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« Wasting Space | Main | Impossible Dreams »

Tuggos in Top

I set out for a ride last Sunday at around 6:30 am. It is best to get out early at this time of year in South Carolina; as by 11:00 am it is brutally hot.

About six miles out I needed to make a left turn, and checked my rear view mirror. I noticed what I can only describe as a huge orange “Blob” on a bike coming up behind me. I gave a hand signal and moved to the center of the road in readiness to make my turn.

The Blob followed and after I turned he came by me; a young twenty-something man on a bike, wearing a fluorescent orange tee shirt. He was huge; at a guess well over six feet, and at least 350 lbs., maybe even 450.

“Good morning,” I said.... Not so much as a peep from my morbidly obese fellow traveler. As he went by I saw why; he was wearing head phones. He had on a pair of baggy shorts, and his calves were shaped like huge upturned beer bottles.

He was riding in the highest gear he had, pedaling in slow motion but going 3 or 4 mph faster than me; I was happily spinning my medium gear. I wondered, do people who don’t know any better, think a bike is like a car that you shift up through the gears until you reach the smallest cog, and then you leave it there.

I had no interest in upping my pace; I was planning to do at least 50 miles, and I doubted the orange blob was going that far. Sure enough, not long after he disappeared from sight I spotted him again in the distance headed back on the opposite side. As we passed I gave my usual smile and a wave; I was totally ignored as before.

The whole incident made me think back to the 1950s when I started riding. Back in the UK we used to call people like that “Tuggos.” Now I just call them POBs or “People on Bikes.” The term Tuggo usually applied to the younger male. An old Geezer on a bike, or a female, would not be a Tuggo.

The orange blob definitely fell into the category of Tuggo. Don’t get me wrong; I am not knocking what this person was doing. He was out getting some exercise and at least trying to reduce his weight; but a Tuggo or a POB is one who hasn’t yet learned the little refinements, like position, gear choice, etc., that make cycling more of a pleasure.

When I started racing the smallest rear sprocket available was 14 teeth; so top gear was around 96 inches. The top gear, as it is today was reserved for downhill, and maybe a fast sprint finish with a tail wind. We would do most of our racing on about 81 or 86 inch gear.

This meant we pedaled a lot faster than today, and so usually trained on about 65 to 70 inches. Back in the 1950s there were a lot of Tuggos, people who used bikes as their only means of transport. Especially young people in their teens or twenties; most could not afford a car. I didn’t pass my driving test and own a car until I was almost 30 years old, which was pretty typical.

So we would be out training in a group of maybe ten or so riders; during a warm summer evening. We would be in an orderly pace line, and spinning, or “Twiddling” as we called it, at about 100 rpm. All of a sudden a Tuggo would come flying past us pushing his highest gear.

He was invariably out for the evening dressed in a suit and tie, which would be flying in the wind. Remember this was the 1950s and people dressed up if they went out socially. The average Tuggo was usually pretty fit as he rode a bike everywhere, and was good for a short turn of speed especially as he was in a much higher gear.

We usually ignored them, apart from whoever was at the back of the pace line giving a warning shout of “Tuggo in Top,” as he came by. We seldom gave chase, because that would just break up the pace line; and anyway the Tuggo usually stopped at the next pub; if not we would pass him again on the next hill.

Fond memories of a far simpler times, and Tuggos in top.



Reader Comments (26)

Lovely memories Dave. Thanks for the sharing. I'm sure I will be seeing plenty of Tuggos this weekend in Breckenridge. One question : any idea or thoughts on the etymology of the term "Tuggo"?

August 2, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterskylab

Hi Dave. I'm a late comer to computers but you make it worthwhile.
Did you use the term ' SPROG ' at all, or ' ANKLING '.
We Surrey kids did.
Keep the news coming !
What about ' a bit of a burn up ' on the way home ?

August 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony C. born 1941

Anthony C,
I don't remember the term SPROG applied to cycling, we sometimes called a baby a little sprog.
I wrote about ANKLING in an article here
A Burn Up or a Tear Up was like an unofficial race.

August 2, 2012 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

When I rode with a club in the 1950s in England (London), I never heard the term "Tuggo". We called them Scrubbers. People who rode gaspipe "racers" with the fenders removed. No clubman would ride in a group without fenders because of all the rain. Only later did I learn that the term "scrubber" was applied to immoral young women.

August 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohn B

Love the term -- Tuggo!

I see a lot of them on my commute.

August 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterErik Husby

Does the term "Tuggo" include being rude and lacking etiquette? Because the orange blob was sorely lacking in both of those categories. I've def met my share of those!


August 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJay

A Sprog was a young newcomer who had made innocent but unfortunate choices in dress and / or equipment. In today's jargon uncool ?
The ' fast boys ' would initiate a Burn Up at the end ( last 5 miles ? ) of the disciplined sunday club run.

August 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony C. born 1941

As someone who is beginning I have been wondering about such things as which gear to use when and some of the other refinements you mention in this post.

Do you have any suggestions on where or how to learn these things?

