When does riding become racing? Two simple rules:
- When there are two riders: It is possible for two cyclists to ride together without it turning into a race — but only if it has already been established that one of the two cyclists is the alpha rider.
- When there are three or more riders: If there are three or more cyclists, there will be racing — whether it be a race to the summit, a race to the next signpost, or a race of fatigue. The race may not be aknowledged, but it is there.
Of course, before you embark upon any race, you want to understand your competition. Today, I will begin to explain how you can assess your chances against your cycling foes.
- Clothes Fit: The type and tightness of the jersey and shorts give you a good indication of the relative confidence of your opponent:
- Loose fitting: If the shorts and/or jersey are loose-fitting, the cyclist has something — ie, fat — to hide. He knows he’s not at the top of his game. Plan to destroy this cyclist on the climbs.
- Form fitting: You don’t need me to tell you what this means. This is a person who has earned his physique. All you can hope for is that he earned it in the gym, not on the bike.
- Used to be form-fitting, but now looks uncomfortably tight: Oh, that’s me. Don’t worry, I’m no threat to you.
- Full team kit on a guy with hairy legs: This person read a Men’s Health article about the benefits of cycling a couple years ago and watched the Tour de Lance last year, whereupon he decided to "get into" cycling. He has money to spend, but no biking skills whatsoever. Toy with him, then ride away.
- Full team kit on a guy with shaved legs: Could mean trouble. He’s clearly a fanboy, and cares enough about cycling that he probably rides plenty. Going to have to go to secondary clues: leg definition, evidence of a spare tire, suntan pattern, bike clues.
- Jersey advertising a non-bike-sponsoring consumer product: This is a person who buys his jerseys at a bike store, as opposed to getting them as souvenirs for races he’s done. This person does not take biking seriously enough. A few intermediate sprints should demoralize him nicely. That said, I desperately want the Reeses Peanut Butter Cup jersey advertised in the current Performance Bike Catalog. Have I mentioned that Saturday is my birthday? Size Large, please.
- Race / Event branding: This is helpful only if you know the circumstances under which the jersey can be obtained. If it’s a jersey you have to buy, it means your opponent wishes he were fast, but isn’t. If the jersey can only be obtained by finishing — or worse, winning — a race, you may have a serious race on your hands.
- No branding whatsoever: Inscrutable. This is clearly a guy who either wants to fade into the background because he sucks (70% chance), or likes to go stealth so that you feel that much worse when he cleans your clock (30% chance). Look for secondary clues.
- Tan = trouble. But check where the tan starts and ends. If he’s tan right up to the bike shorts line but not beyond, and his quads are the tannest part of his body, you’ve got a real cyclist on your hands. If his forehead has a strange tanning pattern on it that suddenly makes sense when he puts on his helmet and glasses, this spells trouble with a capital T.
- Shaved legs = serious cyclist. Why do shaved legs matter? Because they mean he’s made a commitment to cycling. They also mean he’s vain, because the purpose of shaved legs is to increase the visibility of your leg muscle definition.
- Leg definition and size: Finally, check the size and cut of his quads and calves. If he’s just cut, you can probably take him on the flats. If he’s just big, you can get him on the climbs. If he’s both, just try to draft.
Tomorrow: How to Size Up the Competition, Part II: The Bike
Today’s weight: 176.4. Clearly, I’m in big trouble for this week’s Fat Cyclist Sweepstakes. I went up today (not a lot, but still…), which is the wrong direction.
Bonus excitement: Active.com has published my review of the Suunto n6HR.