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Friday
Jun202008

Why do cyclists shave their legs? The only explanation you will ever need

It’s hotter’n hell, 90 degrees (32 C.) and we are going out for the evening. My wife is wearing long pants.

“Aren’t you going to be hot?” I ask. “Why don’t you wear a dress or shorts?”

“I can’t, I haven’t shaved my legs.”

End of questioning, no further explanation needed.

My lovely wife doesn’t want to be the only one in a roomful of ladies with silky smooth legs, while she is sporting stubble. Even though I would have to get down on my knees with a magnifying glass to find a tiny emerging follicle.

This is exactly the same reason why cyclists shave their legs, No one wants to go out on a group ride and be the only wooly mammoth in the pack.

Even if I am riding alone, I still shave my legs; I never know who I might meet on the road. Shaved legs simply look better on a cyclist. Some call it vanity, frankly I find that an affront to my pride.

I started racing in 1952 and that’s when I started shaving my legs. The European professional riders shaved their legs because they were riding the big stage races like the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia.

Stages were long back then, sometimes in excess of 180 miles. (289.6 km.) They needed some serious massage therapy at the end of each day in order to have the leg muscles supple and relaxed ready to go again the next morning. It is neither comfortable for the cyclist or the masseuse to be massaging hairy legs.

The long, smooth legs in the picture at the top belonged to “Il Campionissimo” Fausto Coppi. I was no different from any other cyclist of the 1950s; we all wanted to emulate the great professional riders of that era. So we shaved our legs.

Shaved legs are faster; it is psychological. Like polishing the engine on a hot rod car; you can’t see inside the engine but you polish the outside. The cyclist is the “engine” of his bike; you can’t see the heart or the lungs inside, but by making the legs smooth and clean so you see every vein, sinew, and muscle, it is a definite psychological boost.

Professional cyclists today shave their legs for the same reason as their predecessors, and road cyclists of all levels, from amateur racers to weekend warriors follow suit. End of story, there should be no further explanation needed.

Fellow cyclists understand, but non-cyclists question this practice. We come up with all kinds of creative reasons for shaving our legs. We pretend that it is in case we fall and get road rash.

Sure with hair free legs it is easier to clean and dress wounds, but that is not why we shave our legs. A lady known only to me as “Jan” commented on a recent post. “If you fall and get road rash on your legs, wouldn’t you also scrape up your arms?” Good point, cyclists rarely shave their arms. (That would be weird.)

If someone asks me, “Why do you shave your legs?” I answer simply, “It’s traditional.” That is the only answer I need. No one questions it or doubts my word. After all, if something is traditional, who am I to break with tradition?

Professional racing cyclists have been shaving their legs for at least 100 years, that’s probably longer than ladies have been shaving their legs. So the practice definitely qualifies as a tradition.

Think of it like the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain; when someone asks, “Why would you run down the street in front of a herd of stampeding bulls?”

“It’s traditional.”

“Oh well, that explains it. No further explanation needed.”

Or, “Why are you taking that dead pine tree into your house at Christmas.”

“It’s traditional.”

You see how it works; it doesn’t matter how bizarre or irrational the act, just say, “It’s traditional,” and it is immediately accepted.

It is so easy. No more excuses, no more lies about road rash or guilt feelings over vanity. The answer is, “It’s traditional.”

No further explanation is needed.

Wednesday
Jun182008

Helmets: Now you can vote


After the first three comments on my last “Dispelling the Myth” post, I posted my own comment saying I hoped this wasn’t going to turn into yet another helmet discussion.

Then I thought “To hell with it,” deleted my comment, stepped back and let the discussion grow legs and go wherever it wanted.

I am now glad that I did because it turned out to be a highly civilized, intelligent debate. I enjoyed reading all the comments, and I would like to thank all who took the time to post.

I hope no one lost sight of the theme of the original post; the “Myth” is that cycling is dangerous. With or without a helmet, it is not as dangerous as some think it is.

If someone wants to ride a bike for no other reason than a transport to and from work, or wherever he or she needs to go. And they choose to do so in regular clothes and no helmet, they should be encouraged, not discouraged.

In many cases drivers will give such a person more room because they are not sure how experienced they are.

If you look to the right hand side-bar of this page and scroll down a bit, you will see I have added a “Helmet” poll.

I plan to leave it there for a while, the more people participate, the more accurate it will be. I will then post the results as a separate blog, and it will be here permanently.

Monday
Jun162008

Dispelling the myth

I have just read a wonderful pro cycling article in the British Medical Journal. (BMJ) It came out last December so you may have already seen it. If not, there is a link at the end.

What makes this piece different is that it is not written by a cycling advocacy group, but is an article for doctors by an independent writer pointing out the health benefits of cycling, and how these benefits far outweigh the slight risk of riding on the road.

