Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Shorts Stories. . .

A while back, my friend Lime, in one of her posts, made passing mention of cycling shorts (something about riding a bike on the Jersey Turnpike; I didn't quite get the full reference). Oddly, she seemed to mention them in a somewhat pejorative sense, at least as far as fashion-sense is concerned. Which perplexed me the least bit, since, as a somewhat avid cyclist, I've come to a genuinely deep and heartfelt appreciation for cycling shorts (actually, as far as 'feeling' is concerned, the part of me that is most directly engaged, and is, in fact, the reason that I overcame my instinctive resistance to wearing cycling shorts in the first place, is about a foot-and-a-half lower than my heart). Anyway, her little passing mention prodded me to tell you a story or two of my own. . .


I've blogged a few times in the past about my bicycling habit, and how I love to get out on the back roads and commune with nature on my bike.

When I first started riding, it was very much on the 'casual hobby' level, but as I rode more, I got better, and enjoyed it more, and it became less casual. I started signing up for organized tours, and subscribed to Bicycling magazine, to read up on the latest stuff and news, and get tips for improving my bicycling experience, and just generally raise my consciousness as to all the possibilities of the bicycling experience that I hadn't yet realized.

Before long, I was upgrading all sorts of things on my bike - brakes, gears, derailleurs, even the wheels. And I was riding enough that my hands would occasionally get sore, from the road-shock travelling up through my handlebars, so I picked up a pair of the nifty finger-less cycling gloves, with the padded palms, to reduce road-shock to my hands. I bought a pair of special 'touring shoes' (which I still have), with stiff soles to reduce the abuse my feet experience from the pedals, but with toes flexible enough to wear walking around (unlike the more typical 'cycling shoes')

The one thing I resisted, in those early days, was the cycling shorts. With a body like mine, it just didn't seem like a good idea to wear anything quite so, uh, 'form-fitting'. And besides, just regular shorts had always been adequate for my purposes, and I didn't mind being seen in public in them.

Until I went on my first DALMAC tour - four days, 350+ miles, from Lansing to the Straits of Mackinac (the 'L' and the 'MAC' in 'DALMAC'). By the end of the second day, my backside was beyond crying 'Uncle!' I had a raw welt where the seam of my underwear passed between my tender tushie and the bicycle seat, and it hurt just to walk, or sit down on a regular chair, to say nothing of a skinny, hard bicycle seat.

So I rode the last two days of the tour 'commando', which alleviated some of the immediate cause of my suffering, but on an 'absolute scale', was still, um, less-than-fully-to-be-desired. So I decided to break down and get myself a pair of the lycra cycling shorts (the chamois crotch-liner was a major selling-point for me by that time), and do my best to endure such humiliation as accrued to me for wearing them where I might be seen. Which, honestly, other than when I was specifically on the road itself, wasn't very often at all. . .


In one of its issues back in those days, Bicycling magazine ran a readers' poll, which, for the most part, wasn't all that remarkable; at least, I don't remember anything about it. Except for one question. "What is the worst place to go," it asked, "wearing cycling shorts?" Which, given my own earlier concerns, was both interesting to me, and humorous. My first instinct, having by that time grown positively rhapsodically appreciative of their benefits in terms of cycling comfort, was to say that I'd wear them anywhere, at least in a cycling context. And I never wore them, except when I was cycling.

The readers' responses were published in a subsequent issue, and there were basically only two answers to that question: 1) To church 2) To the bar And I could only nod with rueful understanding, because, in fact, I had done both of those. . .


When Jen and I went on a 'family tour' together, with two-year-old 1F riding in a 'kid-seat' on the back of my bike, the tour began in a town on Michigan's Lake Michigan shore, bright and early on a Sunday morning, and proceeded in a west-to-east direction over the ensuing six days.

