How I Ruined Two Suits in One Second

04.9.2009 | 9:06 am

As an award-winning blogger, I know the rules of blogging. And two of them are: “Don’t talk about politics or religion.” I have broken this rule once before, by making what I considered to be the most innocuous political post of all time. It still started what passes for an argument around here.

Up until now, I have not talked about religion.

And today, I will continue that grand tradition. Which is to say, this is not a religious story, but I will mention religion, because there’s no getting around it if I’m going to tell the story I want to.

How I Ruined Two Suits In One Second

From 1985 – 1987, I was a Mormon missionary, living in Finland. For those of you wondering how I wound up in Finland, no, I did not choose it. Mormon missionaries have no say at all in where they go. However, back in those days prospective missionaries were given a language aptitude test. Those who did well often wound up going to China, or to Navajo reservations. Or to Finland.

The problem with this test, of course, was that it was actually a lot better at discerning whether someone has an aptitude for taking tests than for learning and speaking languages.

Wow, I’m off-track already. I can tell this is going to be a hard story to keep reined in.

Anyway, about a year or so into my time in Finland, I found myself in a little town called Kemi. Kemi’s main claim to fame was its delightful-smelling paper mill. (And, when Chernobyl melted down, it’s proximity to Russia. “Don’t go out in the rain,” townspeople were told…and I’m already off-track again.)

My missionary partner — “companion” in Mormon jargon — and I lived a few miles outside of town in a farmhouse upstairs apartment with only cold-running water, though we did have access to the sauna in the basement. And the rent was cheap, so we figured we had it pretty good.

After I had been in Kemi a few months, I was assigned a new companion: Derek White. Derek was a great guy to be around, and made the long days riding around on bikes going from house to house or apartment complex to apartment complex downright fun.

A natural ham, Derek knew several tricks on bikes. He could sit facing backward on the handlebars and backpedal, riding down the street that way. He could ride a wheelie. And, it goes without saying, he could ride no-handed for any distance, and in any situation.

At first, I was wary, and would keep my distance as we rode. I was certain that with all these hijinx, eventually Derek would crash. But he did not.

And so we began to ride side-by-side, so I could listen to him tell stories, gesturing as he talked and rode, un-self-conciously, no-handed.

The thing about anything done well is, it doesn’t look difficult. It looks easy, natural. Now I realize this as I watch my friends fluidly clean mountain bike moves that I know I should never attempt.

But back then, I just thought, “Well, I could do that.”

And so, one time as I was telling a story of my own, I did. I pushed off the handlebars, moving into an upright position. And there, for one glorious moment, we were. Two teenage Americans, each wearing cheap business suits, riding no-handed down a bike path in Kemi, Finland.

Really, what could be more natural?

And then, of course, I veered into Derek. And before I could get my hands down to correct myself, the “veer” became more of a “plow.”

The next few moments are confusing, and quite possibly subject to interpretation. But I’m pretty sure that he reacted to my plowing into him by leaning into me (his theory). Or maybe our handlebars just locked (my theory). Regardless, we didn’t just crash. We crashed into each other.

I am quite certain that I was the first to hit the ground, because I distinctly remember how the ground-up layering went: my bike, then me, then Derek’s bike, and then Derek.

Sort of a Mormon-missionary-and-bike club sandwich, if you will, With a generous side-order of blood.

I learned at that moment that — at least up to a certain point — embarrassment is a stronger and more acute sensation than pain.

It probably really only took forty-five seconds for us to disentangle ourselves from our bikes, but during that time, a pair of old women trudged by, one using her wheeled sled as a walker / grocery cart.

“Mormons,” she said, shaking her head both wisely and disapprovingly. Then she pushed her sled around us and kept going, not giving us another look.

At which point Derek observed that my front wheel was tacoed (though neither of us knew the term at the time) and the tire was blown, and then he started laughing. Derek has the infectious kind of laughter, and before long we were both sitting down on the ground, considering ourselves:

Two American teenagers in cheap, torn, bloody business suits, sitting in and laughing like fools beside their mangled bikes in Kemi, Finland.

Really, what could be more natural?

PS: I do not remember for certain, but I believe we did not win many converts that day.


  1. Comment by Sam MacCutchan | 04.9.2009 | 9:17 am

    A good crash is a glorious thing, as long as nobody is seriously injured.

    I have experienced many in cycling as well as snowboarding. If you can laugh about it, then it was a good crash!

