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Posts tagged with Bike

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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Cats in heat

The darnedest thing happened during my ride home the other late night/early morning.

I was pedaling home, and just as I was about a half mile from downtown, cruising through a quiet Old West Lawrence neighborhood, I spied two glowing orbs up ahead.

I’ve seen all sorts of wildlife in the area — foxes, dogs, coyotes, raccoons, opossums — so I wasn’t surprised. As I drew closer, however, the eyes didn’t move. I approached and learned the feral glowing orbs belonged to a cat, lounging in the middle of the street.

I pedaled on, then spied two more glowing eyes down the road. Again, another kitty. Again, sprawled out on the pavement.

A block away … another feline. And another. And another.

I couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting a live one.

In the span of, maybe, three-fourths of a mile, there were close to a dozen cats, all lounging in the middle of the road, and all loathe to get out of my way. It looked like a scene from the four-legged version of “The Day After.”

It had been, believe it or not, a rather warm day, but by the time of my kitty-strewn commute, the temperature had dropped to about the level of the core of the sun. Give or take a dozen degrees Kelvin.

And it dawned on me that the felines were chillaxin’ on the blacktop in an attempt to get warm! Silly kitties.

It made me think of my (wife’s) cat. Every living thing in the region is trying to find a way to cool down, and Miles the Mental Giant (my (wife’s) cat) regularly, though reluctantly, rouses himself from his grueling regimen of nonstop daylong slumber to chase the tiny slivers of sunlight throughout the house before curling up in them. The earth turns, the slivers move, Miles shifts.

As the mercury climbs, I worry about all things hirsute: dogs, horses, that guy at the pool with his sweater … oh, wait, that’s not a sweater. But I find it difficult to feel for felines who deliberately seek out the sun and warm their bellies on the pavement.

I rode the same route the following night, and it was kitty-less. Next night: no Felixes, Morrises or Mr. Whiskerses to be seen.

It would seem my kitty slalom was a one-time thing.

Maybe the warming thing was just a ruse. Maybe the furballs are getting organized, massing for the cat-pocalypse. Perhaps they realize their individual efforts to overthrow mankind — tripping us as we walk down stairs, stealing our breath as we sleep — aren’t enough, and only through solidarity can the kitties ascend to what they believe is their righteous place on top of the animal kingdom.

I fear I might have unwittingly rolled into the planning stages of the great kitty uprising, and I worry I just might be their first target. I’m afraid I know too much.

I literally was run off the road over the weekend. I didn’t lay eyes on the driver, but I suspect Toonces.

If I’m found at the bottom of a cliff after “accidentally” riding over it, please dust for hairballs.

I might be paranoid, but it sure seems like Miles is giving me an odd look.

But only when he’s awake.

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Savior on a cycle?

Back when I was a cub reporter for this paper, I recall a game I used to play with my college roommate.

He’d come up with a word, and I was supposed to try to get it into print. The payoff, I recall, was beer, or, since I was underage at the time, some other sort of refreshing yet non-adult beverage.

After a couple of beers, er, sodas, had changed hands, my curmudgeonly-yet-sage boss was reading a story I’d written about a cross country race. He read silently a bit, then bellowed, “He perambulated across the line? Perambulated? Runners run. Save your big words for your professors.”

My boss — a few years later, he came to be described as “older than dirt” — then lectured me about writing simply. He thought I was trying to impress somebody with my vocab. He probably would have been livid to learn I was violating the sanctity of the publication in the name of free refreshments.

I bring this up now because, a few weeks ago, a loyal reader and regular online commenter recalled sitting at a downtown pizzeria and having his son-in-law say, “I think I just saw Jesus on a 10-speed!” He went on to challenge: “The first thing that came to mind was ‘Andrew could make a decent blog from that line!’”

Down was thrown the gauntlet.

At first, the skeptic in me thought, “No way.”

People see Him in all sorts of places — cheese (Cheezus), toast, perogies — so I figured the pizza-place vision really was just a case of one of our fine town’s PBR-swilling hipsters cruising past on his fixed-gear.

But I don’t profess to know how He rolls.

I’ve never seen Him on a bike, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. I guess that’s the very nature of faith. (I have, um, called out to Him when I’ve come uncomfortably close to becoming a hood ornament, and once or twice, when riding in the Hotter’N Hell 100, I felt uncomfortably close to meeting his dad. Or the other guy, the one who resides in the place the ride I was in was purported to be hotter than.)

