(this article previously appeared on www.63xc.com, Will Hubjub’s fixed off-roading site)
Whatever your feelings on the matter, it’s undeniable that drugs and cycling go hand in hand. If you tallied up the column inches that have been devoted to the subject in the media over the past few decades, they’d probably cover the same distance as the lycra-clad pros do during a couple of excruciating weeks at the start of July. Clubrooms, changing-rooms, café-stops and cycling-specific internet forums are constantly buzzing with debates about the latest ‘did he or didn’t he?’ scandal in the life of another cyclist, be they local hero or branded global icon.
But the connection between illicit substances and riding a bike goes beyond the realm of simple performance enhancement. For many amateurs, cycling is the new drug in a reformed lifestyle, a liberating and slightly dangerous buzz to replace addictions to alcohol, nicotine, or an assortment of synthetic party accessories. You can have all the excitement, all the transcendental states of mind, and yet the side-effects are actually beneficial to your health: lower resting heart rate, better circulation, muscular and cardiovascular enhancement; and you even stand a chance of looking younger than your age.
One might be fooled into thinking that the drug content of cycling is a clandestine phenomenon, a world of hushed conversations, shady phial-swapping transactions, buried secrets, and awkward toilet cubicle procedures, but in many ways the exact opposite is true. Take for instance the language of cycling (rather than the science of cyclelinguistics which will be discussed in another article). It’s absolutely littered with lexical drug paraphernalia, and a selection of the most well-known words and acronyms in contemporary circulation are discussed below:
‘LSD’ – Every racing cyclist’s winter is spent getting regular doses of LSD. Long/Steady/Distance riding keeps the body ticking over during the off-season, facilitating full physical and psychological recovery from the competitive rigours of the previous summer, and preparing the organism for the stresses of more intensive training that begin in early spring. This type of riding was introduced by Professor Albert Hoffman from Switzerland one fateful evening in April 1943 on the way home from the scientific institution where he worked. Feeling a little jaded after a particularly stressful day in the lab, Albert decided to take a lengthy detour but not concern himself with extremes of velocity. So profound was the effect on his metabolism and sense of well-being, he described the ride as “mind-expanding” and encouraged other cyclists to “get on their bikes immediately and take a similar trip”.
‘Dropout’ – During the 1960s, Dr Timothy Leary, a man associated with riding at a high cadence (more revolutions per minute), advocated a new approach to cycling. Having integrated Hoffman’s LSD routine into this training, he turned his attention to the bicycle itself. His methodology was summed up in the well-known quotation, “turn on, tune in, drop out”, which meant that riders should turn on their sensory apparatus, tune in to the vibrations of their machine as a mechanical diagnostic test, and focus these processes on the dropouts of the frame. He saw these junctions between the frame and the wheels as the equivalent of synapses in the human body, the interfaces between the cells of the nervous system, both with themselves and non-neuronal cells like those in muscles. Subscribers to Leary’s philosophy began to refer to themselves as dropouts, and soon smaller factions were formed such as the horizontal dropouts who would only engage in these diagnostic tests whilst riding parallel to the ground on the steepest velodrome bankings they could find, or the rear-facing dropouts who preferred to pedal whilst sitting on their handlebars.
‘Dab’ – Many mountain bikers or cyclocross riders will put a foot on the ground (dab) whilst cornering in powdery conditions. Others, when faced with a challenging line, simply sniff or snort derisively.
‘Cone’ – Careful adjustment of cones is essential to smooth rolling, and riders generally try to exercise caution whilst packing them, as it’s easy to lose your bearings.
‘Endo’ – This type of manoeuvre (a trick if deliberate, an accident if out of control) is likely to give you the biggest hit or rush of blood to the head. It is classified as a type of plant; in this case a ‘face-plant’.
‘Speed’ – After a long winter of LSD, most cyclists are trying to find some speed during the springtime. Unfortunately, due to the intensity of speed work during pre-season training, many riders experience periods of irritability, and their sleep patterns can become disrupted.
‘Fix’ – In the past, racing cyclists couldn’t face winter training without a fix. Today, even the global superbrands are pushing cheap fixes to consumers who are desperately telling themselves it’s the last bit of gear they’ll ever need.
© S. W. Parker 2005