Saturday, May 16, 2015

Biased Blow-By-Blow - 2015 Giro d'Italia Stage 8


If you didn’t get a chance to watch today’s Giro d’Italia stage, but don’t think you’ll actually bother with a video recap, read on for a blow-by-blow report that doesn’t get mired in political correctness.

2015 Giro d’Italia – Stage 8

As I join the action, some guy is angrily gesticulating.  I can guess what he’s saying:  “Come on, help with the chase, you freeloader!”  Such interactions exist in bike racing at every level, even the citizen ranks. 

GC leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) has somehow put on a rain jacket, despite having a separated shoulder (suffered in an earlier stage in a massive pileup).  He looks pretty  miserable though and he’s talking to his teammates a lot.  Whining?  Could be. I wouldn’t blame him.

We all know that in addition to being a past (and thus probably current) doper, Contador is tough as nails.  He raced (for awhile, anyway) with a broken tibia during last year’s Tour de France. (Team Sky’s Chris Froome, by contrast, dropped out of that same Tour due to a bruised thumb and a bad hangnail, leaving his teammate, Richie Porte, to take up Sky’s GC hopes, which in Porte’s case meant completely collapsing psychologically.)

So how bad is a separated shoulder?  Well, in my experience, on the pain scale it’s very significant, about a 6 out of 10, while a broken tibia is about a 4.  The cold pressor test, specifically designed to measure pain, is about a 2, right along with having a cavity filled without novacaine.  Now, if I hadn’t broken my femur, separated shoulder would be a 10, but I keep having to rejigger my 1-thru-10 scale.  So depending on how bad the separation is, Contador must be really suffering.

From what I’ve read about athletes and pain, ballet is actually the most painful.  Cycling has to be pretty high up there, though, and likely takes top honors in the whining category.  Ballet dancers aren’t allowed to whine.  Sport is usually the same way.  There aren’t really that many sports where competitors can whine as they go, but I’ve heard endless whining in races and during training rides.  Can you imagine if all sports had this?  Like, if boxers complained to each other?  “Hey, man, you stepped on my damn foot!  That’s below the belt!”

One of the leaders has a really ugly tuck.  Looks like he’s trying to lick his tire.  Maybe he’s deranged.

So, the situation is this:  53 km to go, and a breakaway has a bit under 9 minutes on the peloton, but only 24 seconds over a chase group.  The roads are a bit wet and though it’s not raining at the moment, the skies look tenebrous.  I wonder how many of the English speakers in the peloton have used the word “tenebrous” today, or ever.  Probably more than NFL players, those poor brain-injured guys.

So, the biggest name in the breakaway is Franco Pellizotti (Androni Giocattoli).  He was 3rd overall in the 2009 Giro, and has won three Giro stages in his career.  Today’s stage finishes on the category 1 Campitello Matese.  It’s a 12.5 km climb (a bit under 8 miles) but I don’t know much else about it, though you might be interested to know that Amanda Dufner is living it up after divorce from Jason....  (Whoops, sorry—I mistook clickbait for cycling coverage for a second there.)  Anyhow, Pellizotti is a climber, so he’ll fancy his chances today.  I get to use words like “fancy” because if you weren’t reading this, you’d probably be watching the race on Eurosport and hearing all kinds of chiefly British vernacular.

Wow, it’s down to just 35K to go.  Time flies when you’re descending, or watching racers descend.

The peloton is blowing through a little town, with Tinkoff-Saxo massed at the front.  Contador has managed to remove his jacket, somehow. If you don’t think that’s a feat, you’ve never had a separated shoulder. My first physical therapy exercise for mine was to hold a can of soup, with my elbow at 90 degrees, and move my hand back and forth over an arc of maybe 45 degrees, which was agony. How does this guy ride a bike with this injury?

The racers are allowed to take a normal dose of Advil, by the way. My wife had asked about that.  (Did she get up early to watch this?  Hell no.  Did I exhaust her interest in the Giro in 30 seconds flat last night?  Yep.)

There’s actually a trio some distance ahead of the main break, maybe 30 seconds.  It’s got Carlos Alberto Betancur Gomez (AG2R La Mondiale) in it, who would be a great climber if not weighed down by so many names.

The gap to the main field is a bit over 7 minutes, which is quite a bit, actually, because it’s just not that long a climb.  The break is nine guys, including Tom Danielson (Cannondale-Garmin), who is no slouch at climbing. I’m pretty sure he was top-10 in a Tour de France at some point. He holds the record for the Mount Evans Hill Climb in Colorado; it’s the highest paved road in North America at over 14,000 feet.  (The Campitello isn’t even 5,000 feet.)  Of course, he was very likely totally lubed even back then.

Contador doesn’t seem to have any kind of bandage, wrap, or even a tortilla on his shoulder.  He looks pretty good on the bike, considering, but I can’t imagine he could ride out of the saddle.  I’m reminded, of course, of Tyler Hamilton in the 2003 Tour de France, who got—what, 4th?—with a broken collarbone (and a lot of help from his friends).

So, the favorites for the Giro GC are Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-Quick-Step) who was second overall here before; Contador; Porte; and perhaps Fabio Aru (Astana Pro Team).  Uran is down 1:22 on the GC, after losing 1:04 in stage 4, so we have to wonder about his form.  Aru is only 2 seconds behind Contador in the GC, but somehow I don’t think he’s quite ready to win a Grand Tour.  He’s still just a pup.

It’s about 20 km to go.  Somehow the leading trio has extended their lead to 1:20 over the main breakaway.  Along with Betancur are Kristof Vandewalle (Trek Factory Racing), whom I’ve never heard of in my life, and Steven Kruijswijk, who really needs to buy a vowel.  Kruijswijk rides for Team LottoNL-Jumbo (the last bit pronounced “Yumbo” to match all the weird Js in Kruijswijk).

Two different commentators have pointed out Aru tightening the knobs on his shoes, saying he must be getting ready to attack.  I beg to differ.  In my experience, tighting the knobs on your shoes indicates the shoe needing to be a bit tighter, nothing more. Not that Aru won’t attack, but geez, they’re still 5-10 minutes from the climb.

The gap to the breakaway is falling ... it’s 5½ minutes now, so the leading trio has about 7 minutes.

Betancur was 5th in the 2013 Giro and won last year’s Paris-Nice.  So he’s no slouch.  Kruijswijk, whose name I’m really tired of typing, was 8th in the 2011 Giro.  Vandewalle is a world team time trial champ, so I doubt he can climb well enough to win today.  It’s just how he was raised.  Er, how high up he was raised.  How he was born.  Whatever.

Man, the peloton is still pretty giant.  Wow, Contador is riding out of the saddle!  I’m going to guess he doesn’t have a third-degree separation of his shoulder because then he’d be blinded by the pain.

Betancur attacks the break!  And Kruijswijk counters, and has a gap!  Man, he looks really, really strong. 

Back in the peloton, Astana is swarming the front.  Maybe they saw Aru tighten his shoe.  “He tightened his shoe, man, that’s the signal!  Get him in position!” Or is it a shoe-tightening bluff?

Kruijswijk has a really big gap!  The commentators are oddly quiet about this.  Perhaps they dislike trying to pronounce “Kruijswijk” as much as I dislike typing it. He’s got less than 10K to go, but of course that’s a very long way on a climb. He’s got a yellow and black jersey but is too thin to look like a bumblebee.