August 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterScott

It is pretty flat where I live; I usually use my 50 chainring and 17, 18, or 19 sprockets. I may go a little higher if I am drafting behind someone and the pace is high, but I seldom go higher than my 15 sprocket on the flat. I usually ride around 18 to 20 mph (Average about 16 mph on longer rides of 50 miles or more.
If you are starting out you need to learn how to spin (Pedal fast and smoothly.)

August 3, 2012 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

Some good advice from Dave. However, I'd suggest getting a bike computer with the cadence feature. They're harder to find, cost a bit more and are more work to install, but worth it. Whenever you see your cadence dropping below 70 you need to drop down a gear. I'm most comfortable riding between 75 and 95 rpm.

And another thing. It looks like Jay wondered if not acknowledging another cyclist waving of saying "Hi" is being rude. You know, sometimes one is so engrossed in riding, they miss seeing another rider coming towards them. They're not always being rude or clueless. But riding with earphones is definitely dumb, not to mention illegal. You can get yourself killed that way.

August 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohn B

I am probably a little slow to comprehend the English slang, but why Tuggo "in" top, and not on top?

August 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndy Katz

I always get a laugh about people's gearing. It's gotten so that people believe that they NEED an 11, in order to go fast. You see Noobs out on their new bikes, riding in monster gears.

August 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGrump

Andy Katz,
Tuggos in top gear; their highest gear. I have no idea where the term "Tuggo" originated.
If you are pedaling 50 x 14 at 100 rpm., you are doing close to 30 mph, so apart for the occaisional down hill why would anyone need to go much higer unless they are racing.

August 4, 2012 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

"I am probably a little slow to comprehend the English slang, but why Tuggo "in" top, and not on top?"

Because they're in top gear!

August 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCaptain Buckfast

Hi Scott. I'm 71 and live in a flattish area. For years I've used 50 / 39 front and a
6 speed block 16, 17, 18, 19 , 20 ,21 at the back. My speed hovers around an easy
20 kilometers per hour.

August 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony C.

Hi Dave. What can you tell us about ' OIL UP ' and ' OIL DOWN ' ?

August 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony C.

Keep the stories rolling Dave. Love 'em. I have a vivid mental image of 'Inverted Beer Bottle Legs'
Having spent most of my cycling as a lone commuter, when there were few of us around, am not sure of the etiquette/history of the greeting. It should be "Good morning", not, say, "Hi", correct? A UK tradition? I'm in Australia, so may be excused on nearly all counts.

August 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPaul

I am reminded of Spinal Tap;
"my gear cluster goes up to 11"
"yes, but why don't you use a lower gear and spin faster?"
"..but my cluster goes up to 11".

August 6, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterpeter

In this case, I thought "orange blob" was very appropriate! When I was much younger, I thought getting in shape to use the highest gear was the goal! I learned over too long a period of time that consistant cadence is the the goal. I prefer to keep mine between 85 and 95. As my bike older with down tube shifters, I will occasionally go to 75 on the low side and 105 on the high.

Dave, you are always a good read! Is there a past article that addresses the trade off of top tube length vs stem length? What are the criteria for the optimum? Is it about steering only?

August 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSJX426

If you go to "Archive by Subject" (Top navigation bar.) then click on "Bike Tech," if you plow through the 51 or so articles I'm sure you will find most of your answers.

August 6, 2012 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

SJX - You've come to the right spot for info on stem length and bike geometry.

As for cadence, the only time I've ever measured cadence is when I ride a stationary bike. I am sure my cadence averages less than 80 on most rides. Then again, I live in a very un-flat area. I'm sure there are times during the week where my cadence is down in the 40's. It's the best I can manage, unless I were to get a much much shorter gear. My own recommendation to someone starting out is to begin by riding strictly for the exhilaration and sheer joy of powering yourself along roads. As you progress you may naturally want to become more efficient and perhaps faster. That's the time to invest in a computer with a cadence monitor.

August 6, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterskylab

Great post Dave. I ride 7 speeds, 21-12 and 42/52 up front and this post makes me feel much better about never being able to get on top of the 52/12 combo!

August 6, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterlemmiwinks

On a sunday morning back in the 50's there weren't many motor vehicles on Surrey back roads ( including the now famous Box Hill ). On the club run the approach of a car provoked the warning cry ' OIL UP ' = car from behind, or ' OIL DOWN ' = car from the front. Was this ritual limited to the country south of London ?

August 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony C.

I have gone to a 12-26 with a 44T big chainring. A 44x12 is about the same as a 50x14 and is plenty of gear for me. I rarely even get to the 13.

August 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBill

I think I might have been a 'tuggo in top' tonight. I was out on a regular 50 km spin and came across a rider on a section of the route that is great for a bit of a blast. He had a race number on and was in full TT get up, and working hard. I felt really bad about it, but its a great piece of road with fast corners, so I flew past him knowing well that once the road turns uphill I would sit up and just continue my ride, while he would be still measuring his effort and probably cursing me.

August 14, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermike

Two other factors
a) if your seat is "too low" spinning is really hard to do. Most POBs have low seats.
b) if you don't spin regularly, spinning is hard work. A bit like doing scales, really.

September 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWilliam Seville
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