How to Spit

01.27.2006 | 6:40 pm

I was sixty miles into the Brian Head Epic 100, and I was blind. Or, more specifically, there was so much dust in the air that I may as well have been blind — all I could see was a light brown fog.

I was riding a downhill stretch on (yes, dusty) doubletrack, taking it as fast as I could, which was not particularly fast, since I could not see more than fifteen feet ahead of me. I was squinting, blinking fast, trying (and failing) to keep the dirt out of my eyes. I could feel the grit caked on and between my teeth. For the millionth time that day, I cleared my throat and spat over my right shoulder.

And hit the guy passing me on right on the neck.

“Dude!” He shouted.

“Oh, dude. Sorry,” I replied. I had not seen him.

“It’s OK, dude,” he said, generously, and continued on ahead. I was dumbfounded at his kindness, for by all rights he should have punched me in the face. Dust clouds or no, I had broken the First Law of Spitting: know what/who’s behind you.


Why Do We Spit?

When biking — mountain or road — you’re going to need to spit, and often. The reasons are myriad. To clear the sports drink taste out of your mouth. To get the fly out. To clear your windpipe. To get rid of the gunk that’s constantly draining from your nose into your mouth when you’re biking. (Note to whatever gland it is that makes mucus: I don’t really want or need that stuff in such great quantities. Please feel free to cut production by about 90%. Thank you.)

Also, you spit to look tough and to mark your territory.


How to Spit

Unfortunately, just because everyone needs to spit while biking doesn’t mean everyone’s good at it. I am an excellent spitter, however, and can offer some advice.

  1. Assess the spit. High viscosity or low? Is it going to hold together or is it frothy? These are ugly questions, but you must consider them in order to spit properly.
  2. Assess your surroundings. Are you alone or riding in a group? If in a group, are you in front of anyone?
  3. Aim. How you aim depends on what you learned in steps 1 and 2. If you’ve got a high viscosity payload and nobody’s near, you’re clear for a high-arc spit. Low viscosity and / or people nearby? Point it at the ground, buster.
  4. Fire. You spit with a “Too!” mouth motion, meaning you do not start the spit with your mouth closed. If you are spitting with a “Poo!” mouth motion, you are in serious danger of dribbling on yourself, sounding ridiculous, and — worst of all — breaking the spit up into a fine mist. And that’s just gross.


Spitting Etiquette

As important as knowing how to spit is knowing when to spit. As you spit, please keep the following in mind

  • Move Over: If you’re in a paceline,  you are required to move out of the line.
  • Mind the Headwind: If there’s someone behind you and you spit to the side, you stand a good chance of hitting the person to the side. Bonus Tip: No wind is the same as a headwind, if you happen to be riding your bike forward.
  • Careful of Shrapnel: As all experienced spitters know, even the most cohesive payload may have some incidental spray. So even if you have high confidence in your spit, don’t go for distance unless you are alone.


Clearing the Nose

Dust and mucus conspire and congeal, clogging your nose as you ride. This is unfortunate, because consensus among cyclists is that it’s better to be able to breathe than not.

The solution is simple. Use a finger to close off one nostril, then blow out through the other with all your might.

When doing this, however please observe all the above rules, plus this important additional one: For the love of all that is good in the world, please do not do it anywhere near me. I have ridden with people (by which I mean “a certain person”) who think they are far enough in front that they are OK to clear their noses. They are not. That nose-clearing blast creates a mucus cloud, which is only slightly heavier than air. It drifts and hovers, right in the way of the following riders. The result? Everyone (by which I mean “me”) behind the nose-blower gets treated to a mucus mist in the face, after which they go into paroxysms of revulsion.

Personal note: I, unfortunately, am completely unable to clear my nose in this manner, for I have teeny-tiny nasal passages. Any time I have tried to do the nose-blow, my eyeballs pop out. This is inconvenient.


Bonus: Banjo Brothers Bike Bag Winner

Congratulations to Jill, whose question made me laugh out loud — and I am not a laugh-out-loud-while-reading kind of guy.

If I picked up every bolt I saw strewn along the road, how big of a collection could I amass? Wait … did that 18-wheeler going by just throw another one? How many bolts would an 18-wheeler have to throw before the whole rig just came down on itself? What if that happened as it was passing me? What if the entire fleet of trucks barreling down American highways are just one thrown bolt away from taking me and everything else in their path to that big boltless road in the sky? Oh, look, free bungee!

Email me with your address and which bag you want, Jill. And good luck on the Susitna 100 — sounds like a killer race.Technorati Profile


  1. Comment by Unknown | 01.27.2006 | 7:11 pm

    Snot running down his nose….

  2. Comment by Unknown | 01.27.2006 | 7:11 pm

    Snot running down his nose….