Wow, six Astana riders together at the front, Contador right on them. They’ve gotten the gap to the main break down under 4 minutes.  Kruijswijk is 1:18 ahead of his two chasers.  He’s in the saddle, looking really solid, bobbing just a bit. In other news, a 72-year-old grandma looks 20.  Better than a facelift, according to “Dr.” Oz.  Fricking ads.  I hate them.

Vandewalle is going backwards.  I told you he was too big to climb.

Former Giro winner Ivan Basso, one of Contadors Tinkoff-Saxo teammates, is dropped.  I think he’s too old for this.

The chase group has shattered.  Kruijswijk has a minute on the chasers and about 3 minutes on the peloton.

Betancur detonates!  He’s way over on the left of the road.  What, is there more air over there?

Astana is really drilling it on the front.  The peloton is all strung out in a line.  Contador only has two teammates left, but he still looks okay.

Sebastien Reichenbach (IAM Cycling) and Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Movistar Team) are the chasers now, having overhauled Betancur. 

Porte has two men left to help.  The peloton is down to like 18 guys.  Uran is still in there.  Contador’s teammate Mick Rogers is now dropped, so Contador is down to just one teammate and one good shoulder.

Kruijswijk’s lead is down to 2:26 over the peloton, and just 31 seconds over the chasers. It’s looking increasingly like all that difficult pedaling (to say nothing of my difficult typing) will have been for naught. It’s 4.7 km to go.

Man it looks cold out there.

Wow, some Astana guy is attacking!  It’s Fabio Aru!  I didn’t recognize him because a) I didn’t know he was in the white jersey of best young rider, and b) this video feed is so blurry. Contador is on him, but doesn’t look happy at all.  Uran is right there. Dang, another Astana guy attacks!  Who is it?  Man, he’s flying!  It’s Mikel Landa and he looks seemingly infinitely powerful.  He sits 8th on the GC, about a minute behind Contador.  Man, it was a really good move. He must have tightened his shoe on the sly because I for one didn’t see it.

Sky’s Leopold Konig is on the front now, trying to haul back Landa.  But man, Landa is really looking strong.

Intxausti attacks!  I think those two passed Kruijswijk at some point.  Intxausti is the leader, then, but only 46 seconds ahead of the peloton.  Landa is bearing down on Kruijswijk and I swear that’s the last time I’m typing that name.

Konig has Astana’s Dario Cataldo right on his wheel as they lead the chase.  Porte is next in the line, with Contador on his wheel.  It’s 2km to go and Intxausti is still looking solid, his lead at 1:05.  (Was that 46-second split an error, or is he actually increasing his lead?)

It’s still Konig, Cataldo, Porte, and Contador, just locked together like that. Uran still in this small group but never going anywhere near the front.  Intxausti has 1.3 KM to go, and in fact is actually increasing his lead.  Dang, he’s got 1:11.

Damiano Cunego (Nippo-Vini Fantini), who is really fricking old, attacks!  And now Aru goes again!  Porte is on him quickly, and Contador glued to his wheel.  So, not too much of an attack though it might be really frying these guys.  Uran is right in the mix.

Cunego is caught.

Porte is on the front of this little group now, Contador right on him, grimacing awfully.

Up the road, Intxausti is heading for the stage win.  He’s got it!  It’s the I-can’t-believe-it helmet-grabbing victory salute. And here comes Landa, getting the second-place time bonus.  The GC leaders cross the line, still together.  I think that Contador will hang on to the pink jersey, though Landa will move up significantly in the GC and become a threat.

They’re showing a super-slo-mo of the victory salute, and it was really a combination platter. Waving to the group, looking back, pointing at the sky, clapping his hands, etc.

Aru won the sprint among the GC leaders, but Reichenbach had already sneaked in for third, getting the last of the bonus seconds—otherwise, Aru would have taken pink today.  The big GC news today is Landa moving into 5th overall; Uran moving up to 8th; and (of course) Contador managing to hang on to his jersey.  Man, what a badass.  Don’t underestimate how much harder that extra pain makes things.  Remember, Fignon lost the Tour de France due to a saddle sore.

Contador is warming down on a trainer now. You can tell he’s fried because he’s forgotten to take his helmet off.  Or is he just playing it safe?

Intxausti is on the podium.  Why did these racers switch from cycling caps to baseball caps?  They look so, I don’t know, so ... American.  I guess it’s because ball caps provide more space for advertising.

Instead of showing the podium celebrations, Eurosport is just interviewing various cyclists, along with some has-been, Juan Antonio Flecha I think. I wouldn’t mind, except that I kind of like the podium stuff.  Maybe they should have the podium girls interview these guys.  That would be a win-win.

Man, it’s going to be painful for Contador to heft that giant bottle of champagne. I mean, cyclists struggle with that thing anyway. I remember one guy who tried to lift it to his lips but just couldn’t manage it. They should provide the racers with super-long straws.

They’re interviewing Aru.  “I had a fantastic team, you can see the work they’ve done, blah blah blah, I don’t even know what I’m saying, I’m having my comments dictated to me through my radio, blah blah blah ginger blah blah blah.” Booooooo-ring.

Flecha is pointing at some parked bicycles and talking some damn nonsense about cadence.  For this I might be missing the spectacle of a little bike racer struggling with that champagne magnum. I mean, it’s nice that they’ve found something for these ex-pros to do, but still....

Contador is on the podium.  He’s putting on the pink jersey without apparent difficulty.  I’m starting to wonder how badly his shoulder is really hurt. The podium girls have flowers in their hair but look bored.  To Contador’s credit, he eschewed his lame “pistolero” salute.  So, a great day for him all around.

They’re back to Flecha in his light-pink shirt, interviewing Contador.  Flecha asks, “Do you think Aru showed his hand a bit too much today?  Played too many cards?  Did other things that lend themselves well to poker analogies?” Contador replies, “No, no, we all knew he was going to attack.  We saw him futzing with the dials on his shoes.  That’s his ‘tell.’  But looking at the hand I was given today, I handled the attacks well.  Of course, many more attacks are in the cards.  We’ll have to let the chips fall where they may.”

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

From the Archives - Irksome Little Pony


Recently I was struggling (audibly, possibly profanely) with a teapot; I cannot pour from it without spilling.  My wife said, “Hey, I like that teapot—don’t go ‘Diaper Genie’ on it.”  She was referring to when, as a new parent,  I lost my temper over our diaper pail and hurled it down the stairs.  (To this day I feel my action was justified.  A “friend” had given us a lightly used Diaper Genie, which—despite having its original box, so it could be passed off as new—wasn’t compatible with the modern bag/liner cartridge it came with, so in trying to install the cartridge I was unknowingly attempting the impossible.)

As maddening as baby-related accessories can be, parenting itself can be even tougher.  Read on for the tale of how I came this close to executing improper parenting techniques.  This was at Target, where I came into contact with the retail equivalent of an Improvised Explosive Device.

