Lycra-Wearing Cyclists & the Human Response

An investigative study.

Outside Bozeman received an unusually high amount of flack regarding a certain article by editor-at-large Drew Pogge called “Living with Lycra”:

It’s scientific fact that 99.8% of people should never, ever, under any circumstance wear lycra. Especially attention-grabbing, brightly-colored lycra. So why does nearly 100% of the amateur roadie population insist on donning belly-fat-squeezing, frank-and-bean enhancing, ass-crack sweating “cycling apparel”? Seriously. Spandex is gross, and I petition that people wear it only in the privacy of their own homes, or at German raves, where it’s appropriate

Many in the "biking community" felt this was an unfair attack on their lifestyle; stern calls, angrier voicemails, and formal letters of complaint from certain Bozeman area bike teams. Some were afraid that the article would incite dangerous threats and violence against innocent lycra-wearers, some felt it was an attack on the already low body-image of Americans, others were angry that no other group was attacked (they were right! No other group was made fun of in that article!). I’ll admit, I was initially astounded by the shockingly low sense of humor and equally amazed at the illogically formed complaints that the lycra-community showed regarding a light-hearted humor article that poked fun of the clothing that they choose to wear.

I’ll also be the first to admit that my judgment was premature. Could I accurately judge the feelings of another person if I’ve never walked in their shoes? (or in this case, biked in their lycra) Being the investigative journalist and open-minded citizen of the world that I so expertly am, I decided to immerse myself in the lifestyle of the people whom Outside Bozeman so unfairly attacked this summer. I wanted to see what they see, feel what they feel, drink what they drink, shop where they shop. I wanted to live like they live.

I became a Bozeman lycra-cyclist.

When this ‘cycling’ enthusiast finally stopped heaving and stood, his jersey rode up to just under his generous man-teats and revealed an enormous grey belly covered by sweaty tufts of dark hair. He also appeared to be smuggling a small buffet of grapes and sausage in his sagging lycra shorts.

To ensure the most accurate response, I had to look the part. Fortunately our skinny photo editor, Ryan, is an avid mountain-biker who happened to have an extra lycra suit laying around; one that correctly made me look like the cyclist portrayed in the above paragraph on my 6’1 225lb frame. I couldn’t help but think of Chris Farley in Tommy Boy the first time I put it on. I put on my skin-tight uniform (it was tough), tightly buckled on my aerodynamic helmet, strapped a huge sports watch on my wrist, put three large water bottles in the back of the jersey, and headed out of the office on editor Mike England’s sweet new expensive Kona bike to Summit Bike & Ski on Grand to complete my look. The guys at Summit hooked me up with some cycling gloves and some glamorous 1980’s multicolored sunglasses with a biking mirror clipped on the slide. Needless to say, I looked the part.

Trailed by Ryan documenting with his camera and Mike documenting on paper, I walked the bike down Main Street and began the experiment of “lycra-wearing cyclists and the human response.” I discarded the exuberant laughter about my appearance by the Summit employees from study, as they were privy to the experiment.

I was initially shocked by how few people stared at me during my first city block with most people walking by looking at their shoes. My first human interaction came from the ladies behind counter of Wild Joe’s staring, smiling, and obviously holding back laughter while taking my “small cherry Italian soda” order. The first to acknowledge the elephant in the room, one of them sarcastically said “so, ya go biking today?” to which I responded, “beautiful day for a bike ride” (a line I commonly used the rest of the day) and commented how I wish I had a pocket to put the change left over from my purchase. Mike, Ryan, and I plopped down on seats by the window to enjoy my Italian soda, one table over from a mother with her three energetic children. Children, always the most honest with their opinions, openly laughed at my clown-like appearance. It was time to gauge more human reactions lycra-cyclists so we headed out to the sidewalk.

