Crash Etiquette for Complete Idiots

03.10.2010 | 5:56 am

A few days ago, Bob and I rode the Crop Circles / Mr. DNA / Tapeworm trail system. It was raining lightly (yes, even though it was spring in Seattle), so the roots, rocks, and wooden stunts were slippery.

Early in the ride, we came to a seesaw. This one was taller and shorter than the seesaw I had ridden the last time we had been in the area, the board was narrower, and it was made of smooth wood. Also, the approach was downhill and around a bend.

I admit it: I was scared.

I approached the seesaw too slowly. By the time I was about halfway up, my front wheel was wobbling. I nearly stalled out, and my front wheel rolled off the right side of the seesaw.

This, as you may expect, was not a desirable situation.

From a height of probably five feet, I fell over the front of my bike. Ordinarily, I’d put my hands out to catch my fall, but this time I didn’t. I pulled my arms in toward my chest, and landed in a nice forward roll, finishing in a sitting position, astounded that I was not hurt even a tiny bit. I sat for a moment, stunned at my good fortune.

Bob shouted, as I sat there, dropped his bike, and ran over. “Are you OK?” he asked.

I admitted that to my amazement, I was just fine.

Bob then started laughing, recounting how the fall looked from his perspective, describing the contributing factors to my crash, and how surprised he was that I hadn’t snapped a wrist on that fall.

It was at this moment that I realized the reason I really like riding with Bob. He knows proper crash etiquette.

And Then There’s Brad

Bob’s behavior stands in marked contrast to how another friend of mine reacted after I crashed. Let’s just call him “Brad” (because his name is in fact actually Brad). He and I were riding a goat trail coming down from Jacob’s Ladder, which is part of the Hog’s Hollow network. I had never ridden this descent before, and so was surprised when it suddenly terminated with a three foot dropoff onto a dirt road. I flipped over my handlebars and landed on my back. It hurt. A lot.

Brad, naturally, took this opportunity to immediately begin laughing his head off. Without asking if I was OK. Without saying, “Sorry I didn’t warn you about how this trail ends.” Without any clue that several years later, I’d be tearing him a new one in the most public way I could imagine.

Proper Crash Etiquette

So, let this be a lesson to you. If you don’t follow the rules of Crash Etiquette, you may someday reap the consequences (Have I mentioned that this is the same Brad who bailed on his last lap when we were racing the 24 Hours of Moab as a 2-person team, and then didn’t even stick around to see me finish when I did his lap for him? Yep, he just packed up his gear and went home while I was on the course.).

Luckily, the rules of Crash Etiquette are quite simple. Most anyone can follow this simple five-step procedure:

  1. At the moment of impact, express astonishment and dismay. The best possible noise you can make when another person crashes is the noise you imagine yourself making if you were to have that selfsame crash. But an audible gasp or “Whoah!” will do fine.
  2. Immediately check to see if the crasher is OK. Saying “Are you OK?” is the correct way to do this. If a pool of blood or a compound fracture is evident, you should still ask the question.
  3. Recount the incident. While the crasher is collecting his or her wits, describe the accident, in as dramatic fashion as you possibly can. This will help the crasher feel like the pain is worth it. Anything for a good story.
  4. Once the crasher stands up, you are allowed to laugh. But not before then. And if the crasher is crying, you are not allowed to laugh. However, you are allowed to pretend the crasher is not crying, awkwardly avoiding looking at the crasher’s face.
  5. Speculate. Spend a few minutes describing the root causes for the crash. Slippery rock, mossy root, off-camber trail, and scree are all excellent reasons.

Most of you will learn this procedure quickly and will have no trouble with this important process.

Brad, you may want to print it and tape it to your bike.


No One Rides Alone

03.9.2010 | 6:46 am

I know some people who will not ride unless they have company. I am not one of those people. I like riding with another person or with a small group (or even, occasionally, a large group), but I’m also happy to go riding by myself.

And yet, I never ride alone. There’s always that stupid voice in my head, right there with me, providing a narrative, giving advice, and making remarks about my riding ability.

Frankly, I don’t care for him much.

