Mark of the Rookie

02.21.2006 | 8:39 pm

There’s an easy way to gauge another cyclist’s experience and ability: Check his right calf. If there’s a greasy chainring-shaped mark on it, be confident that you can outride him.

Unless, of course, you have a similar mark on your own right calf.

This mark — sometimes called the “Rookie Mark”  — tends to get pressed into your leg when you do either of the following:

  • Stop  and rest while straddling your top tube, inadvertently pressing your calf up against your chainring, which is — sadly — lubed with an overabundance of greasy kid’s stuff. This produces a nice, sharp, tattoo-like rookie mark.
  • Fall over while still clipped into your pedals. This produces a somewhat less aesthetically-pleasing rookie mark, because the grease gets smudged as you thrash around like a trapped otter.

With Experience Comes Wisdom. Usually.

As you ride more, you’ll find you get the rookie mark less often. You’re not overlubing anymore, you’ve learned not to lean your chainring against your calf, and you’re not falling over on your side like a keystone kop.

Unless you’re me, in which case you still come home with a rookie mark after pretty much every ride, in spite of the fact that you’ve been riding for ten years or so.


I Nearly Embrace My Inner Fred

In acknowledgement of the fact that I will likely forever be a clumsy oaf, I have actually thought about formalizing it, by having a rookie mark tattooed on my calf. I’ve never followed through, though. I always chicken out, thinking, “Will my sense of humor be the same when I’m 75 as it is today?”

I just can’t quite envision explaining my rookie mark tattoo to my grandkids, at least not without an accompanying vison of their parents later having a quiet talk about visiting the insane gramps guy a lot less often.

So, no tattoo. Yet.


A More Emphatic Rookie Mark

The thing is, as of last Saturday, a rookie mark tattoo may be beside the point. Nick and I were riding at Soaring Eagle Park, doing our three tries on log moves, as required by law.

We were trying a log I had never done before: it was about eight inches in diameter, but was not touching the trail. I’d guess it was resting about six inches above the ground where it crossed the trail.

That’s not what made it tricky, though.

What made this move tricky was that it was downhill, a much more difficult position to start the wheelie from. And the exit was an immediate sharp right turn, if you didn’t want to roll down a bank into blackberry bushes.

I missed on my first try; basically, it was nothing but a chicken-out. On my second try, I got high-centered and bailed out. On my third try, I went for it and very nearly cleaned it, then fell forward, over the bike. My chainring dug in.

I was wearing tights (very manly black mountain biker tights, mind you), which did not seem to be ripped. I dealt with the pain and we rode on.

When I got home, here’s what I found:


My fondest hope is that it will form a really cool-looking scar. Like a rookie-mark tattoo, but earned, instead of bought.


  1. Comment by Jsun | 02.21.2006 | 9:01 pm

    clean it out, rub in some india ink and you got yourself a cheap tattoo of that bad boy
    nice one son

  2. Comment by Andrew | 02.21.2006 | 9:04 pm

    Way cool.
    In spite of the fact that a lot of people wear mountain bike shoes at spin class, I can always tell who is genuine and who is a poser. The tattoo gives it away. I show mine off with pride.

  3. Comment by Unknown | 02.21.2006 | 9:11 pm

    when it scabs over pick at it.  guaranteed the scar will stay.  and as you get your summer tan from heretofore forward, your chainring scar will be visible to all.

  4. Comment by Zed | 02.21.2006 | 9:13 pm

    You know how to turn that into a permanent scar–just pick at it when it scabs. That’s how I got one of my coolest forearm scars, but I can still blame the rebar that put it there in the first place. Your grandkids won’t think you’re weird, they’ll talk about how brave, heroic and tough grandpa is–and then they’ll go out and get one themselves.

  5. Comment by Unknown | 02.21.2006 | 9:17 pm

    Nice Rastafarian calf there, Johnny Drama.  You make a good argument in favor of cyclist leg shaving, and that’s before your lovely leg locks dried into the scabs.  I’d make fun of your Rookie Mark but I have gi-normous legs and they brush on everything, so I have a permanent bruise-like black spot from multiple Rookie-Mark hits, and shouldn’t throw stones.  I usually pass it off as a scar from  a police brutality incident in a past professional life (shouldn’t have kicked that guy so hard… left tore my calf) or getting shot by Dick Cheney, or whatever outlandish lie occurs to me when somebody notices. 

  6. Comment by TIMOTHY | 02.21.2006 | 9:21 pm

    You can also do the chain-ring tatoo fake-out.  You go ahead and lean that calf against the chainring in the parking lot before the ride begins.  Then wipe the excess lube from your chain and start the ride.  Then you just smoke everyone else that thought you were a rookie because of the grease on your calf.

