Ask the Old Roadie

By Patrick Bulger

I’ve been at this cycling thing for a long time. Some might even say too long. I was racing before helmets were a thing and pedals were secured by toe clips and leather straps. A lot has changed since my first year of racing in 1980. Many out there are venturing into the sport and could use some wise advice from a cycling grump. I put out the call to see if anyone truly cared about the old adage of “with experience comes wisdom.” The call was heard. I give you, “Ask The Old Roadie.”

Why do you shave your legs? (Justin from Walla Walla)

This is a common question posed to roadies, and the answer usually depends on the person being asked. Some will say it is for caring for wounds from the inevitable road rash caused by errant drivers, dog chases, and fellow cyclists not maintaining their intended line through a corner or sprint. Some may say it is to assist with post-race massages. Some say aerodynamics. Me? Well, as I know a lot of roadies, and the majority of them neither have repeated crashes, a full-time masseuse, nor a need to gain .000001 seconds in the wind tunnel, it is honestly out of complete vanity. That’s right, shaved legs look better when paired with lycra shorts. Sure, some may disagree, but the Cro-Magnon look of hair poking through the shorts or socks and covering your hard work of training and diet loses out every time.  

How often do you replace your chain? (Michael from Spokane)

Ahh, the maintenance question. Let’s start with this . . . back in the ‘80s, bike chains were thicker and heavier than those of today, and when I first started racing, six speed cog sets were the norm. With occasional cleaning (to avoid the dreaded calf tattoos known simply as “dink marks”—clean those off immediately when they occur) a chain would last the season. Today, with eleven speed cassettes (the rear gears), chains last (depending on your abuse/neglect/massive power output from your Schwarzenegger thighs) around 2,000-3,000 miles. If you’re a professional with unlimited budget and power output, you likely would replace it more often. 

Are you as comfortable riding on the roads now versus the old days? (Chris from Spokane)

Good question, Chris. With everyone so angry these days, along with the addition of the importance of the perfect selfie whilst striving for a high score on Temple Run and driving an SUV the size of a Sherman Tank, cyclists are being seen less. Cycling is in my blood. I can’t dream of a life without it. All I can do is ride in areas that have less likelihood of traffic, and, when forced into those urban areas, ride with extra caution and awareness. Cars rarely see you, so assume they don’t.

What has changed in your preparation from the old days to now? (Al from Spokane)
First, I ride slower. Second, I look for quality over quantity. Third, I finish rides with a proper beer or coffee. 

What are the best and worst changes you’ve seen in the sport? (Mike from Spokane)

The best? Bikes are lighter, faster and more comfortable. Technology has brought tracking, maps and communication. The worst? Because bikes are lighter, faster and more comfortable, coupled with the technology that brought tracking, maps and communication, cycling is way too expensive. When a bike costs more than a proper used car or braces for your kid, things are out of hand. 

Does your ‘backside’ ever stop hurting on those tiny seats? (Shane from Spokane)

If a bike fits properly, it should feel like an extension of your body. Not all bike seats (saddles) are the same. You really need to find the one that works for you. Many times, those huge saddles you see with more padding than a shopping mall Santa are actually a guaranteed ticket to Chafe Town. 

Stay safe out there, keep the rubber side down, and I’ll see you out there in the spring. I’ll be the one with the leather helmet. //

Patrick Bulger is the host and creator of the “The Packfiller Podcast,” a weekly show featuring the world of road, mountain, and gravel cycling. Have a question for the Old Roadie? Feel free to email them to

Cover photo courtesy Spokane Aurora Northwest Rotary Club

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