The tour was set up for us to arrive at the departure town on Saturday evening, for an 'orientation' meeting, then camp out in anticipation of commencing to ride the following morning. So there really wasn't much provision for the riders to attend church, even given the flexibility of most Catholic parishes' Mass schedules. Jen and I were a little dismayed by that, because we try to take our 'Sunday obligation' seriously, and we didn't want to miss Mass lightly.

Sunday morning came, and we got on our bikes. It was a beautiful Sunday morning, bright and sunny, with even a bit of westerly breeze to help us on our way. The first few miles followed the Lake Michigan shore, and the breaking whitecaps stretched off to the blue horizon. It was glorious. We were relishing the beauty of it all, and even allowing as to how this enjoyment of God's Creation was not a bad consolation for missing Sunday Mass.

A couple hours into the morning's ride we were on a back-country road, when we started encountering significantly heavier traffic than we'd have expected for such a road, on a Sunday morning, in a somewhat sparsely-populated area. It soon became evident that the large bulk of the traffic was headed to a little country church just up the road from where we were. As we rode up near the place, we saw that it was a Catholic church, and that Mass was starting in just a few minutes. Jen and I looked at each other, and said, hey, we could go to Mass after all! It was like God had seen our situation, and was providing a Mass for us to go to, even in the Middle of Noplace, far from home. So we went in, and grabbed a couple spots on a pew in the very back, dressed in our full cycling regalia. We took our helmets off, finger-combed our damp hair into presentability as best we could, and settled in to enjoy our worship.

Now, I've often gone to Mass in 'vacation area' parishes Up North, and it's not unusual for folks to come dressed pretty casually - shorts, T-shirts, sandals - but this was not a 'vacation area'. It was a little rural country church, attended mostly by stalwart-farmer-types and their stalwart-farm-wives and stalwart-farm-kids. And by the time we got to the homily (which, in the Catholic Mass, is still fairly early in the service), we were feeling well-and-thoroughly out-of-place. And it was increasingly apparent that the regular parishioners didn't know what to make of the oddly-clad couple sitting in back, either.

Now, I suppose it would have been OK, maybe even advisable, for us to admit that our little serendipitous-Mass-attendance wasn't working out to our, or anyone else's, benefit, as much as we'd have wished, and for us to slide graciously out the back door and invoke the 'Traveller's Dispensation' and go on our way. But we were so enamored of God's obvious provision of this Mass for us, that we just stayed on. Of course, at communion time, we got in line, and walked up to the front of the church to receive Communion, so the folks in front, who'd been blissfully unaware of our presence, could share in the spectacle of our wardrobe, along with the folks in back. After receiving Communion, we didn't hang around for the announcements and the final hymn, but just scooped up our helmets and slid out the door, got back on our bikes, and continued on our way.

So yeah - 'In Church'; not such a great place to wear your cycling shorts. 'Check' on that one, Bicycling magazine. . .


Another time, a buddy and I were out riding on a hot summer Saturday morning. At the height of summer, we would ride as early as we could manage, to avoid the hottest part of the day (which is really only good common sense). We'd try to hit the road around 7 or 8AM, but sometimes, life got in the way, and we had to ride a little later than we'd have preferred.

That day, we rode a typical circuit of 35-or-so miles in the countryside around town, and by the time we were finishing, it was a bit after noon, and getting hot. We were back in town, a mile or two from home, when we rode past a 'neighborhood' bar. Back in the day, when my dad had been in college, this bar had actually been a college bar, since the college town was 'dry' in those days, and so the city limits between the 'city' and the 'college town' were lined with bars, to serve the college crowd who couldn't get a beer any closer to campus. The college town had given up 'dryness' back in the 60s, a few years before I arrived in town, and so most of the old 'college bars' had closed. This one, and a couple others, had managed to stay open, catering to a more 'blue-collar' clientele in the larger city.