Meet the Voice in My Head

Oh, he (yeah, he’s male) doesn’t talk all the time. In fact, sometimes he’ll go for long stretches without saying a word. And the times he chooses to talk actually says a lot about him. It’s always when I’m right at my limit. I could use some encouragement. And so that’s when he says things like,

  • “So. This is all you’ve got, is it?”
  • “Any time you’d like to step it up, feel free.”
  • “Come on. Go. Seriously, it’s time for you to stop holding back.”

And, sometimes, he doesn’t say anything at all. He just laughs. Man, I hate it when he does that.

No Comfort, No Help

As near as I can tell, the voice in my head lives to motivate me exclusively through the medium of sarcasm and derision. Why is this the case? I mean, this is just a voice in my head. It’s me, talking to me. Why can’t I say nice things to myself?

For example, I’d love to hear me say to myself:

  • “Hey, you’re headed for a personal best. Keep up the good work!”
  • “Don’t worry about fading. You’ve done your best.”
  • “You can do it! I have complete confidence in you!”

Come to think of it, never mind. That guy sounds like a motivational speaker. I think I prefer the sarcastic, snide guy.

Maybe It’s Just One Guy?

I did extensive research for today’s post, consisting of instant messaging with my friend Dug for a few minutes. First off, I should point out that it’s not easy to broach this topic. Asking a guy if he hears voices in his head is similar to accusing that guy of being insane.

Dug said that of course he heard a voice when he’s riding hard. As near as I could tell, it’s the same guy I hear. Condescending, disappointed, and curious as to why you’re even bothering if this is all you’ve got.

I developed the theory that perhaps everyone has the same voice. That there’s just one snarky, ethereal guy, wandering the earth and whispering mean-spirited remarks into our ears. A disappointed, snide, and sarcastically amused spirit guide for cyclists, if you will.

Or Maybe It’s Not

Then, because I am an extremely intrepid journalistic type who always wants to get my facts straight, I conducted even more research, this time in the form of an instant message conversation with my brother-in-law/friend Rocky.

It turns out that Rocky has got a voice, too. But it’s a way different voice. His voice tells him, in a matter-of-fact way, to cut it out. “This is stupid. You are not getting paid for this. And this in not fun,” it says to him.

And when Rocky really dials it up, a completely new voice barges in. This one doesn’t even talk. It just belts out a primal yell.

I’m pretty sure my inner voice has never yellled. Maybe that’s why Rocky makes all the technical moves, and I clip out at the first sign of danger.

Final Report

Based on my exhaustive research, I make the following assertions about cyclists and inner voices:

  • All cyclists hear voices when they ride hard.
  • The type of voice you hear corresponds to the type of rider you are.
  • None of the voices are friendly.
  • We are therefore all either equally sane, or equally insane.

I am of course, interested to know what kind of voice you hear, what it says, and under what conditions.

Also, I’d like to know if mine is the only one that speaks with an outrageous French accent.

Perfectly Good Excuses

03.8.2010 | 6:39 am

In one hour and ten minutes, I will post whatever it is I’m about to write. Then I’ll read it online and make a couple edits: usually adding a parenthetical joke or two, usually adding a few paragraph breaks.

Then I’ll get on my bike and ride to work.

The truth is, at this moment I’d prefer to drive to work. It’s cold, dark, and raining outside, and it’d be nice to just say, “forget it, I’m driving” today.

But I’m going to ride, because I don’t have a Perfectly Good Excuse for not.

The Importance of Excuses

Really, I’m a little bit embarrassed that I don’t have a good excuse for not riding today. In the past, I’ve generally been able to come up with something that sounds pretty convincing whenever I needed it.

Why do I need an excuse at all? A couple reasons:

  • Others: I’m noticing, as winter progresses, that an increasing number of people at work are asking me whether I biked in each day. (I’m beginning to suspect that an office pool has been started on when I’ll stop.) If I don’t ride in, I need to have a reason why I drove, or they’ll think I’ve given up. Somehow, if I give these people a good, compelling explanation of why I didn’t bike that day, I expect I’ll still get credit for being a cyclist. Now that I articulate that thought, I realize how completely boneheaded it is.
  • Myself: More than convincing others that I’d be biking if — darn it! — I didn’t have this Perfectly Good Excuse I cooked up, I need to convince myself. This allows me to be a slacker without being a quitter.

The Anatomy of a Good Excuse

So, in order to avoid the dilemma I find myself today — riding into work when I feel more like hibernating than exercising — I need to replenish my stock of Perfectly Good Excuses.

