The great empty

May 1, 2015 § 33 Comments

The verdict is in on power meters, Strava, and computerized ride data. They make you faster.

A professionally designed power-based training plan, scrupulously followed, and including adaptations for the times when you are sick, injured, or beset by the things otherwise known as life, will turn you into someone who turns the pedals faster.

Faster.

Faster.

Faster.

What it will also do — and the verdict is in on this as well — is make you unhappier.

If you are a professional, that is a meaningless consequence. Your sponsors don’t give you money to ensure your happiness, they do it to ensure your success, which theoretically leads to better sales. But what about YOU?

I have three case studies, not including my own, that I’ve followed over the last six years. Here they are. Judge for yourself.

Case Study #1: The happy racer

This guy got into cycling from marathoning and “high risk” action sports. When he came onto the scene he fit the profile we’ve all seen, zooming from freddie to feared hammer in a single season. We’ll call him Tom. Tom rode his bicycle with abandon and zest, and saw nothing wrong with Mile 1 breakaways on the Saturday Donut Ride, breakaways that sometimes succeeded but that always inflicted carnage on those left behind, not to mention those who foolishly tried to follow his wheel.

He rode instinctively, and though his instincts were often wrong, occasionally they were right and they put him on the podium. More importantly, the act of riding was an act of irrepressible joy. Win or lose he embodied the same pleasure that you can find in any little kid zooming full speed down the local hill. Not that little kids are allowed to do that anymore, of course.

As part of his “progression,” Tom’s engineering mind made technology-based training a natural area of investigation. He “computered up,” and over a few seasons mastered the fundamentals of power-based training. His natural ability, an already sharpened knife, became a razor. His grasp of training and innate desire to share made him a lightning rod for new riders in his club, with whom he gladly shared training information, workout plans, and swapped training data.

After about three years, Tom no longer took risks on group rides by attacking early. He became calculating and efficient. If the pace exceeded his training targets, he sat up. If it wasn’t hard enough, he went off and did something by himself. Tom became a slave to his data. It made him faster, but it also turned the freedom of cycling into the prison of golf, where you are constantly reminded that there are absolute numbers beyond which you can never progress. Tom’s beauty, which had always been the bright light in his eyes, had dimmed.

Enslaved to the numbers, when Tom had a really bad year with some significant medical problems that ruined his carefully regulated train-by-the-numbers approach, instead of digging into the mental bucket, bucking up and rallying, he began doing something he’d never done before: throwing in the towel, DNF-ing, quitting. The thing that had always sustained him, his mental attitude and his enjoyment of the sport, had been replaced with numbers and data that had no real strength to carry him through the rough spots other than their unflinching message of inadequacy and defeat. The last time we rode together he was still struggling.

Case Study #2: Escape from New York

I’ll call this guy Snake Pliskin. He was whatever type is more aggro than Type A … Type A positive? He also came from a running background and migrated to cycling when his knees gave out. Mentally tough and physically gifted, for Snake the act of riding a bike was the act of riding away from the stresses of work.

Snake had a grind-em-up attitude to riding. He didn’t race but he approached every ride as a competition. And though he was often put to the sword on long climbs, when placed in his element of flat or undulating road, preferably with a stiff crosswind, he could put paid to all but the very best of the best. Snake finished his rides spent and satisfied, regardless of whether he was the last man standing. The act of full commitment and giving it his all recharged him for the real battles that remained to be fought in his workaday world.

For him, cycling was the beautiful escape.

Somewhere along the way he became a complete Strava addict. Multiple devices to record rides, pages and pages of KOM’s, and a ferocious response on the bike to those who took his trophies. Yet the more he buried himself in the world of Strava, the more he opened himself up to attack, as countless riders took shots — many of which were successful — at his virtual winnings. This of course drove him to ride more, ride harder, create more segments, and further extend his pages of KOM’s.

Along the way cycling mutated from a refuge into a prison. With everything measured and quantified, with every foot of roadway a possible place to take a KOM or lose one, he spiraled from the incredible pressures of his job to the equally crushing pressures of riding his bicycle.

