I’m almost through J.P. Partland’s excellent book Tour Fever (full review to come soon…really), and a brief passage relatively early on stuck with me. Regarding the relatively unassuming physique of pro cyclists, Partland writes:
They’re not crazy tall like basketball players, big like football or baseball players, beefy like skiers, or as skeletal as marathon runners. At first glance, they may not even arouse notice. Standing around in street clothes, they might look like underfed graduate students or people who have just returned from a grueling trip…Even standing around in bike clothes, they might not arouse too much attention.
And if it weren’t for those shaved legs and tan-lines, we really would blend in to the general populace without notice. For me, it’s been relatively rare that my limbs and lines caused a sensation. Besides having my legs ogled by male go-go dancers on Key West’s Duval Street and having seemingly everyone in the monstrously spacious outdoor hot spring in Glenwood Springs, CO drop their jaws in horror when my shirt came off, I’ve had relatively few instances of my cycling tribal markings being exposed to the public. I’m not a beach person. When I must be a beach person the shirt stays on. I’m a firm believer that Speedos should only be worn by someone swimming for an Olympic medal. I’m not Italian therefore genetically programmed to eradicate tan lines by any means necessary. And all in all, I really don’t care. I ride outside, I get tan lines, I have shaved legs, end of story.
But some of us aren’t so cavalier and thick-skinned. Particularly when you’re negotiating your way through high school. On Long Island. In Joey Buttafuoco land. Hence, my tale of a particular NYC area Junior cyclist who I only know as “The Poodle”. Let me preface this by saying I never witnessed in person what I’m about to describe. I may have unknowingly raced against him in my NY Junior days, but it was only years after while drinking beers with some NYC racing veterans that this story come to my attention. This wise young man wanted the best of both worlds…to race on the weekends with shaved legs so as not to arouse fredly snickers and to simultaneously hit the clubs with the ladies and subtly reinforce his manly prowess with nonchalantly exposed hints of leg hair. See, The Poodle shaved his legs except for a pristine, un-shorn thicket of full-on man hair extending approximately 3-4 inches above each ankle. This way he could render his Poodle trim invisible while wearing the usual socks one dons while cycling and only expose shaved leg flesh to the cycling crowd. And he could also wear his Miami-Vice-esque duds to clubs…slender loafers…no socks…and he could casually sit down with one ankle crossed on top of his other knee and expose his “hairy” legs to the ladies. Just don’t let those Don Johnson trousers hike up too high.
It was never explained to me how he survived gym class showers with his secret intact…or how he ever went to the beach. Perhaps that’s how the legend of The Poodle germinated and spread like wild fire.
So the lesson here is…be proud of your tan lines, be proud of your fully shaved legs, and leave creative shaving to the Best in Show set. There’s just no way you can explain poodle tufts like you can a regularly shorn leg. But then again, it’s stories like these that make cycling lore so preposterously rich.