This is not as easy as it seems, because an excuse is nothing but an excuse unless it meets the rigorous entrance criteria necessary to become a Perfectly Good Excuse. These are:

  • It must be unique: An excuse that you have used within the past several days is no good. If you use the same excuse frequently or two days in a row, people will think you are just too lazy to fix the problem.
  • It must seem to have caught you unawares: The excuse needs to be something that came out of left field. If you knew it was coming, you could have probably planned for it and found a way to ride in anyway.
  • It must be convincing: The excuse must be good enough that the person you are using the excuse on agrees: he or she would also not ride into work under those circumstances.
  • You must sorta-kinda even believe it yourself: This is the tough one. If you know that your excuse is an outright fabrication, you’re not going to have much luck making yourself believe it’s true. You need to have a component of truth (no matter how small) in your excuse.

Perfectly Good Excuses Under Consideration

In order to avoid finding myself in today’s dilemma — biking into work when I really just want to go back to bed — I am currently developing a new stockpile of Perfectly Good Excuses. They are:

  • General Achiness / Approaching Illness: I don’t ever feel great first thing in the morning. In fact, if I went strictly by how I feel about the world in general when I first get up, I could probably make a case for calling in sick on any given day. The thing is, though, I know that this “blugh” feeling (a medical term) passes on its own within about five minutes, and I’m not very good at nursing it into a sense of impending illness. Plus, there’s the problem of my theory that when you feel sick, a ride is more likely to cure it than make it worse.
  • Can’t Find My Helmet / Shoes: This is actually a really good one; there’s no way I’m going biking without my bike shoes or helmet. And with the forgetfulness that seems to be accompanying middle age, this is an easy one to pull off, too. It just takes a little planning. If I put my helmet or shoes down anywhere besides the space I have reserved for them in the garage, I will not be able to locate them the next time I want them.
  • Broken Bike or Part: As long as you’ve got only one bike, this one’s bulletproof. It’s been a long time since I have had no serviceable bikes, though.
  • Need My Car: This is a good one — if you’ve got to go pick someone up at the airport during the day, there’s nothing you can really do about it; you’ve got to drive in. The problem is, these excuses generally don’t coincide with days I don’t feel like biking. In fact, they seem to most often happen on days that a ride sounds really, really good.
  • Rest Day to Avoid Overtraining: Oh, this is a fine one indeed. Not only does it give you a reason to skip riding that day, it carries an implied boast: “I skipped riding today because I am so fit it’s dangerous.” (Interesting note: did you know that “overtraining” is something that only very few pro-level athletes are even capable of? 99% of the people in the world couldn’t overtrain even if it was their fondest desire.)
  • Weather: Since most people won’t ride their bikes if it even looks like it might rain, you can almost always use the weather as an excuse. The problem is, the weather is a slippery slope. If you use it as an excuse today when it’s drizzling, you’ll wind up using it tomorrow when it’s raining again. Soon, the season’s over, and all that’s happened is you’ve become an expert on rain. (It’s entirely possible I’m fixating on rain for some reason. I wonder what that reason could be.)

Cycling Stinks

03.5.2010 | 6:36 am

A Note from Fatty: The LiveStrong Blog has posted an interview they did with me about what it’s like to be a caregiver to someone fighting cancer. Check it out here.  

I love biking. I love mountain biking. I love road biking. I have a sneaking suspicion I’m going to love track racing.

I love getting ready for a big ride. I love the rhythm of riding on the road. I love picking a line on new singletrack. I love riding rocky jeep roads. I love the way I feel after a big workout.

I love the way bikes look. I love the way bikes sound. I love talking about bikes and telling biking stories, and I love hearing other cyclists’ stories.

To recap: I love biking. And yet, there is one inescapable truth about cycling that I do not love:

Practically everything about cycling stinks.


It’s easy to tell whether a person on a bike is a cyclist, or just a person who happens to own a bike. Just look at what he’s wearing. T-shirt? Person. Brightly-colored polyester skintight jersey with a zip-up front and pockets in the back? Cyclist.

The benefits of jerseys are many: they help you be seen by traffic. They give you a place to carry food and a phone. They evaporate sweat, so you don’t feel like you’re riding with a big ol’ soaked sponge for a shirt.

