint.
Did I mention that Fields didn’t dick around in the pack, preen, intimidate people with aggressive riding (unless you fucked with him), or wait for other people to make moves? Fields was the move, and when he went, you were either on his wheel and maybe in the running for second place, or you were back with the pack fill.
And Fields didn’t sit in breakaways, he drove them. Think you were going to sit on and get towed to the finish? He would take your ass off the back so quick you’d think you’d fallen down an elevator shaft. Nor did Fields train his ass off so that he could do well in a race. He trained hard so that he was a factor in almost every race he entered, and so that he was contesting a podium spot or the win–these weren’t 1-hour Jeff Prinz jerk-a-thon business park crits, either.
Aggieland was “windy,” and Fields was nothing if not a master of understatement. “Windy” meant “would blow over an aircraft carrier.” Nor was he a “crit specialist” or a “sprinter.” Fields was a bike racer who could win, and he took his medicine as the course doled it out.
A few days after Aggieland, Fields put in another hard training day. At a time when today’s racers would be scrolling through their IG feed or posting up cool shots of them hanging at the beach, Fields was posting this shit. In private, in a training log:
Nowadays it’s a come one, come all mentality because no one wants to ride hard, and so everyone can join. It’s democracy of the weak. Back then, when Fields invited you on a ride, you were honored. Terrified and honored. And you turned your guts inside out for him because you didn’t want to disappoint him. And you know what? He never gave anyone no fucking kudo. The invite was the kudo, and the seal of approval was that you didn’t get dropped, something you earned yourself. He never gave you shit.
The minute you showed weakness, he cracked you. The minute you complained, he ridiculed you. The minute you said something stupid, he upped the pace. And if you didn’t like it, or him, guess what?
He didn’t give a fuck. And because his training was so hard, there were only one or two people who could do it with him consistently because generally his regimen melted you like a stick of butter in a steel smelter. Fields was fine training alone. No music or earbuds, just training, and if it rained he wore a rain jacket and if it was cold he put on tights. If it was 105 he left early and drank a lot of water.
Of course in SoCal, where the training geniuses advise you to quit training hard in JULY, the thinking is different. Fields had a slightly dissimilar regimen for the “noodling” month of October. Like this:
Five hours motor pacing … in October. An hour fifty of speed work … in November. 31 hours of hard training along with tough as nails racing. That’s almost four months after the weakass candystripers of 2019 have hung up their cleats for the season.
And speaking of racing, there wasn’t any tent, there wasn’t any van, there weren’t any chairs or flavored water or GU shots or compression tights. If you were going to do the 25-mile Gruene TT, you rode there, did the TT, and rode home. 100 miles, and the “massage” was what happened when you got off your bike and stopped pedaling.
Now I know what you’re thinking. “That’s crayyyy-zeee. That would never work NOW! Fields was a freak, a one-off, no waaaaay!”
Which shows how wrong you are. Fields was a totally ordinary bike racer who adopted training methods that work, i.e. training methods that involve work, and a shit-ton of it. He invented nothing. He applied everything. And on the national road racing scene, he was far, far from being the best at a time when names like Rogers, Grewal, Tilford, Phinney, Knickman, and a bunch of others dominated the sport.
But Fields was still exceptional by any standard simply because he extracted the very best out of modest talents, proving his own adage: “Doesn’t matter what numbers you have. Because no one but you can measure desire.” If anyone has ever won more bike races in Texas when events always generated 120+ entries in the Cat 1/2 races, I don’t know who it could possibly be.
And Fields’s work ethic served him well when he raced in Belgium and did the pro classic that used to be called Het Volk. What follows is probably the most incredible diary entry you will ever see.
Take a look at the names of his training partners. “Raas,” “Peeters,” as in Jan Raas and Ludo Peeters, not to mention Maarten Ducrot, Cees Priem, and Pieter Hoondert, guys who could ride 22 mph all day long in 40 degrees (knock off another ten degrees for wind chill) on “muddy & salty” roads. In the rain. On the fucking cobbles. These were among the toughest, most hardened, most accomplished men to ever race a bike, and their training was as bitter as the European classics and stage races that they WON. And Fields trained with these guys, having done his prep work in the non-hotbed of … Austin, Texas.