As with Tom, Snake’s numbers told him that however good he was, on some segment, on some day, someone else was better. The awfulness was reflected in the fact that not only had Snake’s escape become a wearying burden, but it was now on full public display. Unlike the real world, where your buddy kicks your ass, rubs your nose in it, and you remind him of the drubbing you gave him the week before, Snake was locked in Strava kudo hell, where anonymous people with strange nicknames have the same right to comment as your closest buddies who suffered stroke for stroke all the way up the climb, and where the interaction is a binary “kudos” or an “uh-oh.”

The humanity of friends trading jokes and trading pulls, laughing at the funny shit that happens on a ride, commiserating about life, sharing triumphs, and making fun of each other’s foibles had been reduced to a fake interface of 0’s and 1’s artfully designed to imitate real people, real relationships, real lives. The escape was now the cage and it wasn’t even gilded.

The last time I rode with Snake he crushed everyone, grimly.

Case Study #3: The old school

I will call her Harriet. She had been around forever and was still dominating the local women’s race scene into her late 40’s, outsmarting and intimidating women half her age. She eschewed data and Strava and wattage-based training plans. Harriet’s MO was simple: ride and train with the fast men. She couldn’t beat them, but she could hang on and it made her strong enough to beat her peers, even when they were young enough to be her daughters.

She paid no attention to technology and refused to join Strava. She’d ridden as a pro and knew three things: how to train, how to win, and how to have fun.

And in her own way, her pleasure in riding a bicycle remained as vibrant and undiminished as it ever was. The last time I rode with her she gapped me out, shouted at me for running a red light, and dusted me in the sprint. Then she pedaled gaily off to work, ready to start the day.

This great empty is hardly confined to cycling. It repeats itself in myriad ways for modern Americans whether they ride bikes or not. When people think about the rise of the machines they imagine cyborgs and androids and sci-fi creations, but those aren’t the machines that rule us. The machines are pieces of software that are piped to us by phones, Garmins, desktops, and laptops, they are algorithms that have reduced the complexity of life and human interaction into 0’s and 1’s.

And they dominate us because at its most basic form, life is that simple. But who wants that level of simplicity? Isn’t life better with messiness, with the nonlinear slop and jostle of emotions and feelings and real human contact?

Of course it is, and that’s the big lie that the great empty has to spend billions to paper over. When your emotions are tugged by the 0’s and 1’s that show the precious pug or the newborn of your best friend or the KOM on that 200-yard bike path segment (tailwind, natch), something deep inside is left empty and unfulfilled, the zipless fuck of the digital age. How do I know? Because after the little jolt you have to hit refresh or like or kudo or scroll eternally and in desperation down the feed.

Answers I don’t have, but this I know — when you ride a bicycle untethered to 0’s and 1’s, you may not become any faster. But you will, over time, become happier and more at peace with the ragged, raging, sloppy and jostling world that, despite the best PR efforts of Facebag, Google, SRM, and Strava, hasn’t yet learned that reality is denser and more complex than two simple numbers.

END

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Phone home

September 28, 2014 § 22 Comments

It had been an epic, bitter, full-gas NPR replete with unhappy blabberwankers, squealing baby seals looking for their freshly stripped pelts, fraudsters who cut the course and flipped it before the turnaround in order to catch the break, and the usual collection of complainers and whiners who missed the split, blaming their weakness on the “stoplight breakaway” and the usual complaint of non-racers who object to September beatdowns — “It’s the OFF SEASON!”

We swirled up to the Center of the Known Universe. Most ordered coffee. I leaned against the plate glass seated on the bricks, waiting for the throbbing in my legs to subside. Within minutes people were seated alongside with their phones out.

There wasn’t much conversation at first because everyone had to check email, then look at missed calls and figure out which excuse to use when they finally phoned in around ten. “I was in a meeting.” “There wasn’t any cell coverage.” “I was on the phone with a client.”

And of course Facebag had to be checked, texts had to be sent, and Strava had to be carefully reviewed. Some people kept their phones on their lap the entire time we congregated. One or two put them away. Almost everyone sporadically checked, interrupting conversations to gaze down at kudos and incoming dickpics.