But that last bit — that bit about evaporating sweat — is a two-edged sword. Because while your jersey is doing a fantastic job of getting rid of the water part of the sweat, it’s doing an equally fantastic job of holding on to the stink part of the sweat. The fibers of biking jerseys are, in fact, specially designed to trap every little molecule of stench your upper body excretes, compound it by a factor of seven, and then time-release that smell for the next eon or so.

As a young, naïve cyclist, I used to think washing a jersey would get rid of that smell. It doesn’t. Washing it again doesn’t help, either. And in fact, if you wash the jersey too many times, you’ll just make the washing machine start to stink.

Special Note to everybody who is about to leave a comment describing how they use vinegar, lemon juice ammonia, or sulfuric acid to good effect in combating the “jersey stink” phenomenon: Feel free to go ahead and leave your comment, but please realize that I already know about your so-called remedy, and have the following observations to make:

  • Your remedy actually only masks the smell, and an argument can be made that a stinky jersey with a hint of rancid lemon is even worse than plain ol’ stinky jersey.
  • Even if your remedy does work, I don’t care. I’m barely organized enough to wash my jerseys at all. There’s no way I’m going to remember to start using time-consuming anti-stink potions every time I do the wash.


My head starts sweating well before the rest of my body. And the straps and little pads in my helmet are nowhere near as easy to clean as my jersey. Back in arid Utah, this meant that within a few hours after a ride, my helmet straps would dry out, becoming stiff, crusty, and above all, stinky.

Here in Washington, though, the humidity keeps the straps from drying out so quickly. In fact, if you ride your bike more than twice a week, your helmet straps will never dry out. This means that instead of your straps becoming stiff, crusty, and stinky, they become dank, cold, and above all, stinky.

Interesting aside: You’d think that mildew would grow on constantly damp straps like this, but it doesn’t. My theory is that this is because the stench frightens the mildew monsters away.

Unlike jerseys, it’s possible to clean helmet straps and pads so they don’t stink. Unfortunately, to reap this benefit, you must in fact clean your helmet straps and pads. This is such a time-consuming, awkward process — which is immediately negated the next time you go out on a ride — that nobody in the history of cycling has done it more than once.


I just found out about this recently, and admit I was astounded. Yes, my beloved Oakley Racing Jackets — the ones with the expensive frames and super-expensive prescription lenses — stink. I discovered this when my wife asked me to keep my glasses in the garage, because they smelled up our bedroom. Challenging her, I put the frames under my nose and inhaled deeply.

Wow. So I guess thousands of miles-worth of dripping sweat can permeate anything.

More, More, More

Really, I could go on. My messenger bag stinks, which is a problem since that’s what I use to carry my clean clothes to work. My biking shoes stink, which is probably the least surprising thing I’ve ever written. My biking shorts stink, which dogs seem to really appreciate. My Camelbak stinks, although — as near as I can tell — that stench hasn’t yet penetrated the bladder. This may, however, just be because Camelbak bladders have a stink (and taste) of their own.

So I have a theory: the main reason people don’t get into cycling is because they smell us before they ride with us.

Post-Ride Stench

The thing is, this residual stink — the smell that clings to all your cycling stuff — is only a tiny part of the problem. The only thing worse than the smell of a cyclist after a ride is a group of cyclists after a ride. Or at least, that’s what my wife tells me, and my kids won’t come near me when I get home from work ‘til after I clean up.

But you know what’s even worse than a group of cyclists after a ride? A group of cyclists after an epic ride, in a car, for an extended period of time. Why? Well, without getting too explicit, when one is on one’s bike for a long time, eating unusual food, one’s digestive system, well, reacts. And while most people have the most polite intentions in the world, at some point physics takes over.

And, in short, seven stinky guys with gas in a car for an extended period of time can reduce a vehicle’s resale value by 18%.

Danger of Becoming Desensitized

If you’re an avid cyclist, there’s a good chance you haven’t recently thought about the stink you make. This is not a good sign, because it means you have contracted Cycling Stench Desensitization Syndrome (CSDS). Here are common symptoms:

  • You think your bike clothes don’t stink
  • You keep any of your bike stuff in any place other than the garage
  • You wonder why nobody ever wants to be near you

It’s entirely possible that CSDS is incurable, but the symptoms are treatable. You must simply realize that just because you don’t notice the smell doesn’t mean it’s not there. Every bike-related item you own must be isolated from everything else you own, and treated much the same as if it were radioactive waste.