November 8, 2003 - Irksome Little Pony

Today I took Alexa [age 2 at this point] to Target to get a new Diaper Genie.  (The manufacturer stopped making cartridges for our old one.)  I had my wife make a list of other stuff to buy.  “DVD entertainment” was not on the list, but I headed over to the Audio/Video section first thing anyway.  I’m getting tired of Alexa’s meager video library and I must confess, I’ve been so tired lately I’ve been letting her watch non-child oriented fare, like Bond movies.

Of course, the vast majority of Target’s inventory of child-oriented videos are crap, like Barney, the cloying purple dinosaur, and the Teletubbies, those really uncanny, creepy little . . . heck, I don’t know what to call them.  Gnomes, I guess, with TVs built into their bellies.  They give me the willies.  Alexa watches them occasionally at day care, alas, and seems to love them just like the rest of the kids do.  That’s probably the creepiest part.  I mean, I can see why she likes Wallace and Gromit; they’re neat-looking, and there’s lots of action.  But Teletubbies?  These creatures seem barely smarter than cows.  They can’t even talk; they’re just like little pawns.

And don’t get me started on “Baby Mozart,” “Baby Shakespeare,” and “Baby Einstein,” which masquerade as educational fare but actually feature totally dippy, non-name-brand music with the camera panning lovingly over still-lifes of bright new toys, like a damn product catalog.  Over my dead body.  I’d rather put “Dr. No” in again and explain to Alexa, “See?  The woman is sleeping,” and hope that my innocent daughter doesn’t yet understand what gunfire is.

In the video aisle somebody had abandoned a little toy.  Alexa, sitting in the shopping cart seat, legs swinging, immediately became enchanted with it.  I grabbed it, out of idle curiosity, and discovered it was a Poky Little Pony.  I only have a vague awareness of Poky Little Pony.  I’m guessing this toy is an offshoot of a kid’s book.  This one had a fancy mane, made to seem like human hair, and came with a little choking-hazard toy brush and some other stuff.  The accessories were lashed firmly to the packaging, so I figured Alexa couldn’t do much damage to Poky or herself, and I let her play with it while I looked for the video.  (I decided to indulge her partly because she was running a bit ragged; last night was rough, and she was a bit late for her afternoon nap.) 

Alexa struggled in vain to remove Poky from the package.  “Help, Daddy,” she said.  I tried to ignore this, but when she dug deep and came out with, “Help, Daddy, please,” I was so won over by the lessons she’d learned—don’t just scream; ask for help; say please—that I relented and freed Poky.  (After all, some other kid had already ripped open the package and abandoned it in the DVD section.  This was a problem already in motion.)

Man, what a lame toy.  The head didn’t even turn.  No small child could be interested in this toy for more than five minutes.  Or am I underestimating children?  I guess a bright kid could figure out a new, illicit way to have fun with Poky (e.g., taunt a less privileged child with it; try to eat its head; tear out its hair; use it as a spoon; slather it with model airplane cement and torch it).  But of course Alexa loved Poky, and instantly memorized his/her name, turning this name into a mantra as we continued our shopping.

[I guess I should point out that, as I discovered years later, the pony isn’t actually named “Poky.”  It’s called “My Little Pony” and actually there are lots of different ones, with names like Blue Bell, Snuzzle, and Skydancer.  My bad.  I’d seen a New Yorker cartoon showing hip-hop revisions of children’s books, one of which featured Jay-Z fronting The Poky Little Posse.  I thought “Posse” was replacing “Pony” but it’s actually making fun of Poky Little Puppy, apparently some classic children’s book.  So my daughter—oblivious, at this age, of the need to second-guess me—blithely accepted that the horse’s name was Poky.]

After getting the modern Diaper Genie and other items, there was just one more thing to do before checking out:  return Poky.  I vainly hoped Alexa would be excited enough by the new synthetic fireproof blanket I’d put in our cart that she’d forget about the stupid toy, but instead she—adorably—put it to bed on the blanket.  Man.  I can’t think of a more volatile situation than bringing a toddler to the Toys section of Target.  I was tempted to abandon my daughter in some boring aisle, like linens, and then return Poky on my own.  You know, surgical—get in, make the drop, get out.  But this is America, which means if I left Alexa alone for even a second, she would either be abducted, or—worse—somebody would find her, turn her in to the authorities, and I’d end up doing time for abandoning her.

I cursed myself silently for allowing things to escalate like this.  My wife would have never snatched up Poky in the first place.  Heck, she probably wouldn’t have been in the video aisle to begin with—she’d be getting the things on the actual list.  But I’m a softie.  Besides, I’d deluded myself that Alexa would quickly exhaust her joy over Poky, and we as a family would enjoy all the benefits of having actually bought it, with none of the expense, clutter, or model-airplane-cement infernos.  On some subconscious level, I must have convinced myself that if Alexa and I made enough of these shrewd moves, over time, we’d eventually rule the galaxy as father and daughter—Alexa drawing from all the novel stimulation she’d had as a kid, and me drawing from the vast financial empire I’d built up from all the money I didn’t waste.  But instead, I found myself rolling Alexa toward what I feared would be my Waterloo.

I was tempted to employ trickery to save the situation.   But I hate to manipulate a child.  After all, it’s not really fair, given my vast advantage of life experience, to take advantage of young naivety.  Besides, there are so many ways such trickery can fail. 

For one, what if your manipulation doesn’t come off?  That can be humbling.  I’ve tried many times to outsmart the cat—to trick her into coming over by pretending I have food, for example—and she’s looked at me with a feline expression that says, “Exactly how stupid do you think I am?”  Or there was the time I tried to outsmart my niece Lonneke, when she was Alexa’s age.  Lonneke had discovered the TV remote control and was annoying me with it, changing the volume and the channel, etc., so I took the batteries out.  She came after the batteries and I freely gave them to her, figuring that she’d never figure out how to reinstall them in the remote anyway.  I figured wrong.

Another problem with manipulation is that it can give the manipulator, if he’s successful, a touch of contempt for the manipulated.  For example, many times I’ve pretended to throw a stick for a dog, who stupidly runs out to catch it, and then looks all over the sky for it, then starts sniffing all over the ground for it, while I’m standing there still holding the stick, shaking my head.  After the tenth fake throw in a row, as the dog is still gamely running for a phantom stick, I’m completely disgusted with the entire canine kingdom.  I’d hate to draw subconscious conclusions about my own child based on my ability to easily deceive her. 

Third, there’s a guilt problem:  taking advantage of the trust of your own child, and abusing that trust for short-term gain, could easily gnaw on a guy, at least a softie like myself. 

Finally, perhaps most importantly, if you underestimate your kid, a lame attempt at subterfuge could insult her intelligence.  Sure, I might trick the kid when she’s too young to know any better, but that doesn’t mean she won’t remember what happened and put it all together later.  Then she’ll realize what a dick I was, and be suspicious of the more sophisticated deceptions I might be employing later on.

So I stopped the stroller at the end of the Toys aisle (though I pointed it away from the goods).  I asked Alexa to hold the video, and then asked her to hold the fireproof blanket.  Little kids are always so eager to help out, especially when it means holding things.  (I guess the novelty of effectively employing one’s newly prehensile hands takes awhile to wear off.)  Then, Alexa’s hands being full, I took Poky. 