Not me. I didn’t have my phone. It was sitting on the chest of drawers next to my bed. That’s where it stays nowadays when I ride.

I remember back when there were no cell phones. After a ride, or during a break, the Violet Crown guys would talk. Or smoke a big, fat joint. Usually both. Whatever the protocol, it always involved lots of gab. Sitting down after a ride meant rehashing the ride, inventing new rumors, or talking shit about a good friend who happened to be absent.

Compared to those conversations, the ones nowadays aren’t as much fun, and I think it’s because the flow of talk gets constantly broken up by constant cell phone monitoring. The fact is that no one has anything important to do on a cell phone in the morning. If they did, they wouldn’t be on a bike. And there’s something about conversation that, like a bike ride, requires a certain amount of warm-up. Then, once you’re warmed up, you sort of get going. It doesn’t work very well — like riding — when every few seconds or minutes the other person is checking his screen.

“But what do you do when you can’t get in touch with someone who you’re trying to meet for a ride?” is a common question. Back in the day we all knew where to meet, and if someone didn’t show up, you didn’t ride with him that day. It was pretty simple.

“But what do you do if you have an accident or your bike breaks or you have an emergency?” Back in the day we generally waited until someone called an ambulance, or we bled out, or we flagged down another rider for a tool or a tube. That was pretty simple, too.

“But what do you do if something happens at work or your wife needs you?” Back in the day we ignored that shit when we rode. It was one of the main reasons we cycled.

Since shedding my power meter, my Garmin, and now my iPhone, my riding is a lot more peaceful. More importantly, I’m about half a pound lighter on the bike. Now that matters.

END

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The Atheist Training Bible for Old Bicycle Racers, Chapter 6: Having the right de-equipment

January 24, 2014 § 19 Comments

As you continue your rest period, being laughed at by Sausage, called out by Donnie, and ridiculed by the entire NPR peloton as they pass you yelling “Spin, wanker!” and “Wanker on the right!” and “Outta the way, moron!” and “Are you available next Thursday?” you must have faith and be strong. This is what it was like to a Christian in the lion’s den, or, even more horrific, to be an atheist in a Houston public school in the 70’s.

Now that you have spent days on end going slow and tweezle spinning, your legs should feel fresh, relaxed, happy, and purged of the two most lethal chemicals that stand in the way of proper muscular and cardio development: lactic acid and old beer. However, this is only the beginning. Your adoption of the Wanky Training Plan ™ requires that you begin to tune in, turn on, and drop out (of Strava).

Proper training requires the absence of the right equipment

Before moving on to the next step in the WTP, please take the following handy-dandy quiz.

  1. I am on Strava. Yes/No
  2. I have a power meter. Yes/No
  3. I have a heart rate monitor. Yes/No
  4. I have a Garmin. Yes/No

Did you answer “yes” to any of these? Of course you did! So, let’s take them one-by-one and figure out how we can get you completely dialed into the Wanky Training Plan ™.  First, Strava. You need to get off this, just like you need to get off crack, meth, and Facebook. Not happening, you say? I know, but Strava’s not helping your cause because it becomes an end in itself. You fear posting a ride (Lane! Brian!) that’s not awesome, as if you’re a porn star who can’t get the job done on film. The reality is that by constantly forcing yourself to perform on Strava, you’re letting the software dictate your workouts — and tire you out. So what’s a Gollum-like Strava-head to do?

— Ride for the next thirty days without uploading a single ride.
— Quit looking at other people’s rides.
— Turn off the “You lost your KOM!” alerts (assuming you have any, which is doubtful).

Next is your addiction to the power meter. Studies have shown that no one ever rode faster due to a power meter, but millions have ridden slower, or given up riding altogether because of one. A power meter is a feedback mechanism that, at best, confirms what you already know: You aren’t that fast. Remember the first time you got one and how devastated you were to learn that your FTP was equivalent to that of a Cat 4, or a newt? Then remember how, after a year of hard work, you were only able to raise it to a Cat 3, or a salamander? Shuck the PM and accept that no improvement will ever come as the result of a device. Better yet, accept that no improvement will ever come. So, take off all your crank-connected, hub-connected, pedal-connected power meter devices and give them to someone you really despise. You’ll be glad you did.

