Thursday, May 21, 2015

Is There a Cycling "Body Type"?

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Is body image used for body shaming?

This Article talks discusses why anyone can be a good cyclist, regardless of their height and body proportions.



I remember the day clearly when I was told that I was not cut out for climbing because I "did not look like a climber". I was doing hill repeats with a then friend of mine and I kept passing him up the hill when he told me to put the bike on an easier gear and just pace myself up the climb. I told him I loved to climb, it was and still is one of my favorite things to do when I ride. That's when he told me that I basically wouldn't cut it as a climber because I wasn't short and under 110 pounds. According to a lot of cyclists, climbers are short and skinny and if a cyclist doesn't have the right body type, they basically can't climb, at least competitively. 

On local criteriums and on group rides, I have been referred to as the "big boy", especially when I'm the first to reach the top of the climb or when I can hang with the fast guys in the bunch. At 190 pounds, my size tends to catch people off guard when I ride, probably because they are not expecting what I have under the hood. I have been cycling consistently for the past 8 years without any long pauses, I'm not some couch potato with a fleeting interest in the sport that just decided to buy a bike one day and go for a ride. I have done the miles, the elevations and the speeds to cement my position as a cyclist, regardless of what I may physically look like.  I get it, the amount of exercise that I do does not reflect my physical gains. If I ride 50 to 90 miles a week, swim and do push ups, one would think that would be enough to put me at my body mass index or lower. But is that all that is important? How important are aesthetics, really? Is there a climbing body "type" or a cycling "type"? This article sheds light on labeling people by their body types instead of their athletic ability. It's a common practice in the fitness industry that needs to be exposed, because everybody making money off the industry is doing it. Let's review the origins of body shaming and how this can even be a practice among cyclists.


What are Somatotypes?

In the 1940's there was this psychologist named William H. Sheldon that basically came to the conclusion that there are three general body types; Ectomorphs, Mesomorphs and Endomorphs. Ectomorphs are tall, narrow waisted, long limbed people with high running metabolisms. Mesomorphs are more rectangular, muscular bodied individuals of average height with proportionate torso and leg lengths. Endomorphs are usually shorter individuals with strong leg muscles, wide chests and hips and slower metabolisms. Aside from this scientific observation, Sheldon's logic basically ends there. His psycho-analysis of personality traits associated with different body types was dismissed by the scientific community as quackery that bordered on Eugenics. Despite this, somatotypes are still widely accepted in the health and bodybuilding communities, one only has to do a google search in order to confirm this. Somatotypes have even inadvertently made their way into popular culture, and have been used as a way of body shaming for people who do not meet the Ectomorphic or Mesomorphic ideal.

The three somatotypes (body types) as described by Sheldon. Not
everyone (myself included) falls into these 3 categories.


Am I denying that there are three general body types? I am not denying that those body types exist, however I believe that most people will not fall into one specific category. For instance, I have always had long, strong legs, wide hips and broad shoulders. I can't really say that I would fit any specific body category. I can gain weight easily, but I can also gain muscle as well. According to Sheldon I would be  somewhere between a mesomorph and an endomorph. However, that doesn't limit what I can do well on a bike. Consider the following examples of successful cyclists who did not meet the body "ideal" for cycling.

Miguel Indurain: AKA "Big Mig"

Miguel Indurain, nicknamed Big Mig in his heyday, was a "big boy" for a cyclist, especially for a five time Tour De France winner. He was written off by many cyclists in the early 90's as being too big to climb, by their anorexic standards. At his competitive weight, Indurain was 176 pounds which is not bad for a guy that is 6' 2". He was known as a time trial specialist, but he was also a very good climber. I mean, nobody can win any grand tour unless they are a good climber. Especially five times in a row including a Giro-Tour double in one consecutive year.

Marcel Kittel Vs. Mark Cavendish: Ivan Drago vs. Rocky Balboa

Marcel Kittel and Mark Cavendish are both world-class sprinters in their own right. Mark Canvendish, known as the Manx-missle is probably the most decorated sprinter of all time. What's the difference between these two, one might ask? Marcel Kittel is a hefty boy coming in at 190 pounds, what I currently weigh, versus Canvendish who weighs 159 pounds. That's a 30 pound difference between the two sprinters. Kittel is 6'2" feet tall and Cavendish comes in at a stalky 5'9". This disproves any theory that there is a specific body type for sprinting.