This was the key moment where I forever defined who and what I would be as a parent.  To take Poky without Alexa noticing would be manipulation.  But by distracting her somewhat, I theorized, I could mitigate her sense of loss, and do so without trickery by announcing what I was doing.  “Here, I’ll take Poky,” I said, loud and clear.  And of course she immediately began yelling in protest.  While Alexa yelled, I spun around, located Poky’s clones, reunited “our” Poky with them, and took a moment to satisfy my curiosity about the price ($4.99) before returning to the cart.  Within a minute or so Alexa had basically calmed down.  Sure, the loss wasn’t forgotten; for several hours she kept asking where Poky went, but never did throw the tantrum I’d so dreaded.

I have concluded that Alexa is not (yet) a spoiled rotten brat, but she’s not (yet) a beaten-down, joyless automaton either.  Heck, maybe I actually played the whole thing perfectly.  She derived 90% of the joy and mental stimulation the toy is capable of providing (the other 10% being the use of the hairbrush, which I’d flat refused to remove from the packaging).  I’d survived a battlefield test of my parenting tactics and ideals.  Alexa, for her part, had a not-so-painful lesson in the sad fact that you can’t always get what you want.  And if Target runs out of non-tampered-with Pokies, I’m sure some harried parent will shell out $4.99 for the one with the slightly damaged box.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Ride Report - Grizzly Peak Century with Teenager


Members of my bike club traditionally send out race reports, with a special focus on what was eaten before, during, and after the event.  I barely ever race, but decided to produce a report of the Grizzly Peak Century ride, a 73-mile effort I took on with my 13-year-old daughter Alexa.  This would be her longest and hardest ride ever, and also her best-fueled.  Read on if you’re interested in cycling, parenting, junk food, and/or a good laugh.

Short version

It was cold. The food was bountiful and tasty. Alexa rode like a boss. 73 miles; 5,770 feet of vertical gain; two pairs commemorative socks.  Post-ride BBQ was tasty, even the lentils. 

Long version

For breakfast, I served Alexa leftover homemade mac ‘n’ cheese.  I sneaked a few bites and man, it was good. But I didn’t dare take any for myself, for hell hath no fury like an Albert deprived of leftovers. The members of my household are like jackals.

We drove to the start, in Moraga, parked, unloaded, built up the bikes, and headed to Registration. As we approached the table the woman said, “You must be the Alberts.”  How did she know?  Well, Alexa’s name was flagged with “minor” and they don’t get many of those.  Huh.  Kids these days ... they have no time for exercise—they’re too busy playing “Grand Theft Auto XIII – Running Over Baby Pandas and Homeless People Edition.”

We met up with my teammate Craig and his wife Susanne and started the ride.  The plan was to ride together so long as we all enjoyed the same pace and I didn’t talk too much.  (I’ve ridden with Craig for years, and I actually had a Latin class with Susanne in like 1990.  She remembers it as being a really easy class and I found it really hard.  Story of my life.)

I don’t need to tell you it was brutally cold.  This Indian Winter is really getting old.  I’m tempted to complain about Global Warming but somebody out there would probably respond with a lame joke about “You call this warming?” so instead I’ll say this:  I’m really getting worried about Global Climate Fuckery.  Upper-80s on Thursday and every other day of spring is like living in an air-flavored Slurpee. I was glad to climb Pinehurst just to warm up a bit. I see one of you painted Alexa’s name on the road, but you spelled it “Alexis.” Thanks for the thought ... please try harder next time.

We cut the course a bit, taking Shasta down to Wildcat to the first rest stop rather than staying on Grizzly Peak the whole way. This is because so many residents on that road like to back out of their driveways without looking, and/or cut off cyclists and break their femurs.  I guess this isn’t exactly an epidemic but one time is enough for me.

I’d talked up the GPC food to Alexa, and she wasn’t disappointed.  Pound cake, banana bread, chocolate-chip/cranberry cookies, oatmeal cookies, crunchy ginger snaps, soft ginger snaps ... we tried it all.  I’m sure I’m forgetting some items.  I even had a cup of coffee, just so I could pee a gallon at every rest stop like I did at the first.

Did I mention it was cold?  I didn’t even have a jacket because I was leaving room for Alexa’s arm- and leg-warmers in the pocket of my Lycra bike racing shirt.  (I was about to type “jersey” and then I remember that there are pockets of hermitic sheepherders in Australasia who think “jersey” means “woolen sweater.”)

We descended Wildcat, hooked a left on San Pablo Dam Road, and went around the “Planet of the Apes” loop, a great little road threading along that piece of land sticking out (I can never remember what that’s called ... isthmus?) and giving a nice view of the Carquinez Strait and its dueling bridges.

There was a lot of ground to cover between the first rest stop and the second one.  As a veteran of century rides, I know to take extra cookies when I can get them.  Of course my daughter benefited from my savvy.

We descended to the second rest stop.  This stop didn’t have any baked goods unless you count bagels.  Craig asked for a sesame bagel; the volunteer picked up a bagel half, turned it over, silently registered that it had poppy seeds instead of sesame, and gave it to Craig anyway. I had a “nothing” bagel with Skippy peanut butter on it—a guilty pleasure if there ever was one.  The alternative was this health-food peanut butter product that looked like diarrhea mixed with gravel.  I think it might have been almond butter, which makes about as much sense as a strawberry newton (i.e., none at all).  I kind of wished there were a New Yorker around to launch into a diatribe about there being no actual bagels on the west coast.

I got some Gu version of Shot Bloks, which were like Jujubes for grown-ups, and Alexa coveted them, so I told her to get her own.  Turns out I’d gotten the last bag, so I gave her mine.  Note to other parents:  this is how to get your kid to do century rides—just relax your normally stingy treat policies during long rides.  (Of course, this only works if you deprive your kids the rest of the time.)

Next on the docket was the fierce McEwen Road climb.  Craig and Susanne came up with a word game to make the riding go more quickly, and this was so effective they dropped Alexa and me.  Once we’d conquered that climb, I told Alexa the next climb would be Mama Bear.  Of course this was false.  The next climb was actually Pig Farm, which is by no means insignificant.  As it dragged on and on, Alexa remarked on how I hadn’t warned her about this one.  (I wouldn’t say she complained, per se, but her displeasure was evident.)  Poor kid.  It can’t be easy having an idiot savant for a father.  (For those of you questioning the “savant” part, I’ll remind you I have great facility with iambic pentameter, which has saved my ass ... well, okay, zero times.)

At the base of Mama Bear, we stopped so Alexa could take off her leg warmers.  She’s normally impervious to the cold, being the odd sort of person who would be perfectly happy pulling an Iditarod sled while wearing gym shorts.  That she waited this long should tell you how frigid the conditions were (even though the sun was doing its best).  While we were stopped, a worried-looking woman rolled up, stopped, and asked, in a quavering voice, “How long is this climb?”  Nobody said anything for a bit, not knowing how to answer.  I mean, it takes as long as it takes, which depends entirely on one’s fitness.  She rephrased her question:  “How far up does this road go?”  All I could think of was, “It goes on a right fur piece,” so that’s what I said.  Got a chuckle out of her, anyway.