Nor was 22 mph then what it is now. Today the light bikes, efficient drivetrains, improved wheels and tires, and especially the superior road surfaces make average speeds so much higher. Back then, 22 mph for 70 miles was incomprehensibly hard, and the only reason Fields could do it is because he trained the European way: hard, hard, consistently hard.
Of course Fields rested. He rested a lot. And he had easy days, although to be fair, his easy days were probably harder than most modern puffcake riders’ entire lives. He slept a bunch, ate well, and avoided overtraining, with this caveat: He was fit and fast and tough enough to do the hard training from which he could recover.
And he didn’t get that way noodling, or knocking shit off in July, or by fiddling with his IG account. He got that way by riding his fuggin’ bike.
Fields was made of stern stuff and he didn’t share it easily. But if you wanted to get better and weren’t afraid of morning-noon-evening servings of humble pie, if you knew that the hard road was ultimately the easiest one, if you were willing to show respect in order to earn it, if you could button your lip and do your share of the work, Fields would take you in.
And invariably, Fields attracted the very best racers as training partners. I won’t go into Marco Vermeij’s story here, he of two Tours de France, but suffice it to say that everyone who was serious about riding fast sooner or later ran into Fields.
If you stuck it out, one day the magic would happen, like the day that we did the 145-miler with Scott Dickson, the first and only American to ever win Paris-Brest-Paris … and who won it three times. But that’s a story for another day.
For today, all you have to know is this: Ride. Yer. Fuggin’. Bike.
And don’t be afraid to hurt like a dog.
August 3, 2019 § 2 Comments
I was riding the other day and I heard Smug Dude talking with Wide-Eyed Fred. “Time to knock it waaaay back,” he said.
“Yeah?” said Wide Eyed Fred.
“Yeah, dude. It’s the off season.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” I butted in. “It’s fucking July.”
Smug Dude ignored me. “Now’s when you have to start noodling,” he said to Wide Eyed Fred. “The hard efforts are done.”
“What hard efforts?” I said. “You lazy motherfuckers have done less than ten races since January, and not a single one of them was longer than an hour.”
Smug Dude got irritated as Wide Eyed Fred nervously looked over at me. “Don’t listen to him,” said Smugster. “He’s never fast because he never rests. He’s just medium fast. Like a bad hamburger.”
“Wait a minute,” I said. “Where is all this off season shit coming from? Off of what? Your medication?”
Smug Dude couldn’t tolerate it any more. “There’s something that underlies sound racing programs such as mine,” he smugged. “It’s called ‘science.’ You might want to meet her some day.”
“Yeah, it’s the science that works for people in their 20’s who get paid to race bicycles for a living, not for geriatrics who do half a dozen age-graded races in six months and for whom the gnarliest interval is the wait time between breakfast and the morning snack.”
Wide Eyed Fred finally got up enough courage to ask a question. “So are you saying we shouldn’t rest? Smug Dude says that if we don’t rest we implode.”
“Look at Smug Dude,” I said. “He’s getting dropped on the climbs in June, when he’s supposedly peaking. He hasn’t won or podiumed a single fucking race in four years. It’s all a charade to to cover for one sad fact.”
“What’s that?” asked Wide Eyed Fred.
“That he is a lazy motherfucker who doesn’t want to ride his bike hard, so he comes up with these nutty training theories that let him dick off from July to March, ride hard three or four times in April, May, and June, declare victory without having won shit, and spend the rest of his year analyzing his power data and Strava bullshit.”
“What’s wrong with that?” Wide Eyed Fred liked the arithmetic of four hard rides out of 365.25 days.
“Nothing,” I said. “Riding easy and being a lazy motherfucker is why we cycle. The only people who seriously follow a training plan at our decrepit age burn out and give up after a handful of seasons, max.”
“Really?” Wide Eyed Fred was starting to worry about his $450/month coaching plan. “What is your training plan then?”
“My plan is the Ride Yer Fuggin’ Bike Plan. Do you have some free time? Ride yer fuggin’ bike. Eventually you will get tired, then hungry, after which you will have a cheeseburger and fart blissfully off to sleep. If dog blesses you, you will wake up. Then, repeat.”
“So you’re saying that all these meticulous plans don’t work?”
“Of course they work if you are something known as a bike racer who possesses a thing called talent and receives something known as a paycheck for the aforesaid bike racing. For everyone else it’s just silly prattle.”
“I’ve gotten stronger riding with Smug Dude,” he protested.
“Right. Because you have been riding yer fuggin’ bike. The moment you stop, you will get slower. It has nothing to do with these crazypants astrology-based training regimens.”
“I dunno,” he said. “Are you sure about that?”
“Fuck yes,” I said. “Remember Crazy Jane?”
“What about him?” asked Wide Eyed Fred.
“Remember two years ago when he was talking about Cat 4 domination and about how every other word was ‘bike racing’ and ‘intervals’ and ‘wattage’?”
“Well where the fuck is he now?”
“I don’t know.”
“I do,” I said. “He’s propped the fuck up in a La-Z-Boy binge watching ‘Friends.'”
Smug Dude couldn’t take it any more. “Don’t listen to him. I see this every year. People who aren’t any good hammer hard in the fall and make you think they’re fit and you’re not. Then you follow the plan and by February you’re riding them off your wheel. They haven’t gotten slower. You’ve gotten faster. And remember that: THEY NEVER GET FASTER.”
I laughed. “You lazy motherfuckers haven’t ridden me off your wheel all year. And you’re right, I never get faster. I get slower. It’s called getting old. And so the fuck do you. The only difference is that I admit I’m a slow-ass, lazy motherfucker and you pretend that you’re prepping for a spring classics campaign in Belgium.”
Smug Dude rolled his eyes, then stared pointedly at Wide Eyed Fred. “It’s the off season. Let’s chill.”
I noted out that we were already going fifteen miles an hour on a flat road. “We get any chiller,” I said, “someone’s catching pneumonia.”
Then I left.
Welcome to the off season. I’ll be riding somewhere else.
August 2, 2019 § 17 Comments
This has been the hardest year ever for blogging, not least of all because blogging is so late 20th, early 21st century, but also because the nature of writing is that eventually you run out of shit to say. Of course you don’t, but the struggle is real, finding the right words, or even the wrong ones, and then managing to slap them down daily.
The problem increases the older I get because I know more people, have deeper and more complicated relationships, and hesitate to write things that before I would have dashed off, devil take the hindmost. Consideration of the feelings of others is an inflexible mechanism for restraint, self-censorship, and horribly boring prose.
Time is a huge factor, too. There’s less of it, and the few grains that remain seem to fall through the hourglass so much more quickly.
But if you’re going to do a thing, you might as well do it full bore, and my version of full bore since 2011 has been to write on a near-daily basis and share it here. The tumultous, energy sapping Year of the Swine has turned each day into a Mt. Chomolungma of lethargic self-doubt that has to be scaled before churning out even the briefest of musings.
Well, fuck all that. As John Trump Candy said to me at Telo, drooling in rage over having been taken off the back, “YOU’RE NOT RELEVANT.” Listen to people who hate your fucking guts, at least occasionally, because they are often the least afraid to say the truth, tucked in amongst all the lies, delusions, and defamation.
I started writing this blog not to spare feelings but to inflame them. I started writing because I had things to say, bitter things, hard things, occasionally funny things, and I gave not two broken fucks if it hurt your feelings or anyone else’s. If it seemed relevant and true, and I felt like saying it, I said it.
There’s no point in continuing to write if I’m simply going to dodder off into the mealy musings of caution. Who wants to read that? More importantly, who wants to write it? Not I.
So I thought I would return to the roots of this blog, writing about riding in the South Bay, where “South Bay” covers planet Earth, and about the people who push the pedals. No more shelving ideas or events because someone out there is going to need a truckload of ass-balm after I hit the publish button. No more kow-towing to the self-censor. No more letting cheap shots and shitty behavior slide, whether on the bike or off.
