By Tyler Wren
I strolled into a Walgreen's pharmacy with my giant teammate Tom Zirbel late Saturday night ahead of the recent USPRO Championships in Greenville, SC looking for knee-high pantyhose. When the attendant showed us a 40-pack and I told her that that amount would not be sufficient for our needs, I realized with profound clarity that us cyclists and our little schemes for achieving our bests can really look silly to outsiders.
The goal that night in Greenville, as some of you may have guessed, was to procure about 50 short pantyhose and fill them with ice in order to help the entire Jamis/Sutter Home squad cope with the temperatures and humidity levels both predicted to be in the high 90s for the national championships. We wanted to be our best, and part of that was to stay cool, but to the attendant my teammate and I were just a couple of skinny dudes dissatisfied with the paltry pantyhose selection.
The incident that night in Walgreen’s got me thinking about the silliness of other methods that we cyclists seek out in our quest to achieve our best. It’s funny how the night before a race you can spot all the other cyclists in town from a mile away. Often it’s the compression tights peeking out below the shorts (a practice that I do not condone) that give them away. I admit that I use the medical grade ‘granny stockings’ for my compression wear whenever I travel and have spent quite a bit of time consulting pharmacists on this product normally meant for elderly hospital patients with heart troubles.
A few more examples come to mind, as I have spent quite a bit of time with quirky cyclists throughout my career. Whenever I spend time during the summer out West, I seek out cold mountain creeks to sit in (in my chammy) to soak my legs after tough rides, which invariably draws funny looks from passersby. During my tenure at the Princeton Cycling team, a teammate of mine built his own ‘altitude tent,’ designed to boost his red blood cell count and enhance performance. The device consisted of a canister of Nitrogen gas meant to lower the oxygen content of the air he was breathing, and a trash bag to contain that space! The same innovative cyclist measured his lung capacity by inflating old milk cartons while submerged in the bathtub. Thankfully this teammate survived his experiments, but sadly he failed to progress past the ‘B’ field. Since graduating from the collegiate field and moving on to the professional level, I have witnessed a rider using a homemade masochistic hammer-like device to beat the soreness out of his legs, and even a cyclist removing a safety-pin from his jersey and using it to stab away the cramps in his legs- an on the bike self-acupuncture treatment! While waiting for our chartered plane at this year’s Vuelta Chile, the entire peloton was scattered around the terminal with half of the riders inverted, legs climbing the walls in an effort to save their legs for the following stages. There was no mistaking the cyclists for the ordinary travelers that day, that’s for sure. ‘Space Legs,’ wind tunnels, massage sticks, foam rollers, and public displays of stretching and calisthenics are all further examples of the silliness (or, perhaps, genius) that I’ve witnessed as part of our cycling culture.
We’re weird, that’s for sure, but I see all the weirdness as an interesting and endearing consequence of our struggle to ride our bikes as fast as our bodies will allow. Keep searching for the fair competitive advantages, but remember that the biggest one is hard, consistent, intelligent training.
Thanks for reading,
Tyler lives in downtown Salt Lake City and races around the world professionally for the Jamis/Sutter Home Pro Men's Cycling Team. He also provides cycling coaching services and can be reached at [email protected] or (610) 574-1334. Watch for him in this year’s Tour of Utah.