Do these shorts make me look fat?

Being July, it is impossible to be in the company of cyclists without the topic of the Tour de France coming up in conversation. At this time of year we are as unbearable as Star Trek fans during Comic-Con.

The other day after a race my fellow Spandexians and I were in full-on TdF geek-out. The topic of this particular conversation wasn’t about the ever popular Lance or climb categories or points… it was about weight. It started when someone mentioned seeing an image of Luxembourgish (it’s a word, I checked) brothers Frank and Andy Schleck of Team Saxo Bank, and how shocked he was to see how skinny they were. They are some skinny dudes alright. See, they even make the Podium Chicks look fat.

Pro cyclists tend to have very slight builds, like jockeys, or runway models, and I always figured they must be just as prone to the eating disorders that keep them that way. I imagined after a big post-race pig out the lineup to the bathroom being comparable to one after a post-fashion show buffet. The reality is that pro cyclists are skinny guys who eat like fat guys, but rather than throwing up, they burn enormous quantities of calories riding their bikes. But make no mistake, weight is a big deal. In Daniel Coyle’s book, Lance Armstong’s War, he explains “the obsession is bent toward strategic purpose , because fat is not fat, nor is an ass merely an ass – it is time. It’s a simple idea: the more your weigh, the slower you go.” Coyle goes on to explain the peculiar ritual the riders have at the start of the race season of sizing each other up with probing looks, “accidental” belly pinches and, my personal favorite, the “ass check”. Apparently, when a rider is in top form, his ass is small and vaguely feminine, like a teenage gymnast. If you know the rider, and know the ass, you know that rider’s potential.

Some of the pros, like the aforementioned skeletal Schlecks, are thin even by pro standards. I do laugh when someone like Brit sprinter Mark Cavendish jokes about being a fatty. But at 5’7″ and 154 lbs. I hardly think he’s the sort that should waltz into his local pub and call some big rugby player a pussy. And I can’t talk about size without talking about American George Hincappie. Georgie is a old workhorse rider who is considered a bit of a clydesdale. He’s 6’2″ and 182 lbs. and probably has poops that weigh more than Alberto Contador.

Speaking of Alberto, I must include this absolutely hilarious commercial for Specialized that features none other than the diminutive Spaniard himself and a rival Schleck:

The other half of the weight equation is the bike. Therefore the cost of bikes and their associated components is directly proportional to how much they weigh. The lighter it is, the more it costs. Which is silly really, since in fact you are paying more money for less actual matter. Before I got into cycling, I went to a bike shop to get a water bottle cage for my husband Paul. I sheepishly explained that I didn’t know anything about cycling, but that I knew he wanted a “good” cage for his road bike. The Bike Shop Dude handed me a $45 dollar piece of swoopy plastic that weighed precisely nothing. I assumed I was being duped and had been sold some ridiculously expensive piece of crap and was embarrassed to give it to him. But he was thrilled. On the other hand, I had a similar occasion when I wanted to buy him a new saddle and proudly walked out of the store with an enormous (relatively speaking) cruiser saddle that probably weighed more than his entire bike. Surprisingly, he’s never used it.

The weight of your bike is such a big deal that in pro cycling there is a strict minimum weight for bikes of 6.8 kg (14.991 lbs.). Bikes can be manufactured much lighter than this, so in some cases the riders actually need to use frame weights in order to meet the minimum. In Fabien Cancellara’s case, however, he used this weight deficit to his advantage and had his designers install an electric motor on his bike. Genius.

So all of this considered, I do find it strange to see enthusiast cyclists that look like this:

…riding $8,000 bikes that weigh 13 pounds. Of course this is a gross (in every sense of the word) exaggeration, but you get the idea.

At almost 5’10 and 150 lbs., I do fit squarely in the clydesdale category and will never be much of a climber. I also enjoy my food way too much to ever be thin enough to be very fast. I ride an aluminum bike and have no idea how much it weighs, and I kind of like it that way. I’ll leave the obsessing about weight to the pros and the supermodels.