On an interesting side note, Marcel Kittel and Chris Froome are both the same height. However Chris Froome is currently one of the world's best climbers and the overall winner of the Tour De France in 2013. Chris Froome is a true Ectomorph by Sheldon's standards, coming in at a super light 157 pounds for his height. We can then compare that to the world's best climber, Nairo Quintana, who comes in at 5'6" (actually rumored to be 5' 3") tall and weighs 128 pounds, a "true" endomorph. The resulting conclusion is that there is no right or wrong body structure for any specific aspect of cycling. The broader conclusion is that there is really no one body category that we can assign ourselves or others to and that this type of labeling is divisive and wrong. 


As prevalently seen in our society, too many people try to fit themselves into a mold of what they consider to be an ideal body type. Sadly we see this way too often in the case of women. Most models are true ectomorphs, but most people are endomorphs, mesomorphs, somewhere in between or none of the above. Many fit women with shapely bodies and curved hips starve themselves to look like the stick figure women they see modeling clothing in their favorite magazines. Chances are the models themselves are either sticking their fingers down their throats or may just have a naturally occurring higher metabolism. Either way trying to fit a physical mold to gain social acceptance is a marketing ploy used by every company, fitness guru and fad diet across the spectrum to get people to buy into their products, usually by making people feel inadequate about themselves and guilty.  Women are all too often the ones who fall victims to this kind of manipulation as they struggle with their body images. However, as has occurred with me personally in the case of my cycling, women are not the only ones who struggle with this. Men just a little heavier than me are sometimes assigned to their own racing category, known as "Clydesdales". That's right, the big horses that pull the Budweiser wagon, that's what guys over 200 pounds are referred to in the cycling world. Chances are if a cyclist is 5'10" and is not at or below their BMI, they will be considered a "Clydesdale" and will be told that they need to ride on 40 spoke count wheels and a Hi-Tensile reinforced steel frame.




The take away from this article is that we shouldn't judge the athletic ability of others by their physical appearance or aesthetics. Fabio Aru may look like Borat, Jan Ullrich may look like Patrick Renna, Chris Froome may look like one of those aliens off the planet Kamino, Nairo Quintana might be the Keebler elf, that's beside the point. Some of the best athletes in the world look too weird, too tall, too short, too nerdy, too thin or too "not" thin to be doing what they're doing. A cyclist might be rail thin with chiseled features and a strong jaw line, that doesn't mean they have the mental or physical aptitude to beat another cyclist who might be on the portly side but has hardened up through many years of riding a bike. That doesn't mean that they are "full natural" athletes either. "Fat" cyclists can also climb up hills and it would be much to our detriment and shame to assume otherwise. Does the sport favor the skinny? Absolutely it does. Yet as we cited in the previous examples, there are many athletes who are at a healthy weight that are also the best at what they do. Instead of focusing on aesthetics and body type, cyclists should focus on honing their abilities and skill sets, knowing how to climb, when to attack and how to outwit fitter cyclists in a competitive scenario. More importantly we as cyclists should be out there just having fun without the need to stroke our own egos, thinking we are better than others who share our mutual passion. Not every ride has to be a race and not every rider we meet has to be a rival.  Just know that it's better to make friends on the roads than to be dropped by cyclists who appear to be older, fatter or less experienced than we are.



This blog post is directed specifically at all of the self-proclaimed fitness gurus that go around damaging other people's self-esteem on the internet to get them to submit to their quack fad diets or to get hits on their YouTube videos. They're the ones that will typically talk to others without their shirts on, flexing their pectorals on camera for five full minutes while they discredit the other YouTube competition and create social media drama. They recommend training methods and diets that are not sustainable for the long haul and foods many people can't even buy locally. I can only hope that some of these self made nutritional PHDs  read this blog post and start putting some useful information out there. I'm looking at you Durianrider, less talk with your pecs, grab your bike and let's go ride some hills together full natty brah style.




"BMI is just a guideline and the rest is common sense. There is no  magic number on the scale to tell us what we should weigh. There is only the weight that we can look good in, be healthy with, fit in our clothes well with, be confident with and feel proud of ourselves with. The best weight is the one we can sustain and maintain for the rest of our lives. I say this to both the men and the ladies"


  


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Why Do People Dislike Cyclists?

