There’s no outfit so fantastically ridiculous as the too-tight, brazenly colored, and obnoxiously patterned ensemble for riding a long distance on a bicycle. It’s too much. Ostensibly the outfits are colored and patterned wildly to present a bold contrast to the dreary roadside so motorists can see you, but I think outfits are designed to keep bicyclists from reproducing. Really, there’s no reason it has to be this tight, this bright, and reflectorized.
My kit involves a pair of special elf shoes with yellow Velcro straps. They’re elfish because there’s a metal shank extending from the toe to the heel that prevents them from bending in the middle and provides more pedaling power. But for no reason at all, the toes curl up a little at the end.
And while I’ve got your attention, let’s look at the rest of it. Those shorts. Usually these are modestly colored, black or white or red. Mine are white with a blue stripe down the sides. The color isn’t the problem. The arresting feature is their superhero tightness, and I’m not Clark Kent. A little pudge is squeezed out of the top and bottom, and to add insult, a nice thick wad of padding is sewn into the crotch and ass portion. Sure, it gives me a more comfortable ride on a small seat, but when I stand up it looks as though I’m delivering a newspaper, carried in the least convenient of places.
We’re nowhere near done. Wait for it.
Cycling jerseys come in two options: bright and ugly, or ugly and bright. Mine is a blown-up and pixilated version of the California flag. There’s a blocky depiction of the state brown bear on my chest, sniffing a chunky star on my right shoulder. The sleeves are red with white stripes and come to green elasticized ends at mid-bicep. Around the waist is a bright green band. I chose this jersey for its subtlety; I’m not joking about that.
Let’s get this over with. On my hands are black and orange striped gloves, and on my head is a red and white striped helmet.
Cyclists reading this are thinking, That’s a reasonable outfit. And everyone else has the look of pained incredulity on their faces. And you’re both right.
Cyclists as a group are insulated. We travel in small packs and try hard to stay where we’re safer, off busy roadways, which offers the added benefit of remaining out of the public eye. If everyone around you dressed in a rejected costume from an unaccredited clown college, you wouldn’t feel out of place. So to us, this outlandish way of dressing for safety is suitable. But walk through a deli for a quick sandwich and watch mothers pull their children away from your thinly concealed “garbage.” You know what I mean.
I’ve worn this outfit before. Once for a 50-mile race from Rosarito Beach to Ensenada. And again for the Tour de Palm Springs, a 55-mile “fun ride” — although, after nearly four hours on a bike, “fun” must be redefined to include “Sweet molasses in the morning, is my crotch ever inflamed!” Among thousands of other cyclists on those days, I wasn’t by a far shot the most obnoxiously dressed. An entire SpongeBob ensemble comes to mind.
I thought I’d wear the kit today because for riding a bike, it really is a good option. The tags that come with all of these silly articles say things like “Made with Quik-Flo technology to wick sweat from your jumbley bits and to let your nipples breathe free! Now with more padding!” and it’s true. It’s more comfortable to ride a bike for a long time in one of these soft-in-the-right-spots-and-porous-in-others getups.
But today I’m going to stop in shops and walk around amongst noncyclists, and I won’t be in a pack of my kind; I’m riding solo. So I strip off and change clothes completely. I won’t be in the high-tech cling wrap today. Just a pair of blue jeans, a T-shirt, and a pair of black Converse will do.
My mission, decided wholly by me and passed down the chain of command from me to me, is to ride Blackie the Black Bicycle of Wonder and Truth to the glider port in Torrey Pines for a big, gross, oily cheeseburger and a Diet Coke. Then return on said bicycle to Mission Command, my grubby apartment in North Park, near the intersection of 36th Street and University Avenue.
I chose this mission because it cuts through a large swath of San Diego and covers a handful of the environments one can encounter on a bike ride: the coast, city streets, dedicated bike paths, and lanes shared with vehicles. Other reasons for the ride include “because it’s fun and it’s supercool,” which is kind of what riding bikes is about. Sure, bikes are a form of inexpensive — sometimes free — transportation, but if it were wholly drudging work then you wouldn’t have wanted one when you were eight. Is there another reason for the trip? Art appreciation, maybe, or shopping? No. It’s because bikes are fun and San Diego is a cool town. And the glider port is cool too.
So. With that I walk Blackie the Black Bicycle of Daring and Chance across the terra-cotta tile of my courtyard and onto the cracked asphalt of 36th Street, hushing and whispering softly, “Easy, girl. Easy.” She’s champing her bit. It might be the last day of good weather for a month, and Blackie can’t wait to wear down her tires before she’s put up for the winter. I mount her and yell, “Hyeah, Blackie! Hyeah, girl!”
Off we go! Up 36th toward University, but I remember my map is behind me, on my coffee table. I eyeball the 200 feet I’ve covered already and decide it’s too far, so rather than turn around for the map, I steel my frontier spirit, fold my ears flat against my head, shift gears, and carry on. We’re mapless and free and riding wild for this one, kids. Strap in.