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Why Cyclists Wear Ugly Shirts and Other Important Things

If you're not a runner or cyclist, you may have questions about those crazy people you see on the road. Why all the bright shirts and the goofy shoes?

Go out on a sunny Saturday morning, and you'll find the roads clogged with cyclists, runners, walkers and others getting in their daily workouts. But have you ever wondered why runners wear those funny looking shoes, or why cyclists yell at each other? Here are answers to some of your burning questions.

Why do runners run on the street instead of the sidewalk?

There are definitely the sidewalk people and the street people. I'm a street person, for several reasons. In the winter, the streets are always less icy than the sidewalks, since they get treated in addition to getting plowed. The rest of the year, I choose the street because the pavement is smooth. The sidewalks are too uneven, causing klutzy people like me to trip. Also, the concrete on the sidewalk hurts my legs. After even just a mile, I start to feel it. While I'd rather run on the sidewalk so I'm further away from moving cars, the unforgiving, uneven concrete makes it a very undesirable option

Why do runners on the street run towards the cars?

The general rule is to run or walk against traffic and ride with it. Runners and walkers can see cars coming and plan accordingly (including hopping up on the curb, if necessary). Cyclists, because they are going faster, should ride with traffic and stay to the right, so cars can pass them if necessary.

Why don't cyclists bike on the sidewalk? Wouldn't it be safer?

In some communities, it's actually illegal for adults to ride bikes on sidewalks. Kids on the way to school? Yes, but cyclists going fast enough to pose a danger to pedestrians? No. Also, riding on the sidewalk can be dangerous for cyclists, since drivers backing out of driveways don't expect someone to be coming down the sidewalk at such a fast rate. With pedestrians walking dogs, little kids riding scooters, and so on, it's just not safe to have cyclists cruising at 20mph down the sidewalk.

Why do cyclists ride in a group?

Riding in a group increases efficiency so you can ride farther and longer without getting fatigued. Some people enjoy the social aspect as well.

Why do cyclists yell at each other as they ride?

They're calling out stuff to each other, warning people in the back of the pack about road hazards, such as potholes, gravel, glass, etc. When riding in a group, people in the back can't see more than a few feet ahead, so they rely on the cyclists in front of them to let them know what hazards are on the road.

But why do they have to ride next to each other and take up so much space?

When cyclists ride in a group, the person at the front is doing the most work, and the people behind him or her are “drafting” and conserving energy. Riders take turns at the front, which means that they will drop off and drift to the back of the pack. If a pack has two lines of riders, that means there may be up to four abreast as two new riders move up and the two riders just done taking their turn at the front drop back. In some places, however, riding three or more abreast is illegal, and in that case, groups should use single pace lines. Even then, however, there will frequently be two abreast as the riders rotate through.

But sometimes they look like they're just chatting.

And sometimes they are. Sometimes, however, they're discussing the road conditions and the route – especially when riding with people like me, who lack strong navigational skills. Thank goodness for smartphones with maps.

What's with all the goofy clothes cyclists wear?

The theory is that the brighter the outfit, the easier it is for cars to see you. Cycling shirts usually have pockets in the back so we can stuff them full of snacks, spare tubes, tissues, and more snacks. It's not a pretty look, but we like to have supplies on hand when we need them.

Why do runners have those belts around their waists?

Those are usually hydration belts and include small bottles for sports drinks or water, as well as pockets for energy chews. It's easy for runners to get dehydrated, so it's important to have fluids and electrolytes on hand, especially on longer runs in hot conditions.

Why do I see some people running in those crazy toe-shoes?

Ah, yes, the minimalist footwear movement. One of the latest trends in running is to mimic “natural” barefoot running, but running in bare feet hurts (and can be dangerous if there is debris on the roads). Minimalist footwear, such as Vibrams, allows runners to feel like they're running barefoot while still providing protection from cuts and scrapes.

Why do some runners wear knee socks? Didn't those go out of fashion in the 70s?

Runners wearing knee socks are usually sporting compression socks, which fit snugly around the lower leg and help fight fatigue. Every now and then you might see a runner wearing tacky white tube socks from the 70s, but fortunately they are rare.

Why do runners do laps at the high school track? Isn't it boring?

It can be quite boring. But track workouts usually involve speed intervals, which can help runners get faster. The surface is also very forgiving, so some people who have knee or hip issues prefer to run on tracks.

Why would anyone in his or her right mind want to run 26.2 miles?

Excellent question. I ask myself that all the time.  

J. F. Sabl April 21, 2012 at 12:24 PM
Thanks! And the answer on the embarrassing pants is that those "silly" lycra shorts help to prevent chafing, provide muscle support through compression, hold a pad in place to protect the butt and other sensitive areas from long hours in the saddle, minimize chafing seams in the same areas, and let enough moisture evaporate out so that the pad and shorts don't become some sort of personal sauna. Some people wear shorts with an extra loose layer over (to spare other people's sensibilities), but every layer is potentially more chafing and more dampness. If you wouldn't leave a baby in a wet diaper for a few extra hours, you understand why someone riding hard and sweating hard for several hours chooses to wear "those stupid tight shorts."
Sue Gelber April 21, 2012 at 06:04 PM
Yes, I completely forgot about the tight shorts with the padding! Thanks for posting that. We certainly don't wear them because they look good.

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