  7. Comment by Leigh | 02.21.2006 | 9:27 pm

    My rookie mark left a scar for life and I’m proud of it! Almost in the same place as yours. Except I fell of my bike as I was coming to a stop. I got up dusted myself down and carried on cycling – even girlies can be tough on the road! ;-)

  8. Comment by craig | 02.21.2006 | 9:28 pm

    nice cuts and calf flex there FC. 
    I share your policy of never having any pictures of my calves taken without pressure on the toe, and when walking with shorts on, I always make sure and put a good calf flex on the pushoff forward for the benefit of anyone behind me. 

  9. Comment by Unknown | 02.21.2006 | 9:49 pm

    Couple years ago I was coming dow rattlesnake gulch (millcreek canyon in SLC) and a guy was coming up.  He spun out getting his rear wheel up an erosion berm, and managed to cut the inside of his calf on his chain ring.  His heart was really pumping, and he hit a vein, and blood was spurting!  Rightfully, he assumed he was dying and nearly became hysterical.  I put pressure on it (his throat–jsut kidding) and after his heart rate came down, the blood slowed down and we could see he had a tiny puncture.
    Anyway, he didn’t say anything funny at the time, and I wish I’d said "It’s just a flesh wound".

  10. Comment by nick | 02.21.2006 | 10:14 pm

    Was that really caused by a chainring or as I more suspect, you were wearing that Davitamon shirt to a instore meet and greet for housewives and not yet school age children. Chaos ensued, you choose the high ground but alas, it was not high enough.

  11. Comment by Unknown | 02.21.2006 | 10:24 pm

    fatty, fatty, fatty,
    don’t you know the 5th tick is supposed to be a slash through the first four ticks? 

  12. Comment by Unknown | 02.21.2006 | 10:26 pm

    The beginning of your post and the grease consistently on my calves confirmed my status as a newbie. So it won’t surprise you that I have my rookie scar without moving out of rookiedom. As you wrote, I fell over while clipped in and cut pretty deeply in to my leg. And got grease all over.

    Oh, another way to solidify that scar is hydrogen peroxide. Pour, then pick.

  13. Comment by Unknown | 02.21.2006 | 10:51 pm

    That remind me of when I was a Junior road racer and my brother was a Cadet — ok it was a while ago now.  We were at a criterium.  I had already raced and he was on course with the rest of the Cadets.  There was a big crash, in which he was in the middle.  The kid behind him decided it would be a good idea to bunny hop the crash site.  Anyway, needless to say it was not a good idea.  As a result my brother has a wonderful "Rookie-mark" — on his head.  What is really cool about it is the hair doesn’t grow there, so when he cuts his hair short you can see 4 or five chainr tooth marks.  Thank goodness he was wearing the super protective "hairnet" helmet of the day.  What were our parents thinking?

  14. Comment by Unknown | 02.21.2006 | 11:15 pm

    dude, shave that thing!

  15. Comment by Robert | 02.21.2006 | 11:30 pm

    But what if your calves are so big and muscular that they rub the chainring on every pedal stroke?  Wouldn’t that be the mark of a strong rider?

  16. Comment by Tyler | 02.21.2006 | 11:46 pm

    I’ve found this out by trial and error, if you will, recently, and I’m pretty confused by it.
    How does it work that you can crash, lose a ton of skin, and yet leave your shorts / jersey / whatever completely undamaged?It’s like they’re some kind of useless kevlar — awfully good at protecting themselves, useless at helping you

  17. Comment by Simone | 02.22.2006 | 1:12 am

    whoa! Looks like Freddy Krueger tried to steal your bike, lol

  18. Comment by Big Guy on a Bicycle | 02.22.2006 | 1:21 am

    I have seen (and once upon a time wore) the mark of which you speak.  Around here, we refer to it as the "Fred Tattoo".
    Of course the blood makes it different.  Blood shows you to be one who is out there on the edge testing your limits and giving it all you’ve got (and sometimes that’s blood and skin).

  19. Comment by Tim | 02.22.2006 | 1:23 am

    My rookie mark/scar is from the burn from a rear Hayes Disc rotor. This was after doing a huge descent and then crashing at the bottom and landing with my calf on the red hot rotor. I wondered for a moment what the sizzling sound was in the silence…

  20. Comment by Donald | 02.22.2006 | 2:54 am

    Those are about as much fun as getting sharpened flat cage pedals in the shin.

  21. Comment by Shari | 02.22.2006 | 3:22 am

    Holy cow, that looks really similar to something I got about 7 years ago…. It became a really cool scar… And now I should go biking so I’m not so fat when I try to show it off!