The more I thought about it, the more Jesus on a bike made sense, and not only because I turned to Dr. Google, who said some folks use that as an exclamation of surprise (I’d always heard of Him on a popsicle stick, but whatev).

I fear His sandals wouldn’t be great — He’d definitely have to go without the clipless pedals — and He’d have to pinch-and-roll His outfit, lest His tunic get caught in the chain.

But I think next time He drops in, He’ll seriously consider going by bike. I don’t picture Him behind the wheel of a Prius or Hummer, and though He hoofed it last time around, He’d definitely cover more ground by pedaling.

And there’s no questioning the green cred.

His appearance came just a few days before the “Carmegeddon” that was projected to throw California into a tizzy, and what better way to navigate that mess than by bike? (I have to admit I sort of wanted to watch that auto end-of-days on the Left Coast, but apparently it was all overblown.)

Who am I to say that was or was not Jesus on a 10-speed?

Next time I bump into my former editor at the grocery store, I’ll ask him. I’m pretty sure they were elementary-school classmates.

(Aside to Roedapple: A whole blog about Jesus on a 10-speed? Sorry, man. Just can’t do it.)

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Serious business

I hear Serious Cyclists all the time saying that solo riders are missing out on the best part of the sport.

These Serious Cyclists contend that riding in a pack is the best way to improve bike-handling skills and speed and bask in the camaraderie that is Serious Cycling.

Of course, Serious Cyclists give voice to all sorts of similar truths.

Among my favorites:

“To ride faster, you have to ride faster.”

“To climb better, you have to climb better.”

And my personal favorite, “It never gets easier. You only get faster.”

Serious Cyclists also have been known to utter such gems as, “Sacre blue! My, but your legs are hair-eee!!” And, “Personally, I prefer Nair.”

OK, I made those last two up. Not all Serious Cyclists affect atrocious French accents (some prefer Italian), and no Serious Cyclist would dare Nair. Gillette Venus is the only way to denude below the belt, I’m told.

(Lest any Serious Cyclists get their Lycra in a bunch, I promise to make fun of transportation cyclists, mountain bikers, commuters, recumbent riders, fixie hipsters and all other two-wheeled folks in future blogs because, really, why not compartmentalize and pigeonhole an already fringe minority?)

Anyway, the theory espoused by said Serious Cyclists holds that solo cycling has its place, but only by riding in a group (or peloton or gaggle, depending on whether it’s a group ride, a race or a gathering of geese) can an Aspiring Serious Cyclist learn how to “draft” and “hold a wheel” and not get “dropped” and “put quotes around terms that really don’t need punctuation.”

And I’m sure there’s some truth to that, but I’ve never participated in a group ride.

It’s not that I fear getting dropped — left behind — or that I’m antisocial. I’ve been dropped so many times, I’ve lost all fear, and I’m more ambi-social. That is, I don’t dislike my fellow humans so much as I don’t really care if I’m around others or not. (The exception is my family, of course, with whom I’m contractually obligated to spend time).

The big thing for me is the timing of most group rides.

Normal folks like to ride on evenings and weekends, and that’s when I work. I’d gladly hook up with a ride-to-work peloton, but very few share my fouled-up hours. The flip side is that I get to ride mornings and afternoons during the week. By myself.

That said, I have participated in several organized rides — Octaginta, Hotter ’N’ Hell 100, Lizard Under the Skillet, plus more disease rides than I can recall — though I’m not sure they’ve done much to hone my cycling skills, unless you consider sailing Lycra end over helmet after some yahoo rode me into a crater during the Hotter ’N’ Hell century a skill.

All of which was a roundabout way to lead up to the fact there’s a chance for cyclists of all levels of seriousness to participate in a big organized ride on Saturday. The first Community Bike Ride will be 9-11 a.m. Saturday at the Rotary Arboretum at Clinton Park. It features rides of one, three or eight miles and other activities.

Visit http://ridelawrence.com/community-bike-ride/ for more details.

In an interesting twist — one that might even qualify as irony — I likely won’t attend Saturday. The night before (or, more accurately, that same morning), I’ll be riding with my family in the Lenexa Midnight Bike Ride.

After bagging on the Lenexans for their event a couple of years ago (I believe I referred to it as hell on wheels), I felt obligated to return after they changed things up, and it has become a fond family tradition. (The ride, that is, not bagging on Lenexans). Thus, I’m afraid I’ll be in for a late night, and I doubt I’ll be able to drag my sorry carcass out of bed for my community’s community ride.

Otherwise, I’d be there — hairy, slow legs, awful bike-handling skills and all.

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Isn’t it ironic?

One of my family’s favorite games — after “Pick on the Kitty,” “Who Can be the Quietest?” and “Let’s Kick Daddy in a Sensitive Spot! Again!” — is, “Is It Or Isn’t It Irony?”

OK, ours might not be a normal family.

But awhile back, after noticing my two kids misusing the word irony several hundred gazillion times a day, I launched into one of my trademark lectures. You know, the kind that makes eyes roll and vacate and ears shut off.

I explained most folks use irony incorrectly, and that most instances of so-called irony really are more coincidental than anything. I tried to explain the true definition of irony and ended up pretty much parroting the oft-cited definition of obscenity: To paraphrase, I don’t know what it is, but I know it when I hear it.

My family and I went over Alanis Morissette’s catchy song “Ironic” and decided by far the vast majority of her examples of irony, weren’t. Though I did argue that the fact it was called “Ironic” and purported to be a laundry list of examples of irony, but wasn’t, made it ironic, but I think the convoluted logic just made it confusing instead.

We visited isitironic.com to vote on potential examples of irony, and we discussed comedian/noted English linguist George Carlin’s famous example of irony involving a diabetic’s death by insulin truck. Good stuff.

Then the kids, especially, invented “Is It Or Isn’t It Irony?” by proposing all sorts of credible (no, really!) situations and asking for a ruling on whether it was ironic, coincidental, poetic or something else.

The game petered out after a bit, but every now and then, out of nowhere, my son or daughter will say, “So, is it irony if … ” and we’re at it again.

I thought of the game the other day when I rode my bike to pay taxes to register my car. It’s a yearly ritual I rather enjoy — the bike ride part, not the write-the-check part. I can’t remember the last time I drove to pay The Man, and at first I considered it ironic.

The more I think about it, though, the more I decide there’s nothing ironic about it, but I do enjoy the symbolism. Invariably, when cyclists and noncyclists collide verbally, one of the first criticisms leveled at the two-wheeled set is, “Until you pay taxes to pay for the roads, stay off them,” or some variation thereof. So every time I re-up my car tags (or buy gas, for that matter, or pay general taxes), I’m helping pay for the roads. The more I ride my bike, the less wear-and-tear I inflict on said roads.

So I can’t help but be happy to ride my bike to pay my car tags.

Ironic? No. But it’s a lot more fun than being kicked in a sensitive spot.

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A summer fling

Her name was Emily, and, to be honest, had I seen her cruising down Mass. Street or hanging out in front of Hy-Vee, I probably wouldn’t have given her a second glance.

Emily just wasn’t my “type.”

I prefer ’em lean and sleek and maybe a little racey, and Emily was none of those things. Despite some gorgeous curves, she was a little hefty, a little ponderous. She was especially wide in the seat. She just didn’t excite me.

But Emily was there for me when I needed her, and I for her, and I guess that’s the essence of a summer fling.

I was a halfway through my family summer vacation, and I really wasn’t feeling too good about myself. Too much cherry pie, too many fish boils. And — pardon the Grinch-speak — oh the cheese, cheese, cheese, CHEESE! (When in Wisconsin, doncha know?)

Quite frankly, I was feeling a bit like one of the googol (Google it) of cows we saw on the drive from Milwaukee to beautiful, pastoral Door County, Wis.

But Emily didn’t care.

There were other targets. Some flashier, perhaps, some too big or too small. Some were too high-maintenance.

But Emily and I just … clicked.

The wife was taking a nap, the kids having “quiet time,” so I announced I was heading out and slipped away one afternoon, and Emily and I stole away.

We started a bit too fast. I backpedaled. She slammed on the brakes.

But eventually we settled into a rhythm befitting a calm, summer day.

We both knew it wouldn’t last. I had to get back to the family; she was tired.

We went to a park. I snapped a quick photo, then we returned to our hotel, where we parted ways.

Emily in repose at a Sturgeon Bay, Wis., bayside park.

Emily in repose at a Sturgeon Bay, Wis., bayside park. by Andrew Hartsock

I saw her a few more times over the next couple of days, but only from afar, and I left town without so much as a goodbye.

I think it’s better that way.


Note to Newbiegardner, who posed the question online, and the folks who asked me variations of the same question in person: No, I’m not done writing my “Rolling Along” blog just yet. A few events — professional and personal — conspired to force me to take a short hiatus, but I’m back now, and I plan to stick around awhile.

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Bye bye blemishes

For as long as I can remember, I had this ugly growth on my left-rear hip.

It wasn’t particularly large — bigger than a mole, smaller than an arm or leg — or grotesquely colored or anything, but it just didn’t belong.

I generally don’t go around flashing my hip, so it wasn’t obvious most days, but anytime I went to the pool, for instance, or it was topless night at work, I was awfully self-conscious of my hideousness.

My kids asked about it. Occasionally it snagged on my clothing, and though it didn’t hurt, it felt disconcerting, like I’d imagine it’d feel to tug on the hair sticking out of a witch’s wart. (And if that didn’t give you the heebie-jeebies, you’re either dead inside or you have a thing for witches. Or hairy warts.)

I was confident it wasn’t a threat to my health, but since I subscribe to the Big Dumb Guy’s School of Doctor Avoidance, I pretty much ignored it. According to the BDGSDA charter, the affliction either clears up on its own, or kills you dead.

I pretended it didn’t exist for years, until one day at the (gasp!) doctor’s office for something unrelated, I — concerned about the horrific effect it might have on my second career as an underwear model — casually asked, “As long as I’m here, could you take a look at this?”

My doctor took a look, flicked it and quickly diagnosed it as a mere skin tag, a benign fold of skin he’d be glad to remove — at my next visit. He explained there was some rule against diagnosing and treating on the same day — I’m guessing he’d make an exception for, say, a sucking chest wound or arrow to the eye socket, though, in fairness, I probably could self-diagnose those and create a life-saving loophole — and I made an appointment later in the week.

“It’ll be painless,” my doctor assured.

The day of the appointment, a nurse led me to a back room, asked me to lift my shirt and jabbed a huge needle in my side. Ouch!

The doctor came back and hooked me up to a contraption that looked like a large arc-welder and explained the procedure. (I dried my tears and mentioned the needle wasn’t painless, as he’d promised. He laughed and said, “I meant it’d be painless for me.”)

Two seconds later, my nose still tingling with the smell of rancid, burned manflesh, I was on my way, my skin tag vaporized.

I was thrilled. No longer would I have to chat up supermodels at the poolside bar with my left side cloaked by a potted fern. No more witch-wart-hair heebie-jeebies. No more interrogations from — and horrified looks by — my kids.

My love-handles are blemish-free, smooth (and flaccid) as a baby’s behind.

But ... every now and then, I feel a phantom skin tag. My hand goes behind my back just to check. It’s still smooth, but I swear something snagged on that wool sweater. Or I just had a witch-wart-hair heebie-jeebie.

I thought about that long-lost-but-not-forgotten freakish monstrosity the other day as I was riding to work.

There’s a road a couple of miles from home that I probably ride on 90 out of 100 rides, whether I’m heading to work or out for a recreation ride or to the store. I’ve ridden on that road hundreds of times over the 13 years I’ve lived in my house, and I’ve come to know it quite well.

Just as I could pass a road-side drunk test by closing my eyes, reaching around and putting my right index finger smack-dab in the middle of my old skin tag, I knew every bump and hump in that road.

One stretch in particular was particularly bad for bikes, a string of divots and gaps a driver would barely notice, but cyclists would be wise to steer around. For hundreds of rides, I’d look over my left shoulder, ease toward the center of the road and think how one particular gap was just big enough to swallow a narrow bike tire and send a cyclist tumbling.

Then just the other day, I was riding that road and noticed road crews were working on it.

A couple of days later, I rode on it and saw no piecemeal chip-and-seal patching, but a full-on piecemeal black-topping. It’s not perfect, but compared to the way it was, it rides like glass.

But every time since, I still find myself looking over my shoulder and easing into the center of the road, hoping to avoid the blemish that is no more.

Old habits — just like grody deformities — die hard.

• • •

In case you missed it, this is local (and national) Bike to Work Week.

To mark the occasion, Sunflower Horizons and WellCommons will be hosting a Bike to Work Day breakfast from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Friday in front of Sunflower Outdoor and Bike Shop. Ride by for coffee, juice and a light breakfast.

If I can drag my lazy, skin-tagless behind out of the sack, I might stop by as well.

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NSFW: A bike tour of the Urban Dictionary

I’m a huge fan of the Urban Dictionary.

Sometimes, I’ll be absolutely uplifted, utterly convinced there’s just too much good in the world. When I think life’s all rainbows and sweetness and light, I’ll point my Web browser to urbandictionary.com, and I’ll be exposed to such depravity I can’t help but think maybe the world’s not such a swell place after all.

UD doesn’t purport to be anything like thefreedictionary.com or any other reputable lexiconigraphical undertaking. Boasting at last glance 5,802,994 definitions since 1999, Urban Dictionary claims to be the “dictionary you wrote.”

If so, I can only assume you’re one sick fella.

I’d guess that close to 5,802,887 of the UD entries have something to do with, um, adult relationships, some describing acts so filthy I’ve felt compelled to wash my eyes out with soap.

This isn’t Funk and Wagnalls. It’s all Funk. Funk this and Funk that and Funking every which way.

I’m no prude, but some of the entries are so depraved, they make me wonder if maybe my understanding of humanity — not to mention anatomy — is way off. They make me wonder if consenting adults actually consent to such things.

And, of course, they don’t.

UD is largely like Penthouse letters (or so I’m told), where contributors try to one-up themselves on the no-way meter.

I reckon the most common visitors to UD are randy teenage boys who somehow found a way around the school-library firewall and middle-aged schlubs like me, who are still saddled with teen-boy sensibilities and who think the Urban Dictionary will help them keep their vernacular current.

I’m reminded of the father figure in the classic movie “Better Off Dead,” who consults a book on teen slang so he can bond with his troubled offspring. The dad — played by David Ogden Stiers, in one of his few roles after portraying Charles Emerson Winchester III on “MAS*H” — commits one blunder after another during a heartfelt talk with his son, concluding with “Right off!”

“On. Right on,” corrects the teen, played by a young John Cusack.

Bump it up your Netflix queue. Trust me.

Anyway … once you get past the ick, there’s actually some pretty funny stuff on Urban Dictionary. Kinda like the whole Internet.

I decided to see just what the UD had to say about bikes.

I counted 125 entries starting with “bike” or “biker,” though some of those are about motorcycles.

Some are funny, some profane (I know it when I see it). Some are foul, some clever.

I particularly like bike ninja — “Someone who is riding their bicycle in dark/low visibility conditions, without a headlight or taillight. So-called because they are invisible, like a ninja” — bike slut — “Overly-intense bike riders, usually middle aged adults” — and bikeleton — “The forlorn remains of a bicycle after it’s been picked apart on the street. Typically still chained to a post with a $300 U-Lock.”

My favorite is Bike Sherpa: “Someone capable of carrying a ridiculous amount of cargo while riding their bicycle, usually with a cigarette dangling from their mouths.”

There’s bikesploring and the related but more hardcore bikesploitation.

There are entries for people who are bike-curious and bikesexuals.

A bikeman is defined as a person who sells drugs from a bike. Unlike most dealers, however, “Bikemen are always an hour late to everything because they have to ride their bikes.”

There’s bikeoke — “Singing cheesy songs on your bike, preferably with your friends in a paceline” — and bikeochondriac — “Someone whom is always worried about the well being of their bike and constantly ‘feeling’ failure in the finest of parts.”

Some entries are clean but sound dirty — like bikegasm and bike porn — and some sound clean but really are dirty, like bike smile and bike ride.

I could only make it about halfway through the 125 before I felt the overwhelming urge to go take a shower.

But that’s the Urban Dictionary for you.

Right off!

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A kick in the pants

I hate to admit it, but I think I sort of led my wife on a little bit over the weekend.

No, not like THAT.

We were downtown, and, out of nowhere, I mentioned I was thinking about buying a new pair of pants.

You should have seen her face light up.

It was almost as if I had said I was thinking about buying HER a new pair of pants. In our relationship, my talking about buying myself a new article of clothing is about as frequent as, you know, that other thing.

You know, me helping out around the house.

It’s not that I’m clothing-averse. In fact I’m rather fond of threads. Swear by ’em, in fact. Much to the relief of my friends and co-workers and random folks out in public alike, I wear clothes all the time.

They’re just not very … fashionable.

I’m OK with that, but all the time my more nattily attired better half tries to make me more presentable. She’s always buying me pants and shorts and shirts, which I try on, more often than not proclaim the gratis duds “just don’t fit right,” and, whatever she can’t (or won’t) return, I throw in a pile somewhere until the perfectly good article of attire it’s to replace finally gives up the ghost.

She really means well. OK, she might be a little embarrassed to be seen in public with such a style-challenged significant other, but I think she really has my best interests at heart.

But to hear me actually talk about potentially purchasing dungarees on my own must have worried her a bit. In the 17-plus years we’ve been married, I can count on one finger the number of pants I’ve purchased of my own free will. To talk about such a thing beforehand — premeditation, I believe, is the legal term — is so uncharacteristic, I could see her immediate glee turn skeptical with startling quickness.

But she’s a clever woman, and I could see her easing into the conversation, so she wouldn’t spook me.

“New pants, huh?” she asked casually. “Really?”

Behind her eyes, I thought I could see genuine concern. Maybe the alien seed pods had swapped me out for a more fashion-aware clone. Maybe this is what husbands do before they cheat. Maybe I was — after all this time — you know … how do I say it … chafing?

“Yeah,” I said, hoping to put her mind at ease quickly. “I saw them in a magazine. They’re bike pants. They look like regular khakis, but they’re made for cycling. They’re light and a little stretchy, and there’s a snap so you can roll up the cuffs, revealing a reflective band so cars can see you at night, and they have a strap for your bike lock, and a button-up pocket for your cell phone, and they’re slightly thicker in the behind to give you a little padding and last longer after rubbing on the saddle, and … ”

I looked at my wife and realized I’d lost her at “bike pants.”

The disappointment was palpable.

She wasn’t getting a new shopping buddy after all. No, I wasn’t going to get all catwalk-worthy, poring over the latest patterns and fabrics. No, I wasn’t going to become … presentable.

Oh, well. I think I detected a little relief, too. No aliens. No cheating. No chafing. All was right with the world after all.

“Bike pants, huh?” she asked, and I think I saw something else behind the eyes: hope.

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Deep thoughts

I was riding to racquetball the other day, and the memory of a commercial popped into my head.

The spot — which played ad nauseum on my favorite radio station — was for a soft drink. In it, the pitchmen “secretly placed a microphone” in a curmudgeon’s noggin. As he sipped the magic elixir, though he still appeared grumpy on the outside, the microphone picked up his uncontrollable inner glee brought on by the miracle beverage.

Egad, I hated that ad.

But it popped in my head because I wondered just what my sick brain would broadcast as I pedaled about if I had a mic secretly planted in my gourd.

I assumed most of my saddle-bound thoughts likely would get me slugged — like, “Nice driving, $&%#,” or, “Thanks for cutting me off, “&^%#.” So I tried to be cognizant of my cognizance and actually pay attention to my thoughts.

It was no idle exercise.

I know some folks swear they do their best thinking while out for a run.

My thoughts when I run are along the lines of, “Oh, my … gosh … how much … farther? Ow … this … hurts.” I even pant in my head.

On the bike is another matter.

I find cycle commuting far less taxing than running, so I figured all that extra energy would lend itself to cranial flexing.

I thought I’d find I actually carry out some pretty decent conversations in my head while riding, which is something of a surprise. Anybody who ever has talked to me pretty quickly figures out I’m not the best conversationalist.

In my head, I weave some of the most beautiful, intricate verbal tapestries … then I open my mouth, and the words tumble out like Scrabble tiles and clatter about the floor.

Unfortunately, most of my between-the-ears linguistic jousts are the synaptic equivalent of talking about the weather. All I seem to want to chat myself up about is the wind or the sun or the heat or the cold.

Man, am I dull.

When I’m not dazzling myself with observations about the relative humidity, I’ve found my mind’s churning far faster than my legs.

Trouble is, those thoughts are even more shallow than ponderings about the weather.

The one time I carried on a serious train of thought, I was closing in on a solution to the whole world-peace thing, solving nuclear fusion and oh-so-near to a cure for cancer when … I looked up and saw an import, stopped at a red light, growing awfully large in my field of view. I slammed on the brakes, swerved, veered, just missed the bumper, glanced off the curb, and — poof! — all those deep thoughts just disappeared.

Ever since, my cycling gray matter has been more occupied with Fido-worthy musings than Nobel Prize-type stuff.

As in, “Ohhh, pretty. BUTTERFLY! Um, hungry. Pretty. BIRDIE! LEAF! Pretty. I have an itch.”

Now that I, um, think about it, that microphone might not be such a good idea after all.

Then again, one thing this thoughtless little thought experiment proved is, there's nothing quite like thinking about thinking to make your thoughts turn turtle, hiding away in their little shells until they can plod forward again, unmolested.

I think, anyway.

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