Heart rate monitor? Really? There’s no need for this item. Like the power meter, it will only tell you that your heart is beating so fast you can’t possibly sustain the effort, so quit now before the infarction. Although the heart is an integral enemy and perpetual foe in the WTP, for now all you need to know is that you can — you must — ignore it.

Nothing has done more to ruin the essence of cycling than Garmin. This device has reduced the open road, the huge vistas, the stunning sunrises, the incredible panoramas into a tiny little plastic screen that spits out “data” which only tells us what we already know: You are slow and weak, and getting slower and weaker. Ditch the Garmin.

So what performance measuring device do I really NEED?

For hundreds of years, the holy grail of sailors was a watch that could keep time. Once it was invented, people conquered the globe by being able to plot longitude, enabling them to sail from an obscure port in Europe all the way ’round the world and back again in tiny barks scarcely worthy of the name “ship.” If it was good enough for Columbus, wanker, and if it was good enough for Eddy, then it’s good enough for you.

That’s right, the only device you need to measure your performance is a Timex wrist watch. If you can measure distance and you can measure time, then you can measure speed. Scott Dickson didn’t need a Garmin to win Paris-Brest-Paris. All he needed was a wristwatch, plenty of scotch, and an iron will. The wristwatch is likewise all you need for measuring cadence. Start the stopwatch function, count out 30 seconds worth of pedal strokes, multiply by two, and boom! You’ll have your rpm’s without needing to adjust magnets on your spokes, your crank, your chain stay, and without having to wirelessly ANT the whole thing to a $500 computer that, after the ride, you have to upload to a remote server, then upload to WKO+, then analyze with graphs.

Just use the stupid watch. Really.

Now that you’ve de-equipped yourself, you’re ready for the first week of non-training. Here’s your plan:

  1. Calculate your normal rpm with the wristwatch.
  2. Add 20 rpm.
  3. Ride for two hours at the new cadence.
  4. Drink a shit-ton of beer after you finish.

Don’t you feel good now? Sure you do.

A matter of manners

October 30, 2012 § 14 Comments

Some things are simple, like manners. Biking makes these simple things even simpler.

Clawing my way up Latigo yesterday I passed a woman and her boyfriend. “Hey, guys,” I said.

“Hey,” said the dude.

“Nice socks!” said the chick, admiring my pink unicorn Gnarlube calf-high stockings.

A couple of minutes later the dude had caught up to me. “You didn’t think I was going to let you just ride away as easy as that, did you?” he said, rudely, challenging.

“I’m just riding tempo by myself today,” was what I said.

What I thought was, “Fuck you, asshole.” Predictably, things went from tempo to threshold. Then I was by myself again.

What kind of dude drops his girlfriend to chase down a pair of chickenlegs in pink socks? Answer: Someone with very bad manners.

What happens to rude cyclists? Answer: They get shelled. Unceremoniously.

Mind if I leech?

After Latigo I headed north on PCH and met up with the Big Orange contingent a few miles after the Ventura County line. They were coming back from the Rock at Point Mugu. I u-turned and sat in for a few miles, chatting with Ron and Tink until a mechanical caused the group to stop.

I continued on with Robert Ephthamos, a dude with a terribly hard name to pronounce, much less spell, all dressed up in a Garmin kit. “I gotta get home,” he half-apologized as he picked up the pace. I could tell after a few moments that he was a relatively new rider, but game and ready to work.

We rode a hard tempo, easing up while passing under Cher’s compound in Malibu Colony. At Cross Creek we lifted the pace again after the stoplight. A group of four or five wankers saw this as their opportunity for a free ride, and hitched on.

Robert was lathered up, and so was I. After four miles the leeches hadn’t made the slightest effort to come through. “Robert,” I said as he rotated off of a particularly long pull, “make the fuckers pull through.”

My next pull was brief, and Robert had gone all the way to the back. The next guy in line put his hands on the tops as I slowed and swung over. “I can’t pull through!” he shouted.

–Next Line Is Absolutely True–

“I’m not strong enough!” he wailed.