Game back on, bitches.
July 26, 2019 § 12 Comments
Yasuko and I were walking this evening. “From all your Chaucer reading … what did you learn?” she asked.
It was a good question!
On January 28 I started memorizing The Miller’s Tale and its prologue, in Middle English. The whole thing is 745 lines. After I got that more or less down pat, I started memorizing the General Prologue, which is 858 lines. It’s a lot harder to remember than The Miller’s Tale because it’s not one cohesive story, rather, it’s the introduction to all the characters, with a description of each.
A couple of days ago I finished it, and now I can recite both, all 1,603 lines. It takes about two hours at a normal pace, but if I hurry I can cram it into an hour forty.
Every day I’d get up, memorize a few lines, forget a few lines, recite a few lines, and then get on with my day. Not that there is any purpose to it. I mean, what do you do with 1,603 lines of Middle English? About the only thing I can think of is that you go ahead and start memorizing the entire Tales, which run about 17,000 lines.
Now there is a Race Across Middle English for you.
Maybe you could do it in five or six years, but more like ten. And then you’d literally be repeating from the moment you awoke to the moment you slept. People might think you had a problem. In fact, when I stroll the neighborhood, they already do, muttering to myself as I am in an incomprensible, metered jumble of mumble. In fact, reciting the whole Tales would take about 20-25 hours.
Which is kind of a long time, and might not all fit on Instagram.
But back to the question, “What did you learn?”
Well, at least this: Nothing has changed.
July 25, 2019 § 13 Comments
Submitted by our war correspondent from the trenches. Warning: May offend male cyclists. Hopefully, anyway.
MANSPLAINING: A delightful mixture of privilege and ignorance that leads to condescending, inaccurate explanations, delivered with a rock solid conviction of rightness and that certainty that he is right because he is the man in the conversation.Webster’s Third International Dictionary of Reality
MANSPLAINING: Of a man; to explain needlessly, overbearingly, or condescendingly, (typically when addressing a woman) in a manner of thought to reveal a patronizing or chauvinistic attitude.Encylopedia of Common Knowledge
I think maybe I have ‘splained this all before, but before I was a cyclist, and I’m still not entirely sure that I see myself as this, I was a runner. I spent many hours a week running alone in the mountains (Gasp! Isn’t it dangerous for a woman to run alone, much less in the mountains?) and I got pretty good at it.
I was not running as part of a group organized by men, running with a “mentor” of any kind, on a team run by a board of men who instructed me on proper running mechanics and training, or under the tutelage of a male coach, i.e. a moach, or any other coach for that matter. But somehow, all alone, by myself, without any input from anyone aside from me and my own education/understanding of exercise science and physiology, not to mention the direct knowledge of my own body and how it worked, knowledge gained through decades of athletic competition in multiple sports, I was able to train myself such that that I became fast and skilled enough at this running thing (i.e. averaging 6-ish minute miles for long distances with lots of hills) to win or podium at the races I entered. And I did not just win/podium the women’s category, but the overall category. Yes, that’s right. I beat the men. On some occasions I beat all of the men, and on all occasions I beat most of them. Imagine that?
What’s more, for a few years in my young life I was a wildland firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service. I managed to be good enough at this male dominated and incredibly demanding fire thing to make it onto a Hotshot Crew. In a hyper-militaristic environment, riddled with hazing, dictated by hierarchies based on physical conditioning and strength, where a strong work ethic was required, and with your daily position in the social schema determined by insane competition at the highest and most demanding levels, I was able to stand out enough to be put in a position of authority. Me, a woman. Often times, the only woman. Put in charge of men, in potentially life or death situations. Who knew?
I thought I had this life/training/athletic thing kind of down. And then …
ENTER CYCLING. I became a “cyclist” after I was spotted early one morning Riding a Bike While Female by a Man on a Bike. This Man on a Bike and I had a bit of a battle going up Via Campesina, and even though I was Riding a Bike While Female, I impressed him enough for him to think maybe it was statistically significant that I could do this super complex bike thing kind of decently, but with a little “help.”
