First is this story about bike polo from Sacbee.com, which a reader posted in the comments to last Friday’s post. At first I thought a Sacbee was something you might get from riding your bicycle in hot weather while wearing jeans, but it turns out it’s simply the Sacramento Bee newspaper’s website. This article was full of informative tidbits. For example:
There are two strands of bike polo, Kennedy says. The first is played on grass with mountain bikes and wooden mallets. The other is a street version that has been adopted by bike messengers and serious road cyclists, played on asphalt or concrete, generally on fixed-gear track bikes and with mallets fashioned from ski poles or metal crutches and PVC pipe.
I was grateful to know there are two strains of the disease so that I can do my best to avoid both, though I’m more than a bit skeptical about the writer’s claim that “serious road cyclists” are playing any form of bike polo. If this woman can find a “serious road cyclist” who will ride anything other than a road bike for any purpose outside of training or racing—much less risk exposure to cigarette smoke, wear cutoff jeans and chase a ball around while doing it—she deserves a Pulitzer. The whole point of the article seems to be that bike polo is "fun," and roadies consider any riding that is "fun" to be junk miles. And in the roadie cult junk miles are not kosher.
"Bike polo players probably have more tattoos and piercings and drink more beer than the equestrian riders who drink white wine and champagne," Kennedy says. "And the urban bike polo players have more tattoos and piercings and probably drink more beer than the grass bike polo players."
This is an important distinction. In the vast and disparate world of cycling it can be hard to know where you belong. Fortunately, though, people like John Kennedy of the U.S. Bicycle Polo Association are keeping track of everybody’s tattoos, piercings, and drinking habits so the uninitiated can slot themselves right into a cycling subculture. Hopefully we can use this information to come up with a more rigorous set of guidelines, similar to the USA Cycling race category system. I’m no expert, but I’m thinking it would look something like this:
0-1 tattoos, 0-1 beers a month: Road Cyclist
1-3 tattoos, 1-2 beers a day: Offroad Cyclist
3-5 tattoos, non-earlobe piercing, 1-2 beers an hour: Urban Fixed-Gear Cyclist
5-8 tattoos, multiple non-earlobe piercings, 12 beers an hour: Messenger, Polo Player, Marijuana Salesperson
8+ or tattoos above the neck, multiple piercings in the crotchal region, 1-2 bottles of isopropyl a day, bedbugs: Tall Bike Rider, Squatter
Fake tattoos, faux-hawk: Euro-pro, e.g. Damiano Cunego
Then again, I watched the video accompanying the article, and despite Kennedy’s claim that urban bike polo players have lots of tattoos and piercings very few were evident. Could it be that sweeping generalizations are not always accurate? Shocker. Maybe Mr. Kennedy should be a little more open-minded. I for one abhor sweeping generalizations, and there is absolutely nothing worse than making assumptions about people based on their clothing or body modifications. On the other hand, I did see a sandal in the video, which can only mean one thing: the wearer is a dirty hippie.
The players are mostly part of a tight-knit fixed-gear community in which inner tubes are shared like french fries and bikes are sources of pride.
As I’ve written before, I’m apparently not a part of the “bike culture,” and I certainly know ostracism’s cruel sting. However, I was not aware of just how cruel that sting was until I read the line above. I had no idea the “bike culture” were exchanging inner tubes so freely! Of course, somehow I think “cold sores” might be a better analogy than “french fries,” but then again this is a fluff piece.
Daniel Borman, 23, spent thousands of dollars and more than a year to build his lime-green track bike piece by piece. He once suffered about $100 worth of damage in a collision with another player.
Ah yes, time and money well spent.
Of course, while a bicycle is primarily a fashion statement and a social networking tool, it turns out that you can actually use it for transportation too. In fact, the New York Post reports that an increasing number of people are actually riding what Vogue calls “this summer’s hottest accessory” to and from work. While I was pleased to read a relatively encouraging (if cursory) news story about different people from different age groups with different professions all enjoying the practicality and fun of riding their bikes to work, I was puzzled by the writer’s claim that bike commuters were “once an easily stereotyped, homogeneous collection of death-wish daredevils.” I don’t think there was ever a time in any city where bike commuters were seen as “death-wish daredevils.” That’s like implying there was once a time when Hassidic Jews were seen as scantily-clad sex symbols, or when drivers of German luxury cars were seen as practical and modest individuals with no genital-based insecurities whatsoever, or when Vin Diesel was seen as a good actor. That said, I wish there had been a time when commuters were seen as “death-wish daredevils,” because then maybe bike commuters would have had their “Quicksilver” movie equivalent. It probably would have starred Matthew Modine and involved lots of scenes of him dodging cars on a hybrid while wearing khakis and pant cuff clips and a striped polo shirt with sweat-drenched armpits. In the end he’d probably have incapacitated the villain by blinding him with an LED light and then fastening him to a lamppost with a bunch of bungee cords. (All while wearing his helmet backwards, of course.)
But while bike commuting has heretofore been mercifully free from the whims of fashion, with more and more people hopping in the saddle you can expect that to change. A reader alerted me to this article in the Globe and Mail (warning--this is a Canadian periodical and as such contains gratuitous usage of the letter "u") about the increasing pervasiveness of what I call the "Beautiful Godzilla" phenomenon. In case you didn't know, bikes are now "so trendy and so hip and so 2008." And because of this, people are waking up to a whole new set of important considerations, chief among them being "awkward bunching" in the "crotch area." That said, I actually learned a lot from this article. I particularly appreciated this useful bit of advice:
Don't wear chunky bangles. They will hit your hands as you are braking. Ouch!
I must confess this has been a problem for me, so this morning I didn't put my bangles on until I arrived at work, and I'm pleased to report that my hands do feel a whole lot better. Thanks Globe and Mail! (I do miss the pleasant jingling sound though.) My only concern here is that this article could result in some unfortunate trends down the road. Thanks to the fixed-gear trend men are already wearing skin-tight capris with abandon, and it's only a matter of time until they become emboldened enough to make the move to skirts. (Due, of course, to the superior crotchal ventilation.) Hey, I think everybody should be free to wear whatever they want, but as one of the interviewees in the article points out about riding in a skirt, “You have to be careful about flashing.” And let's face it--there's good flashing and there's bad flashing.
Lastly, yesterday the New York City triathlon took place. Apart from being the best place to see aerobars set higher than saddles and flat pedals bolted to carbon fiber cranks, it was also apparently the best place to leap into a polluted body of water filled with stinging jellyfish. In fact, conditions were so brutal that for the first time in the event's history a competitor actually died during the competition. Obviously there is nothing funny about somebody dying, but there is something abjectly horrible about triathlons--especially ones that include jellyfish attacks. If you're still not convinced that triathlons should be avoided at all costs, perhaps this will help persuade you. It's almost enough to make bike polo seem attractive.