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Discussing why some people dislike cyclists, and the behaviors that contribute to negative stereotypes.




Chances are if someone has been riding a bicycle on the roads for years, they may have experienced the road rage of angry motorists, the ridicule from their friends or even have had near death experiences on the road with motorists or on the trail with pedestrians. To be fair, all dedicated cyclists encounter this, whether they are "good", friendly cyclists or cyclists with entitlement issues and god complexes. There are certain types of behaviors that trigger the ire in motorists and even other cyclists that we can avoid. This will contribute to mutual respect on the roads and a safer commute or ride to our destinations. I'm going to shed some light as to what these negative behaviors are and how we can avoid them.


"The Roadie Complex": Even among other cyclists, the term "roadie" is usually applied in derogatory form. It's not something cyclists are proud of or like being called, usually because of all of the negative stereotypes that are attached with the term. When someone is labeled a roadie, is it not simply because they are cycling on the road. A guy on a mountain bike riding on the street is not going to be labeled a roadie. Neither will a plain clothes cyclist on an old road bike. The phrase is almost always exclusively applied to the spandex clad, carbon fiber cyclist with a "look at me" attitude. Although some people apply the term to a rider's physical appearance and/or bike, physical appearance and style of bicycle have nothing to do with it. Note that the "attitude" has to be present is order for the label to stick. The "look at me" attitude can take many forms, but the principal attribute is rudeness. A cyclist can be rude when he or she doesn't acknowledge other trail users. They can be rude when they fail to yield to pedestrians or come to complete stops at intersections. Sometimes riding two abreast on two lane, two way streets instead of riding single file can be perceived as rudeness by motorists.  Roadies get upset when other cyclists on cheaper bikes can keep up with them and pass them on the roads. Roadies will label other cyclists as Freds or wheel-suckers if another cyclist who is not a roadie joins their pacelines and tags along. Nothing is more satisfying than finishing ahead of a group ride full of roadies on a $500 bicycle, knowing full well that those riders spent thousands on their equipment.

"The god Complex": There is a difference between someone who cares about the environment and recycles when possible and someone who is an environmental activist. There is also a difference between somebody who rides a bike responsibly and obeys traffic laws whenever possible and someone who lords it over everybody else. Vehicular cycling is a complicated subject, because the rules may differ from city to city and regulations may be tougher in some places rather than others. Some cities require cyclists to wear helmets and only ride on the designated bike lanes. Others may allow a cyclist to only yield at stop signs instead of observing a complete stop and waiting three seconds. In recent times with the popularity of Go-Pro cameras, cyclists have been arming themselves with valuable evidence when they experience on road collisions with motorists. Sadly, some cyclists have taken this technology as an opportunity to incite confrontations with motorists and even other cyclists, in order to provoke a response. They have then publicized their videos on YouTube and other online media outlets, making publicly known the "offender's" identity. Although the videos may be amusing to watch, it is possibly the worst kind of behavior any cyclist who wants respect on the roads can demonstrate.  


I have personally taken the League of American Cyclists safety course, known as Traffic Skills 101. As a cyclist, I know that the majority of responsibility for my safety depends on me. Taking the lane, coming to complete stops at city intersections, wearing high visibility clothing and lights while riding at night are all critical components of bike safety, especially while riding in the city. As previously mentioned, different places have different rules. The rules that apply in an urban area may not apply in a rural area or a designated trail system. That doesn't absolve the rider from using common sense in every given occasion. Common sense, good judgement and being able to adapt to the environment are more important than trying to strictly follow the rule book. As a cyclist, I have observed overly-righteous bicycle activists get into confrontations with other fellow cyclists, because they are not riding in the "correct" way. I have known many guys who ride to work helmet-less on their Huffys using the sidewalk instead of the road, for example. Many of them have never had an accident. I have also known dedicated street cyclists that have been taken out by cars or have been in multiple accidents. That's why it's better to use common sense, and sometimes throw the rule book out the window.