–End Of Absolutely True Line–

I thought he was going to cry, like the time I told my dad “I can’t do word problems!” while struggling over  Fourth Grade math.

“I don’t give a fuck,” I said. “If you’re strong enough to suck wheel, you’re strong enough to pull through. This isn’t a charity ride with you as the beneficiary. Get your saggy ass up here and take a pull.”

By now I’d slowed down so much that he could have easily come through, but the belief in his own mind that he couldn’t was so great that he just stopped pedaling. Robert roared by and I followed.

One of the wankers stayed with us, and after Robert and I took our turns he eased up next to me. “Do you want me to take a pull?”

“When you go to someone’s house for dinner, do you ask if they want you to refrain from pissing all over the toilet seat?” I asked. “Hell yes I want you to take a fucking pull!”

He pulled through. Rather large, and rather offended, and very well rested, he began winding up the speed until we were going well over thirty. Robert and I tucked behind the Cadillac draft as I counted strokes. At pedal stroke sixty, his shoulders started to sag and wobble a little bit. Then the speed started to drop. Then his pedal strokes changed from circles to squares to raggedy triangles.

This, of course, was the teachable moment. He’d overcome his inclination to suck wheel and, with a little prodding, had done the right thing, obeying the imperative of the paceline: He’d gone to the front.

Moreover, he’d put in a big effort. He’d behaved in a way worthy of redemption and forgiveness, such that if I now came through steadily and not too fast he could latch on, recover, and perhaps help out a few miles later. He would learn a valuable lesson about sharing the work, and more importantly, about the bonds of friendship that are built between strangers as they toil into the wind at their physical limits, sharing the work each according to his ability.

So I did the only respectable thing that I could do, both as a representative of cycling in the South Bay, as an older and experienced rider, and as someone who understands and profoundly respects what road cycling is all about, which is to say I attacked him so fucking hard that I thought I’d puke.

When my eyes refocused, Robert was pulling through at full throttle, a long string of drool splattered along his face. I jumped on his wheel and glanced back to confirm that our good friend was dropped and a receding speck in the distance.

Just before we settled back into a rhythm of dull, aching pain, Robert asked “Were you trying to teach that guy a lesson?”

“No,” I said. “The lesson was for you.”

He grinned and let the big meat sing.

Gym workouts for road cyclist types

September 1, 2012 § 1 Comment

You’ve probably got lots of reasons not to go to the gym. I used to have just one: I hated it. After five weeks, though, it’s something I plan to continue at least for six. Maybe seven. Who knows?

One of the things I like about the gym is its convenience. Our apartment complex has two gyms. One of them is fully equipped with cute Asian chicks between the morning hours of 5:30 and 8:00. The other one has a full complement of cute white and Hispanic chicks in the evening, so it’s a very excellent pair of facilities.

The gym is also really easy to use as compared to cycling. Here’s what you have to do in order to ride your road bike:

  1. Check calendar to pick proper ride
  2. Air up tires
  3. Fill water bottle
  4. Turn on iPhone Strava app
  5. Wipe/lube chain (yeah, right)
  6. Put on ID neck chain for when you get run over
  7. Put on sunscreen
  8. Put on embro (Oct-Jun)
  9. Put on stretchy tight undershirt
  10. Make agonizing decision about which kit to wear
  11. Put on complicated biker outfit
  12. Put on complicated ratchety-thing shoes
  13. Adjust helmet
  14. Put on sunglasses
  15. Charge front/rear lights
  16. Attach lights
  17. Notify world via FB of impending ride heroics
  18. Charge video cam
  19. Attach video cam
  20. Put spare tire kit in jersey
  21. Put phone/money pouch in jersey
  22. Strip off complicated biker outfit in a sweating hurry because of Pre-Ride Rule #1: No matter how early you get up to patiently await your morning glory, it will only start tapping at the door when you’re fully suited up and ready to roll.
  23. Put complicated outfit back on
  24. Activate all lights, cameras & Garmins
  25. Check iPhone one last time to see who’s bailed at the last minute, forcing you to change your entire ride plan
  26. Reach meet-up point and hang around for half an hour waiting for people to show up
  27. [Post-ride]
  28. Upload and analyze Strava data
  29. Give kudos (don’t leave anyone out!)
  30. Upload and edit ride video
  31. Carry mountain of embro-stained clothing to the washroom
  32. Wipe down bike

For the gym, however, the prep list is different, and it looks like this:

  1. Put on gym shorts, t-shirt, socks, and gym shoes.
  2. Walk over to gym.
  3. Work out.

Proper gym etiquette for the newbie biker wanker

Like cycling, gyms have their own rules. At first everything looks strange and different, but that’s just superficial. Essentially, it’s no different from a group ride.