Although I explained to him that I was a personal trainer at work, had a sports background, had just completed one of the hardest full Ironman competitions on the calendar and had been a pretty successful runner, Man On A Bike thought that even so, and in consideration of my current state of ignorance since I was some sort of athlete but not a “cyclist,” i.e. a blank slate, he believed that with the combination of full immersion therapy into a team of knowledgeable men and some moaching, my cycling could probably be capable of improvement.
Based on the size and shape of my “muscles” he assumed I had done very little cycling (he was right about this detail) and therefore knew nothing about … well, anything really, especially the things I told him that I knew about already, i.e. sports and training. He gave me his card and told me to email if I was interested in doing some more riding. Against my better judgment, and nature in general, I did. In our first email exchange, Man On A Bike told me many things, including how much benefit there was to being on a team of men, but that in the process I would get a lot of “mansplaining.” I had never heard the term “mansplaining” before. However, this turned out to be one of the most truthful statements Man On A Bike has ever made to me. Perhaps the only one.
What I discovered very quickly was that even though we women seem to function just fine on our own in life, the attainment of self sufficiency being one of them, Riding a Bike While Female subjugates such impertinent details to the knowledge and superiority of the Man On The Bike. Even when faced with undeniable facts of who you are, what you have done in your life, your education, your career, or the fact that you actually “appear” to be stronger than the Man On The Bike, Man On The Bike will mansplain reality back into manquilibrium for you both at 186K per second.
Riding A Bike While Female puts one in constant jeopardy of various types and manifestations of mansplanation, and they come in various forms. Here are some that I have experienced:
“The Dick Line”
Around nearly every man on the bike is what I call the Dick Line. I see it as a sort of Mason Dixon Line of cycling. As a female, you are supposed to be aware through osmosis or DNA electromagnetism of the inherent boundaries of the Dick Line. Crossing the Dick Line puts you in Dick territory, and is strictly forbidden. This is how The Dick Line violation unfolds.
You are Riding Your Bike While Female when you encounter a Man On A Bike. Man On A Bike is slower than you. As you continue to pedal, you pass him. As you are doing so, you cross his Dick Line and his Dick Line alarm is activated. Man On A Bike’s mansplaining mode jumps into action by forcing Man On A Bike to stand up on his pedals and frantically flog himself to a point on the road ahead of you, once again re-establishing his Dick Line and manquilibrium. Unfortunately Man On A Bike is red-lined and slowing to a crawl at the moment his Dick Line is re-established, creating once again a risk of another boundary violation with woman who is Riding A Bike While Female, so he makes either an abrupt right or left turn off the road to avoid the confrontation, or gets a “mechanical” and has to “stop.” Under these new circumstances no one can be positive that his Dick Line was actually violated, and manquilibrium is restored.
Message: Women are not allowed to be faster than men without consequence.
“Pacing Governed By Genitalia”
When Riding A Bike While Female, one must always be aware that it is not necessary to ride as fast, or dare I say it, faster, than Man On A Bike. In fact, to even desire such a thing as riding as fast, or (gasp) riding faster than Man On A Bike is sort of “crazy” and will require some form of mansplaination to reestablish manquilibrium. As a woman Riding A Bike While Female, our highest aspirations should reach no further than riding as fast as the other females, or within some determined range that can be found on gender divided scoreboards based on mph or Watts per/Kg. But certainly, expressions of the drive to compete with Man On A Bike or, for sure, competing directly with the man, is off the table and will be shut down through various mechanisms.
If at any point during your time Riding A Bike While Female, a verbal statement is made by you implying that you will be someday be as fast as Man On A Bike, you can expect responses similar to these: “You will never be as fast as me,”“You will never beat me on a climb,” “You will never win Telo,” “If you want to be faster you will have to do x-watts per/kg and you will never do that,” and my personal fave fave, “Why do you want to be as fast as me? You only have to be as fast as a Cat 4 woman.” If you happen to be Riding A Bike While Female and accomplish some of the previously stated impossibilities, you can expect the following: “So that’s how its going to be, huh?” “I’m slowing down to wait for my teammate,” “I just took a pull,” or my fave fave “I would be way stronger than you if I trained harder.”