This is a view that I strongly agree with. If cycling is ever to become popular again in the western world, the myth that cycling is dangerous must be dispelled.

The BMJ article comes out against helmet use on the grounds that it gives the impression that cycling is more dangerous than it really is. I am inclined to agree to a certain degree. I wear a helmet, but it is my choice; I am opposed to helmet use being mandatory, especially if it stops people from cycling.

The article points out, when helmets were made compulsory in Australia, hospital admissions from head injury fell by 15-20%, but the level of cycling fell by 35%. Ten years later, cycling levels in Western Australia are still 5-20% below the level they were before the introduction of the law yet head injuries are only 11% lower than would be expected without helmets.

At the same time, 17 times more motorists than cyclists died of head injuries in Australia during 1988, and yet no one is advocating mandatory helmets for motor vehicle drivers.

The BMJ article refers to the inherent risks of road cycling as trivial. Of at least 3.5 million regular cyclists in Britain, only about 10 a year die in rider only accidents where there is no other vehicle involved. Compare this with about 350 people killed each year by head injuries after falling down steps or tripping. (Total cycling fatalities in the UK in 2005 were 148.)

Another study estimated that out of 150,000 people admitted to hospital annually with head injuries in the United Kingdom; road cyclists account for only 1% of this total, yet 6% of the population are regular cyclists and a further 5% are occasional cyclists; 60% of admissions were alcohol related. Maybe we need helmets for walking drunks.

Finally, the BMJ article touched on a point that is the crux of the whole road death issue. In 1983, compulsion to wear seatbelts cut deaths among drivers and front seat passengers by 25%. Up until 1983, there had been a long established trend of declining deaths in car accidents. This reversed and just six years later by 1989 death rates among car drivers were higher than they had been in 1983.

Evidently, the driving population "risk compensated" away the substantial benefits of seatbelts by taking extra risks, at the same time putting others in more danger. This period saw a jump in deaths of cyclists.

Although temporary, the jump was followed by a decline and can be explained by cyclists having adapted to a more dangerous road environment through extra caution, or simply giving up cycling.

It is no coincidence that the long decline in cycling in the UK began in 1983. Between 1974 and 1982 cycling mileage in Britain increased 70%, but there was no increase in fatalities until the seatbelt law was introduced in 1983.

The civilized world should be outraged at the appalling casualty rate on our roads. It is the drivers of automobiles who are doing all the killing. In particular, aggressive drivers are the problem, speeding, running red lights, and taking all kinds of other risks.

In many cases, an aggressive driver is an angry driver, and I have heard it said that an angry driver is as much danger as a drunk driver. However, aggressive driving does not carry the social stigma that drunk driving does. It is time that it did; a dead person is just as dead whether killed by an aggressive driver or a drunk one.

Aggressive driving is unnecessary; it is just a habit, the sad this is, it has become accepted as the norm. Driving aggressively may only take five minutes off an average thirty-mile trip. Aside from the danger, there’s the mental stress, the wear and tear on the vehicle, and the gas wasted. Is it really worth it?

In spite of this, it has been proven that experienced cyclists are still safe because they become street smart, and ride defensively. Just as good, defensive drivers stay out of trouble. Inexperienced riders need to seek advice on safe riding practices, and get out there and ride. Like all skills there is no substitute for actually doing it.

It is a myth that cycling is dangerous, and car driving is safe. That seat belts save lives, because indirectly seat belts have lead to more deaths due to unsafe driving practices. However, we cannot go back. Making seat belts optional would claim more innocent lives, and would not stop aggressive driving.

I will go out on a limb here and state that it is also a myth that helmets save cyclists lives, because it is mostly the experienced bike riders who wear the helmets. It is experience that protects a cyclist’s life; but like the seat belt situation, we cannot go back. I for one will continue to wear my helmet.

Read the BMJ article here

Friday
Jun132008

Looking one way, driving another


A cyclist is about to ride across a busy main highway; there are two lanes westbound, and two lanes eastbound, with a center median or possibly a turn lane.

There is no traffic light, and only a two-way stop; cross traffic does not stop. The cyclist’s plan is to wait for a gap in eastbound traffic, then ride halfway to the relative safety of the center median.

At the same time the cyclist arrives at the south approach stop sign, a car arrives way across on the opposite north side. The car driver plans to cross over the eastbound side and make a left. He does not see the cyclist because he is looking to the left for westbound traffic. (Top picture.)

There is a gap in traffic so the driver does a rolling stop and continues across the two westbound lanes. He still does not see the cyclist because he is now looking to the right for a gap in eastbound traffic.

Meanwhile the cyclist saw a gap in eastbound traffic, and also did a rolling stop. This is his first big mistake and things will only get worse from this point on. He is now in the middle of a two-lane highway and he sees the car for the first time. (Picture below.)