Every gym has its “ride boss.” This is some short dude with a short dude complex and muscles in places that you thought were the exclusive domain of important internal organs. Like his cycling equivalent, he’s a psychopath, and spends all his time in the gym. He sizes you up at a glance, and your size is “puny weakling.” But don’t worry! If you keep at it, work your tail off, show up early in the morning and after work, sweat like a dog and try to follow his example, after many long years you will one day move up to “less puny weakling than you used to be.”

The important thing to know about the ride boss is that you must know his name, but he will forget yours repeatedly. He will also, after a while, become so disgusted with your flailing that he will offer you a tip. STOP EVERYTHING YOU’RE DOING AND COMMIT THE TIP TO MEMORY. If you follow it, it will be the first thing you’ve ever done right in a gym.

As you get to know the other regulars, it will feel more and more like a bike ride. For example:

  1. The weakest and flabbiest woman will repeatedly bench three times your heaviest single rep ever.
  2. The more you do it, the more you’ll realize how hopeless it is.
  3. Enthusiasm and full-on commitment will soon give way to some kind of lower back or knee injury.
  4. You’ll begin reading Muscle and Fitness.
  5. You’ll conclude that the reason everyone is stronger than you is because they’re doping.

Novice mistakes to avoid at all costs

After a few weeks, I’d kind of gotten my confidence up, and my tummy fat was starting to show the hint of a 1-and-a-half pack, and I swaggered into the gym ready to begin pumping iron. Two gym bunnies were spread out on the floor doing some kind of bunny yoga stretchy thing. Which was awesome.

They checked me out as I nodded coolly to them and grabbed the manly medicine ball to begin warming up. Then (and this tends to happen when I lift my hands above my head) I let out a very greasy and prolonged silent killer. Within seconds they’d caught my drift and moved all the way to the other side of the gym. A couple of presses later and I had the whole place to myself.

So that’s not cool. Please don’t do it.

The other huge novice mistake to avoid is the exercise ball fiasco. This is where you go online and watch a quick video of some cute chick or some muscly dude do Cat in the Hat type abdomen flexes using a giant circus ball. “I can do that,” you erroneously conclude.

So you hit the gym and, with other people present, you try out the old exercise ball balancing trick. If you’re lucky you just fall off the ball and ruin an ankle or a knee on the concrete. If you’re unlucky you kick the ball off to the side and scare the crap out of somebody. If you’re super unlucky you actually crack your forehead on the cement floor. I did that, and it hurts, especially when all the gym bunnies are watching you out of the corner of their eyes.

Stick to your plan

It’s easy to start working out at the gym, see some moderate improvement, and then completely forget why you’re there in the first place. This handy checklist will help you remember.

  1. Gigantic arms will not speed you up on the bike
  2. Just because Prez tore his knee ligaments doing lunges doesn’t mean you have to
  3. The guys in the gym will scorn you for your tweezlyness, but the bunnies will secretly die in envy for your narrow ass and skinny legs
  4. If you hear something tearing inside, followed by bloody urine, stop
  5. Grunting like Arnie when you’re benching 40 pounds embarrasses everyone
  6. The only time a six-pack helped a cyclist was after the race ended

Your bike outfit looks like dogshit. Other than that, it’s fine.

May 17, 2012 § 13 Comments

Okay, so when people want to know what to wear, Wankmeister isn’t on speed dial. I get that. But I do know a thing or two about fashion. Just because I always wear that black t-shirt, ratty jeans, and those Vans with the holes in the back doesn’t mean I don’t know what’s what.

