A B.S. In Commuter Science

Hello children.

If you’ve been following recent developments you would know that your Uncle Huli (World Champion, esq.) is out gallivanting across Europe with his shiny bikes and Kylie Minogue lookalikes. What you might not know, though, is that your Uncle Bobo (Brian Davis) snatched himself an administrator account to Huli’s site and has no plans on relinquishing it.

This is a coup, and you’re all witnesses.

Now, I had a number of topics into which I would have liked to delve before Benny gets back, declares a blog-level state of emergency, reinstates order and revokes my privileges. I’ve recently started suffering from an acute case of good taste, however, and as a result will limit my subjects to personal experiences that don’t involve the cruder (albeit vastly more common and entertaining) elements of my life. And so I must begin with a seemingly dull discussion of a seemingly bland daily event: my morning commute.

My commute isn’t long and, because Seattle is only slightly more bicycle-friendly than the New Jersey turnpike, I get to take advantage of a few miles of pedestrian-clogged walking trail before being forced to risk my life (and my ever-so-stylish bike shorts) outpacing construction vehicles, buses and waves of bleary-eyed, caffeine-addled motorists on busy city arterials.

But this article isn’t about my route. This article, like any piece of literature of note, is about the hunt.

Almost every morning, without fail (except when I do, indeed, fail to wake up on time… or just don’t feel like riding), I dress myself in the ridiculous garb of a cyclist, don my awkward helmet and illogical shoes, fill my bottle with a watered-down slurry of sugary gag sauce, and lug my bike down to the trail below the house. I follow the same route, peppered with the same companions, every time. No situation would seem to be more ripe for boredom, and yet I am excited when I start each morning.

Why? Because I know it’s only a matter of time until I get “the look”.

Anybody who’s ever competed in anything knows what I’m talking about. Frequently overlooked by the competitively challenged, this “look” is often little more than a furtive glance. Typically, it’s veiled by another, usually innocuous, action — a cyclist tilts their head back to quaff their Greytorade, slipping a sidelong gaze at potential prey; two shoppers size each other up as they purposefully pilot their carts toward the same spot in line, ostensibly looking over each others’ shoulders at the magazine rack or the deli. For those who have honed their senses to detect its presence, “the look” carries the full force of a naked slap to the face. It’s a challenge, and practitioners of the art of rivalry cannot resist its promise at a chance for glory.

I don’t usually proffer “the look” in most daily situations. I’m not inherently aggressive and have made a conscious effort for years at extending my limited capacity for patience. It’s not my style. I am, however, uniquely susceptible to its seductive power. As Ben will readily admit, I have extreme difficulty containing my natural enthusiasm for competition and, once uncorked, often take things too far. So it is with relish that I await the first fool’s blunder at casting their hungry eye upon me when I venture onto Burke-Gilman each morning.

And why wouldn’t they make so simple a mistake? I’m not much to look at; awkward and yawning, misted with the first beads of sweat after a mere ten minutes on the trail. I appear goofy and vulnerable in my casual clothing. I have thus far failed to fall victim to the terminal effects of cyclist consumerism. I wear a plain white t-shirt and aging shorts. My shoes are of the cheap tri variety, dress socks peeping over their tops. My pedals are hulking black plastic Look cannonballs, each weighing as much as one of Ben’s new bikes. And then there’s my bike…

Forged in the deep, looming pits of Mt. Heavy, my bike’s frame alone weighs more than its rider. Wherever its designers felt the frame wouldn’t be able to sustain a metric ton of dead weight they added large, unsightly globs of welding slag and reinforced the interior with yet more steel. The tires are engineered to contain just the right number of knobs per square inch to absolutely maximize friction with the road. The bars are flat, unergonomic monstrosities that force me to sit rigidly upright, like the Wizard of Oz‘s Miss Gulch after a proctologist visit.

The other cyclists are right to underestimate me. I look like the stereotypical amateur.

And so, when I come to a red light and stop amongst the other cyclists, I’m not immune to the modest smirks and, given a fellow rider of sufficient cockiness, “the look”.

I can feel a non-verbal challenge even if I can’t see it. I’m instantly taken back to the world of competitive swimming, where the art of sizing up a competitor and exchanging challenges is so subtle and mystic as to be lost to all but those who already know it. Every action, every twitch, every glance and breath is imbued with deeper meaning and ripe for interpretation. The blocks are thick with malice and confidence and a complex swirl of challenges and rebuttals and concessions. This is a highly ritualized dance, unparalleled in the animal world.

I react on a subconscious level, not really aware that I’m tensing up to spring. I pretend to look around casually, but my senses are keenly awakened. The world seems to shrink and fall easily into the field of my eye. Irrelevant sights and sounds and smells blend into the fog and are forgotten. Only the variables that matter are left to me, and I feel in control of them all. I am all perception and readiness.

The instant the light changes, all pretense vanishes. I stand up in the pedals, clip my left foot in and push for all I’m worth. Universal laws begin to take effect, such as the one dictating that an adrenaline-soaked 24 year old former collegiate athlete who hates to lose above all things will always trump a 40-something weekend warrior with legs the diameter of a young girl’s wrist who has a problem with chronic underestimation. My retribution is swift and unrelenting. I want to grind the sinner into a quaking heap for daring to challenge me. And to make their defeat all the more sound, I don’t let up until they can no longer see me. I don’t want them to fail; I want them to fail utterly, and with the belief that I continued on at a pace that broke them after only a short stretch.

True victory, though, happens long before they drop from view. That’s just icing on an already sweet, fluffy cake of superiority. True victory is mine the very instant I see them give up. Their body sags and their face takes on the muted look of a puppy with a urinary tract infection. They drop back quickly and do nothing to hide their exasperation. Nothing is quite so pleasurable, after so brash a challenge, as the joy of watching a man question his abilities acquired over the course of dozens of years and thousands of dollars. They seem so completely broken and in disbelief.

Bested by a scrawny, four-eyed mule on a $500 hybrid mudrunner, I’m sure they can’t help but feel taken by Burke-Gilman trail’s own resident pool shark.

Published by Ben

Ben Collins Professional Triathlete

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  1. Some observations:
    1) you should basically write Ben’s blog for him or at the very least spell check it.
    2) i know you’re type: an everquesting sort who assumes you can win the BGT championship (it actually is not winable – I tried)
    3) a real rider would show up at the bottom of cougar mtn or mt tam looking for unsuspecting roadies instead of punking them on a cool down ride
    4) when you give up on trying to win the BGT championship try heading down here for the San Francisco to Mill Valley commute-styled road race. There are many who race it every day – I try and give them a taste of an Ian-styled House of Pain (aka – the IHOP) 25+mph for a few miles.
    5) start your own blog – you’ll put us all to shame
    6) I’ll never underestimate the fitness of a swimmer – I’ve been dropped on the flats by a hairy legged world champion on an easy ride.
    7) I can’t believe you ride Miss Gulchs’ bike. I think Ben can hook you up with an ugly blue thing that is sitting in my garage
    8) please don’t look to ben for bike fashion tips.
    9) i think you’re still in pain over that whole AWAD pool incident – it’s ok to cry.
    10) if coup is pronounced ‘cou’ then why don’t we have the ‘sou of the day’?

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