  3. Comment by Unknown | 01.27.2006 | 7:14 pm

    oops! sorry i’m a computer idiot. actually you can take the computer out
    of the equation.

  4. Comment by Unknown | 01.27.2006 | 7:56 pm

    Very good summary.  Excellent in fact.  Two things.
    First, proper form for paceline spitting involves dipping your head so that it’s almost under your armpit, then looking at the shoulder of the road (or the yellow line) in the proximity of your rear wheel.  Then spit away.  This minimizes the chance of collateral damage by harmonizing trajectory with direction of travel and wind.  You had better know how to ride in a paceline and do stuff without swerving if you attempt this.  If you are the kind of person who can’t pull a water bottle up out of the rack without swerving like Bluto after a quart of Seagrams Seven, then don’t try leaning like this to spit, you will be lucky if you only wind up in the ditch.  In fact, get the hell out of my paceline if that’s how you’re going to be, you dangerously unskilled freak!   
    Second, there’s nothing wrong with the paceline nasal blast if it’s done from the proper position, described above.  Riders must be sensitive, however, to wind direction, position in the paceline, speed of the paceline, and to orchid-like sensibilities of terminally soft individuals you may be riding with.  Ordinarily I’d agree with Fatty and say this habit is too disgusting to tolerate, but then I do it all the time and it would be totally hypocritical.  In fact I rather enjoy the transgressive nature of the nasal blast.  I did a hard group ride with friends yesterday in 25 degree temps and high wind, and at one point, so many people were engaging in high velocity nasal evacuation that the paceline sounded like a 12 piece brass band.  It was glorious, in a really sick and disturbing kind of way, kind of like this:

  5. Comment by Unknown | 01.27.2006 | 7:58 pm

    i. um. sorry.
    i think i lose about a kilo in expectorant every ride. i regret that you gain some of that.

  6. Comment by BIg Mike In Oz | 01.27.2006 | 8:01 pm

    You are quite right.  The only rule of any importance is "keep your snot off other riders".
    What does it mean if I can only clear my left nostril cleanly?  Even when riding solo someone gets pasted when I clear the right.

  7. Comment by Richard | 01.27.2006 | 8:04 pm

    I beg to differ on part one of the paceline spitting rules. In a paceline, smoothness is paramount. Moving over disrupts the flow. Instead, move your head down level with your arms, and spit forcibly downwards slightly in front of and to the side of your knee. If you’re on the right side of the line, spit right, if on the left, spit to the left. For nostral clearing, sit out a turn, and do it on the back, out of everyone’s way.

  8. Comment by craig | 01.27.2006 | 8:10 pm

    Wow FC, you can’t fire a snot rocket?  I don’t know what I would do if i couldn’t do that.  Maybe I would scrape the piles of mucous out with popsicle sticks or something.  I guess I would have to think about it……..especially during the winter season. 
    A thought I was having while reading this…..’Snot Rocket’ launching should be its own 3 credit course and not a sub category of how to spit. 

  9. Comment by jim | 01.27.2006 | 8:18 pm

    This was a rather nasty entry today.  I almost stopped reading but felt compelled to keep going.  It was like watching an accident all the while knowing you might see something gross.
    I laughed out loud not only for the winner of the Banjo contest but at your description of what I call "The Farmers Blow".  Imagining you trying that manuver and poping an eyeball made me laugh so loud my co-workers now think I smoke crack.
    Thanks for the laughs.

  10. Comment by Unknown | 01.27.2006 | 9:23 pm

    I consider good mucus production as a sign that all systems are functioning at capacity, and announce it to my mates so they know all is well ("excellent mucus production today!!!").  If I can’t wait and have people behind me and/or am not sure of the quality of my spit, I let fly between my right knee and the handlebar.  There’s little chance of hitting anyone else but a very good one of nailing my own foot/leg.  I try to time it to let fly as my right knee is on it’s downward stroke.  I do not use this technique with snot. 
    Maybe you could follow up with a discussion of the ettiquette of farting in a paceline?  It would be great to hear your thoughts on that…

  11. Comment by tayfuryagci | 01.27.2006 | 9:27 pm

    every ride I lose a pound of my body weight as mucus, I cannot use the close-one-nostril-blow-with-the-other method instead I carry a garden hose with me tucked into my left nostril.congrats jill.

  12. Comment by Kelly | 01.27.2006 | 9:33 pm

    THIS made me laugh out loud. I’m so into bathroom humor. I’m proud to say that not a man, but a woman, taught me how to properly blow a snot rocket. It’s one of my favorite things about myself that has no place on a resume, but is highly valued anyway.