What’s What

For example there’s a difference between chick fashion and dude fashion. Chick fashion follows “TPO,” which means “Take my Panties Off.” Dude fashion follows “FOMI,” or “Focus On My Income.”

In other words, chick fashion is sexy, whereas dude fashion is all about brand recognition and money. Cycling fashion, however, is a unique blend. Tight, slinky, revealing stuff that is also designed to make you remember names and buy shit while hopefully not drawing too much attention that your junk is really tiny. Cycling clothes were gay before gay was the new straight.

Got that? Good.

A brief history of cycling fashion

A long time ago, cycling fashionistas wore wool shorts with real leather pads that scrunched up around your groin and acted as involuntary butt wiping rash inducers. You’d pull off the shorts along with a pound or two of brown crud. Yeccch.

Shorts were black. Shoes were black. Socks were white. Jerseys had a couple of sponsors’ names in big letters. Primary colors all the way, except for the occasional gay Italian ice cream sponsor who liked lime green and purple.

And that was pretty much fuckin’ it.

Modern cycling fashion

Then someone realized that plastic fabric was better than wool. It tore up easier. It was less comfortable. It didn’t breathe at all. And the synthetic chamois was originally a variant of sandpaper. But unlike wool, when you sweated it didn’t smell like an old tampon. So it prevailed.

The other thing that happened with cycling fashion is Adobe Illustrator. Every moron with a computer now had a 56-million color palette and the template for a bike outfit. At about the same time, local clubs realized that they could defray some of their beer money by selling ad space on their kits.

Real estate became scarce. Good taste became scarcer. Legit fashion and design skills became extinct. Pro and amateur teams alike wore whatever vomit some junior high school pre-accounting major with a laptop threw together. Design wasn’t an afterthought. It was an afterbirth.

Rewarding ugliness

Bicycling magazine recently posted a list of the best cycling kit designs in the Amgen Tour of California. It’s a shame that so little thought went into the piece, which could have shed light on some of the mechanisms behind the grotesquely ugly kits that generally blotify the pro and amateur pelotons, not to mention the “ride jerseys” and club outfits that litter our beautiful California landscape.

As a public service announcement, I’ve decided to review their list and comment on it. If you don’t want to read the whole thing, I can sum it up thus: Get Joe Yule and StageOne to design your stuff. It’s really that simple.

1. Black proves you can’t design

“These lads know how to dress. Black jersey, black shorts, and stealthy black bikes—it’s all so punk-rock.” Uh, are you fucking kidding me? Black is the ultimate non-test of design. ANYTHING looks good in black. It’s the default color for slimming a double-wide butt, for repositioning curves that are in the wrong places, and for lifting saggy belly lumps that belong above the belt line…Black is such an addicting and easy color to design and dress with that once you get used to it, it’s hard to wear anything else, kind of like a vampire. But the problem isn’t that it’s “punk rock,” it’s psychotically depressing. It’s what people wear to funerals. It’s the color of religious clothing, judges’ robes, executioners’ masks, Ozzie Osbourne. Worst of all, it demonstrates zero design skill, because it goes with anything. Black bike. Black helmet. Black jersey. Black tires. Black deep dish rims. An occasional red highlight if you like the police car look, or a yellow one if you fancy bumblebees. Boom. You’re done. For cycling, as a design motif black sucks because it’s a slow and boring color. That’s bad, because for spectators, cycling is already a slow and boring sport. You want excitement on two wheels? Watch a fucking formula motorcycle race or some dirt bike action. Manorexic weenies with spindly arms who are clad head to toe in slow black women’s clothing? I’d almost take NASCAR. Almost.

2. If you’re even thinking about Orange, you’d better be nicknamed “G$”

“Those orange stripes! So swoopy! Swoopy is good, in case you were wondering. An orange and black pairing often evokes thoughts of Halloween, but on these Optum Orbeas, orange and black mean fast and stylish” Wow. Someone really wrote that, someone who supposedly wasn’t smoking a crack pipe. Her name is Jen See. Jen, the orange stripes aren’t “swoopy, swoopy.” They’re buttlicking ugly, especially with the lightened orange squares and slashes blended in with the regular orange. The other problem with this nasty looking kit is that you can hardly read the sponsors’ names even in a still photo. Are we really supposed to tell what this says at 35mph? Which brings us to the “money and brand” part of the design package. On a pro bike kit, you sure as shit better be able to read the sponsors’ names. And what brand of LSD was it that suggested the black/white/orange combo would look good with…green lettering…yellow shoes…bright red bottle? Kill the mutant now, doctor, before it spreads.