  2. Comment by AJ | 04.9.2009 | 9:27 am

    That is truly a great story! Thanks so so much for sharing! :)

  3. Comment by WheelDancer | 04.9.2009 | 9:34 am

    It all goes full circle – I followed the link to the most innocuous political post of all time and found a link to a fart post, which is to say another way to potentially ruin a suit though hopefully not two as that would require more explaining than any of us want to do.

  4. Comment by JAT in Seattle | 04.9.2009 | 9:40 am

    I bet I’m not alone in feeling that the occasional forays into politics and religion help us to know you better – and I like that.

    I used to live in Sydney once passed a couple cycling missionaries on the road (I wonder how they did on the language proficiency test…). There I was on my stripped down commuter bike – road slicks pumped up to a speedy 100 psi, and there they were on upright mountain bikes knobby-tires humming on the tarmac neckties flapping in the wind, but sure enough, a minute after I passed them they pulled alongside. I smiled pleasantly and increased the pressure on the pedals.

    And so did they. We were really cooking along – alternately half-wheeling each other – me sweating (more) and trying to gasp for air quietly and they gritting their teeth pleasantly and keeping their crisp white shirts crisp and white.

    I’ve never been so glad to come to a red light.

  5. Comment by Weiland | 04.9.2009 | 9:42 am

    I have a Mormon story… When I lived in Salt Lake I was working with a fellow from Brazil via email. When he found out I was in SLC he asked if I was a Moron. I told myself that I think he meant Mormon, at least that’s how I answered him. I get asked that a lot when people find out I lived in Utah, I politely tell them no, there were 4 of us there and many non Mormons too.

    Something I learned the hard way, Stake house is not like a Steakhouse…

  6. Comment by MikeonhisBike | 04.9.2009 | 10:00 am

    I must have totally failed the language test because they sent me to Tennessee. I never crashed on a bike but got smacked by people hanging out of their windows. Oh, good times! I’m surprised your Mr. Mac suits got ruined. I thought those things were bullet proof.

  7. Comment by bikemike | 04.9.2009 | 10:09 am

    i, too, try to lead by example…for instance when i fart, belch and generally do everything wrong in front of my stepson, these are examples of what NOT to do. he knows this and says so in front of his mother. does it stop him, of course not but i would rather he learn it, properly, from a family member than from some dark street corner or his friends at school.

    his mother thinks i’m an idiot.
    his mother is a smart woman.

  8. Comment by Si | 04.9.2009 | 10:24 am

    On the subject of fart jokes a friend of mine once farted in front of his young son…upon smelling the trouser misdemeanour the young one instantly burst into tears.

  9. Comment by MOCougFan | 04.9.2009 | 10:28 am

    Love mission stories. I remember when I was on my mission I… never mind. Yours is better. Dug’s is pretty good too.

    My friend Jon was in Finland at that time.

  10. Comment by patrick | 04.9.2009 | 10:40 am

    I’d be curious to know if you ever got _any_ converts. It seems like it must be such an uphill battle but incredibly rewarding if you get even one convert.

    Do Mormons keep metrics on conversion rates? If I were in the business of converting people, t’d be an odd thing to do a cost benefit analysis on, since saving someone from eternal damnation has infinite benefit. Heheh.

    And you think Finland was bad:

  11. Comment by Vet Sculler | 04.9.2009 | 10:43 am

    Warning – OFF TOPIC; (If Fatty can go off track, so can I).

    Much as I enjoy reading Fatty’s Multi Award Winning blog, the comments section is almost as entertaining … but I have a feeling that some of us (who aren’t owners of a M-A-W website) would like to submit some more detailed material.

    For example; I too am the proud posessor of a sub-20 bike enlargeravensporttour.html

    though I suspect this is in kg, not lb.

    Also; I may not have a mountain view from my front room, but I do pass this hamptonCourtPalace.jpg

    on my way to work every day.

    Anyway, here’s my proposal; Fatty should add a page to his blog for (larger) contributions from his fan club (the FC-FC). If this takes off in a big way, we could set up our own fund raising events to fight cancer (FC-FC-FC). (Catch-22 fans might like to suggest a football club here ..)

    So, what do you all think ?

    Best wishes from the UK

    WIN Susan

  12. Comment by Vet Sculler | 04.9.2009 | 10:46 am

    what happened to my bike ?

    If your interest has been piqued, try this link;

    Vet Sculler

  13. Comment by Mehera | 04.9.2009 | 10:48 am

    I’ll bet you get more respect and good feelings for your church NOW–through people getting to know you on your blog–than back in the day, riding your bikes with suits and ties. Heh. Thanks for the funny story.

