Thursday, July 17, 2008

On Riding "Naked"

Whew, that should dredge up some interesting Google ads.

But the scare quotes are entirely intentional. I'm talking "naked" in the "serious cyclist" sense. You know the "serious cyclist", the one who can't turn a crank without his special clipless-compatible shoes, his cycling-specific socks, his Lycra shorts, his multi-colored and multi-pocketed jersey, his cycling specific gloves, his cycling-specific headband, and his cycling-specific sunglasses (let's just agree not to talk about the helmet, the artifact that's launched a thousand intercycline Holy Wars). He's got a 70-ounce bladder of water strapped to his back, and he's gnawing on a Powerbar. All for the four-block ride to the grocery store.

If I seem to know that guy a little too well, it's because until recently, I was that guy. I started thinking of this activity as "cycling" (instead of just "riding a bike") back when I was a teenager: fat, socially awkward, and desperate for approval. Obviously, I clung to anything that made me part of The Group: Oakley Eyeshades and Look pedals/shoes (like Greg's), black Lycra shorts (like just about everyone's), and a gawdawfully garish team jersey that was way too small. Over the years, those things (or versions of them) became a mindless part of the activity, something I grabbed for out of habit, even though they were nothing more than an adolescent's attempt at sneaking into a clique.

Lately, I've been trying to tweak those old cycling security blankets, though. As much as I love my J&G Cyclewear Touring Shorts (and no one who's ever found their perfect pair of riding shorts will question the use of the word "love" here -- nor will they begrudge me the linked plug), I've been trying to ride in just, well, shorts. And a regular old, no-wicking, not-manufactured-in-a-lab cotton t-shirt. I leave the gloves behind. Sunglasses too. The final holdouts were the clipless-specific shoes, until I broke down and put a pair of $15 BMX pedals on my fixed gear... and loved them instantly. A pedal that lets me ride in whatever comfy shoes I happen to have on my (mutant) feet at any given moment! Who knew?

Lots of people, actually. Folks like Todd the 6-Miler, riding in Crocs. Or Bikelovejones Beth, eschewing foot retention. And of course, there's Kent the Mountain Turtle, extolling the virtues of platform pedals and ordinary shoes. Which I guess means that even when I'm casting off those artifacts of adolescent insecurity, I'm still looking for a clique. At least this one passes the Groucho Marx test: I'd like to be a part of it, even if they'll have me as a member.

No comments: