This is Rick Reilly’s fault. Every time I see a mass of sweaty spandex pedaling his way into embarrassment, I can’t help but think that this is all the fault of a Denver-based sportswriter.
I speak, of course, about disasters like this:
After Lance Armstrong unleashed the worst conquering France had seen since Nevada boy scouts captured Versailles in 1993, he and his two-wheeled mode of transportation became media darlings. Nobody jumped on this bandwagon more aggressively and homoerotically than Sports Illustrated’s Rick Reilly. From 1999 through 2004, every other edition of the “Life of Reilly” was written about the world’s most famous cyclist. And while I lack hard data, I recall more than half of these referring to Armstrong’s testicles – fine, until you realize that after 1999, Reilly wasn’t talking about Armstrong’s cancer anymore.
We all love the human USPS billboard, but Reilly wouldn’t let it go. Armstrong’s smashing of testicular cancer and bagging of Sheryl Crow is all something we want our sons to do when they grow up. However, nobody is willing to admit this but me, but after about the second Tour victory, nobody actually cared anymore. We all still cheered for him – you don’t hit apple pies at Grandma with a baseball bat, after all – but there wasn't any emotional attachment left whatsoever. The public had realized a few years earlier that through all the schmaltz, we still were just watching fifty guys riding bicycles up and down hills. Maybe if they were being pursued by armed motorized vehicles inside of a volcano our interest would’ve lingered, but they were riding bikes together in France. We had no choice but to start watching football again before Canada invaded like a concerned friend trying to figure out what the hell happened to his beer-guzzling, vagina-liking buddy.
But Reilly continued to press the issue…in every issue. Whether for lack of a good story or because he mistook the ninth stage for the ninth inning, Reilly continued to ram cycling down his reader’s throats. It was this perpetual blitzkrieg of Schwinn journalism that I blame for the plague terrorizing the streets of our nation today.
The streets and much more disappointingly, the highways, are filled with Lance Armstrong clones these days. It’s all Rick Reilly’s fault. You can argue that the original Lance Armstrong’s athletic accomplishments were enough to spawn the tornado of facsimile Lances polluting our routes and arteries. No way. Nobody besides me started wearing a singlet after Rulon Gardner won gold in Sydney and I know of even fewer people who took up American Gladiatoring after Laser totally dominated in Assault for like three episodes in a row. Obviously if these US American conquerors didn’t inspire a legion of followers, Lance Armstrong wouldn’t have either. He needed a catalyst and that catalyst was the afforementioned sportswriter.
As a result, the copycat Lances are here to stay. Since technology and illegal immigration made it possible for every non-minimum wage job to be performed in your pajamas, the slim demographic has had to search for new sources of physical activity. Cycling, not surprisingly, has become an incredibly popular outlet for this. This is fine in controlled circumstances. I really don’t think if I’m driving in a 65 zone that I should need to be watching out for an accountant and his Huffy, but if he wants to ride around in circles in his garage I’m perfectly fine with that. That’s controlled. That’s safe. And he can wear his spandex in private dignity.
However, if he decides to shun the best advice of his conscience and plunge into public, I can't help but voice my protests. This scenario has played out on numerous occasions: Here I am cruising down the highway, when I see what appears to be a rainbow-colored antelope up ahead in my lane. As I rapidly approach, it becomes disappointingly apparent that it’s only a Lance. This Lance is furiously chugging away, but not on a sidewalk, city avenue, or health club WindMaster. No, he’s pounding his fury in the middle of the lane on the highway at speeds almost reaching 18 MPH.
Invariably, ten cars appear out of bad karma hell on the other side of the road, rendering it impossible for me to pass our future alpine hero. As five cars build up behind me, the Lance never even turns his head. Sure, the shoulder of the road is paved and free of any perilous roadkill, but Lance refuses to pull aside. He continues to assert his right to train at the inconvenience of the internal combustion loving-public and plows straight ahead down the middle of his lane. As the ten car train meanders past, the six vehicles behind the Lance are now going fifteen miles per hour and adding Rick Reilly to their “People to Kill” lists.
And this frustrating scene leaves out a common antecedent. Many times you don’t even have the rainbow antelope moment because you’ve looked out the window or selfishly remoistened your eyes with a blink. All of a sudden, you look up and you’re just about to drive right over the top of a cyclist. There’s a lot of literature out there about the perils of small vehicles with safety devices like bumpers and airbags getting crushed by larger vehicles in crashes. Can you image the perils of small Lances with safety features like a fanny pack and a muscular ass getting run over by a tractor trailer? Why are we even debating this?
I don’t really care where the law says Lance can legally train and I care even less about how important it is that he doesn’t break up his riding regimen. You may think that I should respect your right to slow traffic to fifteen miles per hour, but I say you should respect my right to be able to read the paper and make breakfast in the car without having to look up once in awhile to see if you’re plodding along up ahead with a serious death wish. Either ride on the shoulder, buy a motorcycle, or stay off the highway altogether. You’re a 35 year-old insurance salesman from the suburbs. Nobody gives a fuck about your “best times” or your “circuit.” Not even Rick Reilly.
As much as I hate the inconvenience of being stuck behind a guy in a full spandex unitard advertising the post office (a travesty I have witnessed more than once,) it’s only ancillary to the real problem: I would rather not go through the inconvenience of peeling him off the undercarriage of my car. This is clearly a safety issue. Go ahead and get into shape. Hell, ride on the shoulder and everything will be fine. But to swagger about in the middle of the lane in a defiant show of bravado staking your claim to the road is just plain silly. When a livestock semi full of future McDonald’s quarter-pounders runs over the top of you, I hope that you tell St. Peter how you ended up in front of him and that he laughs hysterically and repeatedly beats you over the head with Rick Reilly’s book.
Riding a bike is a good time and in reasonable circumstances, should be undertaken by all. But if you really want to get into shape, there are easier ways. Don’t take it from me. Take it from your one of your cycling brethren:
Floyd might not be the most stand-up guy in the world, but at least when he’s in a bathroom stall with a syringe, I’m probably not going to hit him with my car.