Alexa had really suffered on Pig Farm, and when Craig offered her a sleeve of Clif Shot Bloks she happily accepted.  By the top of Mama Bear she’d consumed the whole lot of them.  I found this impressive because those Bloks have stymied me in the past.  Consider this passage from my Everest Challenge 2012 report
Hunting in my jersey pocket I came upon a sleeve of Clif Shot Bloks that Craig had given me.  My hand groped it, trying to figure out what it was.  Once I’d identified it, my brain tried to comprehend what Shot Bloks were and what they did.  You eat them, right?  But what are they?  And how do you get into the package?  Is it like Pez?  I gave up trying to fathom this great Shot Blok mystery and managed to find a gel.

I guess all that piano playing has really enhanced Alexa’s fine motor skills.

After Mama Bear, Craig uttered the word “kit” in reference to our bike costumes.  I glowered at him and said, “I can’t ride with you anymore.” So we parted ways.  Okay, that’s not actually how it happened.  He never said “kit.”  It’s just that Alexa descends more slowly than those guys, probably because she knows her mom would kill me if she crashed.  Moreover, Alexa and I wanted to stop at the last rest stop (I mean, free food—hello?!) and Craig and Susanne didn’t need anything.  So they rode off into the sunset.

The last rest stop had more baked goods, and we had one more of everything, except the chocolate-chip/cranberry cookies—we had two of those.  They also had Crystal Geezer juice drinks and we took two apiece.  “So, we just have Papa Bear and Baby Bear, and we’re done with the climbing?” Alexa asked hopefully.  I replied, “Right, though we also still have to climb Mama Bear.”  This was not me teasing my daughter—this was me being an idiot.  Again.  Poor kid.  “Wait, I thought we already did Mama Bear!” she said, distraught.  I assured her she was right.  From now on, I’ll give her the map and have her tell me what’s going on.

On Papa Bear, we passed this angry middle-aged woman wearing mostly black.  It was this weird long-sleeve costume, and under her helmet she had a thin head-scarf, tied in the back, like what a Ninja wears.  In a brittle voice she asked, “Are you two doing both loops?”  Had I known the kind of person I was dealing with, I’d have been tempted to reply, “Hells yeah, beyotch!” but instead I said, “Oh no, just the first one.”  To which she replied, “Oh, well I don’t feel so bad then.”  Like it’s some kind of disgrace being passed by us.  Sheesh.

Baby Bear was a cakewalk (cake-ride?) and then we hooked a left on Camino Pablo.  Rolling toward Orinda, the woman in black caught up to us—probably she pulled a lot of time back during the post-Papa-Bear descent—and she blew right by us by running a stop sign.  On her way past, she muttered, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.”  What a fascinating utterance!  Was she quoting Tolstoy’s epigraph, that opens Anna Karenina?  Or was she quoting Romans 12:19 as Tolstoy had?  Or am I paraphrasing her body language?

On that long, shallow climb just past Orinda, after Camino Pablo becomes Moraga Way, we passed the Ninja woman again.  As we rolled slowly by, she glared at Alexa and said, “You possess, in the highest degree, a quality that makes one forget all shortcomings; this quality is blood, that blood which tells, as the English say.”  So it was definitely Anna Karenina she’d quoted the first time, though I’ll confess it’s also possible that this strange woman said nothing at all.

About this time I became aware that we were being tailed.  This dude with a red jersey, white arm warmers, and a yellow helmet had been behind us, maybe 30 feet behind, for an awfully long time.  It’s not credible that his pace just so happened to be identical to ours.  No matter how many stop signs and stoplights we stopped at, he never got any closer.  I’m pretty sure he was with the Bureau.  Many a father/biker would have been spooked, but I’m pretty good with my fists.

We took a left on Moraga Road:  the home stretch!  There was a slight tailwind and we had a good head of steam, but that didn’t stop the Ninja woman in black from making her final move.  She came flying by, in her best approximation of an aerodynamic position.  Somebody should explain to this woman how to ride on the drops.  I guess she didn’t grasp what that part of the handlebar is for, because she had her hands on the hoods but her elbows bent way past 90 degrees, sticking down low.  It didn’t look very comfortable, nor very safe, but she could not have cared less.  Her face was stony with determination, her mouth a rictus of uncaged ferocity.  This time she didn’t say anything, but to my astonishment Alexa cried out, “She sucks nitro... with Phase 4 heads! 600 horsepower through the wheel!  She’s meanness set to music and the bitch is born to run!”  Okay, okay, Alexa didn’t really say that.  She hasn’t even seen “Mad Max” (yet).  What she really did say was something wistful, along these lines:  “Normally women that age are just waiting for the end, but she’s breaking new ground.  I think this was a big day for her.”  I should pay more attention to that child ... I think I could learn something. 

In case you’re wondering, the angry biker woman easily bested us in the end; she didn’t really even need to run that last stoplight in cold blood.  I wonder if she’s told her own glorious tale on the Internet somewhere, or at her book club, or on the wall of a public restroom.

Dinner was great.  I graciously accepted the  volunteers’ offers of roasted red potatoes, jeweled rice, and even lentil pottage, though I drew the line at the couscous salad.  To my surprise, Alexa also allowed all these things on her plate, though she then whispered to me, “I took the lentils to be polite, but you’re eatin’ ‘em.”  Then it was on to the barbecue station, for chicken and vegetables.  They had eggplant, peppers, onions, all kinds of groovy stuff.  Then, on principle, I covered my plate with corn chips and those glisteningly greasy no-name potato chips that come in the 5-pound bag. 

I was not going to be one of those guys hitting his forehead and saying, “I coulda had a V-8!” so I had one. 

I went back for more chicken.  The volunteers don’t give you that much, so I tried a new tactic:  instead of withdrawing my plate after the chicken was deposited, I just kept it there.  There was a brief stalemate before the volunteer divined my wishes and put more on the plate.  It was like a game of chicken.  (Get it?  Chicken?)

I’d have stuck around and eaten more, but Alexa wanted to get home before the library closed.  Can you believe this kid?!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

“Kit” Revisited - Not OK with “Kit” Commentary!


In my last post I tried really hard to lead my readers away from using “kit” to refer to bike clothing.  My strategy wasn’t to definitively prove that Americans who use this word are dorks, but rather to introduce an alternative that was so clearly superior, further debate would be needless.

Well, the debate continues.  And if that’s not bad enough, one of my readers—an American living in New Zealand—got his knickers in a twist over a couple of gross inaccuracies in my essay, which were particularly jarring due to my  “smug confidence.”  (I suppose I should point out that I use the chiefly British expression “knickers in a twist” not because I’m trying to sound un-American but because it’s slightly less vulgar, to my ear, than “panties in a wad.”  And please note that I say “un-American” instead of “Euro” because “Euro” is one of the words that got me in trouble last time.)

In this post I shall first apologize, and then go on the offensive because another of my pals persists in trying to advance a nonsensical “living language” argument that really needs to die.

An apology

My first error, as pointed out by the Kiwi correspondent, involved this assertion:
Absolutely everybody who wears a jersey calls it a jersey.  This is a very useful word because it differentiates between a basic t-shirt and that funny Lycra thing with the zipper in front and the pockets in back.
I should not have said “absolutely everybody.”  I should have said “everybody in the United States.”  Obviously, in other countries people would have other words for this garment.  In the Ukraine, they’d call it “Джерсі,” which would phonetically sound like “dzhercee” (the “zh” is my approximation of the sound the “s” makes in “pleasure” and if you have trouble with it, just imagine Chekov, from the original “Star Trek,” saying “jersey”).  I don’t know what they’d call a bike jersey in China, and that’s a shame, because that’s my blog’s third biggest audience (after the US and the Ukraine).  Of course, those who don’t speak English probably don’t spend a lot of time on albertnet.

