Monday, April 26, 2010

Chili Today, Hot Tamale

The weather has changed; from cold 40 degree mornings, we now leave in pleasantly cool weather, with the humidiy and temperature quickly climbing to uncomfortable levels.  As I tell my bike mates when they comment on my urgency to reach our next destination, I pedal out of desperation; I need to get out of the heat and sun as quickly as possible.  Being fair complected with strawberry blonde hair and freckles, the sunny skies can be quite hazardous for me. As my grandmother would have said, "I feel the heat", and, indeed, I do. I burn like a chili pepper and can quickly go into heat exhuastion if I am not careful. Like one eating hot chilis, I drink a lot of fluid and frequently.

Since the start of the trip, I have been very conscientious and diligent about slathering on the sunscreen...sweatproof SPF 100, mind you. On these hot days, reapplication occurs every 20 miles.   As such, I am as pale today, three days from the end of the trip, as I was in the beginning.  I have avoided obtaining the much dreaded helmet face....tan face except for the lily-white areas around the forehead,ears and chin, where the helmet and straps cover the face and white racoon eyes from sunglasses.  I do, however, have rider's hands, white from the wrist to the middle finger knuckles, then tan tips--picture heavy smokers and and their nicotine fingers, and you get the picture.
Another look unique to bicyclists is the helmet hair. Those with shorter hair actually have their hair poofed and dented where it has escaped or been smashed by  helmet vents.  Me, my hair just looks like a flat, sweaty mess, pulled off my face with a sweatband and gathered into a ponytail.  Upon taking off my helmet, a baby blue baseball hat immediately goes vanity siree.

I also have to say that it takes a considerable amount of courage to squeeze and shimmy into the spandex bike pants.  The truely brave wear a color other than black. Anyone that has been cycling with a bike group for any amount of time understands, and tactically obeys the cardinal rule of biking: 'Men don't say anything about the appearance of woman's hips or rearend in the shorts, and women don't make any comments about the men's gut or package.'  It does take real panache, however, to be in rural Mississippi, where the locals spit tobacco and wear coveralls, to enter a gas station/grocery store dressed those show-all spandex biking shorts... The men just look, but the women really give one the once over.  I am pretty forth right and take the offensive--I know I look 'odd' by their standards, so I may as well address the elephant in the room, (no comment on that please). I look them in the eye and say, 'It takes real guts to wear these things at my age'.  That never fails to break the ice and get a laugh; I don't know if my feelings should be hurt or not....

Then there are the bike shoes; I sound like a horse in them when I walk in mine, clippity-clop.clippity-clop. On the bottom of my bike shoes are clips or cleats that fit onto my pedals, physically attaching me to the bike. This is called 'clipping in'. Most of the riders on this trip have their cleats recessed into their soles of their shoes so it is easier and quieter to walk.  I did not want to learn to use a different type of cleat and pedal for this trip, so I kept the ones I have always used; they are fastened to to bottom and exterior of my bike shoe instead of being recessed.  It makes walking a bit difficult and is very noisy.  You can hear me coming a mile away; it sounds like I am tap dancing.

The purpose of clipping in is to be able to engage the large hamstring and butt muscles in rotating the pedal around instead of the weaker muscles on the front of the legs (the quadriceps).  In doing so, a rider pulls up on the pedal instead of just pushing it down.  It is a much stronger stroke and more efficient.

There are reasons for wearing all the other gear, too:

  • The spandex in the shorts actually help keep the leg muscles compressed, preventing the buildup of lactic acid; it makes the muscle more efficient. The area of the shorts that comes into contact with the seat, or saddle,  is lined on the inside with a chamois--what non-bikers call a 'diaper'.  A cyclist does not wear underwear under their shorts because they can be very binding and chafing. Instead, we rely on the chamois to reduce the friction that is produced by the repetitive motion of pedaling.  

Most non-cyclists are under the mistaken impression that a thick chamois or padded seat makes for a more comfortable ride; that couldn't be further from the truth.  The extra padding offers less support and often causes added pressure or friction points. Part of my saddle sore issue was caused by my shorts:the seams were not flat and the chamois was on the thicker side.  On short rides, they didn't bother me, but with the mileage on this trip, the consequences  were brutal.  {{OUCH}}  My new shorts have flat seams and light padding; they are extremely comfortable.
  • The gloves help pad the hand on the handlebar as well as providing a good grip.  Try controlling the bike with sweaty hands, and you'll quickly value the use of good gloves. Believe it or not, there is actually a special area on the thumb of the glove with soft material; this is for wiping your nose. I thought that was pretty gross at first, but have come to appreciate it. (By the way, I wash my gloves and shorts every night). 
  • The reason for wearing sunglasses may be obvious, but most riders also use clear lenses in low light; this keeps debis and bugs out of the eyes. (Wish there was something similar for the mouth; I've eaten my share of bugs on this trip). 
  • The helmet IS obvious, and everyone should wear one, no matter how short the jaunt; it protects our noggins. ALWAYS, ALWAYS ALWAYS wear your helmet...fastened tightly and worn correctly. Properly placed, it sits across the forehead, not perched on the crown of the head. Once in a crash, the helmet must be replaced.  Unseen, hairline fractures from the impact destroys it's protective properties.

So, as you now understand, all these 'fancy' clothes serve a purpose.  The only whimsical article a cyclist might wear would be the jersey, (or shirt), and quite frankly, for women, the styles are sadly lacking.  They are either drab and boring or too cutesy.  So aspiring clothes designers, take heed--WE NEED YOU!!!~


  1. I never knew the bike shorts were spandex because of the lactic acid---I thought it was to prevent chub rub on your legs!! Good to know....

    I feel ya on the heat stroke. Remember that time you took me biking in dallas and I almost died from heat? I was passed out on the ground and you were literally biking around trying to find water to pour on men to cool me off! Hopefully that doesn't happen to you.

    Just 2 more days to survive. Keep it up--I'm so proud of you!!!
    -your secret friend.

  2. I really am gonna miss your Trip Diary but it will be sure be great to have you back home.