Sometime last snowy December, Guy paused in the kitchen and mentioned that he planned to spend the month of March riding his bike in Spain, on the island of Mallorca. A few beats later, he said that I could come, too, if I were so inclined.
I thought about it. I sat in my pandemic couch-nest with my dog and my remote control and my wine glass and considered my options. I forced myself to face up the uncomfortable fact that I’ve quit my job, and my kids are at college, and my horse is lame, and my tennis elbow is so bad that I can barely lift a coffee cup let alone a tennis racket, and climate change is real, and who knows, maybe next week will begin a World War even worse than the last one. And I decided yes. Yes, I will put on a mask and get on a plane and go with my husband to Mallorca.
And now it’s March, and here we are.
As an added bonus, our friends Eric and Vicki are here, too, and, if the universe allows, Toby and Tavish will join us during their spring breaks, –Toby on a $40 Ryan Air flight direct from Rome; Tavish on a considerably longer and more expensive flight from San Luis Obispo. I am counting the minutes.
Mallorca is the hotbed of spring training for serious cyclists. I bet Lance came here– sometime after he got cancer and before he broke Sheryl Crow’s heart and was subsequently banned from sports for life.
I name-drop Lance Armstrong so that you notice I am not a complete bike-o-ignoramus. Guy was a bike racer back in the days when Boy George was pounding the discos, but I don’t know road rash from a sag wagon. I’m trying to up my game to earn his respect. The Lance reference is only the beginning.
I’ll use this first blog to share what I’ve learned so far about bike life.
First, Geography: While we all appreciate Mallorca’s mild weather, quiet country roads, and well-appointed international airport, cyclists straight up LOVE its mountains. The Tramuntana Mountain Range is 160 kilometers of UNESCO-protected cliffs and crags, with peaks up to 1445 meters high. Real cyclists grit their teeth and bike up a 4700-foot hill, then bomb down it at 50 miles an hour and call it a good day. If they are young enough, they’ll rinse and repeat the process.
Etiquette: if you are riding down a bike path and see a huge bird circling overhead, you shouldn’t slam on your brakes and look at it, even if it might be a Black Vulture, because someone might be behind you who doesn’t care. They will have to slam on their brakes and they will be mad. Remember, cycling is not for bird watching. Or for noticing clumsy spring lambs. Cycling is for riding your bike. Shut up and pedal.
Also, Etiquette: when sitting in a car behind a group of lithe male cyclists, it’s NOT ok to comment on the size or quality of their calves. At least it’s not ok to make the comment to your husband, whose calves are not bad either and shouldn’t take it so personally.
Next lesson, Terminology: I used to refer to Guy as a biker. As in, “My husband is a biker and I am going to Spain with him.” This sends the wrong mental image. Guy does not have tattoos, and he wears spandex, not leather. The appropriate term is “cyclist”. Not biker. Not bicyclist. Cyclist.
Also, the most common term for a group of cyclists is “peloton”, French for “ball” or even “platoon”. A peloton is the main group of riders in a bike race. It should not apply to the groups of 10-15 cyclists bombing down the roads together in Mallorca because they are not in a race. I like to think of these groups as “flocks”, because they are sleek and fluid, and unexpectedly graceful. They swoop past with a hum of wheels and air and chatter, a flush of ducks taking off from a lake and disappearing into the horizon.
Guy says we can tell that a group of cyclists is a pro team, not a random riffraff group of wannabes, because they all ride the exact same kind of bikes–because they are sponsored. This would be a definitive clue if I could just tell one bike from another. The only way I can tell my bike apart from everyone else’s is the huge battery attached to my bike’s midsection. No one else’s bike has a battery. Also, no other cyclist has a midsection like mine, but that’s neither here nor there.
Each flock of cyclists we see is bedecked in tight, colorful clothing that leaves little to the imagination. Guy says that these outfits are called “kits” and the pads in those tight sleek pants are called chamois, not diapers. He also explained that the appropriate word for that material is “lycra”, not “spandex”.
This information is somewhat disappointing because a favorite story of mine is the one where Guy, as a bike racer, was masculinely cycling down a road in California when someone rolled down their car window and yelled “Spandex wearing f*****” as they passed. I used to yell that at Guy when I would drive by him around Hood River, just to keep the memory alive, but now I guess I can’t.
And while we’re on the topic, while researching synonyms of “cyclists”, I accidentally read that a degrading slang term for a promiscuous woman is “bike”, as in “She’s a bike. The whole town has ridden her.” Why this matters: Please don’t be confused when I say “The roads in Mallorca are filled with men on bikes, pumping furiously”. This isn’t that kind of island, and I am not that kind of narrator, regardless of the words I hurl at my cycling husband as I buzz past him in the car he bought me.
Also, speaking of slut-shaming (weren’t we?). The term “bike” reminded me of a young woman I knew my freshman year of college. The boys called her “mattress back”. What does that even mean? Don’t we all sleep with our backs on mattresses? Why are we cruel to each other? Why didn’t I tell them to shut up?
This thought-train ruthlessly dragged me away from distracting bike trivia to the irrefutable fact that my boys are now freshmen in college. This concept is even more complex than climate change, or war, and I realize no matter how far around the world, or how fast I pedal, I can’t escape it.