Or at least, that’s what all of you have to do. My bike stuff smells just fine.

How to Ride With Complete Strangers

03.4.2010 | 6:26 am

A Note from Fatty: In yesterday’s post, I neglected to mention that all the photos were taken by my awesomely talented professional photographer sister Kellene. Gee, I wonder if there were other things on my mind.

Another Note from Fatty: This post — and all the posts for the next few days — rescued from my old MSN Spaces Archive. Originally published a long time ago. When I lived in Washington.

Technically, I should never have ridden with Bob (no, not this Bob). I wasn’t even going in the same direction as he. We should have never crossed paths, much less ridden together.

Here’s what happened.

I was riding along 202 on my fixie—oh, how I love the Pista—planning to ride up to Snoqualmie Falls, then maybe continue on. Just see where the road takes me.

Then, as I went by Ames Lake Road, I looked to my left and saw another cyclist heading away.

“I know,” I thought to myself as I went by, “I’ll use him as a rabbit. It’ll be fun to catch someone while on my fixie.”

So I turned turned around, turned on to Ames Lake Road, and started cranking hard. It’s a twisty road, so I could no longer see him. I pushed hard, though, and before long could catch glimpses on the straightaway.

There was just one problem. Even though I was close to redline, I still wasn’t catching him. He was successfully holding me off, without even knowing I was there.

And then, fortune smiled on me. He pulled over to the side of the road.

“A flat,” I thought, and figured I’d offer him a tube or whatever he needed to get rolling again.

But no. As I got closer, I could see: he was just taking a call. So I nodded as I went by, trying to look casual. Then, as soon as I got past, I cranked it up again. Now I was the rabbit. I figured, though, that just as he had held me off, I should be able to hold him off.

I was not able to hold him off.

Conversational Tactics

“Is that a fixed gear bike?” Bob asked.

“Yes,” I said, proudly.

“You doing that for any reason?” Bob asked. This, of course, was a trick question. If I replied that I was doing it because I wanted to become a stronger rider with a smoother cadence, Bob would know that I was a serious rider, which would make his victory over me that much sweeter (for him, not for me).

“Nah, no reason,” I said. “I bought it because I wanted to try track racing, but it turns out that I just really love riding a fixed-gear bike. So I’m just cruising along.”

“Cool,” said Bob. “I’m doing a recovery ride today after a big sufferfest I did last weekend. Some friends and I did a 300-mile ride. Mind if I tool along with you?”

“Sounds great,” I said, backing my effort off ever-so-slightly, to prevent my heart from exploding.

We were on an empty country road, so we rode side-by-side. This meant conversation, and a chance for me to gain an oxygen advantage, by doing the following:

  • Ask short questions that require long answers. “So, tell me about this big ride you did last weekend. Don’t leave out any details.”
  • Parry questions back to the questioner. “Sure, I’m following the Giro whenever I get a moment, but I haven’t been able to track it for a few days. What’s been happening?”
  • Play deaf. “You know, cars keep passing. Could you repeat everything you’ve said in the past 90 seconds?”

Riding Strategy

Since we had both identified that we were not going hard today, you would think that we wouldn’t have to go hard. However, the statement, “I’m taking it easy today” is really nothing more than a thinly-veiled offer to race. Here’s how I managed to stay with Bob:

  • Half-wheel him. Drop behind just a little bit and catch a little draft, even though I’m technically riding beside him.
  • Take advantage of quick dips. The nice thing about the ride we were on is that it rolls. Lots of quick ups and downs. A fixed gear bike is perfect for converting a quick downhill into a short blast of uphill power.
  • When you’re about to blow, bow out. After about forty minutes of riding at what I would call a brutal pace and what he called a recover ride, I knew I was going to crack. I preferred this to be a private moment. So when we crossed highway 202 and he looked like he was going to go straight up to Issaquah-Fall City road, I turned right. “Good riding with you,” I said, and then really turned the cranks hard for 30 seconds as I went down highway 202.

And then, once I was sure he was out of sight, I felt free to softpedal the whole way home.

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