This morning I stepped out of bed in the dark, padded towards the bathroom and trod in something squishy. It was soft and it squelched. As I stepped away it wrapped itself around my ankles and toes, and held on.
How it made its way to me I don’t know because its type is usually confined to my husband’s side of the room, but when I flicked on the light, there it was in all its glory. A pair of sweaty bike knicks wrapped around my feet.
Now if you are uninitiated in the lingo, knicks are bike shorts. Not just ordinary bike shorts but a pair of lycra legs with inbuilt mesh suspenders and bi-lateral undercarriage pads resembling the rosy red backside of a rhesus monkey. On my bedroom floor currently there are three pairs, some laid out in anticipation of their next outing, the toe grabbing culprit still recovering from its last.
It must have been lonely lying there on the floor, since its twin was in a parallel universe pushing along McCarrs Creek Road embracing the muscular lower form of its owner and ensuring his delicate pieces of personal equipment were well cushioned from that crazy-hard seat he insists on using. It’s light and aerodynamic apparently, a standard bike seat. “I don’t think they’re hard,” he says when I ask, “so it’s tough for me to answer why I don’t have a soft one.” He’s pretty straightforward, my other half.
There was an article in a UK paper recently where a wife was bemoaning the fact that her husband had become a MAMIL – or a middle-aged-man-in-lycra, the now well known acronym for cyclists. Once they are older they become VOMITS, very-old-men-in-tights. I think she was trying to be funny and wry but the piece didn’t read that way. I’m not going to post a link to it, you can find it yourself if you really want to, frankly I wouldn’t bother.
As I write this piece, I’m looking out of the window at the wind trainer, an instrument of torture to which he can attach his bike for the purposes of pedalling furiously on the spot because:
- it’s raining and the roads are unsafe (the roads are always unsafe but that’s another story)
- he wants to sweat
- he has an event coming up and he doesn’t feel ready
- he wants to impress me (it works, I’m a sucker)
There’s an amazing contraption we have rigged up to the thing, which allows him to pretend that he’s racing up Mont Ventoux or Col de Madeleine en route to a bowl of chocolat chaud and a crusty baguette. The magnet at the back of the trainer adjusts the resistance to reflect the slope, it’s really quite clever and it makes him very sweaty. He tries to get me to use it but I’m usually busy that day.
My husband cycles because he loves it. It’s that simple. He is such a wriggly fidget bottom that he has to do vigorous exercise or he will drive both himself and our family crazy. He can’t run any more due to injury, and he says he sees more of his surroundings on a bike than he ever did when he ran.
But there’s a whole other dimension I observe here, beyond the sweat and the stats. He often rides with the same group of friends. Every night, they ping messages back and forth on a chat app to organise their next outing. He won’t thank me for telling you this, but I fondly call the group ‘The Handbags’ because they spend more time than my women friends organising themselves, and the ribbing they give each other if one of them physically or metaphorically deflates is hilarious.
I’ve lost track of the last time I’ve been able to watch an episode of The Good Wife or bury myself in a book without the accompanying pings from The Handbags. It used to bug me, then suddenly I got it. This cycling caper is a unique way for men of a certain age to meet and talk. And talk they do.
Do we not as a society, lament the notion that men are an island and need to talk to each other more? Are we not raising millions of dollars to combat depressive illnesses and furthering the knowledge that men must come out of their caves and talk to each other. Will we acknowledge that men need feelings, friendships and connections too?
This is the crux of it, people. My beautiful, alpha male husband is out there on the road almost daily, talking to other men and growing real, big, beautiful male friendships. Hoorah to that. The Handbags are not talking about banking, or stock markets or jobs, but about life and I love them all for it.
A few years ago, he went with a few of The Handbags for a ten day trip of a lifetime to cycle the French Alps. Mad, I know but that’s his thing and it’s ok. He’s a man of few words generally, and strongly oriented toward the factual domain, we are so not alike. Imagine my surprise when I began to receive daily missives as the European evening closed in, expressing his gratitude for the beauty of the purple flowers in the meadow and the joy of being alive. He will continue to surprise me for the rest of my life, that man.
Cycling makes my husband happy, so it makes me happy. I’ll continue to “ooh”and “aah” at the latest Garmin elevation stats, admire the super-go-fast Zipp wheels, and the sleek red and white aerodynamic frame of the Italian stallion on which they turn. I will not grunt crossly when he wakes at 3.45am to check the rain radar in case the morning ride is off, nor when one of The Handbags pings at 4.30am to say he’s not getting out of bed because the baby has been up all night. I will save for a plane ticket to France just to see him reach the top of Mont Ventoux next time he goes, so we can celebrate the joy of his achievement together.
When you next see a cyclist on the road, please remember it could be my husband or one of The Handbags, so if you would, please smile, give them a wave and a wide berth and let them come home safely, so we indoors can all breathe a sigh of relief again.
Click here for Love Letters to Lycra – Part 2 and if you’d like them in your inbox as I write them, you can sign up on the right of this page. That would be cool.