Prior to going for a ride—any ride—you put on your bibs, lather your chamois, zip up your jersey, put on socks, cleats, helmet. You may even embrocate if you’re racing. If not, leg warmers and arm warmers work just the same. If you have been riding for a while, chances are most of your friends go through a similar if not identical procedure. No brainer. Natural. Some clubs/teams have slightly more outrageous kits, some are all red, some are all white, adorned with paranoid helicopters and grenades, some have coffee pots on it. But in essence we don’t wince at the sight of a fellow roadie. The bizarre, circus-like appearance, the blend of colors and prints, that doesn’t matter. We overlook all that as quirks and variations that weave the local yet universal cycling fabric than dons us all. New England, South America, Japan, it’s irrelevant. We’re unique yet homogeneous. We get it, move on.
Not so fast.
We take for granted that wives, neighbors, parents, friends and some co-workers are inured to the offending array of patterns, the sweaty, salt-stained stretchy billboard of no-name establishments and boondocks bike shops we mindlessly whirl around on. We’re riders, roadies, racers. Last week, however, I was caught unaware: “You look like a pretty serious biker,” the daycare dude said. Or spoke at my general direction. I could swear he was not talking to me; damn, I was busy untangling my kid off the trailer and expected to see a mid 50s gentleman, bushy moustache, skull helmet, steel toe boots, leather chaps, sausage-thick arms criss-crossed by prison-like tattoos standing in the vicinity. But no. He was talking to me. “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you,” I begged. “You look like a pretty serious biker,” he repeated harmlessly. The unarmed, early morning banter threw me off. A biker? He was making conversation about something that he doesn’t see every day. Or about something he thought was noteworthy. To me, a comment like that is akin to “hey, brushing teeth is important,” or “cows have udders,” or… you get the picture. Then, he unleashed the mercy blow: “Biking is a very nice hobby to have.” Biker? Hobby? Wtf?
This is my point exactly.
When you’re committed neck-deep to a life time activity, you stop noticing those things. You think nothing of a guy clackitty-clacking around a pastry shop in the weekends, a gaggle of similarly clad folks momentarily clogging the road, or exacto-knife, black and white tan lines on arms and legs. This is definitely not a hobby. In my limited understanding, a hobby is a moderately harmless, relaxing activity you do when you have some free time. A past time. An enthralling distraction of limited duration. Like knitting mini sweaters for cats. Or building WWII model airplanes. Or finding that last, super rare stamp from former Yugoslavia, right before they broke up. That is a hobby. Not me, not cycling, not us. Our activity is inherently dangerous, time consuming, and periodically painful. It’s something I squeeze time for, or strangle other duties in order to get my kilometers in. It may be before work. Or after work. Or when I should be working. Is making deals with the devil so I can do this or that race, promising to overhaul the heater in exchange for a 150km ride, manually snaking the basement pipes for a weekend with the boys. It is being seen as the “good husband,” when in fact I’m devilishly building a fortune in political capital so I can ride without being bothered. Folks like me are everywhere. They grow up with the sport, date, get married, have kids, make all the good and bad decisions, have funky breath; these folks are human. Like my long time friend and teammate Eric Goodson: full time job, father of 2 beautiful girls, (still) married to wonderful Alyssa. But who in hell or heavens knows what kind of deal he had to make in order to race at this past Wednesday’s Night Weasels cross race? Yes, school night. And he’s a school teacher, no less. Or the guys who line up on Tuesdays at Wompie? Wompatuck is out of the way, you have to dis work early in order to make the 6:15pm start. And the race is fast, rife with attacks, averages generally hovering around 43-44km/h-plus. That, my friends, is not a hobby.
Back at home, my JoeRacer meets DudeEveryDay rawhide duel went uneventful. He’s a nice enough fellow, his crew takes good care of my kid, so I let it slide. Besides, by now he’s used to my own clackitty-clacking and he too thinks nothing of the tap-dance sounding dynamics of my stride. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with the gentleman, lady, whatever the age, riding around as a hobby, taking the bike path on his/her free time. They may not know about chammy creams, 3 on/3 off workouts, normalized power, or redolent leg ointments.
But for us, embrocating is forever.