3. Everything looks good on a winner, right? Wrong.

“Does it matter what color a four-time Paris-Roubaix winner wears? The sea-foam and white jerseys are paired with black shorts—never a bad choice.” Actually, Jen, sea-foam is always a bad choice, unless you’re in a Jello marketing focus group or unless you happen to actually be an ocean. This color is so fucking ugly that it wasn’t even popular during the 70’s disco boom. The idea that winning makes everything pretty is doubtlessly true if your objective is to give Tornado Tom a fangirl fucking, but all the pave trophies piled up in a heap don’t make sea-foam green anything other than fugly. The epaulettes, arguably the most valuable real estate on the kit, have a tiny-ish red “S” for Specialized and a completely illegible scrawl for “innergetic,” along with some squiggly shit on the world champion sleeve striping. Poisonest of all, the sea-foam is really similar to the Astana “Blood Doping Blue” made famous by Vino, Tainted Meat, and a whole host of crooked drug cheats. When all you’ve got is a nasty coke habit like Tom, you don’t want to wear colors associated with dopers.

4. Garmacuda was styling when Jen See was still calling pale orange “swoopy”

“But with this year’s kit, the Garmin-Barracuda boys have hopped on the style train.” Jen has dealt out a true left-handed compliment, but at least she gets that the Garmacuda kit designed by Joe Yule is badass. In fact, Garmacuda has been on the “style train” from its inception. The last two years in particular have seen forceful, noticeable color combinations that do an extraordinary job of highlighting sponsors’ names and looking fantastic. This is shit you’d wear to a job interview. To a first date with a rich girl. To your fucking wedding. And it’s not “swoopy.” It’s “leg rip-offy,” Jen.

5. Your kit is boring and blah, but I love your Pinarello.

“How did Bissell get on the most stylish list? Two words, my friends: Pinarello and Campagnolo.” At first I thought, “Shit, this girl is funny.” Then I realized she was serious. Yep. Your kit is stylish because of your bike frame and your Campy gruppo. So, like, you could just ride naked. Jen, honey, your LinkedIn profile says you fucking went to Claremont College, Georgetown University, UCSB, you have a Ph.D., you speak French, Italian, German, Spanish, and Dutch…and your critical analysis calls the Bissell kit stylish because of the BIKE FRAME? Our country is so fucking doomed it’s not even funny. Note to the computer programmer who designed the Bissell kit: That red and white swooshy thing on the ass that looks like a tuning fork or a toothless barracuda’s jaws…drop me a line when you finally figure out what the fuck it’s supposed to be. Thanks.

6. Just because it’s a color doesn’t mean it looks good

“Quite simply, this team oozes style from head to toe…Liquigas is all about color, lime green to be exact. The color isn’t for everyone, but the men of Liquigas totally own it.” No, Jen. The men of Liquigas don’t “own it.” They are contractually obligated to wear it. There’s a difference. You are sort of right when you say lime green isn’t for everyone, but to get it exactly right you should probably say “lime green isn’t for anyone.” For starters, it’s a total JOC, or “junk outline color” as we say in the trade. This means that it totally highlights each dip and curve of your package. For bike racers, who are scrawny little fellows with scrawny little toolboxes, that’s bad. Lime green doesn’t go with anything, but it especially doesn’t go with blue. Now I know what you’d say, Jen: “Does it matter what a four-consecutive-stage winner of the ATOC wears?” And again, we’d say, uh, yeah, it matters. Like, it really matters. And if you don’t believe me, try googling images for something called “Mapei.”

And when you get around to looking at the rest of the peloton, check out Spider-Tech. Shoulda been number two, after Garmacuda. Ciao, baby.

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