So why does it matter that I said “absolutely everybody”?  Well, I may have confused some non-American English speakers.  I’ve been advised that while “Antipodean club cyclists would understand [my] usage from exposure to American media,” “non-cyclist Australasians might NOT recognise [my] usage of ‘jersey.’”

Dang it.  I was totally unaware of any of this, and moreover I had to look up “Australasian” (which I’d have guessed means “Australian/Asian fusion cuisine,” as in “throw a couple ginger-infused shrimp tempuras on the barbee!”) and “antipodean.”  The first two dictionaries I checked defined “antipodean” as “being as different as possible” or “on opposite sides of the earth,” which obviously don’t work here.  The third dictionary (the really thick one) had the definition that fit the context; this meaning was flagged “chiefly British.”

Now, it’s really tempting to defend myself here.  How come my Kiwi critic gets to use confusing British terms, wacky spelling (i.e., “recognise”) and single quotation marks, but I have to be aware of every connotation of “jersey” among English speakers worldwide?  How come when I read an original (i.e., non-Americanized) version of a Harry Potter book to my kids, I’m tickled by “jumper” for sweater and “trainers” for sneakers, but my confusing use of “jersey” is grounds for criticism?  Don’t worry, I’m not naive about the truth behind this apparent paradox.  As everybody knows, Brits are charming, but Americans like me are merely annoying.  I get that.  I also accept that for me to be so narrow-minded and insular with my America-centric perspective, while posing as an authority on how best to use the English language, is nothing short of sickening.

Perhaps even worse, as my New Zealand friend points out, I “seemed to equate ‘British’ and ‘European’ in a way that would make many Brits and not-a-few Europeans uncomfortable.”  I have nothing to say in my defense.  I’ve never bothered to interview Brits or continental Europeans about how they feel about one another, and though I believe I accurately represented the way in which many Americans, such as the ones who use “kit” to mean bike clothing, lump all members of the EU together when trying to emulate their cycling heroes, I did so without acknowledging, or perhaps even recognizing, how lame this is. 

But before I actually issue the formal apology, I have to figure out whom exactly I’m apologizing to.  The confusion I have caused among my overseas audience (2.5% of whom hail from the UK) is perhaps offset by the delicious satisfaction they must have derived from decrying my ignorance.  On the whole, was their discomfort greater than the pleasure they got from issuing scathing, probably profane, judgments about me and my ilk?

Well, just in case it was, I hereby apologize to all Europeans and Brits.  I’m sorry I’m a stupid, narrow-minded American, and that my blog is spreading my corrosive ignorance across the world.

It’s very tempting to apologize to Americans as well, but that’s a complicated matter.  After all, both my geopolitical ignorance and my smug confidence are core American values.  If I act apologetic about embracing freedom and patriotism, well, maybe the terrorists win.  So let me say this:  I hereby apologize to American expatriates worldwide, and any other progressive American who thinks we should be knowledgeable about other cultures, be humble about our beliefs, and use air-quotes around “beliefs” to indicate how tentative we are in believing in anything.

I suppose I could go fix my previous post, to be more inclusive of every meaning of jersey and more discerning about British vs. Euro, but that would make this post rather confusing.  And really, repentance isn’t the point; acknowledging my ignorance is.  So, knowing my original essay will be read by more people in the future, I want to make a special apology to any non-American or expatriate-American English speaker who reads it on his or her birthday.  I truly hope I don’t ruin anybody’s birthday.

(Note that I cannot bring myself to apologize separately for being smugly confident.  I believe I am incapable of blogging timidly.  Blogging, as far as I’m concerned, is an intrinsically audacious act.)

Back on the offensive

Okay, enough of that.  It’s time to beat back a burning bush some more.  I’m talking about the ongoing attempt of another correspondent to justify “kit.”  His first shot is the rhetorical equivalent of an air ball:  “Living language Exhibit A.”  In case you’re reading this essay after that link has gone stale, it’s to a website called Cool Hunting (headline:  Three Fresh Cycling Kits for Spring) selling a wide variety of awful things:  ugly brown leather cycling gloves that looks like Isotoners with the fingers cut off; a coffee cup holder for your handlebars; a hand-painted bike bell; underwear for cycling; a suit described as “Movement-Minded Suiting” that could make anybody look like a d-bag; and a whole bunch of particularly ugly Rapha clothing.  (I know “ugly Rapha” is redundant, but I thought “particularly Rapha clothing” might confuse somebody.)  In other words, it’s a purveyor of awful, overpriced, over-precious, totally needless crap for pretentious dickwads with too much money.  That Cool Hunting uses the term “kit” does not, in my opinion, validate the word whatsoever.  I’m astonished anybody would say so.  If this website hadn’t been trotted out by a defender of “kit,” I’d have cited it myself to explain exactly why “kit” is a term any old-school, non-hipster, self-respecting bicyclist might wish to avoid.

In the face of the ensuing (and inevitable) rebuke, which did not come from me, by the way, this “kit”-defender continued, “Call it Bay Area slang, if it that'll make it go down easier. An idiomatic usage in a micro-dialect, if you like. But what you cannot deny is that there ARE people using the word ‘kit’ to mean a cycling jersey and cycling shorts. Living language at its best.”

Okay, first of all, I can’t see how impugning the Bay Area would make anything go down easier.  I do like the idea of micro-dialect just fine, and have embraced it for decades.  (For example, my brothers and I have long used the term “tranja”—pronounced “tron-ya” and taken from a 1960s “Star Trek” episode—to indicate any flavored beverage, and my daughter has now adopted the term.)  But the mere fact of people in any community using a word does not justify promotion of that word, and is not necessarily “living language at its best.”

Consider this:  so far, I have never heard any member of my bike club use the word “bidon,” despite all of us knowing what it means (a water bottle, in Velominati/cool-hunting/poseur/d-bag parlance).  We rightfully avoid “bidon,” despite knowing what it means,  because, evidently, we just don’t like it.  Word choice is a matter of taste, and those who respect language have far higher standards than “what others will be able to grasp.”

I think it’s crucial to understand the difference between evolution and mere change.  Evolution implies progress:  in nature, to evolve generally means becoming better suited for survival.  But when we say language “evolves,” we’re not talking about natural selection.  Sloppiness is just as likely to transform a language.  For example, the word “biweekly” used to mean something specific.  It either meant “every two weeks” or “twice a week,” but not both.  But because people began using it both ways, dictionaries eventually accepted the second meaning as legit, and now the word “biweekly” is utterly useless—it is impossible to tell from context what is meant.  From a usability perspective, this word has been pushed toward extinction.

Even when changes to a language don’t dilute meaning, choosing words carefully is worthwhile.  Often, when two words are equally precise and do an equal job of getting a point across, one is still better than the other.  If we say, “Pass me a facial tissue please,” that sounds stilted and odd, and begs the question, “Why didn’t you say ‘Kleenex’?”  And if my daughter asked her mother for a “snot rag,” she would be rightly reprimanded. 