  14. Comment by GenghisKhan | 04.9.2009 | 10:59 am

    Perpignan, France, 1988. No language test required at that time–thank goodness! Riding up to a light on the right side of the line of cars. Passenger opens his door (Uh, why? The light had turned green at this point!), cathing me in the chest and instantly de-biking me. The companion, who had been in the lead, finally came back after a little old lady in a car had shouted at him, “il est tombĂ©, il est tombĂ©”–”he fell down, he fell down”. A bit of blood and a ruined shirt, but other than that, no problems–ahhh, the good ol’ days!

  15. Comment by josh | 04.9.2009 | 11:08 am

    I had a similar experience on my mission. I was in Minnesota there was ice and snow on the roads, but it sounds like the blood and the laughs are the same were ever you are.

  16. Comment by LidsB2 | 04.9.2009 | 11:15 am

    FC – today’s post may just receive a record number of comments. You’ve succesfully tied politics, religion (with Mormons no less), farts, and a good bike crash story all into one post! While I truly enjoyed your missionary bike crash story, I laughed, nearly uncontrollably, at the linked fart post. Because it’s just a fact of life – farts are funny. Coincidentally, Air Force fighter pilots have well established and practical (yet admittedly juvenile) fart etiquette. Rules include the “closed container” rule, the “food on the table” rule, and the “open air” rule. Full expanation would be too self-indulgent… Thanks for the laugh!

  17. Comment by Steve | 04.9.2009 | 11:28 am

    I was gonna tell my own fart story from last year’s Tour de Park City, but thought better of it. So instead I spent the entire morning reading Dug’s blog. Soon I won’t do any work at all.

  18. Comment by wishiwasmerckx | 04.9.2009 | 11:30 am

    This is precisely why the $3,500.00 Rapha custom-fitted, hand-tailored wool tweed cycling suit is such a bad idea. As careful as you may be, there is always an Eldon lurking somewhere to f**k up your s**t.

  19. Comment by Jim | 04.9.2009 | 11:42 am

    From what you write of your biking, Elden, I’ve come to believe that the Mormon Missionary Position involves a bike on top of a white guy, who is laying on the ground, bleeding, and lying back with his eyes closed wishing he’d stayed at home and eaten the whole pie instead of half of it.

    mmmm…pie. – FC

  20. Comment by John Umland | 04.9.2009 | 12:10 pm

    I was in Finland in 2000. Found a tourist company bus with my name and “fart” emblazoned across its side. Can I get that bus over here. Imagine driving around with “John’s Turistfart” screaming from the side. Anyway, I wish I had a bike there, maybe a nice recumbent. Could you sell me yours since you don’t need it after April 1?
    God is good

  21. Comment by Jenny-Jenny | 04.9.2009 | 1:22 pm

    What could be more natural than that? Great story!

  22. Comment by kiwi | 04.9.2009 | 1:47 pm

    Finland and China(great place,fab cycling-BIG HILLS)
    you think you know a guy???

    Good story!

    WIN Susan


  23. Comment by leigh ann | 04.9.2009 | 2:36 pm

    missionary and bikes–what a more natural disaster waiting to happen…that was the pre-bike helmet era–YES? My question is–how soon did you tell your mom?

  24. Comment by graisseux | 04.9.2009 | 2:46 pm

    Didn’t you also crash into one of your friends while trying to grab his brake lever which resulted in ruining his Leadville race? Remind me, why were you so mad at Louis Baker?

    As a missionary, normally embarrassing things are embarrassing times infinity. Also, any story involving poop is infinitely funnier.

  25. Comment by Clydesteve | 04.9.2009 | 2:56 pm

    I do not remember for certain, but I believe we did not win many converts that day.

    No matter. Blood sacrifices are also effacacious, I hear.

  26. Comment by jwbikes | 04.9.2009 | 3:28 pm

    “Trouser misdemeanor” made me spit my beer all over the keyboard. Thanks Si for that one. Just goes to prove that not only is Fatty funny, but the commenters are hilarious also.


  27. Comment by Kathleen | 04.9.2009 | 4:16 pm

    What a great story! My husband rides hands-free all the time and I so very much want to try it but I’m a big chicken. Oh well, something else to aspire to.

  28. Comment by Bodhi | 04.9.2009 | 6:14 pm

    Tell me, did you really get any converts? Really?

    That would depend on your metric of what “getting a convert” is. If you asked whether I was there when someone who had been looking into the church pulled the trigger and joined, the answer is yes. If you asked whether I ever was the one who made first contact with someone who eventually joined the church, the answer is yes. If you asked whether I was ever there for the whole process — first contact to joining up — the answer is no. – FC

  29. Comment by bubbaseadog | 04.9.2009 | 7:02 pm

    are the lighter bikes harder to ride handsfree

    depends on whether there’s a wind and how clumsy you are. – FC

  30. Comment by USAFANARC | 04.9.2009 | 8:57 pm

    Speaking of farts…I taught my 22 month old daughter the pull-my-finger trick last weekend. My wife’s love for me seems to have lessened just slightly.