  22. Comment by Unknown | 02.22.2006 | 4:04 am

    Wow your chainring must be super clean! Either that or the tights formed an antiseptic barrier between the chainring and your leg.
    Speaking of cycling related tattoos in France last year I rode with some English blokes who had the Campy wing logo tattooed on their shoulders.  Stuck me as being a little bit over the top in showing your loyalty to what is basically still just another corporation.  Maybe they should have gone one step further and had the word Record tattooed under the logo.  After all it would be terrible if someone thought you only had a Veloce or Mirage body!
    I wonder if Dr Lammler has the Assos logo tattoed anywhere?  Maybe that’s what truly defines a luxury body???

  23. Comment by Jan | 02.22.2006 | 5:04 am

    I get rookie marks on my leg every year because I put my right foot down at lights.

    One year, I actually planted my right foot, and lifted the bike — I was turning around to go down a different trail.

    Did you know that when flesh tears, it sounds a lot like paper?

    I had some deep gouges that left some pretty bad scars. The bike grease in the wound didn’t help, but the scab picking was what did it, I think.

    Don’t fret the rookie marks, and don’t assume that you can out-ride someone that has them; I’ve seen some really strong guys with those marks crush out everyone in the sprint.

  24. Comment by BIg Mike In Oz | 02.22.2006 | 9:28 am

    Al – I never realised yours was a rookie mark.  I always assumed you were just grubby… you know, from all the lawyerin’ an’ all.

  25. Comment by Tim D | 02.22.2006 | 9:51 am

    Fatty, according to the universal laws of cool scars, this will not become a cool scar.  Cool scars only form when you have done something stupid.  Injuries incurred in heroic endeavours (such as yours) will either not scar, or produce embarassing or disfiguring scars.  If the injury was to your bum, or worse not your bum (if you catch my drift), it would scar immediately and you would be subject to "Fatty has a rookie chainring scar on his bum"
    "Really, hey Fatty, show us your scar" – all fall about laughing.

  26. Comment by Unknown | 02.22.2006 | 1:12 pm

    Grease is the mark of the newb, blood is the mark of the hard core!
    Mine is set of 8-9 deep puncture wounds from taking the chainring right to the back of the lower calf, and then it proceeded to roll up the calf adding more puncture wounds along its journey. It did this through my tights (well mine are closer to pants then tights, but you get the idea).
    I did at one time read that you can’t fully claim to be a mtn biker without having gone head first over the handlebars and having a permanent imprint of the chainring on your calf.
    Guess I’m a real mtn biker now…..
    It did leave a cool scar though!

  27. Comment by Andrew | 02.22.2006 | 2:00 pm


  28. Comment by Andrew | 02.22.2006 | 2:03 pm

    Dear Porcine Polemicist,
    Did you ever have your calf muscles injected with silicone?
    I was just wondering.

  29. Comment by Andrew | 02.22.2006 | 2:03 pm

    Dear Porcine Polemicist,
    Did you ever have your calf muscles injected with silicone?
    I was just wondering.

  30. Comment by Unknown | 02.22.2006 | 2:15 pm

    Nah, Mike.  You’re confusing the perma-stain on my calf with the spectral blood on my hands, which I struggle futilely in dreams to wash out, like a sleepwalking Lady MacBeth.  "Out, out, damn spot!"  The nightmares are an expression of guilt from my knowledge that the secret ingredient in Hammer Heed, that gives its users their dark power, is Men’s Souls.  You see they have a study conducted by top AmWay scientists showing that ground up essence of the human soul gives 15% more energy, per ounce, than soy protein.  It doesn’t taste as good as Apple flavored Carb-Boom, but it gives you great power, at least on the really evil hills.  The only problem is the burning sensation you get on those hills, and sometimes it causes you to admit a sulfurous odor that causes trouble for your group ride buddies.  I’m not sure about the long term effects.  There was something about some possible "damnation" side effect on the label, but who has time for the fine print?  Who knew that grinding up and burning human souls could so effectively power human endeavors?
    Law firms and banks, many IT shops and some bad marriages also rely on this alternate fuel source.  

  31. Comment by Jim | 02.23.2006 | 4:43 am

    We usually call the grease mark only a "cat 5 tattoo"  at the local weekly road crit and when somebody comes into the bike shop sporting a grease mark.

  32. Comment by Unknown | 02.24.2006 | 2:06 am

    Nicely done!

  33. Comment by Scott | 02.27.2006 | 3:10 am

    Here’s my problem.  I have rather large calves.  And I prefer to stand at stoplights with my right leg unclipped.  Not sure why, but it totally confuses me to do it with my left leg unclipped.  Maybe my left leg is stronger.  I don’t know.  But I have a couple of scars on the back of my calf from that and some other assorted accidents.  And several scars on my shins from the clipless pedals on my ancient mountain bike.  Scars are cool.
    Love the site, man.  Us "larger riders" have to stick together.

  34. Comment by Reta Bartlet | 04.15.2011 | 10:38 pm

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