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Blondes, bikes and bare backs


One crisp day late last autumn or even early last winter, my son and I were riding bikes to school when I noticed he was poking along even more slowly than normal.

Worried he’d be late, I encouraged him to pick up the pace a bit and asked why he was so sluggish.

He explained that it was cold, and whenever he went too fast his face and hands hurt.

Sensing a teachable moment, I launched into a discussion of wind chill and heat index, which I used to segue into my favorite (and I have many) cycling-clothing theory, which I call the Goldilocks Theory of Bike Attire.

I know Goldilocks Theories exist in everything from astronomy (a planet must be just the right distance from its host star to harbor life) to investing (just the right amount of risk) to, well, just about anything in which the theorist hasn’t the vocabulary to elucidate prime conditions for whatever he was trying to explain and instead turns the whole mess over to a young blonde trespasser/burglar who probably had no real clue about planets or investing or even proper cycling attire.

My Goldilocks Theory of Bike Attire posits there’s an appropriate way to dress for any weather conditions based on a convoluted formula that includes temperature, humidity, wind speed, distance traveled, individual rate of perspiration and myriad other factors so numerous they have eluded an actual formula and instead basically amount to a wild guess.

In the cold, I explained to my son, cyclists can regulate temperature by pedaling harder, thereby raising body temperature, but there’s a speed at which the resultant wind chill cancels out the benefits of the body-heat boost. Just right is fast enough to stay warm but not so fast you make yourself cool.

Similarly, in the heat, just right is just fast enough to generate a bit of a cooling breeze, but slow enough not to generate too much perspiration.

Trouble is, the theory breaks down on the high end.

Though I’ve never encountered a temperature so low that another layer won’t make riding possible (though not necessarily enjoyable), at the top end, there’s a minimum limit to the clothing variable.

Lately I’ve taken to unbuttoning my button-up shirt (suppress your gag reflex; I have the decency to wear a technical, wicking undershirt underneath), allowing it to trail behind like a cape. Coupled with my love of tights — at least prancing around at home in ’em; that’s not at all weird, right? — I’m starting to think I have a superhero complex.

I’ve seen cyclists go all topless (alas, only of the male persuasion), even one guy I regularly see on rides to racquetball who’s shirtless … with a backpack; that has to lead to some seriously funky tan lines.

But even the fittest cyclists tend to sag a bit on the bike, and topless on two wheels isn’t flattering even for the hardest hardbody. At my advanced age, there’s even more droop.

And neither co-workers nor fellow road-users would appreciate it if I rode sans pants (not to mention the fact those bike saddles are narrow; yeouch!) So the best I can do when it feels like bike-to-work day in Death Valley is a bare-minimum of socially acceptable attire and the realization that I’m just going to swelter a bit.

All of which, over the course of a couple of miles, I explained to my shivering son one day a couple of seasons ago.

I thought I had made quite an impression on him, too, until we reached school and locked his bike. Just before he disappeared into the warm building, he turned back to me and said, “I don’t know about Goldilocks … but I think tomorrow we should drive.”


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