Message: You need to stay weak because, penis.
Occasionally, such as everyday all the time, on some rides, i.e. on all rides Riding A Bike While Female, you might be good at it. Being good at bike riding will activate the Mansplain Hustle, an interdisciplinary mode of mansplaining that requires quick yet rehearsed thinking on the part of Man On A Bike. This is a particularly creative and complex mechanism of mansplaination with multiple vectors, thinly disguised as “encouragement.” In truth, The Mansplain Hustle of Inverted Encouragement is simply the mansplaination of factual reality back into the fictional genre of manquilibrium that puts the man back in the position of authority by flipping events inside out to make the women’s accomplishment appear to be the man’s act of chivalry. Here are just a couple of examples:
“Good Job” The Good Job affirmation must be given to a woman by Man On A Bike any time she is passing his Dick Line and he is incapable of generating the energy to activate his flogging mechanism and ride away from her to an unknown point ahead. Good Job establishes manquiliubrium by letting you know that this is a special occasion, like Christmas, or your birthday, and that it only comes once a year and is totally a gift from him, not attributable to anything you have done of your own volition.
“You’re doing better this week!” This Inverted Encouragement is often done at the end of an interval, at the end of a ride or the top of a climb, when Man On A Bike has been soundly beaten by woman Riding A Bike While Female. The purpose of this messaging is just like the one above, with the added bonus of reminding the woman that the previous week she was not as good or as fast as Man On A Bike. This once again implies that this is a special occasion and was merely a gift from the man that will be rescinded the following week when normalcy will once again be initiated. What is most sinister about this form of “encouragement” is that this is almost never the case. Generally, the woman was better than Man on a Bike the previous week, but Man On A Bike assumes that Riding A Bike While Female is taxing out the tail end of the woman’s skill set and resources, including memory, and she won’t recall kicking his ass the week before. Manquilibrium is reestablished via gaslighting.
Message: You deserve an award just for being out here. So calm down and stay back there.
“Let me explain to you body, your job, your life, pretty much just let me explain”
Every time you are out Riding A Bike While Female, you can expect Man On A Bike to consider this your first day on earth. So if you are Riding A Bike While Female with Man On A Bike (or even a man who owns a bike and isn’t riding it), nothing you have done before that day counts in terms of knowledge or experience. For example, if you tell Man On A Bike that you are a personal trainer, have been for over fifteen years, that you began studying Exercise Physiology at the age of 14, that is has been your lifelong passion from the time you began competitive figure skating at age eight, that you at one time owned your own gym where you were individually responsible for training each and every person who walked through the door, that you taught every type of fitness class that could be taught, and that at your current company you were in the top 50 of over 3000 trainers world wide, you can expect him to try to explain to you, in great and pompous detail, what a fitness interval is.
When you try to interject some of your actual knowledge on intervals, Man On A Bike will, in the most unconvinced-of -your-self-described-background and condescending voice he has at his disposal, ask if you in fact really, actually know what a true interval is. When you again remind him of your background, tell him that there is more than one type of interval, and ask to which type was he referring, he will become completely convinced that you are as ignorant as he thought and will not believe that you do truly know what an interval is until you have broken it down for him in PubMed terms that he himself, does not understand. At which point he will mansplain the situation back to manquilibrium by saying “ Smart, strong and funny. Great combo.”
Message: The Dick Line is Overarching.
One glimmer of distinction from this sad state of affairs is that here, on our local Thursday AM Flog Ride, where we have no gender prizes, the women have no interest in gifts and, hopefully, the men have figured out not to offer them up. Although some of the above actually did take place on this ride at some point in the past, a conversation was overheard on La Cuesta last week at the Flog that made me smile. Man On A Bike was heard telling a woman who had been Riding While Female that she was very strong and that he hoped to, at some point, be good enough to get on her wheel. He offered her no advice, gave no critique, and neither did she to him. It was simply an exchange between two equals. As it should be. Who knew?