The cyclist is completely screwed at this point, he cannot stop in the middle of the highway with traffic bearing down on him at 60 mph. He should be waving frantically and shouting at the top of his lungs, trying the get the driver’s attention.

The car driver has still not seen the cyclist because he is continuing to look to the right. The driver has seen the same gap in eastbound traffic that the cyclist saw, and he starts to accelerate.

He may glance forward to the southbound approach, but sees no one there because the cyclist has left that spot, and in all probability is in the driver’s blind spot caused by the door pillar and his driving mirrors. The driver is already turning while accelerating, still not looking ahead, and will only realize the cyclist is there when he runs over him. (Below.)


Who is at fault? The car driver of course for failing to see the cyclist, but this is of little consolation the cyclist at this moment. This is sloppy and aggressive driving that is all too common on roads to day. However, cyclists cannot afford to be sloppy.

Had the cyclist come to a complete stop and assessed the whole situation before crossing he would have seen the car on opposite side. He should have not only been looking for a gap in traffic on his side, but also looking at the traffic on the opposite westbound side.

If there was westbound traffic, this would be his safety buffer and the car opposite would not pull out and he would have time to get to the center median.

If the car starts out from the opposite side at the same time the cyclist does, there is no way the cyclist can beat the car to the center. Cars are faster, and the above scenario is very possible.

Don't count on drivers using turn signals; don't assume a car is going straight just because his turn signal is not on.

The cyclist may miss the gap in traffic, and have to wait a little longer, but let the car drivers be in a hurry, a cyclist cannot afford to rush.

Vehicles turning in front of cyclists is the most common bicycle/vehicle accident on roads today and will continue to be if people drive in one direction, while looking in another.

Sloppy, bad driving is not going away anytime soon, so always be on the lookout for situations like this one. Think ahead, ride smart, and ride defensively.


Footnote: Written for US readers. For UK readers and others who ride on the left side of the road, read left for right, and right for left. If possible, copy the pictures and flip to a reverse image.

Readers have asked me in the past, what do I use to make the drawings? I use MS Visio for the line drawings, save the picture as a JPEG, then fill in the colors with Photoshop.


Wednesday
Jun112008

New South Carolina Laws to Protect Cyclists

Mark Sanford, Governor of my adopted home state of South Carolina, signed a new bill into law yesterday, clarifying that cyclists have as much right to the state's roads as motorists do.

Motorists will be required to keep a safe distance between the motor vehicle and the cyclist. As I see it, there is no three-foot passing law that other states have enacted, but I guess at least if a motorist hits a cyclist he can’t argue that he was at a safe distance.

There are provisions for fines of up to $1,000 if a cyclist is seriously injured.

It is now a misdemeanor to harass, yell at, honk at, or throw and object in the direction of a cyclist. Punishable by a $250 fine, or 30 days prison, or both.

Cyclists are required to use a bike lane where provided, but may move into the road to avoid a hazard. Cyclists are not required to use a separate multi-use bike path, and can opt to ride on the road.

A cyclist can ride on the shoulder of the road, or the road, but is not required to ride on the shoulder.

Cyclists are not allowed to ride more than two abreast on public roads, which means they can ride in twos if circumstances allow. (This has been the law in SC all along and remains the same.)

A cyclist is no longer required to have a bell on their bike. (Someone should get a no-bell prize for that one :) I guess if it is a misdemeanor to honk at a cyclist, it is only fair that cyclist should not be allowed to ring their bell in anger.

Cyclists should signal a left turn by extending their left arm straight out, and in the case of a right turn, may signal with the right arm straight out. In other words, point in the direction they intend to go.

I am pleased, as this is what I have been doing all along. It seems to make more sense than signaling a right turn with your left arm at a 90 degree angle pointing upwards.

This bill has been kicking around since 2004. Sadly, it was the deaths of two cyclists that spurred it on. The new bicycle safety legislation was signed into law yesterday, Tuesday, June 10th, 2008, the day after Rachel Giblin’s birthday and the day before Tom Hoskins’ birthday. Rachel would have been 17. Tom would have been 50. Both died in vehicle-bike crashes.

South Carolina is unfortunately seventh in the nation when it comes to cycling fatalities, a horrible record. It saddened me when my local paper, the Post & Courier, printed this story on Monday and many hateful comments from readers were posted.

It only goes to show when people can no longer discriminate on the grounds of race, religion, or sexual orientation, they can improvise and still find someone to hate.

I am not a Lance Armstrong wannabe, I was racing bikes before Lance Armsrtong’s parents were born. I just want to ride my bike and come home safely, as we all do. I have a wife and also two daughters who love me, and would miss me.

I don’t expect attitudes to change overnight, however, this is a huge step forward. Every time another state passes laws like these, it makes it a little easier for the remaining states to follow suit.