Clarity is sometimes overrated.  To simply grasp a word’s meaning is nothing special; even a beast can do that.  My daughter did a science experiment with our cat.  It has been well established that our cat knows her name and will actually respond to a call of “Misha!” (particularly if it is issued from the kitchen).  The other day Alexa and I were on the sofa, with the cat on Alexa’s lap.  “Hey Mom,” Alexa said, “Call out ‘feces’ in the same voice you’d call out ‘Misha.’”  My wife called out from the kitchen, “Feeee-ces!”  This summoned the cat just as effectively as “Meeee-sha!” ever did.  So we brought the cat back to the sofa and tried again, but this time with “Eggplant.”  Despite being uttered in the same singsong way, it produced no reaction from the cat.  My wife called “Feeee-ces!” again, and immediately the cat trotted back in there, tail held high.  Following this breakthrough, my daughter started calling the cat “Feces” all the time.  I put my foot down.  “We named her ‘Misha’ because we like that name,” I told her.  “I do not like the word ‘feces.’  You are forbidden to use it in reference to the cat.”  Now, is that bad parenting, on the grounds that the cat does understand the particular meaning of “feces” within our household’s micro-dialect?  I truly hope nobody thinks so.

I am not a fan of “kit,” but I’m not interested in continuing to debate its aesthetic merit, nor the question of whether its (supposed) utility is enough to offset its Velominatic air.  But what I’m trying to do here is squash the idea that the elasticity of language can be trotted out as justification to blithely adopt any new usage that manages to convey meaning.

You still think all linguistic change is for the good?  Well, think about all the corporate jargon so many of us are subjected to on a daily basis.  If you were to hear the following on a conference call, you might only find it a slight exaggeration:  
At the end of the day, the value proposition needs to by synced up with our bottom line, so if we’re going to step up our game, tee this thing up, and swing for the fences, the reality is that—candidly—we’ve got to get Product’s skin in the game, and really incent those folks to add value up the whole stack, because when you peel back the layers of the onion, you can see that business synergies are table stakes in this business, and shareholder value demands that we either reinvent ourselves with some disruptive technologies or we’re going to be in the position of having to ventilate this workforce.  I mean, this is the world we live in.  It is what it is.
If you’re not gagging right now, you’re on the wrong web page.  Maybe you should head over to Cool Hunting.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

OK Calling Bike Clothes “Kit”?


Some people really care about words.  My favorite people are the type who will argue passionately and at length about a subtle shade of meaning.  I was reminded of this when, in a group e-mail to my cycling club, I employed some questionable vernacular, causing  a massive e-mail debate, comprising over thirty messages in all.

In this post I’ll capture some of the snarkier highlights of the debate; get at the heart of why “kit” is such a divisive term; and provide the perfect alternative so all cyclists can enjoy nomenclature that’s as frictionless as their bicycles’ bearings.

The mêlée

It must be said that a widespread dialogue was already underway, on a topic you shall read about soon enough, when my friend Trevor commented on my use of “kit.”  (As you may recall, our verbal sparring has appeared in these pages before.)  He wrote, “Calling it ‘kit’ is the pot calling the kettle black.  That’s British hipster lingo, and if they say things like ‘Campag’ and ‘mech’ and then say ‘bidon’ you should choose wisely from such a low body of terms.  ‘Kit’ is unwise.”

To appreciate Trevor’s point requires a bit of background.  About a year ago, in these pages, I excoriated the Velominati, a bunch of self-styled cycling experts, for their blatant cultural affectation.  One of the things I pointed out was that saying “bidon” instead of bottle strikes me, like so many of their behaviors, as pretentious and twee.  My outspokenness in this vein puts me in a vulnerable position should I ever abuse such lingo myself.

With this in mind, I immediately fell on my sword, replying-all, “Nice catch on ‘kit,’ Trevor.  I certainly wobbled over my own line there.”  But even though I agreed with him, several members of the club stepped forward to defend “kit.”  Here are some salient comments.  (I won’t bother identifying the correspondents other than to give each of them his/her own text color so you can tell them apart.)

è Here in Kiwiland ‘kit’ is not a hipster term. No one would call riding clothing (or sporting uniform of any kind) anything but ‘kit’. Even to my still somewhat Yankee ears ‘kit’ sounds absolutely common.
è Newb.
è Curmudgeon.
è As to “kit” and “curmudgeon,” might I suggest a dictionary?
è I was being economical! And I do have a dictionary. Also, “curmudgeon” was a polite form for what I really wanted to call you.
è Sounds like something you need to discuss with your therapist.
è Hold on a sec, I’m still trying to find “newb” in the dictionary…
è Newbie or noob is old prep school talk for the “new boy.” As far as I can tell from my OED, “new boy” likely goes back to Chaucer.
è I like and use the term kit. What other one-word term is there that works better? (No, MB, “costume” doesn’t count!)
è The convenience of “kit” is illusory. Just what is it? It isn’t just jersey and shorts. It’s everything and not everybody has the same stuff. My recollection from listening to British sports announcers is that they use the word correctly, as in “that’s a nice bit of kit.” It’s used specifically, not generally. If you’re going to buy a cycling kit, what are you buying? If you bring your racing kit with you, what’s in it? Glasses, helmet, sunblock,…? It goes beyond what you wear.
è I took a break from cycling from about 1999 to 2008. Before 1999 I had never heard the word “kit” when referring to cycling clothing. It was always a “jersey” and “shorts”. When I returned in 2008, the whole outfit was a ‘kit”. “Kit” still sounds dumb to me, but I use the word because I think I am supposed to.
è Do people (or hipsters) prefer ‘strip’?
è Okay, I’ll bite.  “Strip” is short for what? Strip joint, strip mall? And don’t think I haven’t noticed the single quotation marks. By using them, you’ve made both our points, I think.
è I did not mean to offend anyone. The word “kit” is not dumb. I’m the dummy.  Since the shorts and jersey, indeed the whole cycling get-up, are now one (dashing!) matching ensemble, a word is needed.
è I think you’re missing much of the point of this list if you fail to offend at least one recipient.  I think kit sounds dumb, too.

A question of motive

To me, the fundamental question of whether or not it’s okay to say “kit” centers around motive.  Are we trying to sound Euro, or not?  The difficulty is that we cannot know each person’s motive in using this word, and frankly, I doubt many of us bother to question our own motives in adopting one word or another.  Meanwhile, when we use a word, we participate in all its connotations whether we like it or not.  We are not, usually, at liberty to explain our motives.

The first respondent I quoted above is a American expatriate residing in New Zealand.  I have no doubt that “kit” is a totally innocuous word there (as are his single quotation marks, per Trevor’s comment).  The reason “kit” perks the American ear is that it’s one of those British words that has only recently crossed the Atlantic, and isn’t in widespread use beyond our cycling vernacular.  For such a term to become ubiquitous even within such a vernacular takes time, and may not happen if the term isn’t particularly useful.

Here’s an example of how that works.  Consider the word “jersey.”   Absolutely everybody who wears a jersey calls it a jersey.  This is a very useful word because it differentiates between a basic t-shirt and that funny Lycra thing with the zipper in front and the pockets in back.  I cannot think of a single effective synonym for “jersey.”  Use of this word is so entrenched (having been in wide use when I started cycling, in 1981), most people don’t even know its etymology—that it’s named after Jersey, the largest of the islands in the English Channel.