Some people ride a bike to get in shape, to explore, to exercise between errands and to set personal distance goals. Not everybody who rides a road bike wants to race. A good chunk of the would-be consumer bicycle market has been alienated because retailers still want to sell people on racing. Some people who ride bikes do not appreciate riding a bike unless they participate in a race. To many, there are training miles, junk miles and racing. They don't take the time to get friends or family involved and strain relationships because their hobby has become an obsession. There are also many in the Vegan movement that exhibit the god complex by riding a bike because "it is the environmentally friendly thing to do" or "it's green". Some Vegans can find solace in knowing that they will probably be able to dodge a squirrel on a bike better than in a car. Nobody needs to know the reasons out loud why anybody else decides to ride a bike. It's one of the reasons why cyclists have not been able to fully integrate into society. If someone is always carrying around a billboard announcing everything that they do, that's going to get really annoying real fast.


"Douche-baggery": A term of my own invention, Douche-baggery, or being an overall douche bag, is synonymous with being an elitist or a snob. It's a form of social and economic exclusivity among cyclists. It usually involves yuppie cyclists with lots of disposable income and a superiority complex. Douche-baggers can come in all ages and genders, but the majority of their constituents are middle aged males who are on their second of third failed relationship, mostly due to their narcissistic and entitled tendencies. Some cyclists give the money that they spent on their equipment way too much importance. They spend time dissecting other cyclist's bikes and giving a nod of approval or a disdainful upward tilt of the nose. They may also be endlessly upgrading non-essential components in order to shave grams off of their bike weights. Those upgrades cost money, and it quickly becomes evident among cyclists who's dropped the most cash. Those who have a no frills, function over fashion bicycle are considered "entry-level" cyclists and are treated like the ugly duckling on group rides. The guy who brings an expensive bicycle to a group ride is given automatic respect, the guy on the cheaper bike has to earn it. The person on the more inexpensive bike may be left out in the front of the paceline to do more than their required share of the pull. They might also experience sudden attacks from the rest of the group as the group attempts to drop them. Even when the cyclist earns respect, other cyclists might tell them how much faster they would be on a more expensive bike. I have been riding long enough to say that most new bikes, whether they are made of steel, aluminum or carbon, have a similar advantage; they all roll. They all shift, they all brake, they do what they need to do. The difference between a $500 bike and a $1000 bike is a few pounds, like about 3. The rest is the engine. Sorry, but money can't buy performance.


So this has been my thoughts on the psychology behind why some people dislike cyclists. Unlike other sports, there is a lot of unnecessary drama among those who participate, especially and almost singularly among road cyclists. I wish I could say that these are mere perceptions than realities, especially when it comes to other cyclists. There are a multitude of blogs written by other cyclists with similar articles like this one that will reinforce the notion that these negative behaviors are not one-off experiences. Most people don't believe most cyclists are natural athletes, even though many claim to be. Many aging cyclists can get legitimate prescriptions for cortisone, steroids, B-12 injections, Viagra and other medications which are essentially performance enhancing drugs. Even on the local level, doping is rampant. Some affluent cyclists have been able to get accessibility to other agents such as Clenbuterol and Thymosin Beta-4 (TB-500), the new EPO. There are very few natural athletes in the sport, even fewer that place well in events. This has become a divisive issue within cycling, and contributes to the overall disconnect people feel towards the sport and it's participants.


These are the real reasons why people dislike cyclists. It's not because they think that all cyclists don't pay road taxes or that cyclists think they are above the law. Those are regurgitated statements to mask the real reasons. The real reason could very well be as simple as someone who once liked riding bicycles and would like to do so as an adult but finds themselves unable to wear spandex and afford an expensive bling bike. It could be the outraged parent of a kid that nearly got run over by a pack of cyclists on a multi-use trail. It could be that some people see cycling as expensive and socially unattainable. The purpose of this article is to make us look inside ourselves as cyclists and see what we are doing. Does this article describe you? Don't be offended, dear reader, if it does. We have all had to go through a learning curve in order to become better cyclists. Whether we are new cyclists or have spent years as recreational or competitive ones, there is always room for improvement. Let's change the negative perceptions people might have by reinforcing positive ones. Let's be inclusive to everybody on a bike, even if their bike isn't as expensive as ours. Let's greet people on the trail and especially other cyclists. Let's use traffic signals and be aware, visible and predictable on the roads. While this might not eliminate every negative encounter we might have, we can at least take the burden and the target off of our backs.