  31. Comment by Janel | 04.10.2009 | 3:40 am

    We loved your story Elden and your Dad and I have been laughing at some of the comments of your fans. glad we have a car!!
    Your Dad says that we were told that those Mr. Mac suits were bullet proof!! Return and get your money back!

  32. Comment by Mike Roadie | 04.10.2009 | 6:00 am

    Mormons, suits, cycles and crashes……it IS Good Friday!!!!


  33. Comment by Laurie | 04.10.2009 | 8:28 am

    I was in Finland in ‘86-’87 as a Rotary exchange student in Joensuu and I had the good fortune of hanging out with the Mormom missionaries in the city on several occasions. We had so much fun eating pancakes with real Vermont maple syrup which I brought from home and talking about the things we missed from the states. Ah, memories. Wait, we probably knew some of the same people – 2 names I can remember are Dallimore and Garrity I think?? Thanks for the flashback to a great year!

  34. Comment by Marianne | 04.10.2009 | 8:42 am

    Fabulous story, Elden. Loved it! Having been to Finland, I can just re-live it as you tell it. And the comments here are HiLARious!

  35. Comment by Kris | 04.10.2009 | 9:25 am

    Bike wipeouts, fart stories and…

    ‘I do not remember for certain, but I believe we did not win many converts that day.

    No matter. Blood sacrifices are also effacacious, I hear.’

    Not necessarily mixing religion with cycling (isn’t a religious experience anyways?)…but mixing it with Theology is ok by me!!!

    Well Done FC and FC-FC!
    Can I nominate myself for president of the FC-FC/UK division?

  36. Comment by GenghisKhan | 04.10.2009 | 10:06 am

    Kris–you may want to consider renaming your division–it’s nearly not a family friendly name. Just sayin’ ;o)

  37. Comment by kenny | 04.10.2009 | 11:46 am

    I guess Bry wasn’t the first guy that you’ve taken out.

  38. Comment by johnEboy | 04.10.2009 | 2:13 pm

    Great story. I too was involved in a crash with my companion in Denmark. He looked worse than he was and a kind motorist stopped and called an ambulance explaining that two Americans had crashed their bikes and one needed help. My companion, still woozy from the cracked helmet, was able to summon the strength to speak up and say. . . .

    “I am from Canada.”

  39. Comment by Kris | 04.14.2009 | 1:47 pm

    Genghis Khan…
    I understand your concern over the British FC-FC branch name being FC-FC/UK as it seems to be a slight inversion of another word that might cause issues for some…but is there a better play on words for an FC-FC? And besides, UK residents will also see it also as another play on names as there is a store here in the UK called French Connection and they have branded their shirts with FC/UK…
    Just sayin. ;)

  40. Comment by One Lung Joey | 04.15.2009 | 8:44 pm

    I killed more that a few pairs of trousers while on my mission in Atlanta.

  41. Comment by Jarvinho | 04.16.2009 | 1:46 am


  42. Comment by Twall | 04.16.2009 | 9:25 am

    I served in the Phoenix Arizona Mission and had my fair share of crashes. One was on a major road and lots of people saw and honked their horns at me. I just got up dusted myself off and waved. I would say that riding my bike on my mission got me addicted to cycling. Thanks for shareing the story.

  43. Comment by Derek White | 05.6.2009 | 9:00 pm

    I was there and it hurt.

    …And riding backwards on a bike in 1986 was surely the last time I could best you on a bike. Haha!

  44. Pingback by fixie blog :: This Just In: BSNYC Used As Bait! :: | 05.10.2009 | 3:16 am

    [...] argue that a “charitable collabo” is not the same as shark-jumping. Plus Fatty was once a Mormon missionary, and I think he did some kind of mind control thing on me. (He’s all affable on his blog, but [...]

  45. Comment by Sisar Nilsson | 05.28.2010 | 12:27 pm

    I was a missionary in Finland ‘84 to ‘86. Try riding a bike in a skirt!

  46. Comment by Patmos Pete | 07.8.2010 | 5:33 am

    Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities.

  47. Comment by President James | 04.6.2011 | 10:53 am

    When I left Finland in ‘76 my legs were like steel and I had a resting heart rate of 55 bpm. What a blessing to be in a bike mission. I enjoy this blog.


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