Anyway, it was a hot summer's day, and as we rode past, my buddy said to me, "Boy, I could sure go for a beer right now." We were only a mile or two from home, and there was beer waiting for us in the fridge, if we wanted it, but something about sitting in the air-conditioned comfort of a bar, even if only for long enough to have one glass of beer, was very appealing right at that moment. So we turned into the parking lot, locked up our bikes, and walked in the door, not the least bit mindful of how we were dressed.

It was early in the afternoon, and there weren't very many people in the bar - maybe a dozen or so, scattered among a few tables. There was no-one sitting at the bar, so, since we were only after a quick brew and a few minutes in the A/C, we decided we'd sit there. The bartender, for whatever reason, seemed pointedly uninterested in taking our order. We were just about to wave him over, when, from somewhere in the dark back corners of the building, came a deep, rumbling, ominous voice - "FAGGOT BIKERS, GET THE HELL OUTTA HERE!"

My buddy and I looked at each other. I didn't think this was a terribly opportune moment for me to set the gentleman straight (HAH!) as to how many children I'd begotten, or the truth about my sexual preferences. "You know," I said, "I've got some beer at my house. How 'bout we have a beer back home?" "Good idea," my buddy replied, and we left.

So yeah - 'At the Bar'; not such a great place to wear your cycling shorts, either. Bicycling magazine, you really know your stuff. . .


  1. Yikes! It sounds like you were at a 'biker bar' so to speak!

    LOL on the church apparel. We go to Sat. night services at a casual church to begin with. You'd be surprised by what people wear (or don't wear)! I do believe I've seen the drummer in bike shorts.

  2. ok, let me be clear i understand and appreciate the benefits of cycling shorts in their proper place.

    the church and the bar. yeah, the group i was with had that WELL covered on both counts.

    one guy who wandered into a bar in said shorts was also sporting penny loafers and a belted pleather coat. oh lordy...

  3. Cripes, with all the bike trails that cut through my town, every bar here would go out of business were it not for the riders who pull off them and go enjoy a drink or dinner! Every nice day, the sidewalks or parking spaces in front of the bars are lined up with cycles!

  4. The church thing - I understand you being there, but still... I suppose God doesn't truly care, since we're all pretty much silly-looking bastards under our clothes.

    As for the bar, I would have had to have sized up who said it, then decided to take a stand or not. If it was someone under 4' 8", I would have been ON him!

  5. Biker bar, lol, run! Although, I do know a few people that I suspect commune with God in a bottle much more often than in a church... perhaps you could've invited them to church?!?

    hmmmm. maybe not.

  6. Cocotte - Actually, the 'biker bar' (according the more commonly-understood definition of the term) is only about four blocks from our house. . .

    Lime - OK, you win - cycling shorts are one thing. Penny loafers (and my day-to-day 'goin-to-work' shoes are penny loafers; just sayin') are another thing. And the two really don't belong together. Pleather is just an abomination. . .

    And I know you understand why cycling shorts are so good for what they're good for. It just needs to be said, y'know?

    faDKoG - Well, at least in our case, the shorts seemed to be the direct object of approbation, moreso than the mere fact that we were cyclists. Somehow, those nifty bits of butt-saving lycra and chamois were associated, in at least one man's mind, with, um, non-standard sexuality. . .

    Suldog - Yeah, I don't think so much that God had any problem with how we were dressed. But we did get a certain, um, 'uncomfortable' vibe from our fellow-worshippers. . .

    And you make a good point. But we couldn't really see the guy who was speaking. And any 4'-8" guy with a "deep, rumbling, ominous voice" deserves to be treated with caution. . .

    Sailor - There was one year on DALMAC when a craze for Peach Slammers (peach schnapps and soda water, served in a rocks glass, which in turn is slammed to the table, causing the soda to fizz up; the drink is then to be tossed before the fizz subsides) swept thru the rolling DALMAC-rider community on our northward journey. So you can ponder what that might mean for what a 'biker bar' (in the lycra-shorts sense) might look like. . .

    Or, you know, not. . .