("Could you please take us someplace where we can buy more crap?")
Sometimes, the business of simply living your life can be too easy. When we don't have something that, while ultimately meaningless, keeps us lying awake at night, our existence can seem empty and futile. For example, I cannot relax if I've inadvertently mounted a tire "backwards"--even if that tire has no tread whatsoever and the direction is ultimately completely irrelevant. Just the fact that somewhere on the sidewall is the word "rotation" followed by an arrow pointing the wrong way makes me extremely uneasy, and actually riding a wheel set up this way makes me feel like a cat being brushed backwards. Similarly, some people simply cannot sleep knowing that somewhere, somehow, a professional cyclist may be cheating. Take journalist David Walsh, who's been criticizing the UCI's "biological passport."
I'm not a comic book fan, but I would probably read one in which the sport of cycling was personified as a "flambullient" superhero (think Mario Cipollini in one of his novelty skinsuits) and David Walsh was its arch-nemesis and possessed of the superpower to suck the fun and spontaneity out of absolutely anything. Granted, some of Walsh's scientific arguments go over my helmet, but the crux of his argument seems to be that, while ostensibly you're supposed to ride faster than other people in professional cycling, the fact is that actually doing so means you're a cheat. This is too much even for Garmin Slipstream director Jonathan Vaughters, who explained why riders are faster now than they used to be:
Yes, anybody who was following cycling in the mid-90s remembers both those Carnacs and those sweat-retaining clothes. Sure, we now know that Pantani was about as clean as a porta-potty at a summer music festival, but given what passed for team kit back then it's astounding he was able to climb those mountain passes at all:
Furthermore, as Vaughters points out, while the "biological passport" isn't perfect now it's still way more than any other sport is doing. Nonetheless, it's still not enough for Walsh, who is hell-bent on removing that pesky "human element" from sport once and for all and as such advocates abandoning the "biological passport" in favor of the "Bio-Dome:"
The "Bio-Dome" is a fully-enclosed ecological system in which professional cyclists would be forced to live year-round, leaving only for competition. This would enable the UCI to monitor cyclists at all times, and to restrict their access to performance-enhancing or recreational drugs. Moreover, it would allow for all manner of tomfoolery, hijinx, and madcap comedy. In fact, several riders have already volunteered to be part of the pilot program. Here's Ivan Basso and Filippo Pozzato making themselves at home in the prototype:
Of course, amateur racers love to copy the pros. That's why they hire coaches in order to ride around in their local parks on $6,000 bikes while covered in sponsor logos and wired to power meters. I'm no different, and I often fantasize about being so important that people make a big fuss over my urine and require me to carry a "biological passport." This is why I've gone ahead and made one anyway:
As you can see, my "biological passport" includes used cotton swabs, wadded-up tissues (also used), and even clumps of hair, so it's chock-full of DNA. I present this at each and every race I enter. While you'd think the officials would be appreciative of my candor, more often they react with impatience and even disgust. Maybe David Walsh is right and the sport is corrupt. When a USCF official would rather stand around with a clipboard and a whistle than inspect a piece of Kleenex filled with mucus it's clear that we have a long way to go.
But these fussy officials aren't the only threat to cycling's public image. A reader informs me that a cadre of riders recently sought to interfere with the Woodward Dream Cruise:
The Woodward Dream Cruise is a giant classic car rally in Michigan. I have never attended the Woodward Dream Cruise (actually I always thought it was some sort of fantasy boat trip where you pay to sunbathe and play shuffleboard with Bob Woodward of Woodward and Bernstein fame), but I can't help suspecting that this is an event not worth protesting. Sure, I suppose a massive display of fuel-squandering is somewhat gratuitous, but it only happens once a year, and I'd wager most of these cars are only driven a few miles a week to the local auto supply store where the owners hope people will gawk at them in the parking lot while they're inside buying more Turtle Wax. Also, people with highly-polished vintage cars generally take great pains not to hit things that will scratch them, and this includes cyclists. I say let the car nerds have their day. Of all the cars that have tried to hit me over the years, none of them have been collectibles. The real problem is people with late-model sedans, minivans, and SUVs who drive them every day while simultaneously talking on the phone, eating, and being pelted in the head with circus peanuts by the kids in the back seat. And if you do insist on protesting a car rally, you could at least try to make cycling look good. Assembling some kind of hipster "Old Crappy 10 Speed Strike Force" is a disservice to everybody.
Still, some people aren't happy to simply ride their bikes. They have to ride their bikes for a cause. After all, the automobile has turned the landscape and the environment into a ravaged and noxious perdition, while riding a bicycle makes flowers bloom and birds sing and people harmonize together on street corners. Or does it?
This is the new and much talked-about bike lane on Sands Street in Brooklyn. Yes, it's smooth, yes it's protected, and yes it's convenient. At the same time, though, it's also just another paved slab, and that's nothing to be smug about. Does this really make our city and our Earth a more beautiful place? If we're going to shelter our bike lanes from automobile traffic, why not go all the way? I would like to see our bike lanes transformed into lush nature trails, complete with native vegetation, wildlife, and rippling streams. Sure, you might get poison oak on the way to work, and there's always the danger that there will be an increase in the number of Teva sandals you see on a daily basis, but I think it's worth it. After all, nature doesn't distinguish between a street and a bike lane; as far as it's concerned, they both suck. This could be why I keep getting caught up in goose Critical Mass rallies while I'm commuting:
Yes, if we don't listen to the geese it may not just be professional cyclists who are living in a "Bio-Dome"--it could be all of humanity. In fact, I recently encountered evidence that people are already preparing for bio-dome life:
Despite the fact that it was a pleasant summer evening, these people are holding their soirée in a climate-controlled bubble:
Indeed, in the not-too-distant future, those with means will live safely in the bio-dome, while the rest of us will be forced to breathe poison air and ride our bicycles on the cracked bike lanes of our own hubris:
This could be why the people in the bubble didn't react with typical nonplussitude when I photographed them. Instead, they smiled gleefully, probably because they were gloating about the fact that they would survive while I perished:
In times like these, a smile is even worse than a scowl. Fortunately, I can always rely on my fellow cyclists for a reassuring look of disdain. For example, on Friday evening I encountered a group of riders assembled at Prospect Park:
I'm not sure what they were up to, but to my relief they regarded me in the manner to which I am accustomed:
Clearly, I was about as welcome here as I was in the bubble. I can only imagine how they would have reacted if I'd shown them my "biological passport."