Saturday, June 13, 2009

Captain Nopants?

It is a natural human tendency to believe--or at least rationalize--that one's choices are correct (otherwise we'd choose something else). By extension, this means that everyone else making another choice is wrong or somehow "different", often sparking debate, rivalry, even bigotry. In the cycling world there is no more classic example of this phenomenon than the curious and expansive rift between the disciplines of road cycling and mountain biking.

As a mountain biker who spends much of his outside time with roadies, I have struggled for years to understand said rift. First off, the two sides can't even agree on a similar name-suffix for their sport, with the roadies leaning toward the more reserved and austere "cycling" while the off-roadies gravitate toward the simpler and more direct "biking", but the differences only begin there. Clothes, hair, affinity for filth of various sorts, pickiness about the weather, natural affection for treadmill-like exercise apparati, are all issues of contention among the two groups, but last night I believe I discovered the fundamental difference between them--a difference that both defines the rift and explains all its secondary effects--a willingness to drink beer and get naked.

The discovery, made in the company of five or six mountain bikers clustered on a rooftop around a pitcher of homebrew ESB, was that every one of us had unusually large numbers of stories involving nakedness, often also involving beer and bicycles. I wouldn't have been surprised given the five gallons of fresh available beer, if someone had suggested we all get naked on the sopt, though as far as I can remember this did not occur. Thinking back, nearly all the people I have ridden trail with over the years have been great fans of both beer and nakedness, especially in combination. A coincidence? I think not.

Like the great Henry David Thoreau who was "inordinately fond of wading naked through the streams of Concord." mountain bikers' freedom of spirit, adventurous disposition and frequent communing with nature brings them an inner peace freeing them of their need for clothes, fancy terminlogy, or the need to smell fresh at all times. Thus, they need not wear tight pants (though many may choose to) as pants, you see, are only transitory--soon discarded for cleaner ones, or maybe nothing at all.

Road cyclists, confined to the paved ribons of a contrived suburbia, instead exhibit an acute repression of self. They will not get naked, for their natural environment forbids such indescretion, yet they struggle to mimic its effect with skinsuits and body hair removal. They commune not with nature, but with the elbows of other sweaty cyclists jostling for position in a peloton boiling with restrained aggression. And they will for months refrain from the drink in the name of training, only to release their repressed vice in a binge of regretful behavior. To quote my recent favorite anti-hero:

“364 days of the year, everything is fine, but the one day I drink too much, I black out, lose control and find myself doing [coke]”

When you need your mom to stick up for you in the papers at age 27, you've got yourself a problem...

The conclusion, if there must be one, is that the rift separating the world of road cycling and mountain biking is not un-bridgeable. There is, in fact, a(n oft repressed) mountain biker in all of us--the free and unencumbered impression of our true selves. We need only to have a few beers, take off our (spandex) pants and let it out.

And so to nature...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Definitely among the top 3 entries of this blog!