Thinking there would be a bond between fellow cyclists—regardless of clothing and bicycle choice—I attempted to make small talk with a college-aged gentlemen wearing khaki’s and a t-shirt trying to unlock his reasonably priced cruiser. “Beautiful day for a bike ride, huh?” I said. After what felt like five minutes (probably 3 seconds) of the most uncomfortable silence, with him trying to pretend I didn’t just talk to him by locking his eyes on his bike lock, I answered my own question: “any day’s a beautiful day for a bike ride, am I right?” He couldn’t have unlocked his bike fast enough and sped off.

Next, I saw a group of attractive college girls coming out of a clothing boutique, the kind of girls that I’d like to meet. I needed to see what they thought; maybe a couple of them were into cyclists? I walked to the end of the block, to ensure that the group and me would pass on the sidewalk. They were coming; here was my only chance. “Hey, how ya doin’?” I said while grinning. Nothing. Exactly zero response, other than a few deer-in-the-headlights look at me. Maybe they didn’t hear me. “Hey, how ya doin’?” I said a second time. I did get a reaction this time; as soon as they were behind me, a snarky “uhhh no” a disapproving “wow” came from two of the gals. I was shut down.

Next, I decided to lean against the bike in a relaxed pose, and engage passersby in conversation. “Hey, how ya doin’?” I said while nodding to everybody walking by. After 10 minutes or so, I moved to the other side of Main Street to do the same thing. I received a mixture of people horrifyingly walking past me in silence without eye contact and people smiling at me like I was a clown making balloon animals. What I learned was that pretty much everybody did a double-take when I came into view and the longer I stayed in one place, the more likely they were to both answer my prompt with a “I’m fine, you?” and openly giggle at my appearance. I sat down on a bench with a goateed gentleman in motorcycle regalia, hoping he would harshly judge my appearance. He was the nicest one all day; instead of laughing at me he asked me about how my bike ride was and where I went.

It was time for the conclusion of the study

I recently watched another group of roadies drinking beer at a bar—an indoor bar—wearing not only their ridiculous lycra body-condoms, but their helmets. Yep, they sat there swilling beer with chin straps buckled for over an hour. It was like Revenge of the Nerds, Spandex edition.

I headed to Ted’s to enjoy a couple of adult beverages in my cycling outfit (on my 21st birthday!) and took an outdoor table so we could still study people’s reactions. We stayed there a long time. With almost everybody walking by taking a glance at me once, quickly. We noticed a couple of guys sitting on a bench across the street, in front of Chalet Sports, that Ryan, Mike, and Abby (who joined us at Ted’s) insisted I need to take a seat with to end my day in lycra. I made small talk about the weather, they laughed, sat down between them and we went back to Summit to drop of some of the supplies and when back to the O/B office.

It was over; I unbuckled my helmet for the first time in hours, and put on my legitimate, non-lycra clothing. Thank god. Waiting for this experiment to come to an end was like a second-grader waiting for the first day of summer. It felt like it took so long, but it was so good when it finally came.

Now that I’ve put myself in the place of the cyclists that were upset, angry, and offended by the “Living with Lycra” article, I feel that I can accurately judge the article and the complaints of the lycra community.
1) Displaying your junk while running errands in lycra is much more offensive to the general public than any humor article about people displaying their junk while running errands in lycra.
2) Lycra is silly in almost every circumstance. If you are unsure of whether you would look silly in your particular circumstance, look around you. If you don’t see Lance Armstrong, France, an international sponsor on your jersey, and a bike between your legs, then you will most likely look silly in your particular circumstance
3) Other than the group of attractive college girls shutting me down, laughter and avoidance were the only overt responses that could be thought of as negative. Never once did I feel threatened.
4) Instead of calling and emailing Outside Bozeman with angry and offended messages, look in a mirror. Instead, get baggier clothing or learn to not be hypersensitive and learn when a joke is just a joke. At the very minimum, if you can admit that your look is kind of funny, you’re on the right path to living a logical existence.