Howdy folks, Joe Parkin, the author of A Dog in a Hat here, pleased to be playing guest-blogger guy for Bike Hugger. Publisher note: Joe wrote this after we sent him a link to the hammer it out video.
A few weeks ago I was visiting my friend Emily’s hair salon. Camped under the hair dryer thingy was a woman of about my age.
“Hey, you know that book I told you to read? This is Joe, the author.” Emily said.
We launched into a short conversation about the book and cycling and how I really look nothing like I used to look when I wasn’t bitter and twisted and haggard, and had not yet been on the road with a band. One of the things the woman told me she enjoyed about my book was that she never knew competitive cycling existed before about 10 years ago. Interestingly enough, that’s about exactly the time when a certain hyper-focused Texican began to teach people how to win 3-week stage races.
I immediately started thinking about a conversation with a young shredder from Santa Cruz who was unfamiliar with the name Greg LeMond. I figured this kid probably didn’t know that we had to reach to the down tube and fish for gear changes, once upon a time.
Sports fans, we live in an amazing time for cycling. Despite the UCI’s cow pie desire to keep a brother down, bicycle technology is advancing along a pretty steep path. My 4 year-old Time road bike goes forward so much more efficiently than anything I ever raced, it almost feels like I’m cheating. (No matter that I can’t make it climb well)
So in classic, “I had newspapers for shoes and had to walk 10 miles to school in the snow – uphill both ways.” Let me offer up some bits about “old days” that make me happy every time I climb on my feather light, carbon fiber road bike, or my 6-inch travel trail bike.
During my first year in Belgium, this is how it was:
My bike was light – it weighed 24 lbs. If my modern Time road bike could be compared to a Ferrari F430, my Paganini could be most likened to a wallow-tastic early 80’s Chevy station wagon. It was a used, 58cm Paganini that I bought for about $100, and had re-painted in the ‘86 Lotto Team yellow for roughly fifty bucks. It had a 13cm Cinelli quill stem with Cinelli 66×44 deep drop, non-ergo (of course!) bars, that were taped with white cloth tape. All of the bike’s other parts were Campagnolo Super Record, except for the 7-speed Maillard freewheel and Simplex retro-friction shifters. I think those shifters were about the greatest technology of the day, since they made it easier to shift into easier gears in the back and harder to shift from the big chainring into the small one. We were still primarily using non-aero brake levers because they were reliable and all of the local mechanics were afraid of the aero ones. I raced and trained on used tubular tires that I bought from local pros. I learned how to mount them, as well as roll them into a compact little package to toe-strap under my seat. When I collected enough flats, I would drop them off at the local bike shop to have them fixed for 100 Francs – roughly $2.50. Each day after training, I would wash my bike with soap and water, using diesel fuel as both degreaser and chain lube.
As for clothing, my shorts were all black, with a large leather chamois. We smeared lotion inside simply to knock down the rough spots that inevitably occur when natural leather sustains many wet – dry cycles. This was more for maintenance than comfort and I would often lube them up a day or two before the race. Comfort was accomplished with a topical anesthetic that completely numbed the skin my nether-regions for about 8 hours. This stuff was typically saved for longer races or for when I had a saddle sore that was larger than a grape. Narrow clip-on suspenders held up my shorts. I wore a thin, wool wife-beater as a base layer no matter the temperature. I would augment that with 2 layers of butcher’s paper in the front if was raining and/or windy. I often rode as a guest racer for a local amateur club and sported their purple and white wool jersey. Only white socks were allowed in competition. The all black, leather soled, leather upper, lace-up shoes had cleats on the bottom that had to be nailed on. My helmet was a black Brancale hair net and I would wear a 7-Eleven team cycling cap, with its brim pulled low for eye protection.
It is an undisputed fact that today’s races are faster than back then. I imagine that they are harder in many ways too, because with better equipment comes greater expectations. My guess though, is that we had just as much fun, if not more sometimes. So for about 20 minutes everyday I relieve the antiquated old past on my crappy old steel, single-speed, cloth-taped commuter – just enjoying the ride.