  13. Comment by barry1021 | 01.27.2006 | 9:34 pm

    Big Mike, it sounds like you are definitely "left nostrilled", the nasal equivalent of being left handed. So while you have a natural propensity to do a better job from the southpaw side. it can be overcome with practice. i have found the most success by first practicing off the bike, like at school or work, perhaps while waiting in a lunch line. Once you feel comfortably clearing the right side while standing, you will find you can take it to the bike quite easily.

  14. Comment by Zed | 01.27.2006 | 9:56 pm

    Fatty, hey, you can limit mucus production somewhat when you avoid dairy products for two or three days before the ride/race. I know that sounds difficult, but it works. For me.
    I’ve found I can spit most forcibly when I do so directly off my tongue. It somehow turns into this wet splatter that travels from my mouth to the ground almost instantly.
    By the way, you’ve got to figure out the snotshot. Life is so much better with it than without.

  15. Comment by Unknown | 01.27.2006 | 10:39 pm

    Spitting is rarely a requirement given my proclivity toward heavy epidermal transudation.  However, few things in life are as gratifying as is a good farmer’s blow. 
    I am right handed, and yet, I am remarkably more skilled with my left nostril than with my right.  In fact, I think I can blow farther than I can spit. It’s weird, but it’s true.
    This is all so urbane.

  16. Comment by Unknown | 01.27.2006 | 11:09 pm

    Isn’t spitting one of those things you’re supposed to when it’s your turn at the back of the paceline?  You know, take a pull, drop back, eat, drink, stretch, scratch, spit, blow, etc until someone pulls in behind you.  If you’re can’t hold it until you’re at the back, then it sounds to me like your paceline’s not rotating frequently enough. 
    However, if it’s a fly in the mouth, then a dry "pthew" to eject it will be forgiven from any place in the line.

  17. Comment by barry1021 | 01.28.2006 | 12:03 am

    Spitting is much more difficult than nose cleaning. Proper spitting requires skill. THe spittle/loogie must be in the proper place in the mouth, the mouth must be formed the proper way and the inhale and forcible ejection of said matter done with proper timing. I have never been a good spitter, and have always  admired those great loogie ejectors (including my late father) who could hit a fly from 10 feet and make that proper "pfffffft" sound. The sound is important and is a by product of everything going just right. On the other hand, all the hard stuff is done for you already in nose cleaning. The barrel is already shaped, the material primed and ready. It’s the difference between baking a cake from one of those fancy mixes or from scratch. I know that may sound like a strange analogy but I think it works. Also when I used to see people on the street doing nose cleaning as they walked (particularly common in NYC when I was there), I used to think it was disgusting, now I just think, "cool, a cyclist."

  18. Comment by barry1021 | 01.28.2006 | 12:24 am

    Excuse me for jumping in again, but this discussion has prompted a question to the great spitters out there. How important is the preliminary gathering aspect of the spit, you know, the "chchchhhhhhhhhaaaaa" part where you gather all the ingredients?? My late father was particularly good at this , it seems. It sounded like he was bringing up stuff from deep within himself, say, his upper bowels. I wonder if Gil Grissom from CSI fame was analyzing one of my father’s loogies, he would exclaim "wow this guy really knew how to gather, he’s got some of last friday’s dinner in here."

  19. Comment by BIg Mike In Oz | 01.28.2006 | 3:14 am

    Rocky – That clinches it, we were seperated at birth (and at the buffet). 
    I contend that having unbalanced nostril powers comes from one of 2 causes. 
    1.  The extra power comes from the stronger right hand and how said hand is utilised in leveraging the blocking of the off-side nostril.
    2.  The extra power comes from being right-nostrilled and the expulsion through the left nostril is generated by the power-surge crossing over in the sinus cavity.
    Either way, I’m boogered if I know.  And ’snot as if I care.

  20. Comment by Loes | 01.28.2006 | 10:49 am

    I once accidentally spit on myself, but I don’t spit very often, unless the stuff in my mouth’s really bothering me.

  21. Comment by Unknown | 01.28.2006 | 1:47 pm

    I’ve noticed that very few women spit or farmer blow, even when riding or playing sports. My fiance is anaccomplished athlete, plays sports w/ mad skills, but I have yet to see her lung biscuits or boogs.What gives? I thought maybe it was because it’s not lady like, but that razor sharp elbow to my face when she pulls down a rebound isn’t either. Just a thought.

  22. Comment by Unknown | 01.28.2006 | 11:36 pm

    Like Loes, my spitting has resulted in landing more on me than anywhere else. I need to learn something from Mocha Momma.

  23. Comment by Unknown | 01.30.2006 | 9:20 pm

    The most precise nose-blower I ever saw was Ron Skarin. He could be riding in the middle of a 100-rider pack and blow his nose without hitting anyone. The snot would come out in a compact glob and pass directly between his arm and the top tube, in front of his knee, and impact neatly on the pavement. It was impressive.


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