Blending In

One of the problems we cyclists face is that we stand out like a sore thumb, not only on our cycles but the way most of us dress for riding. Women seem to be able to get away with wearing most anything, but a man wearing lycra becomes an instant target. Perhaps we would find fewer objections if we blended in a bit better.

When I was checking into a motel, I noticed a bar across the street with a parking lot full of pickup trucks and decided that a cold one would be just what I needed after a hot ride. Also, perhaps someone there could give me information about the road ahead. I left my bicycle, helmet and gloves in the room and took my handlebar bag which contained my wallet, camera, phone and other things I liked to keep in easy reach with me.

It was a working-class neighborhood bar with a couple pool tables at the back. NFL and NASCAR posters decorated the walls along with pictures of nearly-naked women cut from Perfect Circle Piston Ring calendars. Several people were grouped at the pool tables and half a dozen guys were gathered around a large, round table with a huddle of empties in the middle. From the cloud, it seemed that everyone in the place was puffing away.

One of the round table bunch gave a wolf whistle as I came in, while another one asked if I couldn't find any real pants. I figure the best thing to do was ignore the fools, so I took a stool at the bar and ordered a beer. Although my back was toward the table, I could see them in the mirror behind the back bar.

They looked to all be twenty-something and the usual blue-collar types. You could tell most of their occupation from the caps they wore. One advertised a roofing company and another DeWalt power tools. One wearing a greasy NAPA cap over long, greasy hair and equally greasy blue overalls was obviously an auto mechanic. The name tag sewn over his left pocket said, "Ralph". Even had he been clean, his greasy fingernails would have given his occupation away.

Greasy fingernails, seeing the Nike logo on my shorts said, "Nike, rhymes with Dykie. Looks like something a fag would wear."

The roofer piped in, "Better be careful what you say or he'll hit you with his purse." referring to my handlebar bag which I admit does look somewhat like a purse. They all roared with laughter at his lame joke.

They made several more equally crude remarks and I looked at the bartender to see if he was going to say anything to them about abusing one of his customers. He didn't seem to be the least bit concerned and went on with serving beer. He obviously didn't want to offend any of his regulars.

The DeWalt tools guy shouted, "Hey, pops, are you deef or just think you are better than us?" A few seconds later a beer cap hit the back of my head, bounced over my shoulder and landed on the bar. The bartender saw it happen but still didn't bat an eye.

"You sure ain't much of a man to take that," said Dirty Fingernails who seemed to have assumed leadership in the taunting. I figured that the best thing was for me to get out of there before one of them decided to show his drinking buddies what a tough guy he was by beating up a man old enough to be his grandfather. I picked up my beer and handlebar bag and started for the door. "Don't forget your purse, fag man," he shouted.

The bartender called out before I got to the door, "You can't take beer outside." I set the bottle on the bar and left. I'm glad, for both my sake and theirs, that none of those redneck idiots wanted to follow me to the parking lot or I might have been forced to use one or more of the methods of defense I carry in the bag.

I'm happy to report that this sort of thing doesn't happen very often and in most places I stop, I meet some great people and get a chance to mingle with the local people. I've had wearing cycling shorts open far more doors than they closed.

Another time when the way I was dressed for riding triggered a deputy sheriff to start giving me a ration in the east Texas town of Rusk. I was quietly having a cup of coffee and minding my own business in a restaurant across the street from the courthouse when Deputy Redneck decided to start grilling me about what I was doing and why I was there. I suppose he considered my attitude and not giving him the answers he wanted to hear was a threat to his authority and he decided to show me who was boss in that town. I guess the worst part was that I did it in front of people who knew him. Click here to read the full story.

I've started carrying a pair of Supplex Nylon "Trekking" pants to slip on over my shorts when I go in most places. They weigh only a few ounces, fold up into one of its own pockets and will fit in my handlebar bag. Not only that but they actually look good wrinkled.

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Copyright 2002 by Jim Foreman