Consider the correspondent above who said, “I use the word [kit] because I think I am supposed to,” even though she personally finds it dumb.  She wants to fit in, and the question is, who has the authority—and the right—to make this word, or any word, into a cultural signifier that tells whether someone is “in” or “out”?  Positioning yourself as an authority and throwing around a word like “kit” is, to me, a distasteful act.  (A cyclist doing so might be said to “velominate,” if I may coin a term.)  Of course, it’s dangerous to reproach anyone on these grounds because we can’t know who is promoting a term versus merely (and sometimes reluctantly) adopting it.

Sometimes will I use an uncommon word instead of a familiar one if doing so increases exactitude.  Consider “twee,” which I used above.  My American Heritage Dictionary flags this word as “Chiefly British.”  Uncommon as it may be in American English, I doubt anybody uses it just to seem more British or more Euro.  “Twee” is free of trans-Atlantic cultural baggage, because modern usage has morphed it and thus reduced its air of British-ness.  In the original parlance, “twee” meant “overly precious or nice” (it stems from an alteration of “tweet,” a baby-talk alteration of “sweet”).  But when modern Americans use “twee,”  we keep the sense of precious but drop the sense of sweet; quite often, we use “twee” to flag instances of hipster affectation.  (Check out if you don’t believe me.)  The more this word evolves on the American tongue, the further behind it leaves its “chiefly British” air.

In the absence of such evolution, and in a case where a word’s usage is restricted to a subset of a subset of society (e.g., the more cutting-edge members of the cycling crowd), we must ask ourselves:  can a somewhat useful but chiefly British term be used innocently by an American  without opening the door to accusations of affectation?  Or to put it more simply, is it twee to say “kit”?

How efficient is “kit”?

The key to solving this riddle, I think, is to weight the utility of “kit” against the inescapable fact of being a cultural vanguard by using it in the U.S.  If the utility is bulletproof, the word is bound to gain wider adoption and will, over time, cease to be a cultural signifier.

So how useful is “kit”?  There’s no question that it’s convenient, being a single syllable and such a short word.  But where language is concerned, let’s not confuse convenience with efficiency.  Yes, “kit” is easy to write and easy to type, but having written a blog post called “Down with Convenience!” I can’t bring myself to care about ease alone.  After all, saving labor is also the justification for going out in public dressed in the sweatpants you wore to bed, which practice I totally disapprove of (unless you’re a gorgeous UC SantaBarbara coed who makes all attire look great).

The point of language is to express yourself with precision, and educated people can be precise without being verbose.  That’s the whole point of having a large vocabulary.  It is more efficient to use the word “twee,” for example, than to use a paragraph worth of words to explain exactly why it bothers you when college grads get written up in the local style magazine for their online storefront selling locally-made macramé caddies for their college roommate’s deluxe line of handmade, gluten-free moleskin notebooks.

So does “kit” do a significantly better job than “jersey and shorts,” “bike clothing,” or “overdue Voler order”?  Not necessarily.  As Trevor points out, there isn’t a single, unified meaning of “kit,” since we all have different stuff; thus, it’s not nearly as useful a word as “jersey.”  On the other hand, as another correspondent rightly pointed out, “kit” does uniquely connote “one (dashing) matching ensemble,” in a way “bike clothing” does not.  Indeed, I never heard (or used) the word “kit” until it became common for bike clubs to order all their clothing—including socks, arm warmers, vests, and even gloves—from a single manufacturer so it can be customized with colors and logos that create a uniform.  If I throw on a pain of plain black shorts from company X and a plain blue jersey from company Y, that’s not really a kit.

So, perhaps “kit” is useful … but is it useful enough that we should use it, even at the risk of sounding like poseurs?  My answer is, we don’t need to determine this at all:  we can slip between the horns of the dilemma and trot out a totally new word, devoid of wannebe-Euro overtones, that is as precise—or more precise—than kit.

A perfect word?

During the e-mail debate, correspondents did trot out alternatives to “kit.”  (Speaking of precise words, maybe “debate” isn’t the perfect word for that protracted correspondence.  At  a post-ride refreshment stop, one of my teammates described it as an “e-mail shit-storm,” for which I chided him, because my thirteen-year-old daughter, herself a budding cyclist, was present.  Another teammate said, “Right, you shouldn’t call it that.  It was more of a shit-tornado.”  Did my daughter say, “Thanks for the visual on that?”  No, I beat her to the punch.)

“Strip” was proposed, along with “livery” and “clobber.”  The benefit of these is that, being virtually unknown in U.S. cycling parlance, they won’t send any untoward cultural signals.  But the use of “strip” as a noun doesn’t even appear in my six-inch-think Webster’s unabridged dictionary.  The guy who suggested “strip” is the New Zealander, whose Collins English dictionary (likely published for the New Zealand market) defines strip as “the clothes worn by the members of a team, esp a football team.”  The downside of “strip” is that, being unknown here, it’s useless except as a private joke. 

Similarly, I’ve often promoted my brother’s favorite term, “ABCs,” an acronym for “Angry Biker Clothes,” but to understand this, you have to know the term “angry biker,” meaning any uptight, aggro racer-type, but of course this term isn’t widely known outside the Albert family.

But wait!  There was one term thrown about in the e-mail thread that I really like, notwithstanding the fact that it was both introduced and rejected in a single parenthetical aside:  “(No, MB, costume doesn’t count! )”

What’s wrong with “costume”?  The more I contemplate it, the more I like it.  At face value, bicycling clothing fits within the basic definition of costume (“a style of dress characteristic of a particular country, period, or people”).  It’s true that other definitions bleed over (e.g., “an outfit or disguise worn on Mardi Gras, Halloween, or a masquerade”), and it’s also true that “costume” makes us think of superheroes.  This isn’t necessarily inaccurate, though; after all, if you took the typical Lycra cycling getup and added a cape, you wouldn’t be far from Superman or Batman (other than the lack of boots).

If you think about it, the sense of an outfit worn to a masquerade fits perfectly, because the vast majority of us cyclists really are just pretending.  Our participation in the sport, though perfectly valid and worthwhile, is really just our best facsimile of the professional peloton.  Club racers invariably have this aching desire to look just like the pros, even if we fully grasp the vast distance between them and us.

You may argue that, in light of these ideas, using “costume” would be a form of self-mockery.  I would agree—but then, sometimes self-mockery is a good thing.  Consider the song “Yankee Doodle.”  This song, as we all know (and as neatly described by Wikipedia), “was sung by British military officers to mock the disheveled, disorganized colonial ‘Yankees,’” until “the Americans embraced the song and made it their own, turning it back on those who had used it to mock them.”

Likewise, by using a term that mocks our own pretentiousness, we bicyclists beat others to the punch.  Who are these “others”?  I can think of plenty:  the non-bike people who think we look silly and/or act overly self-important; the casual bike people who laugh at our aspirations toward Euro-cool; the bike club curmudgeons who rescue us when we start to velominate. 

Brits and Kiwis, along with Americans who are lazy and/or blasé, can keep on saying “kit,” but I’m going with “costume” from now on.